A place of magic
winter in croatia and slovenia
No crowds in the city centers, no waiting for the restaurant, and more affordable accommodation prices –sounds like a dream? It is a reality, it’s called the winter season in Croatia, and these are just some of its good sides. If we add to it manifestations and festivities which are happening only in the winter months and a lot of snow for different activities, we hope we got at least a glimpse of your attention. Here are some of the best things to do or sites to visit during the wintertime in Croatia:
Croatia and neighboring Slovenia have some spectacular lakes and National parks which should not be missed, especially in winter when many of them get covered with snow. No queuing at the entrance is just a bonus.
Plitvice lakesCroatia is full of natural beauty, and one of its greatest pride is Plitvice Lakes National Park, which was placed on the World Natural Heritage List in 1979. Consisting of 16 different-sized lakes, they are interconnected by cascades and waterfalls filled with crystal blue-green water. During the coldest months, Plitvice Lakes get under a meter and a half of snow, surrounded by ice, which is a beautiful freezing scene that cannot be seen every day. Among the wide range of different species living in this area, Plitvice is home to some largest European beasts like the brown bear, the wolf, and the lynx. If you decide on a winter visit, the good news is that there is no crowd, and the ticket is cheaper, more than twice compared of the summer holidays.
Bled lakeLocated at 475 m above sea level in the northwestern part of the Slovenian Alps, this beautiful lake is one of the most visited Slovenian natural attractions, which is even more impressive and covered with snow. The most famous sight is the island of Bled, with the St. Mary church from the 15th century. Interestingly is that the island of Bled is the only natural island in Slovenia. To reach it, visitors can rent a pletna boat, reminiscent of the Venetian gondola, which is here used as a shuttle.
TriglavTriglav National Park is one of the oldest national parks in Europe. It is named after Triglav, the highest Slovenian peak and the highest mountain in the heart of the National park. Placed 2864 m above sea level with a large number of hiking trails, it is a great place for recreation. An interesting fact is that the Triglav mountain is actually a true national symbol and is depicted on military uniforms, as well as the Slovenian flag. During the winter, the snow on its peaks fills the air with silence, making the walk through nature so peaceful that it almost has a meditative effect.
Bohinj lakeThis is the largest natural lake in Slovenia, located 526 m above sea level within the Triglav National Park in the center of the Julian Alps. Its untouched nature is so breathtaking that it is hard not to fall in love with it at first sight. In summer, the temperature of the lake rises to a pleasant 22 º C, and in winter, the lake freezes. The trail around the lake is 12 km long, and it takes several hours to finish it.
SkiingCroatia has something that is rarely found, and that is the possibility to ski on the mountain and enjoy coffee by the sea, all on the same day. Croatian ski resorts are not large, but they are well-equipped and offer everything for skiers, both beginners and experienced ones. In addition, there are ski resorts in Slovenia nearby, giving plenty of options to choose from.
Sljeme ski resortSljeme is the top of Medvednica, a mountain above Zagreb, located at 1033 meters above sea level. An asphalt road and numerous hiking trails lead to it, which is why it is a popular weekend destination for many recreationists. For skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts, Sljeme offers 4000 meters of ski trails arranged in the family, blue, red, and green downhill. The trails are reachable by two ski lifts and one triple chair lift. The Snow Queen Trophy is the slalom race of the World Ski Cup, which has been held on Sljeme every year since 2005. Attracting up to 30.000 spectators, this is one of the most-watched World Cup races on the World Cup calendar.
Ski resort Begovo RazdoljeLocated on the western slopes of Bjelolasica (1078 meters above sea level), Begovo Razdolje is the only inhabited place in Croatia above a thousand meters. The top of the ski resort can be reached by the ski lift, and the trail will satisfy the needs of beginners as well as demanding skiers. In addition to the ski resort, there is also a toboggan run for children and a ski school. Begovo Razdolje’s advantage is the closeness of the sea. It takes just one hour to get to coastal Rijeka.
Ski resort PlatakSituated only 25 km northeast of Rijeka, this small family-friendly ski resort offers many opportunities for recreation and relaxation throughout the year. From the top of the Platak chairlift (1363 meters), you can enjoy the sea view. The ski slopes are arranged in the length of nine kilometers and are not interconnected. A two-seater chairlift will take you to the top of the ski resort. Platak also offers a ski and snowboard school and a 10-kilometer cross-country ski and walking trail.
Mariborsko pohorje ski resortThanks to its beautiful nature and the rich offer of skiing and hiking trails, this destination, located near the Slovenian town of Maribor, is a real magnet for all winter sports lovers. In total, it offers more than 40 kilometers of well-maintained trails for skiers of all skills and ages and 22 ski lifts. While you ski on Pohorje slopes, it can happen that you see roe deer running between the snowy branches of the tall trees.
Kranjska gora ski resortThis is one of the most beloved Slovenian ski resorts, located in the Gorenjska (Upper Carniola) region. Its 20 km of slopes and 17 ski lifts line from the inclines of Vitranc to Kranjska Gora. In addition to skiing, there are several other programs, such as cross-country skiing, ice climbing, sledding, snow biking, skating, zip-lining, and winter hiking, making it a true paradise for active vacations.
Relaxing in thermal spas
Croatia has a lot of traditional spas and thermal baths, with a great variety of wellness services. Sveti Martin, Jezerčica, Istarske Toplice, Stubičke Toplice, and Varaždinske Toplice are just some of the many that are worthy of highlighting, giving you a wide range to choose from.
Krapinske topliceLocated 46 km north of Zagreb, in the idyllic green valley of the Croatian Zagorje, these spas are built on four healing springs. Here you can choose from 5 swimming pools (one of which is a unique diving pool), a wellness program, and the Aquae Vivae water park. All pools are filled with thermal water, a temperature of 28-38 degrees and have a total of over 160 water attractions.
Terme TuheljIn the immediate vicinity of Krapinske Toplice, only 11 km away, Terme Tuhelj is situated. Surrounded by the green scenery of the Zagorje region, these springs offer pools with thermal water, water planet, Finnish, and steam sauna. Apart from Croatia, numerous thermal springs are also located in Slovenia. This country, very successful in winter sports such as skiing and biathlon, has a very developed spa and wellness tourism that offers both relaxation, as well as recreational content for top athletes in the mountain air.
Terme ČatežDue to its rich offer of water activities for different ages, these spas are a favorite destination, especially among families. For swimming in the cold months, there is a winter Thermal Riviera which is a covered pool complex that stretches over 6,500 m2. In addition to the pools with attractions, these spas also have a health center and wellness program.
Castles under the snow
Castles of continental CroatiaIf you prefer easy walks rather than sports activities and can listen to stories for hours, this is a great destination for you. Green hills, rivers, forests, museums, trails, vineyards and wine routes, delicious food, dear people, and interesting legends are just some of the short lines to describe continental Croatia. This attractive and still unexplored tourist destination is rich in castles and forts, and here are some of the most famous ones:
Veliki TaborArchitecturally perfectly integrated into the nature that surrounds it, Veliki Tabor is an extremely valuable monument of Croatian culture. It was built around the 15th century and, due to its distinctive appearance, can be found on many brochures and posters. Within the castle, there is a museum with interesting artifacts from every days life open to visitors.
Trakošćan castleLocated by the lake and wrapped in solitude, this gorgeous small castle really looks like one from the fairytale, and if it is covered by snow, the experience is even more intense. Originally built in the 13th century as part of the defense system, Trakošćan got its present appearance in the 19th century when it was restored into a residential castle. Today, Trakošćan is a protected historical ensemble, and it consists of a castle, a building next to it, a park, and a forest park with a lake. The castle also has a museum with a permanent exhibition that contains some enjoyable historical pieces, including a real knight’s armor.
Ozalj CastleThis castle tells the story of the famous noble families Zrinski and Frankopan, who greatly marked Croatian history. Originally built as a stronghold, it has later been converted into a castle. It is situated in Ozalj, above the Kupa river, in an idyllic scenery that, in winter months, gets a thick layer of snow cover.
Slovenian castlesFor all of you who want to explore castles slightly further, neighboring Slovenia has a rich list of its fortifications. Only an hour or two drive from the Croatian border, Celje castle, Mokrice castle, and Velenje castle are some of the magnificent buildings which are worth a visit.
Predjama castleOnce you see it, it’s easy to describe it as one of Slovenia’s most stunning castles. Situated within the cave mouth in the region of Inner Carniola, the stories about this Renaissance castle, its founder Erasmus of Lueg, and secret passageways can easily light the imagination. Postojna cave, only 9 kilometers from the castle, is a great additional attraction for all who decide to visit.
Christmas in neighboring capital cities
From drinking hot wine and eating local specialties at temperatures around 0 degrees Celsius to having a Christmas coffee on a sunny Split promenade while overlooking the sea, every city in Croatia has an Advent with its unique traditions.Voted for the best Christmas Market in Europe for three years in a row, Zagreb Advent is Croatia’s most popular Christmas Market. Placed in several locations within the city center, it offers homemade souvenirs, delicacies like peppery gingerbread cookies, fritule with chocolate, and inevitable hot red wine. Christmas decorations, food scents, a skating rink, and numerous market booths lit up the atmosphere making it cheerful and lively through all four Advent weeks. Visiting Slovenia and Ljubljana Advent is a great choice for those who want to go further north. Illuminated in festive lights, Ljubljana Advent is waiting for visitors with its life-size straw Nativity scene, boat ride on the Ljubljanica River, street music, and many other attractions.
The biggest Croatian peninsula, Istria, is situated on a 3 hours road drive from Zagreb. Known as Terra Magica or the magical land, this region delights with its natural beauty as well as with its cultural heritage. Small and intimate towns with good food, a nice climate, and the sky so clear that you can gaze at the stars -is there anything better for an unforgettable Valentine’s Day?And Istria offers plenty of great places. Rovinj and Poreč are two towns situated on the western coast, with a mild climate and friendly local people. It means that even if it’s winter, it won’t get too cold, which gives you plenty of opportunities to enjoy the city with your loved one. The church of St. Euphemia in Rovinj, Grotta Baredine, and Euphrasius basilica in Poreč are must-see places. It is always recommended to try some of the Istrian gastronomic delicacies like truffles, fuži, and pljukanci (Istrian pasta varieties) or Istrian boškarin.
Charming crowd-free coastal towns
Winter in Croatia is an amazing time for many reasons. The city pace is slower, streets are not over packed and you can immerse with the city in a different way seeing it more with the eyes of a local.
Split in winterThe closeness of the sea and Mediterranean climate means that there are a lot of nice, sunny days during the wintertime. This allows you to have a coffee in Riva (a promenade), take a walk through Marjan Forest Park, or lay down and relax on the Bačvice beach. For those who like adrenalin and more adventurous vacations, Žnjan beach is a popular destination among kite surfers, while the littoral side of the mountain Kozjak above Kaštela and its walking trails are very popular among hikers. Split is also greatly located for different daily trips, so you can use a nice day to visit remains of the ancient Salona near Solin and have a pick-nick at Our Lady’s Isle.
Rijeka in winterSituated in the Kvarner region, Rijeka is a very vibrant city whose city vibe is appealing to many of its visitors. While some are attracted by the imposing buildings of the city center, many others love the Rijeka rock vibe, as this is the hometown of many popular Croatian singers. Korzo –the main and liveliest city street where you must take a break and have a coffee, has its unique charm. Every year between late January and early March, Rijeka is host of a Rijeka Carnival: the biggest carnival in Croatia, with up to 100.000 attending spectators. The festive season starts with the symbolic gesture of the mayor handing the city keys to the Meštar Toni, after which the carnival queen is elected. The main event of this carnival is the International Carnival Parade which thousands of masked people and numerous floats, which may send some ironic yet humorous messages about all the bad things that happened in the previous year. The special attraction of Rijeka Carnival is Halubajski Zvončari (the Halubaj bell ringers), covered with sheepskin-wearing masks and bells around the waist. This tradition is based on the belief that ringing protects the community from “evil forces.”
Šibenik and Zadar in winterAnother two small Mediterranean cities with a rich history and many attractions are great as a weekend getaway. First mentioned in documents in the 11th Century, Šibenik is today the only Croatian city with two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Cathedral of St James and St. Nicholas Fortress. On the other hand, Zadar was built on Roman remains, and a touch of ancient Rome can still be experienced today at the Forum, which is the home of the most famous Zadar landmark – the Church of St. Donatus. The Greeting to the sun and the Sea Organ are the two most visited sights, which turn the evening into a special experience.
Manifestations and activities
Mandarin harvest in the Neretva valleyAn hour-and-a-half road drive south of Split brings a complete change of scenery: from the high mountain ridges to the vast plain of the Neretva Valley. Due to the rich soil and constant inflow of freshwater, this region is also called the Garden of Dubrovnik and is best known for over a million trees of its mandarins. Mandarin picking starts in late September, does not require any prior knowledge, and will provide you with an authentic experience of Neretva Valley – a territory with such a rich fauna that has two protected ornithological reserves. Opuzen and Metković are the towns that lie on the banks of the Neretva river, and restaurants here offer traditional specialties of the region, such as frogs, eels, seafood, and the famous Neretvanski Brudet (Neretva fish stew).
New Year celebration in FužineIf you want to say farewell to the Old Year twice, come to Fužine because the celebration of the New Year is at noon. This open-air celebration has become a tradition with a big Sylvester’s party on the central square. Live music, fireworks at noon, local delicacies, and a great atmosphere attract many visitors who want a good time.
Night of MuseumsNight of museums is an annual event that takes place on the last Friday in January from 6 pm to 1 am. On that night, most of the museums, some art galleries, and other places of cultural importance offer free entry. The first museum night was held in 2005. and only six museums participated. Over the years, the number of museums has significantly increased, making the list of over 200 of them which can be visited without a fee. On this night, even the museums in small cities all over the country participate in the manifestation, enriching the offer of cultural content.
Festivity of St. BlaiseThe beginning of February (3.2.) in Dubrovnik is reserved for the great Festivity of St. Blaise, the city’s Patron Saint. This is a thousand-year-old tradition with the obligatory procession through the beautiful street of Stradun led by the church dignitaries who carry a gilded relic of the saint. They are accompanied by citizens of the Dubrovnik region wearing rich folk costumes and numerous other guests. During the festivities, many secular activities are organized as well. Among the most exciting ones is firing the antique guns in the town’s port. The basic dish on this day is dubrovački makaruli, delicious pasta with beef sauce. Sporki means dirty because this is the meal from the times when meat was reserved only for the rich, meaning that makaruli were only dipped or soiled into the meat sauce.
Charming crowd-free coastal towns
Winter in Croatia is amazing for many reasons. One of them is an opportunity to try some of the best traditional dishes and sweets without waiting for a reservation in the desired restaurant. Besides, some of these meals are seasonal, which means that they might not be served during the hot summer days.Most favorite winter appetizers are probably čvarci -cracklings made out of a pork rind. They are almost always served with rakija which is often described as homemade schnapps. You should not miss a main dish sinjski arambašići. They are very similar to popular sarma but smaller, stuffed with meat chopped with a hatchet. Turkey with mlinci (a type of flatbread) is another must-try. For all who like something spicy, a great choice is a warm čobanac, a Slavonia dish prepared in a large pot on an open fire. Those who prefer fish might enjoy bakalar (cod). It is prepared with potatoes and white wine, and this simple dish is typical for Christmas time. If you want to explore a bit more, add to this list fritule. The fried sweet dough has been a favorite delicacy for many generations. Good food always goes with good wines, and many who try Croatian wines for the first time describe them as a pleasant surprise. Not only that Croatia has some of the indigenous grape varieties which are processed into top-notch wines, but one of them, Tribidrag, is also ‘’a parent’’ of the American Zinfandel. The Plavac mali from Hvar, dingač, and Postup from the sunny slopes of the Pelješac peninsula and the grk, dingač, and pošip from the island of Korčula is certainly the pride and joy of this area. Northern Croatia, also known for its wine production, is very proud of graševina – white wine with a fruity aroma. For the region of Istria, the most prominent is malvasia. Along with it, Istria also has Teran, which is great for meat dishes.