Croatia's popular destinations have seen an influx of tourists in recent years. But there's so much more to the Mediterranean country than Dubrovnik, Split, and Hvar, beautiful as they may be. And no one knows this better than Alan Mandić, founder of the travel advisory Secret Dalmatia. Here are a few of his favorite spots you don't already know.
For me, traveling to Croatia was always about finding those special, unique places and towns that make travel a discovery, that make getting to places a journey. I was inspired to create my travel company, Secret Dalmatia, after running into the forgotten Roman sarcophagi at Bribirska glavica, the great archaeological site, back in 2005. A place unknown, even to locals, sites like these inspired me. I simply had to show them! It was never about promoting them to large crowds but rather to keeping them as secrets for the special, curious travelers who appreciate going off the beaten path and exploring the true origins of the local culture and hidden natural wonders. Here is just a tiny selection of the treasures that await in Croatia.
The Beach: Pasjača
Numerous are beaches on the Adriatic. Some sandy, many pebbly, mostly rocky. While picture-perfect beaches usually bring to mind an endless stretch of white sand, Croatia has very few of those. Our favorites are usually flat rock beaches — perfect for sunbathing with easy access to the sea. Then there are those fantastic, hard-to-find beaches, where the effort of reaching them adds to the appeal. Like Pasjača in Konavle region south of Dubrovnik. A dramatic descent down a small path along the steep cliff on one side and endless Adriatic on another, this is one of the most unique beaches in Croatia. A narrow passage carved in the rock opens up to this magical beach. Hidden and hard to get to, Pasjača is what a what you see when you close your eyes and dream “secret beach.” Yes, it’s become more popular recently, but its challenging access will always keep the visitor numbers low.
The Island: Dugi Otok
Among the nearly 1200 islands in Croatia, there are countless fantastic and unique places along the coast from Istria to Montenegro. While the southern Dalmatian Coast — home to Hvar, Korcula, Brac, and Vis islands — may be the most popular part of the country, Dugi Otok is still my favorite. The name of the island translates as “long Island” for its elongated, narrow 42 kilometers shape. The island features two of the most unique bays of the Adriatic: Pantera in the north and Telascica in the south. And so much more! Dugi Otok is home to Saharun, Croatia’s most beautiful beach, and Veli Rat, the oldest lighthouse on the Adriatic, and the salt lake Mir. These, along with steep cliffs, the old submarine shelters, and a cave with remains of the oldest humans ever found in his part of the world are reasons I return to Dugi Otok as often as I can. And I never miss swimming in Golubinka cave!
The River: Krupa
Tucked under the foothills of the sacred Velebit Mountain, Krupa River is a true gem. Emerald waters deep in the gray canyon make every view special. Krupa is known for crystal-clear water so pure one can drink from anywhere along its 17 kilometers, from its powerful spring all the way to its junction with Zrmanja River. Located away from the main routes and thus rarely visited, Krupa canyon is considered one of the best preserved river landscapes in the country. But it is not only nature that attracts visitors. Several historic monuments line the Krupa path, starting from the mills at the very spring, continuing along the long-abandoned hill fort Smokovac, and passing a 14th-century Orthodox monastery. The most popular and unique site is the bridge Kudin Most, a protected 18th-century monument. According to legend, the bridge was built by a young local man named Kude whose beloved lived on the other side of the canyon. The bridge still stands and crosses the most beautiful part of this stunning river.
The Road: Majstorska Cesta
Majstorska cesta (“The Master’s Road) is an old road across Velebit mountain that leads to the Dalmatian coast. Velebit had always been a long-standing obstacle that made communication between coastal and continental Croatia very difficult. This road was constructed in the 19th century to shorten the traveling time between Vienna, the center of the monarchy and Zadar, regional capital of Dalmatia at the time. This very demanding task was entrusted to Josip Kajetan Knežić of Petrinja, a major in Austrian army and a self-taught engineer. The road is still in use, though not paved, for those who want to visit the beautiful limestone cliffs of Tulove Grede or hike or bike in this part of Velebit. (The modern highway runs just below it through the Sv Rok tunnel.) The most scenic road in all of Croatia, with sweeping views of the Northern Dalmatian islands, Ravni kotari plains, Zrmanja Canyon, and Tulove Grede, this is a must for everyone doing a self-drive with a vehicle that can handle the rugged road during the warmer months when the mountain is most welcoming.
Plan Your Trip
You could do it yourself, but if you want to leave the planning to the experts, reach out to the team at Secret Dalmatia to plan your trip to Croatia — either the whole thing or just a few special experiences.