ZAGREB, Croatia -- Croatia's ravishing coast of more than 1,000 islands is a favorite destination for Europeans and travelers from further away. Croatia draws much of its income from tourism and hopes to earn more once the country formally enters the European Union on July 1.
Croatia's coast features dozens of small towns with narrow, winding streets, small churches and historic monuments. The most famous is Dubrovnik, in the south Adriatic near the border with Montenegro. The medieval walled city is a favorite spot for cruisers who are sailing the Adriatic. The city was bombed during the war in 1991, and is a UNESCO world heritage site. Up north is the Istrian Peninsula with its famous wine and goat cheese, while in the middle are the islands: The party island of Hvar, visited by Tom Cruise and Beyoncé, among others, or Vis, which was off limits during communist era as a military base.
Croatia has drawn many EU citizens in the past, who are attracted by its unspoiled nature, rich vegetation, good roads and closeness to Hungary, Slovakia or the Czech Republic. Croatian officials are hoping that the EU entry will make access even easier for EU citizens, who will no longer have to deal with customs clearance. Croatia will not be using the euro currency immediately.
As an EU country, Croatia will have to introduce visas for the citizens of non-EU states, such as Russia and Ukraine, which is likely to scare them away from Croatia, perhaps toward Montenegro to the south, already a favorite destination for rich Russians. Croatian officials have traveled to Russia and Ukraine for talks with tour operators there in an effort to work around the problem.
Unlike Greece or Turkey, Croatia does not have that many all-inclusive, resort-type hotels and relies mostly on smaller four-star accommodation and private rooms for rent. The Croatian coast is mostly rocky with crystal blue sea and a prevailing scent of pine trees. The best way to enjoy it is to rent a sail boat, find a secluded beach, sip wine and nibble on typical hard cheese and dry ham under the shadow of pine trees.