Latest press coverage on Croatia round-up: early May edition!

As we get closer and closer to summer, there has recently been a whole flurry of press articles and coverage on Croatia and – let’s face it – that’s no surprise. So here I take a look at some of the latest press coverage on Croatia from early May. (And not a mention of Eurovision in sight!)

Enjoying the new train from Italy to Croatia

Just yesterday, the Sunday Times Travel section wrote about the reintroduction of a train service that runs from near Trieste in Italy via Slovenia to Rijeka in Croatia. (Something that was first brought to our attention a number of months ago by our contributor John – see his latest post on The Sound of Rijeka.)

Press coverage on Croatia, May 2024 - The Sunday Times
Press coverage on Croatia, May 2024 - The Sunday Times

Accompanied by some rather lovely shots as you can see (of Croatia…of course!), the main premise of the article is that for just a few Euros, you can use this new train route to explore a number of the little but charming towns in Italy and Slovenia along the way. The writer does just that; he states that the whole two-hour journey costs the equivalent of £7, but he chooses to purchase a new train ticket (costing just a few Euros each time) for each leg of the journey.

After enjoying Trieste itself, his first stop is the Slovenian town of Ilirska Bistrica where he enjoys exploring on an e-bike on some of the 60 miles of forest cycle tracks. Food is the order of the day here two, with sauerkraut, Slovenian sheep cheese and multiple varieties of honey all sampled.

Next, it’s on to Croatia and the fabulous Opatija. The article’s author, Tristan, gets his bearings by walking the seaside promenade route, the lungomare, enjoying the scents and scenery. “This is Croatia’s answer to Capri or Cannes”, he declares.

After a night in Opatija it’s on to Rijeka the next on the same train – this last leg is just a 10-minute journey. Rijeka is certainly talked up here, and the author enjoys a number of sights (such as the Sugar Palace) as well as the fish market.

Rijeka’s seafront railway station looks like a Habsburg wedding cake, built to impose. I arrive to witness a marathon, an outdoor jazz festival and a superyacht leaving port. Trieste’s twin brother is buzzing.

Tristan Rutherford, The Sunday Times, 12th May 2024

You can read the article online: One train, three countries and a £7 ticket: Europe’s newest rail trip.

Tipping culture – in Europe and in Croatia

Elsewhere in the same paper, there’s an interesting article on “How to tip in Europe”. I bet I’m not the only one who gets a little anxious about tipping on holiday; I don’t want to seem rude, but also don’t want to throw down too many notes and coins that make me seem like a crazy person. (Or someone with more money than sense.)

The overall conclusion for Croatia is that tipping is “casual” and 10% is certainly welcome in restaurants but not always expected. In smaller venues such as cafes, tipping is merely rounding up to the nearest Euro.

Press coverage on Croatia, May 2024 - The Sunday Times on Tipping in Croatia
How to tip in Croatia, according to the Sunday Times

The joys of Istria

An absolute gem of a piece this month is one from National Geographic on Istria. I haven’t yet been able to check if it appears in print in the magazine, but if it does I’m sure it looks fantastic.

The article really takes a deep dive into some of the traditional and cultural aspects of Istria, the most northerly of the Croatian coastline. Focusing first on the region’s main city, Pula, and its spectacular 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheatre The Arena, the piece also features the Brijuni Islands, Vodnjan and beautiful Rovinj.

There’s an extensive look at Istrian folk music with the author Daniel witnessing a performance in Pula by singers, musicians and dancers all dressed in traditional costume. In Vodnjan, too, he’s able to see another folk performance of songs performed in Istroveneto, an Istrian language influenced by the Venetian dialect.

I had listened to some Istrian folk music on YouTube before my trip. Woodwind instruments wrapped around dual voices, improvising in the microtonal way Dario had described. To ears like mine, used to a rigid system of tones and semitones, the constant use of microtones can sound dissonant or harsh. That much was evident from the video’s comment section, where one rather ungenerous observer had suggested the music sounded like “someone stepping on a cat”. 

Daniel Stables, National Geographic, 2nd May 2024

Read it online: On Croatia’s Istrian peninsula, age-old traditions are securing locals’ futures.

Bargains on the Croatian Islands

The Daily Telegraph this weekend had an interesting piece on “The 50 greatest bargains in travel”. Who doesn’t love a bargain, am I right? But how does Croatia fit into this?

Well, Croatia is featured under the “Discount destinations” heading – or, more specifically, the Croatian islands are. And even more specifically, the more southern islands of Mljet and Korcula. The Daily Telegraph advises that if you’re the kind of traveller who likes to book their own holiday, you’ll “…find it hard to beat the value offered by the Croatian islands“.

The Daily Telegraph, May 2024
One of the “greatest bargains in travel”

I couldn’t find this article online, but get some inspiration with our How to do Croatia on a budget post!

If this isn’t enough press coverage on Croatia…

…there really has been plenty more in the papers and online over the past few weeks!

If you don’t yet know anything about holidaying in Croatia, you should first read the Visit Croatia website and then secondly take a look at Elle magazine’s Ultimate Croatia Travel Guide.

Follow that up with The Time’s guide to 13 of the best places to visit in Croatia which features many of the most well-known places in the country and some not so well known too.

And if “not-well-known” is totally your kind of thing, The Independent recently featured a piece on 6 lesser-known Croatia destinations you may not have considered.

All of the above makes up plenty of reading on Croatia for you so go on – off you go to get started!

Tito Square, Rijeka, Croatia

The Sound of Rijeka

John Clayton is a UK citizen who has been living in the coastal city of Rijeka for 15 years. Following on from his previous posts on Open Water Swimming in Croatia and Outdoor Easter in Rijeka, John talks about Rijeka’s fascinating history and an unusual connection with The Sound of Music.

Rijeka’s connection with The Sound of Music

Have you ever wondered about the mother of the children in The Sound of Music? No? me neither, at least not until I discovered that she was from Rijeka, in northern Croatia, where I live.

It is hard to spend time in Rijeka without being made aware that the torpedo was invented here. It was born out of the cooperation between a local naval officer, Giovanni Luppis, and a British engineer living in Rijeka, Robert Whitehead in the 1880s. As a brilliant engineer, Robert Whitehead was able to turn Luppis’ idea into a reality and as a savvy businessman, able to make a fortune out of it. He became incredibly wealthy and his granddaughter, Agathe Whitehead, inherited most of his wealth. As a rich and local celebrity, she was launching a ship in 1909 when she was introduced to a certain Georg von Trapp. So, yes, the Sound of Music Family was from Croatia.

Torpedo Testing Site in Rijeka, Croatia - The Sound of Rijeka
Torpedo testing site
Villa Whitehead, where Agathe Whitehead grew up

Tragically in 1922, Agathe died of scarlet fever shortly after giving birth to seven children. I am sure I don’t need to tell you the story of the seven children…

Agathe Whitehead and Georg Von Trapp. (2023, December 5). In Wikipedia.
Agathe Whitehead and Georg Von Trapp. (2023, December 5). In Wikipedia.

A turbulent history

While this may be perhaps the most surprising, and still almost unknown, historical link in Rijeka, the city has a dramatic and turbulent history. As a natural deep water port, it has been fought over many times, particularly since the demise of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It has been part of at least, depending on how you count, eight different countries just within the 20th century. These include the first Yugoslavia, Italy, an Independent fascist state in World War Two, to the second Yugoslavia and independence in 1991.

Perhaps one of the most interesting, if briefest, was as a tiny city-state for 15 months in 1919-1920. During the chaos following the end of WWI, the city was seized by the eccentric Italian poet and nationalist Gabriele D’Annunzio. As an Italian-speaking city, he hoped that Italy would annex Rijeka, known as Fiume in Italian. Both words mean “river” in Croatian and Italian respectively. Ironically he would eventually be chased out by Italian forces who protected its independence. However, in this short period, D’Annunzio established a constitution along with many of the rituals which would inspire Benito Mussolini. Along with Blackshirts, he introduced the balcony address and the fascist salute.

While understandably Rijeka is not keen to promote itself as the birthplace of fascism, it is less ashamed of its communist past. Before Croatian Independence in 1991, almost every Yugoslav town had streets and squares named after Tito. Most have since been renamed, but Rijeka retains its Tito Square, literally on the river where the city was divided between Italy and the first Yugoslavia in the inter-war period. Perhaps this reflects the long association Tito enjoyed with Rijeka. It was the place where he was first detained by the authorities back in 1924, his punishment for organising strikes in the shipyard at nearby Kraljevica. He returned in 1946 as President of Yugoslavia when the city was reunited, giving a famous speech in what was yet to be named Tito Square.

Tito Square, Rijeka, Croatia
Tito Square today
Site of Tito's detention in Rijeka
The site of Tito’s detention in Rijeka

Before the 20th century, there was of course plenty of history, the Romans were here, and more recently, Napoleon’s troops. According to legend, Napoleon’s forces were chased out by the British Navy with just one cannonball being fired. Legend has is that a local beauty beguiled the British naval commander with her charms to save the city from severe destruction. The lone cannonball can be seen lodged in the wall of the local cathedral – not that this particular story is to be taken too seriously.

Rijeka today

Today it would be easy to forget all this turbulence and turmoil when sipping a cappuccino on the Korzo, the lively main pedestrian street. The violence and instability are over, with its citizens not having changed nationality for 33 years already. However Rijeka remains a strategically important port both for Croatia and Hungary, and nearby Omišalj is a major import terminal of Liquid Natural Gas for the EU.

So if you find yourself in Rijeka, exploring the many historical sights, you might want to quietly sing to yourself “Doe a deer, a female deer…” and secretly smile knowing you are in the birthplace of this famous family that brought so much pleasure to the world.

Open water swimming in Croatia - Cres

Open Water Swimming in Croatia

John Clayton is a UK citizen who has been living in the coastal city of Rijeka for 15 years. Following on from his previous post about enjoying an Outdoor Easter in Rijeka, John talks here about open water swimming in Croatia – in particular the best beaches in and around Rijeka to seek out for this activity.

Croatia made me become a swimmer. As a mountain sports kind of person, swimming had always just been a pleasant way to cool down in the summer. Swimming involved expending a lot of energy to go nowhere, and I was fine with that. However Croatia, with over 1200 islands, 6000 kilometres of coast, and crystal clear, mirror-smooth water, gave me no choice but to change my swimming from “not drowning” to actually moving forward.

Open water swimming in Croatia - Cres
Swimming past the tip of Cres

After many hours on YouTube and a lot of ineffective splashing at my local beach, I am now able to swim a mile, with a few breathers. Fortunately, this is just enough to swim the length of the beaches in my part of Rijeka.

Every part of the Croatian coast has amazing and accessible swim options. I’ll share here my tips for my local area, but this is just a tiny area; every part of the Croatian coast has similar opportunities. Better still, very few Croatians swim far from the beach and the tourist boards have yet to realise the potential of promoting swimming – this leaves the sea to us swimmers and the dolphins.

My preference is to swim with a tow, partly for security but also it allows for one-way swims. There is something very special about arriving somewhere from the sea. I’d also strongly suggest wearing a bright swim cap, there are boats in the summer and they don’t expect to see swimmers beyond the beaches.

Uvala Svežanj

The best swimming spots in Rijeka

As mentioned, I live near a string of beaches in Rijeka. As the third biggest city in Croatia, Rijeka is known as an industrial city. However, the southern suburb of Pećine is home to several beautiful beaches. My favourite swim is to start at Grčevo, home of the cute Pajol beach bar. I swim north past the first few small beaches and the tiny marina, then pass Glavanovo and the most famous beach in Rijeka, Sablićevo. Going around the corner, wide enough to avoid the cliff-jumping teenagers, I pass Hotel Jadran and finish at the dog beach by the main port. I usually swim north as there is less glare from the morning sun, but either direction works (in the video we are swimming south).


All of the beaches mentioned have free showers and the water is drinkable. The number 1 bus regularly runs from the city centre along this route making access very easy.

My second recommendation is to cycle, or take the number 10A bus, to Kostrena, just a little further south. Here there is a 3km stretch of white pebbled beaches separated by caves and vertical cliffs. There is a pedestrian path allowing an easy return from a one-way swim. Uvala Svežanj is a picture-perfect location and is the ideal place to start. You can swim either 1.3km north to Žukovo or south as far as you feel like, although I’d suggest stopping before you get to the refinery.

On the other side of the bay, the famous towns of Opatija and Lovran are just a short hop on the number 32 bus and offer another whole range of swim possibilities.

John has also produced an excellent video of the best open water swimming spots in Rijeka – take a look below:

Other Locations for Open Water Swimming in Croatia

And my last suggestion, if you want a truly wild and remote swim adventure and there are at least two of you. I strongly recommend a swim/kayak trip, alternating swimming and paddling. Last year we took camping gear and swam/kayaked around the northern tip of Cres Island for an incredible two days. We’d previously made a similar trip in the Kornati National Park in Dalmatia, perhaps the most spectacular place in the world to swim.

Open water swimmg in Croatia - Kornati islands
Swimming in Kornati National Park

Outdoor Easter in Rijeka

The following is a lovely write-up from John Clayton, a UK citizen who has been living in the coastal city of Rijeka for 15 years. John talks about some of the wonderful outdoor activities that can be enjoyed during Easter in Rijeka.

The clocks are on summertime and the winter is over. Easter marks the time when we can start to plan bigger and better outdoor adventures in Rijeka. Jenny and I make the most of the winter, but this largely means grabbing opportunities on the days without “Bura”, the gale-force cold wind from the north, or the “Jugo”, the more destructive warm and wet wind from the south.

I’ll share here a few of our outdoor favourites at this time of year. As Croatia is rightly famous for its beaches this is the obvious place to start. We’re lucky to live just five minutes’ walk from the most beautiful beach in Rijeka, Sablićevo (don’t even try to pronounce it). It is also within walking distance from the town centre, or take the number 1 bus. The beach is surrounded by high cliffs creating a perfect sun trap. Even in the middle of winter, on a sunny day it’s possible to be down there in a just a T-shirt. By spring sunbathing is certainly an option and without the summer crowds.  With a wetsuit, there is also the option of swimming the 1.5km from Grčevo beach, past Sablićevo, to the dog beach right by the port. This is an amazing swim in crystal clear, often glass-smooth, water. At this time of year, there is even the small possibility that you’ll be swimming with dolphins.

Outdoor Easter in Rijeka - Sablicevo Beach in Rijeka
Sablicevo Beach in Rijeka

This morning, before writing this, we did the ten-mile mountain bike loop which is the most accessible mountain biking area from Rijeka. It starts with a slightly boring climb up through Kostrena, the fanciest suburb of Rijeka. The reward comes quickly in the form of single-track riding through the forest, opening out to views across the mountains of Gorski Kotar on the right and the islands of Cres and Krk on the left – all this before breakfast.

Rijeka keeps its last secret well hidden yet almost in plain sight. Rijeka is the third largest city in Croatia and, unlike many coastal towns in Croatia, is still industrial, with a busy port, shipbuilding, and a refinery. However, almost in the centre of the city is a steep-sided, wild, overgrown canyon, full of deep pools and cliffs. It is certainly not obvious from the town that it is there and even most locals seem unaware of its existence as it’s rare to see anyone else in there. Our favourite trail run starts at the castle of Trsat, scrambles down steeply into the canyon, past the abandoned water mills, and across the river. From here it climbs back steeply up the peak above Trsat before joining the road down to Rijeka.

After all this exercise you probably deserve a beer. As a Rijekan, I’d love to suggest one of the local craft beers, of which there are plenty to try (Tarsa, Morčić, etc.) but I have to be honest and admit that in my opinion, the best beer in Croatia, and possibly the world, is Fifth Element IPA. It’s from Daruvar and best enjoyed on draft in Pivnica Cont, on Tito Square, right on the old border between the first Yugoslavia and Italy. Just drinking a beer there is a history lesson in itself.

Thank you so much to John for suggesting some excellent outdoor adventures for Easter in Rijeka! Much appreciated. John has also previously filmed a great Easter in Rijeka video, which really gives a feel for the kinds of things that can be enjoyed at this time of year. Take a look:

To see more of what John enjoys in this part of Croatia, take a look at his Swimming in Rijeka video.

Trsat Castle

Spotlight on: Trsat Castle, Rijeka

It has to be said that the country of Croatia is blessed with a number of very fine things (islands, a beautiful coastline, a rich history, many a fine sight…to name just a few!). Something that features relatively frequently in the country but perhaps not that well-known to visitors is its castles. One such castle to visit – very easily done so, as it’s just “above” one of Croatia’s main cities – is Trsat Castle. Read on below for information on how to visit the castle and what to see and do there.

Trsat Castle
Trsat Castle

About Trsat Castle

Trsat Castle is located on a hill above Croatia’s third-largest city, the very interesting Rijeka. The castle sits 138 metres above sea level meaning that you’ll enjoy excellent views when visiting, looking out over the city and the Adriatic Sea beyond (even to the island of Krk), and the nearby hills in the other direction.

Trsat Castle is one of the oldest such structures located along the coastline. Situated as it is on a hill, you are right to think that it was built as a defensive building. The current castle was built in the 13th century by the Croatian noble Frankopan family, although it is believed to be sited on a previous Roman hill fort. The castle fell into disrepair during the 17th and 18th centuries when it increasingly was no longer needed as a defensive structure. It was renovated during the 19th century

Getting There

The easiest way of getting to the castle is to take one of the local buses that operate in the city. Rijeka bus line 2 or Rijeka bus line 8 both operate from the centre to Trsat and both options will have a total journey time of around 25 minutes.

If you like to work up a bit of adrenaline before being rewarded with stunning views, you could also walk to the castle. Take the Petar Kruzic stairs which start just beyond Tito Square where it crosses the River Rijecina. Consisting of 561 stone steps and ascending up to 138 metres high, as we’ve mentioned, it is a bit of an energy-busting climb – but you might also consider part of the Trsat Castle experience.

The Petar Kruzic stairs to Trsat Castle
The Petar Kruzic stairs to Trsat Castle

What to See and Do at Trsat Castle

Whatever way you choose to arrive at the castle, once you’re here, start exploring the remains of the castle’s structure. You’ll get a feel of how impressive this building used to be as you walk around it, and take a look at the information signs which explain the different components of what you can see.

Of particular interest are the towers, some of which can be climbed for an even taller lookout viewpoint. You will also find a mausoleum – the building with MIR JUNAKA on it – which is the resting place of 19th-century military commander Laval Nugent; his family owned the castle up until the end of World War II.

Trsat Castle Mausoleum
Trsat Castle Mausoleum

The central courtyard of the castle is now home to a cafe bar which is very well placed to offer refreshment with a fantastic lookout point. The castle and the surrounding area is often used these days as a venue for various events.

Opposite is the Trsat Castle Park in which you can enjoy a nice bit of greenery and relaxation before you return back down to the city.

If you’ve climbed up the stairs to the castle, you will have passed by the Church of Our Lady of Trsat. This is one of the main pilgrimage places in Croatia, and the steps actually form part of the pilgrimage route.

View from Trsat Castle
View from Trsat Castle

Opening Hours and Entrance Price


It is free to enter the castle, which is open year-round.

More info on Trsat Castle

Learn more about the castle from Rijeka Tourist Board.

Into Hell's Fire

Interview with Rijeka-based author Douglas Cavanaugh on life in Croatia

We’ve been in touch with Rijeka-based writer Douglas Cavanaugh for a number of years now, thanks to his book “Into Hell’s Fire“. Published in 2012, the must-read book is set during the 1992 siege of Sarajevo and takes places in several locations in Bosnia and Croatia. In 2020, Douglas published his second book, “The Long Way Around“; set in rural Iowa, it is full of action and adventure and thrills readers as they follow the main character’s personal journey.

Into Hell's Fire - Douglas Cavanaugh
The Long Way Around - Douglas Cavanaugh

A resident of Croatia (in the northern coastal city of Rijeka) since the 1990s, Douglas has very kindly answered some questions on moving to Croatia from the U.S., the differences he’s found living in the country versus visiting it, and his future plans for exploring Croatia. Douglas also talks about his writing, and has also given us a little preview into what future written works he has planned!

1. What first brought you to Croatia?

Back in the early 1990s, when I was much younger and single, I had the good fortune to travel abroad a few times, and as a result, a permanent wanderlust overcame me. By then, I had visited southeast Asia and the U.K. and Ireland on business, and I had been lucky enough to have combined some sight-seeing on each journey. I absolutely loved it. I had been living in rural Iowa for the previous six years and I dreamed about working full-time in a foreign country on a long-term basis. When the contract in which I had been committed expired in late 1995, I was at a crossroads professionally. The night before I was scheduled to meet a banker to finance a new clinic, my touch-tone telephone rang. The ensuing conversation changed my life forever. On the line was a former classmate who had relocated to Italy after graduation. Somewhere along the way, he had found a job in the city of Rijeka in the newly formed Republic of Croatia. This friend had recently relocated to Zagreb and was calling on behalf of a medical doctor from Rijeka who was interested in adding a chiropractor to his clinic staff. Ten days later I was on a jet airplane heading to a country in which I had no knowledge in terms of history or culture. 

Douglas Cavanaugh in the Plitvice Lakes National Park
Douglas in the Plitvice Lakes National Park

2. What made you stay in Croatia? 

As stated, my arrival to Croatia was more of a spontaneous experiment than a fixed plan that had developed over time. Originally, I thought I might stay for six months and return to Iowa when the excitement waned. That soon became a year, then two, and so on. The relaxed pace of life in Croatia gradually grew on me, and the stressful thoughts of running an office in the States became less appealing. But the main reason I have stayed is one of the oldest in the books. Love! I met my future wife, a Hrvatica from Rijeka, and we built a life together in her home city. People in Croatia have a saying, “You are from where your wife is from,” and in my case, it certainly rings true.

Korzo in Rijeka
The Korzo, the main pedestrianised thoroughfare in Rijeka – visible is the famous clocktower

3. Did you have any misconceptions about the country before moving to Croatia?

When my colleague called me about the original job prospect, I was reluctant to pursue the offer. This was the result of the nightly news reports covering the fighting in Bosnia and Croatia I’d seen on television over the previous few years. I seriously considered what I would be getting into, and I wondered if I would be entering an active war zone. After a prolonged reassurance from my friend that Rijeka had not been touched by the fighting, and that the war in the region had effectively ended, I decided to ponder the possibility for a couple of days. By the third day, my sense of adventure dominated my decision-making process and I decided to accept the offer. I felt certain I would have regretted not going later in life if I declined the offer. In retrospect, I was correct. I have no regrets.

 Of course, additional misconceptions would have come to light prior to moving to Croatia except for, at that moment, I had so little knowledge about where I was going that there was little for me with which to misconceive. But sometimes ignorance is bliss, and I arrived in Croatia without expectations or pre-determined prejudices. I simply appeared in my new country, suitcase in hand, and began the learning process of how things work from scratch. Ironically, I learned I was an anomaly, a sort of a reverse immigrant compared to what many Croats had experienced over the previous century.

4. What differences do you think a resident of Croatia experiences compared to someone who is simply visiting?

As mentioned, I have traveled to many different countries as a tourist. Each destination filled my senses with interesting sights, exotic smells, and different tastes that left lasting impressions about my visit. While exploring any country as a tourist, the change of scenery and culture all appear so enticing. But I have found it isn’t until you’ve lived in any particular place for six months, more or less, before the subtle realities seep into your consciousness, and then progressively begin to amplify. In that regard, Croatia is no different. 

Like any place else, there is a learning phase involved about how things work in Croatia compared to an expat’s country of origin. Life in Croatia presents unnecessary delays and undesired distractions, and conversely, unexpected delights. The sooner you learn how the game is played, the better off you are. The level of difficulty required to adjust depends a lot upon a newcomer’s willingness to accept a different lifestyle and mentality. Upon first arrival from other western countries, you might feel right at home, but that sense of familiarity can be deceiving. As stated in a line from the character Morton Riggs in my first novel, ‘Into Hell’s Fire’, “These people look like us but they don’t act like us, think like us, or resemble us in any other way.” Often, the differences are slight, almost microscopic. Other traits are more obvious and stand out like a sore thumb. Such traits might include work ethic, workmanship, logic, time management, deadlines, and more. This, however, is a generality, and does not apply to everyone and every situation equally.

Some expats I have known never manage to adapt to the Croatian way of life and they resist acceptance of the lifestyle. Many of them have left for other domiciles. Others, including myself, manage better but struggle during the transition. I chose to use the term undesired distractions above rather than outright problems because most of the obstacles always seem to be resolved over time. Usually, an expat will wonder why most of these needless troubles occur in the first place. Yet, they do happen, and more often than expected. But with patience and determination, each challenge is usually overcome. Living in Croatia can be stressful at times. One need not take it personally. These unappreciated hindrances happen to everyone whenever you are a stranger in a strange land. In fact, they even happen to the locals.

5. Are there any discoveries you have made while living in Croatia that are missed by most travellers? What are your favorite ‘off the beaten path’ spots?

Absolutely! In fact, there are ‘hotspots’ of which even native Croats, let alone a veteran expat like me, are unaware. A major difference between being an expat and a tourist is that most tourists are time constrained. They want to see the major sights in the shortest amount of time possible, maybe a week, two, or three during a summer holiday. This restricts their ability to find those out-of-the-way gems that are not on most pre-planned itineraries. Expats, on the other hand, may be limited timewise also as most have full time jobs and family obligations. Yet, by living ‘in-country,’ it is easier for them to establish a network of locals who can recommend points of interest and inform about the best deals and food at local restaurants. 

My recommendations are limited to the areas where I’ve spent the most time. As I live in Rijeka, I have not visited Slavonia or Dalmatia enough to consider myself any sort of an expert. In fact, I would still consider myself a common tourist while visiting these regions. I primarily spend my free time in the Kvarner region or on the Istrian Peninsula. I do not know Zagreb that well either, yet I have visited the major sights in the capital city over the years. I would recommend visiting Zagreb during the Advent season in December. The city is brilliant and alive at that time, and I’ve enjoyed the event the last three Decembers. 

After touring Zagreb’s sights, many visitors impatiently leave the capital headed to other distant destinations on their itinerary. By doing this, they miss out on a favorite spot of mine. I try to make it a point to spend a short time in nearby Samobor, a growing village just a short drive west of Zagreb.  It is worth taking a stroll through the center and along the Riverwalk, and then having a coffee or beer at one of the many café bars. On the outskirts of Samobor, in the foothills along the Slovenian border, there are several guesthouses and restaurants to choose from where one can dine on fresh trout or pork cutlets and drink fantastic regional wine. It is an excellent atmosphere to share an afternoon with friends. 

Another short day trip from Zagreb is the Baroque city named Varaždin. It has a beautiful city center which can be explored in a few hours. On the return to Zagreb, it would be worth searching out the impressive Trakošćan Castle. Even for tourists who are not castle enthusiasts, I can vouch for the impressiveness of this one. An hour-long walk around the nearby lake offers terrific scenery with some spectacular views of the castle. 

Closer to Rijeka, another ‘under the radar’ recommendation is the romantic hill village named Kastav. A fantastic view of Opatija and the Adriatic Sea awaits visitors, and more restaurants and café bars are present in which to spend a casual afternoon or summer evening.

My final suggestion rests in the heart of Istria where small, cozy restaurants, known as konobas dot the landscape. There are too many to mention by name, but every local has their favorite, so it is easy to ask around to get a recommendation and directions. The menus are nearly the same at each, and the quality and value does not vary much from one to another either. For me, ambiance is key. Which konoba has the best is a matter of opinion. Many konobas are classified as Agrotourism, and their owners grow, produce, and network with other local producers to serve fresh homegrown products on their menu.

6. How has living in Croatia influenced and inspired your writing?

Living in Croatia has inspired my writing enormously. The idea of writing a novel began swirling around in my mind a few years before my arrival in Croatia when I was living in rural Iowa. However, life in a small town left me uninspired for a storyline or plot, so I ushered the idea to the back of my mind. 

Things changed rapidly after I had been in Croatia for a couple years. My parents came for a visit and I arranged for us to take the overnight ferry from Rijeka to Dubrovnik. At the time, there were still many foreign peacekeepers and U.N. officials in the area. On deck during the ferry ride one afternoon, I remember sharing a beer with my father and watching the coastline. Behind us, leaning on a deck rail, a middle-age man dressed in black was talking into a cumbersome, early model cell phone. He paced impatiently and conversed in multiple languages. Who was this man, I thought? A government agent? A foreign spy? In fact, he may have been a travel agent or a local on his way home for all I knew, but I let my imagination run wild and the genesis of my first novel, Into Hell’s Fire, was born. Readers of the novel will see a parallel to this scenario somewhere while reading the book.  Eight years later, Into Hell’s Fire was complete!

In hindsight, Into Hell’s Fire was a remarkable success for a first-time author. It was prominently featured in the Balkan War section of the nonfiction book entitled, Docu-Fictions of War, written by Dr. Tatiana Prorokova, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer in the Department of English and American Studies at the University of Vienna. 

In 2019, Into Hell’s Fire was awarded by the Croatian publisher VF Libris to be translated, published, and distributed for the Croatian market. The title of the translated version is ‘Kroz Vatre Paklene,’ and it can be ordered at any Hoću-knjigu bookstore in Croatia. 

Based on my first book’s success, I decided to change genres and topics for my second effort. This novel, The Long Way Around, was completed in early 2020. It is an action/adventure, family drama which, ironically, is set in my home state. Based on the information provided earlier in this interview, readers of The Long Way Around may see similarities to my experience of living in rural Iowa. Yet, my Croatian life was included in the story, too, and many readers with Croatian heritage will be delighted to meet the character Tomislav Novak, a proud member of the Croatian diaspora hailing from Louisiana.

7. You live in Rijeka, having settled there for personal reasons. Rijeka was the European Capital of Culture for 2020, although obviously that was greatly overshadowed by the pandemic. (Poor Rijeka!) What highlights of the city would you suggest to any visitor?

The sites I would recommend are likely not those which gained Rijeka the distinction as being the European Capital of Culture for 2020. Yet, in my opinion, my suggestions are worth seeing, Each are inexpensive, or even free, and none of them require a lot of time. 

The first suggestion is the tunnel beneath the city which opened for tourists within the last few years. This tunnel was built in the years prior World War II. It extends from the famous St. Vitus Cathedral to the Italian primary school named Dolac. Walking through the tunnel is an excellent way to beat the summer heat while touring the city center. Admission to enter the tunnel is free.

Rijeka Tunnel
The tunnel in Rijeka
Rijeka Market
The open air market

The second interesting site to see in Rijeka is the open vegetable and fish market. To the locals, shopping at the outdoor market is a routine way of life. However, for the visitors I have hosted from the USA and the U.K, the hustle and bustle of the vegetable stands, and the sight and stench of the adjoining fish market are always a big hit. 

While you are in the vicinity, you can take a 1.7 km walk on the harbor wall promenade called the Molo Longo. Take your camera because the view towards the city is memorable.

Another recommendation is the Trsat Castle overlooking the city. Access to the castle requires a car or bus if one is not physically fit. A staircase of well over five hundred steps leads uphill to the castle from the city center if one’s heart, lungs, knees, and spirit are up to the challenge. Once there, the castle offers a fantastic panoramic view of not only Rijeka, but the entire Kvarner Bay and the city of Opatija. From the castle, plenty of café bars and a few restaurants line the path to Trsat where one can sit and visit with the locals. While your near, be sure to walk across the street and tour the Our Lady of Trsat Church and the grounds.

Trsat Castle
Trsat Castle

8. Is there any region of Croatia that you don’t know so well that you think – “I’ve really got to explore more of it!” Where would you like to visit next?

The part of Croatia which has been most elusive for me to visit is the eastern-most region known as Slavonia. A quick glance at a map will easily explain why. Time and distance. I have spent a day in Požega while attending my daughter’s choir competition and I enjoyed the city and experience. We hope to spend more time visiting Osijek and other sites in the area next year. 

9. You said you had the idea of writing a novel for a few years before you came to Croatia. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Writing was an interest that came to me later in life. I realize now that I enjoyed the pursuit during my youth but only for personal and recreational reasons (writing letters) and not for assignments required in school. I always liked the ‘zone’ writing puts my mind in, collecting and organizing my thoughts, choosing ideal words and phrases to express myself in the best possible manner. Back in those days, I never dreamed I would write an entire novel, much less a second. Like most things in life, once started, you get the hang of it, and in many ways, it becomes easier. Things just flow and it is sometimes hard to stop. That is where editing and revising enters the picture.

10. Do you have any more books in the pipeline?

I have a few ideas swirling around in my mind. I have decided to write a book of fictional short stories based on real accounts people have shared with me regarding their experiences growing up during World War II. At the same time, I will be helping my daughter with a children’s book she has outlined in preparation to start Chapter one. And finally, I have been considering writing a sequel to my first novel, the Lucas Martin spy-thriller called Into Hell’s Fire. The plot is almost outlined.

Thank you very much for answering these questions, Douglas!

About Author Douglas Cavanaugh

An American expat who has lived in Rijeka, Croatia for more than twenty years, Douglas Cavanaugh is a graduate of the esteemed Palmer Chiropractic College (Davenport, IA). He is also one of the early pioneers of the chiropractic profession in the Republic of Croatia.

Douglas’s two books – Into Hell’s Fire and The Long Way Around are available in bookshops around the work through IngramSpark. You can also purchase these two books online via Amazon (links above go to the Amazon UK store) with both books available in paperback or on Kindle.

Take a look at a trailer for his most recent book, The Long Way Around, below:

Rijeka to Zadar Catamaran - G&V Line Iadera Melita

Rijeka to Zadar catamaran from G&V Line Iadera

A very useful coastal service that’s new for 2019 is the Rijeka to Zadar catamaran from G&V Line Iadera.

This line started sailing on 15th June this year, and will continue to run for the summer season until 15th September, operating daily. G&V Line Iadera’s boat ‘Melita’ operates on this route, which has a capacity for 180 passengers.

Rijeka to Zadar Catamaran - G&V Line Iadera Melita
The “Melita” ship, sailing on this line

The full line sails Rijeka – Krk Town (Krk) – Lopar (Rab) – Novalja (Pag) – Zadar; it not only connects the large northern port city of Rijeka to Dalmatia, but it also calls in at some of the more popular island towns in the Kvarner region.

The catamaran also calls in at the party town of Novalja on the island of Pag. That makes it a useful connection for anyone travelling to Croatia to one of the many festivals held there. You can choose to fly to Rijeka or Zadar and then travel down (or up) by boat instead of bus.

The full timetable can be seen below:

Rijeka to Zadar Catamaran Timetable

The line is maintained by G&V Line. The timetable may be subject to change.

Tickets for the Rijeka to Zadar Catamaran

It costs 190 Kunas to sail from Rijeka to Zadar; 130 Kunas for Rijeka to Novalja; 100 Kunas for Rijeka to Lopar; and 80 Kunas for Rijeka to Krk Town. (Obviously, all prices are the same for the opposite direction too.) Children under 12 years of age pay 50% of these prices.

Full price details can be seen below:

Rijeka to Zadar Catamaran Prices

Tickets can be bought online at or locally at sales points in all the ports the boat calls at. (For more details, check online.)

Hand luggage may be taken aboard, as well as one suitcase up to 20kg, to be stored in the luggage compartment.

G&V Line Iadera

The Zadar-based company operate several other routes in Croatia besides the Rijeka to Zadar catamaran. They also run a service from Zadar to Sali and Zaglav on Dugi Otok, and from Zadar to the small islands of Rava and Iz.

They operate foot-passenger only catamaran services, although this does of course mean a faster service than ferries. Bicycles may be taken on board some of their boats – please contact the company ahead of travel if you’d like to take a bike on board.

Timetables, prices and more details about all their routes can be found at


Travel question: From Zagreb Airport to Rijeka

Good day, we are planning a trip to Croatia & we need to travel from Zagreb to Rijeka to take our cruise. We do not know how to reserve our bus or train & if we need to go to downtown Zagreb or if we could take the bus or the train from the airport. Thanks.

Clock Tower in Rijeka

You are, in fact, in luck. In almost all cases, you’d have to travel to downtown Zagreb to make your way by bus or train to other places in Croatia.

However, it just so happens that there’s a direct bus from Zagreb Airport to Rijeka. This bus departs Zagreb Airport every day at 3.30pm – you can find out a few more details on the Pleso Prijevoz website. You cannot reserve tickets for this bus in advance, and you merely buy them from the driver.

If this bus time isn’t suitable for you, then you would have to travel to downtown Zagreb in order to reach Rijeka. There are transfer buses by the same company (timetable here) and this takes you to the main bus station in Zagreb. Again, buy your tickets for this bus from the driver.

It is better (roughly same price, but definitely faster!) to travel by bus from Zagreb to Rijeka. You can look up timetables on the Zagreb Bus Terminal website. – it won’t yet let you look up times for October, but just look up a date that’s the same day of the week that you wish to travel on. (And then perhaps look it up again nearer the time of your travel.) Almost all – if not all – of these buses operate year-round; journey time is about 2.5-3 hours, depending on which bus you take.

It’s not really possible to buy tickets in advance for bus journeys in Croatia, other than in person by the bus station or sometimes by phone. However, *some* bus companies are starting to offer online booking – Autotrans , one of the main companies in Croatia and who are based in Rijeka – have just started this. They operate a number of the Zagreb – Rijeka services. However, you won’t yet be able to buy tickets for October – again, check back closer to the time of your travels.

In all honesty, especially as you’re travelling out of season, it will be fine for you to simply turn up at Zagreb Bus Terminal and buy tickets for your bus journey to Rijeka there and then!