Year-round adventures await in Croatia

No longer reserved for summer, Croatia is alive all year long with festivities to mark spring, lashings of sun-soaked fun, autumn’s harvest celebrations and winter’s Christmas markets

Team Wanderlust
24 February 2023
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Croatia Travel

Spring

Procession of Queens in Gorjani (Ivo Biočina/CNTB)

Spring is here: wildflowers cast a rich carpet across the Croatian countryside and the cafes burst out onto pavements across the country as everyone has a literal spring in their step. In the north and west of the country, the snow melts as the birds break into song. The Croatian countryside is surging back into life. This is a great time to enjoy Croatia’s coastal cities before the crowds of summer arrive, and to hike in the hills when it’s much cooler.

In Slavonia, spring is marked by the Procession of Ljelje/Kraljice (Queens) in the village of Gorjani, which has been inscribed as a UNESCO cultural treasure such is its importance in a region where most villages used to celebrate in unison. This riot of song and dance sees flower-bedecked local girls – clad in traditional costumes parade colourfully through the village streets on Pentecost Sunday. Some dress as men to celebrate the time when their ancestors did the same to take on Ottoman invaders. The musical accompaniment needs little introduction to Scots, as gajde are the local version of bagpipes. A culinary celebration of spring are the young shoots of dandelions appearing on tables at home and on restaurant menus – think seriously peppery rocket. Delicious.

Summer

The coastal town of Hvar (Hrvoje Serdar/CNTB)

Croatian summers are long, languorous and utterly bewitching. Many Croatians ease off for a long break on the coast and you should follow suit, but there’s also plenty happening inland too. Outdoor living is de rigueur in summer across Croatia. Things are much calmer in the quieter coastal villages and towns.

Don’t miss the Korčula Sword Dance Festival In June. The Moreška Sword Dance is the island’s cultural pride and joy, a riveting drama that needs no translation. Marvel as the locals parade through the gorgeous stone streets and then do battle to repel their Ottoman intruders. Once spread across swathes of southern Europe, it only survives today in Korčula. Another huge summer extravaganza is the world-famous Dubrovnik festival Libertas, which celebrates this city in spectacular style with many of its most impressive historic buildings invigorated by all manner of cultural happenings. There really never is a dull moment during Libertas, a multi-medium, pan-arts festival that really evokes the life-affirming experience of summer in Croatia. Make time for the the Jelsa Wine Festival, too, a must for wine lovers on the Dalmatian island of Hvar.

Autumn

Vineyard in Brač(Ivo Biočina/CNTB)

The mercury remains pleasantly high through a Croatian autumn, almost as if no one is willing for the joys of summer to recede just yet. It’s also a time of celebration. Harvest festivities have deep roots throughout Croatia, woven into all the regions and, unsurpisingly, celebrations revolve around food and wine. In Istria, as well as celebrating the harvest of the local wines, they are also harvesting the hallowed white truffle. The world’s largest truffle was found here in Livade and that is marked by the gastronomic highlight of Zigante Truffle Days fair. This international exhibition of truffles, wines and other Istrian delicacies like pršut (prosciutto), sausages, cheese, honey and olive oil, is backed up by culinary workshops, truffle hunting demonstrations in the Motovun Forest, and truffle tastings conjured up by acclaimed chefs. If you’ve ever wanted to experience the sheer excitement of finding a truffle this is the autumn event for you.

Just down the road, Pula celebrates autumn with its Visualia Festival of Light, which draws on 3D mapping and lighting technologies to conjure up breathtaking installations. It’s a celebration of the city’s shipbuilding tradition, with the highlight being the Lighting Giants installation in Uljanik shipyard.

Winter

Advent festivities in Vinkovci (Julien Duval/CNTB)

Some animals may hibernate in Croatia in winter, but the people most certainly don’t. Winter is actually a brilliant time to visit, whether you ski or not. This being part of Mitteleuropa there are fine Christmas Markets to be found across Croatia. In fact, the capital of Zagreb’s Yuletide market has been voted Europe’s best. The city is draped in festive lights that set the scene for a programme of concerts, food and drink stalls, ice skating and swathes of family fun.

After the New Year celebrations, people start to look forward towards the imminent arrival of spring. A huge celebration of new life and spring optimism takes over the Kvarner Gulf city of Rijeka. The Rijeka Carnival is Croatia’s biggest and most colourful, buzzing from mid-January right into February. Enjoy parades and various festivities. Look out too for the zvončari, whose task it is to scare away evil spirits by clanging huge cowbells. The old Habsburg-era tradition has long been forgotten elsewhere, but Rijeka brought it back in 1982 and it has proved wildly popular, so much so that its importance has been recognised by UNESCO. The highlight is the International Carnival Parade, which bubbles through Rijeka with the floats taking the whole afternoon to make it through the city.

Feeling inspired?

For more information and inspiration about this incredible country, head over to the official Croatia website.

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