By Veronica Lescay
There are few things sweeter in life than summer in the Mediterranean. The sea breeze, turquoise waters, and the impeccable fortified old towns can easily entice travelers. But Croatia and its tiny neighbor, Montenegro, offer much more than postcard-perfect pebbly beaches and old towns that are featured on television. These Balkan gems offer pristine mountains, picturesque islands, cascading waterfalls, and monasteries impossibly perched inside of cliffs. I spent three weeks traveling through Croatia and Montenegro, and I’ve highlighted the top must-visit places:
Perhaps the region’s most famous attraction, Dubrovnik is renowned for a very good reason. The fortified old town, featuring marble streets and baroque buildings, has a wall that you can actually circle around, as well as nearby beaches where you can lounge afterward in the azure sea.
2. Krka National Park
Located near the pleasant town of Šibenik, Croatia on the Adriatic coast, Krka National Park features enchanting waterfalls that awe visitors. I consider Krka even more magical than Plitvice, Croatia’s poster-child for waterfalls. Why? After hiking the nature trail, you approach whimsically pretty cascading waterfalls whose pool you can actually swim in!
In the outskirts of the Dalmatian Islands lies Vis, which only opened up to foreign visitors in 1989. Unlike some of the more popular islands in Croatia, Vis is quite and laid back. Rent a car or scooter and go beach-hunting; after maneuvering through vineyards and olive groves, you’ll find secluded beaches with crystal-clear waters and cliffs protecting your find from others.
More Italian than Croatian, Rovinj is located just an hour and a half from Italy and used to be part of the Venetian empire. Medieval walls secure Rovinj’s old town, which is situated on an island. Wandering the cobbled streets is a pleasure, as is watching the sunset, which transforms the timeworn, sea-facing buildings into an ever-romantic image.
Hop on a ferry from mainland Croatia to one of Croatia’s most glitzy and glamorous islands, Hvar. While it’s the party epicenter of Croatia, I loved exploring its rocky beaches and lavender fields. If you’re a foodie, Hvar will leave you impressed with its wide variety of highly rated restaurants.
6. Plitvice Lakes National Park
Considered the mecca of cascading waterfalls, Plitvice contains 16 crystalline lakes that tumble into each other. Pretty wooden boardwalks take allow travelers to snake around lakes and under waterfalls. Don’t scrimp on time here – Plitvice is an all-day adventure!
Another fortified gem on the Adriatic coast, Kotor is a picture-perfect, dramatic town that’s a short drive from Dubrovnik. When you’re done pretending to be back in the Middle Ages, you can drive to the top of the mountain that nestles the town to get a view of the Bay of Kotor and Europe’s southernmost fjord.
8. Lovcen National Park
From Mount Lovcen, it is said that you can see 60% of Montenegro, along with six of its neighboring countries. Atop the mountain also stands the Mausoleum of Njegoš, one of the most historically important sites in the country.
9. The Monastery of Ostrog
This Serbian-Orthodox church defies architectural expectations by being chiseled on the side of a mountain. You can make a mini-pilgrimage by hiking to the top or simply pay an additional fee to have a taxi drive you to the entrance. Monks can be seen wandering the monastery’s grounds, and religious pilgrims go to great lengths to leave their prayers in front of the centuries-old ikons.
10. Skadar Lake National Park
Situated on the border of Albania and Montenegro, Skadar Lake is a dreamlike body of water that carves its way through mountains and wetlands. From the town of Rijeka Crnojevića, you can board a small boat that will take you along the river that feeds into Skadar Lake, and is a great way to see the local birdlife.
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