The Splendor of Greece & Croatia
The Balkans are a melting pot of cultures and religions that have shaped the history of Europe. They are the meeting point of east and west. Sitting at the crossroads of 3 continents, Greece is the definitive Mediterranean melting pot of people and ideas. Through the centuries, this corner of the world has seen some action. But it goes further than that. The Balkans, and Greece in particular, are where western common sense meets eastern deference. Its where laws are there as a guideline, enforced when necessary, but bent to the discretion of the people. And in a strange way, it works. Greek people enjoy unprecedented freedom to do, say, think and act as they damn well please (possibly too much at times, eh). And sure, the chaos might irk you, but long term it benefits you in many ways (paying taxes?).
So what makes the Balkans so special, besides the fact that they run a pretty laisez faire affair? The answer is simple. It is the combination of unfettered freedom, sun, culture and the people. And in the Balkans, the true star is Croatia and its sizzling upstart tourism. Dominated by a veritable treasure trove of architectural glory and a spectacular natural habitat it’s easy to spot the appeal here.
Croatia’s tale is one of medieval castles jostling for position next to Roman ruins, Slavic churches and Venetian mansions. Predictably, Croatia has a lot of juxtaposed styles of architecture that create a really vivid feeling of stepping onto a time capsule. So much so, that a big chunk of Game of Thrones is being shot in the eminently charming medieval town of Dubrovnik. And Split, too, has seen the GoT film within the confines of Diocletian’s palace; a Unesco World Heritage Site that now houses several wine boutiques and hotels. The lively atmosphere lends itself to some interesting nights drinking rakija with the locals.
Croatia is blessed with some beautiful islands, too. Similar to what you may encounter in the Ionian islands, the waters are turquoise and the landscape is engulfed in a green canopy of pine trees and cypresses. Hvar Island gets a lot of attention due to its idyllic beaches and hedonist proclivity; great nights await the adventurous out there.
For those who seek tranquility and a slice of nature, head to Plitvice Natural Park; one of 8 such parks in Croatia where you’ll be able to spot the mysterious lynx, wolves, brown bears, golden eagles as well as your fair share of endemic flora.
Festivals are also a big part, and with such amazing spots on which to party (Outlook festival sets up shop on the shores of Pula island) you can’t go wrong.
Greece has a similar disposition when it comes to festivals; they love em! From Crete to Thrace, festivals are all the rage. Samothraki has the most famous one, located on a massive waterfall and frequented by dreadlocked crusties and hippy chemblazers. Rockwave festival in Athens is also a big thing, with a mainly rock’n’roll line up.
But you’re in Greece. You’re not there to listen to Bruce Springsteen. You’re there to enjoy the sound of waves splashing on your face. And maybe some house music on a beach bar, eh, you devil!
So, we’re going to let you in on a little secret. The Ionian islands are the real deal. Unlike the Cyclades, the wind doesn’t blow your hat off at every turn (damn you, meltemi!). It also boasts turquoise green waters, galore! The landscape is green and fertile, not arid. And due to the fact that they are not as inter-connected as the ones on the Aegean, they enjoy less amounts of riff raff (excluding Laganas in Zakynthos) and tourists in general. Of course, that last bit is only ephemeral, so get going!
The Ionian islands are a cosmopolitan bunch. They cater to the well-heeled and the upwardly mobile, and while that may be true in general, they are more Ibiza than Capri, so don’t be put off.
You’ll get to sample the famous Greek food in all its glory. And you’ll get the chance to visit Navagio beach in Zakynthos (Yes, that one). And you’ll drink Greek wine till dawn, chatting utter nonsense to bewildered locals who will keep on piling on the sauce.
When everything’ll be said and done, you’ll be on your phone looking for the latest deals on tickets for next summer.