Dalmatia: 101 islands to love
Heading south from Zagreb, or from Istria, to the Dalmatian Coast city of Split became far easier a few years ago once they finally finished a new highway (cutting the drive time from around seven hours to three and a half) and a high-speed rail link (trip time: 5 hours).
The historic center of Split (www.visitsplit.com) is actually a jumble of medieval houses occupying the converted ruins of Roman emperor Diocletian's 4th century palace—the emperor's mausoleum even became the city's cathedral (ironic, given that Diocletian was an avid persecutor of Christians).
At the very southern end of the Dalmatian coast is beautiful Dubrovnik (www.tzdubrovnik.hr), a Renaissance republic curling around a tiny harbor in a sea of red roofs atop 17th century townhouses and baroque palaces.
By far the most memorable way to get from Split to Dubrovnik is by ferry along the Dalmatian coast (www.jadrolinija.hr), threading Croatia's justly famous islands, and the best way to take that trip is slowly, over the course of several days, pausing at an island or two along the way.
The island of Hvar (www.hvar.hr) is draped in lavender fields and vineyards, and its main medieval town is fast becoming a hotspot celebrity resort for the likes of as Steven Spielberg, Bill Gates, and Princess Caroline of Monaco. Life on pine-forested Korčula, disputed (by Venetians) birthplace of Marco Polo (www.korcula.net), centers on an oversized fishing village port and its glorious Gothic-Romanesque cathedral.
You can ride the bus back to Split (passing through am 18-mile slip of Bosnia-Herzegovina along the way, which technically gives you bragging rights about having been to Bosnia), which is served by several low-cost airlines (see below).