Approximately the geographic size of West Virginia, Croatia is a small Adriatic country bursting with a collision of cultural influences. Within its walled cities and island-freckled coastlines is a crossroads of Balkan and Central European architecture and culture, remnants of the various empires that have alternated ownership of this sovereign state. This blend of cultural spheres is most evident in the Prague-like capital city of Zagreb and Croatia’s crown jewel of Dubrovnik, where a strange mix of Venetian palazzos, Napoleonic forts, Slavic churches, and Roman columns coexist in a strange yet captivating potpourri of structures.
The geography of Croatia is almost as diverse as its heritage. Inland, the rolling hills and fertile lands of the Pannonian Plain transform into the stunning Dinaric Alps, which extend from Italy to Albania and hug much of the coastline. Within these limestone karsts are such wonders as Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where 16 picturesque lakes ranging in color from grey to mint green boast interconnecting dramatic waterfalls cascading over dolomite and limestone cliffs. The highlight for most visitors, however, are the thousand-plus islands extending along the sapphire Adriatic Sea, where the healing power and natural beauty of islands such as Lošinj are legendary.
Flaunting independence only since 1991, Croatia fought to secure its significant place in the European Union and has subsequently proved its worth. Indeed, Croatia holds ten of UNESCO’s World’s intangible cultural masterpieces, surpassing every other country in Europe except Spain with which it is tied. Some of these masterpieces are as humble as the gingerbread craft, lacemaking, and Ojkanje singing, but most would argue that the one item missing from the list is the necktie, Croatia’s most notable global contribution derived from the cravat originally worn by 17th century Croatian mercenaries in France.