(Hrvatska) has come a long way since the summer of 1991, when foreign tourists fled from a region standing on the verge of war. Now that stability has returned, visitors are steadily coming back to a country which boasts one of the most outstanding stretches of coastline that Europe has to offer. This return to normality has been keenly awaited by Croats, but patriotism - and a sense of the nation's place in history - remains a serious business here. Croatia was an independent kingdom in the tenth century, fell under the rule of Hungary in the eleventh, and was subsequently absorbed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire before becoming part of the new state of Yugoslavia in 1918. Croatian aspirations were frustrated by a Yugoslav state which was initially dominated by Serbs, and then (after 1945) ruled by Communists. Croatia's declaration of independence on June 25, 1991 was fiercely contested by a Serb-dominated Yugoslav army eager to preserve their control over portions of Croatia in which groups of ethnic Serbs lived. The period of war - and fragile, UN-supervised ceasefire that followed - was finally brought to a close by Croatian offensives during the summer of 1995.
, is a typical central-European metropolis, combining elegant nineteenth-century architecture with plenty of cultural diversions and a vibrant café life. At the northern end of the Adriatic coast, the peninsula of
contains many of the country's most developed resorts, with old Venetian towns like
rubbing shoulders with the raffish port of
. Further south lies
, a dramatic, mountain-fringed stretch of coastline studded with islands. Dalmatia's main town is
, an ancient Roman settlement and modern port which provides a jumping-off point to the most enchanting of Croatia's islands,
, where you'll find lively fishing villages and the best of the beaches. South of Split lies the walled medieval city of
, site of an important festival in the summer and a magical place to be whatever the season.