8 Things You Didn’t Know About Croatia

By Jules Torti | October 18, 2021

It was serendipitous that I picked up a copy of Lonely Planet Croatia in the thick of the pandemic. Travel wasn’t even a consideration at that point but as per routine, I combed the shelves at our nearest Value Village for something that might trigger. I didn’t know then that I’d be in Croatia just six months later with Wild Women Expeditions. I also didn’t know that I’d be their shiny new Communications Architect.

Years ago, my sister-in-law gave me one of those 1,000 Places You Should See Before You Die 365 Picture-a-Day desk calendars. I kept a dozen images that resonated, one of them being Istria, Croatia. See, it’s all magical foreshadowing, isn’t it?

In researching the Charms of Croatia Multisport Adventure itinerary with Wild Women I learned that Croatia is full of surprises, sardines, vineyards, lavender and Mamma Mia stories. Now that you have an ABBA song instantly lodged in your head (I Have a Dream?), check out this list of cool stuff about Croatia!

1. There are dung beetles! 

Dung beetles are actually found on every continent except Antarctica. Scientists have tapped into their CSI-like potential in determining the biodiversity of an area. The DNA of endangered species can be detected in the guts of dung beetles, making them valuable (but unpaid) field researchers.

You can watch a dung beetle in action here: MVI_6943 

2. Dancing Queens have been spotted on Vis island.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again was filmed on Vis island, Croatia, a former Yugoslav military base. The original film was shot on the Greek island of Skopelo or “Kalokairi” as fiction would have it. Our Wild Women group did not feel the “beat of the tambourine, oh yeah,” we felt the beat of rain on our Gore-tex as the bura (Croatian’s famed northeasterly wind that has a tendency to overturn cars and close highways). However, the 12th-century fishing village was still enchanting and possibly even more authentic in the soupy fog and drizzle.

3. You can share a kiss under the mistletoe or drink it!

Croatia loves to ferment and distill everything and anything edible and bottle it as rakija–a potent brandy. Sage, carob, plum, cherry, loquat, mistletoe (biska), walnut…the fiery fruit tonics are administered for any ailment and can be enjoyed even if you are totally asymptomatic. *Note: there is no specific brandy to cure sampling too much brandy the night before. Also, the one Croatian word that you must learn is živjeli. Cheers!

4. Here’s the scoop on lavender ice cream. It’s a thing!

Fifty years ago, 8% of the world’s lavender came from Hvar island. There is an annual two-day festival in June that celebrates everything lavender (yep, even lavender ice cream) with distillation demonstrations and fragrant walks through the abandoned village of Velo Grablje. It’s a sensory massage! Maybe that’s the cure for the brandy-induced headache. And of course, there is a lavender-infused brandy! Travarica often contains rosemary, chamomile, rose hips, juniper, thyme, currants, mint or sage.

5. You can enjoy a lunch that was delivered by mule…

The Paklencia Mountain Lodge in the Velebit range is located 6km deep into the black pine and old-growth beech forest of Paklencia National Park. Everything on the menu is brought in by foot–human or mule! (And the stuffed peppers are amazing!) The Velika Paklencia canyon is the most coveted climbing site in Croatia with more than 500 different routes like “The Show Must Go On”, “Black Magic Woman”, and “50 and Life to Go.” A tunnel complex under the 400m mountain, dubbed the “Bunkers”, was built by the Yugoslav army between 1950-1953 during the political crisis with the Soviet Union. You’ll find a cafe, indoor climbing wall, museum and interactive displays about knot-tying, alpine history and the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service (of which our Wild Women guide, Darija, is a part of!). 

6. Once upon a time you could pay your taxes with salt and pelts.

The Croatian currency is the “kuna” or HRK. One US dollar = 6.47 kunas which involves a lot of multiplying. Guess I should have daydreamed less in grade 2! The currency has been used since 1994 and is an ode to the marten (“kuna” in Croatian). Marten pelts (and salt) once served as a tax payment in medieval times.

7. There’s a museum dedicated to broken hearts.

The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb is one of many curious installations in the city (in addition to oddball museums dedicated to mushrooms, illusions, hangovers and torture). The objects of disintegrated love are comical, heartrending and tragic. From toasters to jade plants to wedding dresses and 10-speed bikes, be sure to build in time before your Wild Women trip departure to take in the love letters (and jaded memories) found in the museum’s tribute to unrequited love. 

8. You can find a 700-year-old remedy for all that ails you.

In Dubrovnik, the Old Pharmacy at the Franciscan Monastery founded in 1317 is still in business! Known for its ancient but tried-and-true miracle creams and herbal tonics, the Pharmacy (and accompanying museum) offers an alternative to the self-prescribed brandies mentioned above using herbal and plant concoctions (like heather, shown above).

If this kind of stuff makes your heart pound a little faster with curiosity and intrigue, check out Wild Women Expeditions Charms of Croatia Multisport Adventure itinerary. There are four trip dates in 2022 that include hikes in the national parks, sailing to Vis (insert “Mamma Mia” song here!), biking through pastoral Konavle, kayaking around the calm bays of the Paklinski Islands and tours of grand cities like Split and abandoned villages. Start saving your kunas!