Foreign Correspondence: Tour Croatia's Picturesque 'Little Vienna'

What's it like to live in a far-off place most of us see only on a vacation? Foreign Correspondence is an interview with someone who lives in a spot you may want to visit.

Ivor Vuchelic, 34, is an American citizen who has lived in Croatia for the last 10 years. He is an executive with Generalturist, a firm there that handles travel logistics for Universal Travel Systems ( and other international firms that book Croatian vacations. Vuchelic lives in Zagreb, Croatia's capital.

Q. Flying into Zagreb — is that how most Americans get to Croatia?

A. Zagreb is the main year-round destination: The economy is pretty much based here. Starting this June, there will be direct charter flights from (New York's) JFK to Zagreb. But we have developed airports on the Dalmatian Coast — Pula, Split and Dubrovnik. In summer, many regular and charter flights fly directly from all over Europe to those coastal airports and destinations.

Q. If you could spend a week in Croatia this spring, where should Americans go?

A. I'd definitely come to Zagreb, which has an interesting history, especially for architecture. The city is called "Little Vienna" because of its architectural aspects. It almost has the same type of districts and urban plans. Also, there's the legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire here. And you can do it in a day and a half. Then I'd go to Plitvice, a national park with 16 lakes and waterfalls that are connected over dolomite and limestone cascades. Lots of photos of it show distinct colors, from azure green to gray or blue. The colors are constantly changing, depending on organisms in the water and the angle sunlight hits. It's quite astonishing. Then head to the Dalmatian Coast.

Q. Choice spots on the Adriatic?

A. You may want to go to Sibenik. Unlike other cities along the Adriatic coast, which were established by Greeks, Illyrians and Romans, this small town was founded by Slavs. Its main sight is the central church, the Cathedral of St. James, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Sibenik is quite interesting due to its heritage from Venice Empire, the Byzantium Empire, Austria-Hungary and so forth. A couple of kilometers north of the city is the Krka National Park renowned for its many waterfalls, flora, fauna and historical and archaeological remains.

From there, go to Kornati — a national park under UNESCO protection that is made up of more than 1,000 islands, 89 of which are very small. The park is 238 km (148 miles) long and has a beautiful and preserved marine ecosystem.

Each island has something special — caves, beaches and so on. You'll find good restaurants that prepare fresh-catch meals and are accessible only by boat. You can spend a couple days there, or just one.

Then go down the coast to Trogir, a suburb of Split that has a lot of ancient Roman ruins and which was founded as a Greek colony in the third century B.C. Its old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Split, about 20 minutes away, is known for Diocletian's palace and other Roman ruins.

Dubrovnik, on the southern coast, is Croatia's most-known destination, especially for U.S. tourists. It's a very old city that was once an independent republic that stood up to Venice and to Napoleon. It's a museum as much as a city. It's rare to find other cities like this in the world; Toledo, Spain, comes to mind.

Return north on the coast to Zadar, which has medieval areas that make it similar to Dubrovnik, though smaller.

Then go to Opatija, in Istria, on the Adriatic's Gulf of Kvarner. It was famous when Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire because it was to Central Europe what Monte Carlo was to the French and other Western European jet-setters. It is in the Kvarner region adjacent to Istria and has a different look from Dalmatia — more Viennese. It's on the coast and has wonderful five-star hotels and great restaurants. There are walkways, beaches and many old villas. You can see that Kvarner and Istria's being next to Italy influenced the area. Italian, in fact, is the second language there.

Austrian Emperor Franz Josef had his summer house here, and you can imagine what that looks like: noble.