The view across St John's Harbour in Dubrovnik. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

First-time visitors to the country are always knocked sideways by Croatia's stunning natural beauty; and having been dubbed ‘The Mediterranean as it once was', the timeless countryside and coastline - with 1,778km to explore - makes for some of the most unspoilt scenery in the world, that's also long been a discreet bolthole for the rich and famous. And from the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic', Dalmatia, to the pulsating old-meets-new excitement of the capital, Zagreb, Croatia is a destination to suit all vacationers, boasting some of Europe's most beautiful beaches.

And as each region - Dalmatia, Istria, Kvarna and Slavonia - welcomes visitors with its own unique way of life, there are also incredible National Parks to visit, the Plitvice Waterfalls to take in, and the sprawling cities of Split, Zadar and Sibenik to get lost in.

Coast with the most

Dalmatia, on the Eastern coast, buffeted by the Adriatic is home to the Dinaric Alps and boasts a Mediterranean costal climate, with evergreens lining the sandy beaches - making for perfect skiing in the winter and sunning in the summer.

With tribal activity in the area dating back to 1BC, the history-soaked region is where you half expect to glimpse a Viking ship on the horizon, and it's become the most visited area of the country.

The churches and cathedrals are impressive, with the Cathedral of St Domnius in Split a stunningly preserved monument of Corinthian columns, original friezes and a 12th-century belfry.

Also be sure to check out the Church of St Donat in Zadar, which dates back to the 9th century and, as it was built atop a Roman forum,is a total treasure for the eagle-eyed visitor who'll be able to enjoy sights dating from the 1st-century BC and 3rd-century AD. And the Gothic-Renaissance Rector's Palace in Dubrovnik is another must-see historic building, boasting a decorative interior of fine carvings and ornate fixtures that demand the visitor's attention, and it's also where you can enjoy concerts in the atrium during the balmy summer months.

After a day spent wandering among the priceless relics, the coast beckons seasoned travellers, with its timeless scenes of children leaping into the water from the coastal walls, and fisherman spilling up their catch of the day on the quayside. For traditional eats in Dubrovnik, head to Lucin Kantun for cheap fare that'll give your taste buds a full-on local experience.

Choose from a selection of local hams and cheese on the super-short but experimental meze-style menu. Found yourself in Split for dinner? Try Buffet Fife, where the seafood is ocean-fresh, with the fried fish a standout.

Magical Plitvice

The natural wonder of the many lakes and waterfalls of Plitvicehave seen the area named a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the lakes attract visitors in their tens of thousands.

The 16 lakes are renowned for their different shades of blue, depending on the minerals and organisms within, with the deepest, Kozjak, plummeting to a depth of 47m - and visitors can get up close and personal with the natural wonder, thanks to the paths between the lakes. The National Park itself sprawls out for 296sq km and, with many forests to wander through and animals including bears, wolves and rare species of birds, hiking is the best way to get around the reserve. Visitors will also find electric boat and train rides through the park, as well as cycling, skiing and rowing on offer - according to the seasons.

For those wishing to stay in the park, there are four hotels and two camps available where you can pitch your tent and really get back to nature. Choose from the Jazero, Plitvice, Bellevue and Grabovac hotels, or opt to stay in a lodge or guesthouse near to the park. Finally, take time out to visit the Barac Caves, where it's well worth joining a guided tour, and enjoying the sight of the spotted Salamanders that reside there. 

City slickers

The Unesco World Heritage Site city of Dubrovnik on the coast of the Adriatic is home to beautiful beaches, impressive and ancient monuments, monasteries and an arboretum which pre-dates 1492. Head to the Old Town for a trip back a few hundred years, that's the perfect place to stroll along the cobbled streets and check out the sights by day, and stop for dinner at one of the lively restaurants by night. For a bird's-eye view of the city, buy a ticket to ride in the cable car, which will take you from the Old Town to the Napoleon-era fortress at the top of Mount Srd.

As the capital and Croatia's largest city, Zagreb is simply bursting with things to do. Divided up into three areas - Gornji grad (Upper town), Donji grad (Lower town) and Novi Zagreb (new Zagreb) - each part enjoys its own distinct personality, with the 1,000-year-old Upper town, the place to head for your history fix. But after you've spent the day visiting the city's many attractions and museums - and Zagreb has more museums per square foot than any other city in the world, including the intriguing and esoteric Museum Of Broken Relationships - then head to Lower town for the shops, restaurants and theatres.

Be sure to sample the traditional štrukli, a pastry filled with a mix of cheese, eggs, sour cream and salt, covered in clotted cream and then oven-baked. For the best cafes, head to Tkalciceva, Bogoviceva and Preradoviceva square in the Lower town, with Elli's Caffe and Hugo restaurant the places the locals head to for coffee and fine dining respectively.

Finally, of an evening, make sure you swing by the super-underground Cica Bar, with its washing machines upcycled as bar tables, vaulted ceilings and glass display cases giving off a tatty kitsch vibe, it's where you can sample the fruit brandies the city is famous for.

Celeb fans

Steven Spielberg, Andre Agassi, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, and Sharon Stone have all been spotted vacationing in Croatia.

Trip notes 

Going underground
The Baredine Cave in Porec, Istria, takes you 67m down into the earth, through five underground caves, that offer up a glimpse into the heart of the world. Only the pretty fit need visit as the going can be tough - and hiring a personal guide is a good idea - but the payoff is well worth it, including seeing the famous ‘Face of Baredine' in the rocks.

Beach life
Brela Beach in Split is a fantastic place to enjoy sunset - but be warned, it's a rocky beach. Its crystal clear waters make it ideal for snorkelling, and its relative peace and quiet make it the ideal spot for a relaxing picnic.

Food fest
The Zagreb Wine Gourmet Festival, which runs from February 25-26, sees visitors treated to local and international cuisines, cookery demonstrations and the chance to sample some of the 500 grape beverages on offer. Plus, there are daily food workshops.

Stay here

Budget: Hotel Neptun Dubrovnik
You can bag a room pretty cheaply at this beach-front hotel on the Lapad Peninsula, which offers up wonderful sea views. Surrounded by pine trees, either take a leap into their cliff-top pool, or take advantage of the Adriatic on your doorstep. A 10-minute drive from the Old Town, the terraced restaurant serves up Mediterranean cuisine and a daily buffet breakfast, with all rooms boasting free Wi-Fi. There's also an in-house spa and sauna, with an array of massages on offer.

Mid-Range: Verudela Beach and Villa Resort
This Istrian resort close to the seaside is made up of a range of private villas or apartments with sea views. Set within tree-lined grounds, at this three-star resort, guests can enjoy a choice of three restaurants as well as three swimming pools - including a waterslide for kids - plus access to the tennis court.

Luxury: Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik
Dating back to 1895, the Imperial is ideally located just a few minutes' walk from the heart of the Old Town, with accommodation, including guestrooms, suites and executive rooms, offering city, garden or Dubrovnik Wall views. For all-day dining try the hotel's Porat restaurant with its seasonally inspired menu, or head to the stylish Lounge Bar out on the terrace, for dinner accompanied by some soul and funk courtesy of the resident DJ.

Filmed there

Fiddler On The Roof, Isadora, Ultimate Force

Fly there

Emirates flies to Zagreb. Visit emirates.com for flight details.