30. 05. 12. - 15:05
Croatia benefits as Greece, Italy and Spain fall in holiday stakes
By Stanislav Jenis
For years European tourists in the search of sea, sun and sand have been prepared to travel far beyond their Continent's borders to the likes of the Caribbean or the Bahamas for their summer break.
Those heady days of long-distance travel started to vanish with the economic crisis and instead Europeans started to look to their own Continent for their summer holidays. But with the financial woes now biting deep into the traditional summer holiday destinations like Greece, Italy and sunny Spain - more and more people are now discovering the delights of Croatia.
Still cheap but offering high-quality tourism from its spectacular ancient ports through to the best sea water in Europe – Croatia is fast emerging as the top among the alternatives to the classic holiday destinations.
And it has come a long way since it was the holiday destination of choice for the leadership and the loyalist of the party faithful of the former Eastern Block back when it was still a part of the former Yugoslavia.
Even as recently as 20 years ago the country was embroiled in a bitter fighting as Yugoslavia broke up - and it was impossible to drive anywhere without coming across bullet ridden houses and bomb craters in roads.
But it has changed a lot since then. And visitors don't have to look very far to see why it has plenty to offer that others can't and why Croatia is now even outperforming Turkey as a holiday destination of choice for many.
One of the most popular parts of Croatia is the Dalmatian region, that offers a good selection of the best the country has to offer. Only recently the world's oldest shipwreck was discovered in waters here dating back to the early Roman Empire and serving as a reminder to the fact that the tiny ports and villages have stood here as silent sentinels for centuries.
You can almost feel the age of the solid stone buildings as you wander among cities like Split, Trogir and Salona – which charm their visitors with their architecture and other ancient connections such as the early Christian artefacts in churches and monasteries.
Anyone doubting Croatia's claim to a valuable heritage only needs to look at the number of entries the country has in the Unesco World Cultural Heritage List.
But one of the other attractions of Croatia is that it's not just its ancestral heritage that is attracting. For the party goers there are parts of the country specially tailored to catering to their needs and offering a plentiful supply of clubs and bars - for example along the promenade in Split.
The visitors mix with locals and it's easy to see why the country has a welcoming reputation for visitors.
Those who want to enjoy a bit of sport also have plenty to choose from. On the Dalmatian coast guests can try their hand at pretty much any water sport. The quality of the sea water is the highest in the whole Mediterranean region. Due to the absence of industrial fishing in Croatia this standard can be kept. Entrance to the EU could be a challenge to environmental protectors.
For those who like a mix the island of Brac has come up with the concept of cultural and sporting holidays combined under its "Brac the island of culture and adventure" that offers a wide array of sporting activities such as kayaking, cycling and climbing, as well as plenty of cultural tours.
There are still challenges – the Split region for example was in decades gone by an industrial centre. Here many ships and even submarines were made for the then Soviet Union. Split harbour was the largest in Yugoslavia. And due to the economic success of industry tourism used to be largely ignored.
But these times are long gone and now the region is actively searching, and winning, tourists. Split offers an active nightlife and spectacular old town heritage sites and also serves as a port for shipping lines taking the curious to outlying islands if you want to enjoy a bit more peace and quiet - or simply something different.
Acres of concrete shoreline are also being slowly replaced - for the Communists it was regarded as practical to create a concrete promenade to allow sunbathers to enjoy the sea – but it's not pleasing to the eye. These are slowly and surely being replaced across the country as five-star hotels with swimming pool and beach access gradually replace them.
In some places locals have even gone as far as to bring in sand to make the beach more attractive to holidaymakers.
Another challenge that is proving hard to eradicate is of course the traditional Eastern European challenge against corruption.
Many infrastructure projects were never finished due to corruption problems or were held up due to bureaucracy. Foreign investment is encouraged but it is difficult for investors to keep control of their projects.
But as more and more investors come in and prove that their ideas and their money brings jobs and further economic prosperity – so the problems are slowly dissolving.
With the opportunity to remove much of the ageing Communist infrastructure and replace it with something new Croatia's also have the opportunity to avoid some of the more exotic tourism influences such as the American Time Sharing Concept that has been proven not to work so spectacularly in places like Spain.
And because of its climate the Dalmatian coast is also gradually reinventing itself not just as a summer holiday destination but also as a great place of interest for all year round tourists.
The culinary choices are diverse, unless you are a vegetarian or vegan. Croatian cuisine is based largely upon fish and meat in its many forms and especially the fish with its many and varied local specialities has been refined to perfection.
For those who have yet to enjoy Croatia or who are thinking of considering it again it may be the perfect time now before Croatia joins the EU, after which it will become more popular and gain more trust from holidaymakers. The introduction of the Euro will also no doubt facilitate tourism – but this is likely to have an impact on prices and Croatia is certainly not likely to remain as cheap as it is now for ever.
At the moment though it offers great value for money. For a good price you get a good service. Visitors can also always count on the good weather, even if the weather is bad there is the local architecture – and the stunning scenery.
What the challenges of EU membership will bring is still to be seen but the fact remains that now and for the foreseeable future Croatia offers an unbeatable holiday package for a broad spectrum of holidaymakers – and it keeps on getting better.
Croatian Tourist Board: http://croatia.hr/hr-HR/Naslovna
Split Tourist Board: http://www.visitsplit.com/15663/en/
Trogir Tourist Board: http://tztrogir.hr/#52496
Supetar Tourist Board: Click here.