It’s predominantly a German motorist tourist’s playground but if you have the time to drive the thousand miles necessary to reach Rijeka in Croatia you have a country of spectacular coastal roads to enjoy. Unfortunately this is only really an option for overlanders or travellers with an extended time period for their trip BUT an alternative is to hire a car from around €12 a day.
Our first stop was the inland National Park of Plitvice, a worthy diversion from the shimmering sea roads. 18km of wooden footbridges and walkways weave through the lakes, giving you a ducks-eye view of the magnificent waterfalls and cascades, close enough to leave splashes on your sunglasses.
Hitting the coast at Senj, we spent our first night Croatian coastal camping. Wow. The small, basic campsite was a tiny cove with just a few tree-shaded terraces. Only the bubbles of a few morning Scuba divers broke the mirror-like surface of the sea.
We headed South, the road clinging to the coast and traversing every curve and turn of the natural coastline. With the forested Velebit Mountains on our left side we cruised through quite, uninhabited stretches and sleepy fishing villages.
From Zadar south you enter the Dalmatian Coast where numerous verdant islands dot the offshore waters. From here onwards the wow factor moves up a notch, with every corner revealing another postcard picturesque view. A road atlas highlighting these roads in green as ‘scenic routes’ is an enormous understatement.
An inland diversion at Sibenik took us to Krka National Park, another stunning system of lakes, rivers and cascades. The area was made even more impressive by the recent heavy rains, creating thundering waterfalls with rainbows arched above.
Back on the shoreline we wound our away along the headland, never tiring of the endless ocean panorama shimmering in the sunlight. We arrived to the city of Split, the highlight of which is ‘Diocletian’s Palace’, one of the world’s most impressive Roman ruins. The palace is actually a fortified town, these days packed with tourists buzzing around museums, shops and restaurants. We climbed the towering, winding steps to the top of the Romanesque belfry of St Dominus’ Cathedral. From here you can enjoy a 360° vista of the city’s historic centre; a labyrinth topped with red roof tiles surrounded by church spires, modern environs and a busy Port.
No trip to Croatia would be complete without a voyage to or around some of the country’s 1,244 islands. A spontaneous hop on a boat about to leave Split Port and we were sailing into the sunset past pine-covered islands and through sea canals to the Island of Korcula. A peaceful, olive-covered haven of secluded coves and superb coastal drives.
A short ferry crossing from Korcula to Orebic and you are back on the mainland. The landscape adjacent to the coast has now become a rocky, mountainous ridge, descending sharply to the sea with just a ribbon of road cutting through the sheer rock sides.
We ended our Croatian journey in the elegant and ancient city of Dubrovnik, a must-see for its ancient city walls and marble streets.
Logistically, Croatia is well geared-up for tourism, particularly motorists thanks to the deluge of campervans. There are campsites everywhere, from fancy all-singing mega-sites, to makeshift pitches on beaches with just a tap and toilet.
Choose your timing wisely, arriving at the tail end of the season we witnessed tourists’ en-masse in several places, this burek-devouring plague dispersed by the middle of September when the still sunny country quietened dramatically.
Driving etiquette could be improved considerably; speeding is universal, tail-gating frustratingly common and basic courtesy is severely lacking. Don’t let that put you off- most of the smaller, coastal roads are much quieter than the main routes.