Croatia is the destination that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue. You really can’t talk about European holidays these days without hearing Croatia’s name being mentioned.

“Oh you went to Italy? But did you sail around Croatia?” It goes something along those lines.

Croatia is a country I have known and loved all of my life. Despite being born in New Zealand, I was strongly influenced by my Croatian heritage so it’s no surprise that Croatia has always been close to my heart.

I’ll never forget my first trip when I was nine years old. I was so excited to finally be visiting what my grandmother called “the old country”. We flew into Split on the Adriatic Coast and I remember looking out the window and being struck by the intensity of the rich blue Adriatic Sea. It was also the very first time I encountered spectacular landscapes like the ones that make up the Dalmatian coastline. The islands of Hvar, Brač and Korčula looked like they’d been glittered along the coastline, sparkling like gems. Today I feel privileged to be working in a role that allows me to share my passion for Croatia with thousands of New Zealanders from all over the country.

So, what is it that makes Croatia so special? There is definitely not just one answer! Croatia is a diverse country despite being half the size of the North Island, (but with a similar population to New Zealand’s). It has a brilliant mix of climates: Continental in the northern and eastern regions, alpine in the central area of the Plitvice Lakes, and Mediterranean along its Adriatic coastline. Driving south from the capital city of Zagreb, you leave behind its rolling hills and reach the hinterland of the lake region in only two hours – absolutely refreshing. Within another two hours you’re on the doorstep of the breathtaking Adriatic coastline.

The mix of climates is complemented by natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage that is a testament to the resilience of its people from past centuries to present time. Take a walk through the Old Town of Dubrovnik, the Diocletian Palace in Split or Pula’s Arena from the 1st century AD and can’t help but be transported back to another time.

Depending on your preference, any time from March through to November is a great time to visit. Bear in mind that June to August are the hottest months with daily temperatures averaging in the late 20s and even into the 30s at times. Expect balmy summer nights.

One of the highlights of a holiday in Croatia is meeting the people. Croatian hospitality is something that is embedded in the culture and passed on through generations. Whatever your style of travel may be, there are plenty of opportunities to meet and be charmed by the locals. There will be countless “welcome” rakijas (homemade Croatian brandy) to be drunk and much Dalmatian cheese, olives and pršut (Croatian cured ham) to be eaten.

If you ask me or anyone who has visited Croatia what is the best way to experience this beautiful country, the answer you’ll often get is: by sea. One of my most memorable experiences is the seven days I spent sailing along the Dalmatian coastline.

Together with a group of friends, we chartered our own catamaran and sailed from Dubrovnik to Split. Now, before you begin to say that you could never dream of affording this type of holiday, let me tell you that times have changed. Between the eight of us we were able to comfortably afford this holiday without blowing our tight budgets.

Our charter began with a warm welcome from our skipper, Frano, who we still keep in contact with to this day. Frano explained to us that even if we had visited Croatia before by land, nothing could compare to the sheer magnificence of a sailing holiday. What he said couldn’t have been more true. On a catamaran you are able to visit so many hidden coves and spectacular beaches – paradises you never thought existed.

A really beautiful stop was at Stiniva Bay on the Island of Vis, Croatia’s farthest inhabited island. This cove is only accessible by a 20-minute hike or by sea, which was lucky for us. As we approached, we had to anchor because the bay is hidden between two imposing limestone clifftops which serve more like welcoming gates. Many of us jumped off the catamaran (now second nature) while a few motored toward the beach in our trusty dinghy.

A great thing about being on the catamaran – although it was an intimate experience and yes, the cabins were cosy but that really wasn’t an issue as the only time we spent there was sleeping – was that we met so many new people. We would often be mooring alongside the same yachts from previous stops so we got to know quite a few like-minded individuals from all over the world.

One especially wonderful evening was spent in Old Korčula Town, which dates from the medieval period and is almost like a mini-Dubrovnik as it too has a fortified wall surrounding it. We visited a cocktail bar appropriately named Sunset Cocktails, and looking over the water while enjoying our drinks we agreed that this was the most sensational sunset we’d ever seen.

So if you’re looking for a holiday destination that won’t disappoint, I can highly recommend Croatia. By sea or by land the options are plentiful and the choice is yours. The only question I leave with you is not whether you are coming, but when.

Top 3 Must Visit Islands in Croatia

1. Korčula – Enjoy history, culture, food and much more

2. Hvar – Croatia’s ‘Monte Carlo’, a place to be seen
3. Mljet Island National Park – For all lovers of nature

Have you ever been to Croatia before? What were your highlights? Let us know in the comments below.