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The Rough Guide to Croatia - Jonathan Bousfield

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      15.08.2010 17:38
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      an OK-ish guidebook but I prefer the Lonely Planet one.

      I am reviewing the Rough Guide to Croatia - Fifth Edition published in April 2010.


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      Since finishing school I´ve been something like a travel addict. Everything started off with a gap year in Italy and - according to my mum - went downhill from there. Weekend trips with Ryanair (that was to a time when they were still cheap) were soon not enough anymore to satisfy my curiosity and seemed pointless when 3 days never were enough to get to know a different culture. After going to university and working for a bit I bought a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia, thus following thousands of young people on the search for the perfect travel adventure. This was also the first time I ever got into contact with proper travel guides and since developed a love/hate relationship with Lonely Planet guidebooks.

      On my recent summer trip to Croatia with one of my best friends, I had to discover that I was too broke to buy a guidebook. My way led me to our local library where I borrowed the Rough Guide to Croatia - I do know that the book was not intended to be taken out of country but hey, even a guidebook deserves some fun in its life! Upon returning the book I left a little note informing future users that this book has actually been to the destination which it describes - and in my eyes this makes it a rather awesome book.

      Let me say a few quick words about the structure of my review. Some points might be more interesting than others so I will go through the whole book chapter by chapter telling you how useful this particular part was. At the end of my review I will include a list telling you all the good and all the bad points in one go. Hope you enjoy reading my review and you might even find one or two travel tips for Croatia in here.


      - - - - - - - - - - Chapters - - - - - - - - -


      * Map of Croatia - The map is nicely coloured and spreads over two pages right at the front of the book. It shows all major destinations, train connections and motorways. In addition it also shows the neighboring countries, which is very handy if you are on a bigger trip through the Balkan countries. It is a topographical map showing you the altitude of the different regions; I never thought of Croatia as a country with so many mountains so you can imagine my rather surprised look when looking at this map.

      * Introduction to Croatia - These pages give you a very brief overview what you can expect in Croatia. Helpful advice is given on how to get there and when to go. Many colour pictures make this small section well worth a read even though information is limited.

      * 27 things not to miss - My absolutely favourite section. 27 photos and a quick description show you the highlights that should not be missing from any Croatia tour. This list prompted us more than once to change our itinerary in favour of an unspoiled beach, a historical church or simply a stunning city we haven´t thought of before. Well worth a look and I am sure it will increase your anticipation to go on holiday.

      *Basics - Here you will find advice on almost any topic you can think of - from money exchange to renting a car and advice for pregnant travellers. It is a section to look through rather than read through and most of the topics are probably not going to concern you. However it is rather useful for those small things that can turn a holiday into a small disaster; which power plug will I find there, what is the currency, how save is tap water are all questions that will be answered here in this area of the Rough Guide.

      *Guide - The main part is of course the description of the different areas of Croatia. It is divided into chapters for Zagreb, Inland Croatia, Istria, The Kvarner Gulf, Dalmatia, Dubvronik and around. The structure is always the same starting with the highlights of the region and then describing the different cities and attractions. Accommodation is divided into Budget and Hotel and listings for cafes, restaurants and bars are extensive and well described. The main tourist hot spots are described very well, however off the beaten track destinations are often only mentioned in passing without accurate or helpful advice.

      * Contexts - Understanding the history and the culture of any country is most important to really be able to enjoy your stay here. Not all of us are history experts and I don´t think that we ever mentioned much about Croatia in my history lessons. The Context section provides a quick but comprehensive overview of the very interesting history of Croatia and explains some of the cute cultural oddities that make this place so special. It is well worth a read and will certainly allow you to understand this relatively young country much better.

      * Language - The language section is well laid out providing you with a quick overview of the most important words and pronunciation. However, you are unlikely to ever use this section if you stay on the beaten track. I haven´t met a single person that couldn´t communicate in English or any other common language like German and Italian. Especially those two languages are wildly understood due to the geographical position and history of Croatia. Of some importance might be the food & drink chapter if you want to eat in a small restaurant without English menu -but those are few and far between.


      - - - - - - - - - - Good points - - - - - - - - -


      * Maps throughout the book - I already described the Croatia map which can be found at the beginning of the book. Maps are simply one of the essentials when travelling. Finding a hostel or restaurant without them is nearly impossible and you can imagine how pleased I was to see maps throughout the book for all major cities and points of interest. These maps are well labeled and easy to understand. The only thing I´d like to criticize here is the lack of a suggested itinerary - something I loved with Lonely Planet Guides and dearly missed here. If time is a problem the suggested city tour are a great help to see all the important sites without losing too much time while trying to find your way around a foreign city.

      * Pictures throughout the book - Let´s be honest here, a description can never be as good as a pictures. My favourite section of the book is the 27 things not to miss area with all its lovely pictures of landscapes, people and food. What convinced me the most is that these pictures are actually accurate and show you the things how they are without any kind of Photoshop help. I saw ages ago an incredibly beautiful picture of Plitvice National Park and was so disappointed when I actually went. Although it is an incredibly pretty place it looks nothing like in the picture. However, it does look exactly like the picture in the Rough Guide and I was lucky enough to find the spot where it was taken from.

      * Thick paper used - I´m sure most of you encountered this problem before while travelling. Imagine that you arrive late at night at a small train station in any foreign city. You are most likely tired and not able to speak or understand the native language. Knowing roughly where your hostel is you start walking only to be interrupted by a rain storm. Feeling lost you take out your guidebook in which you cleverly marked your destination only to find the incredibly thin pages soaked by even the tiniest amount of water. The extra thin pages of guide books are one of my pet hates and I could start with a massive rant here but alas, you are looking for information. The pages of the Rough Guide to Croatia are surprisingly thick and can be handled with wet fingers without having to worry too much. Obviously they are not water resistant but strong enough to survive a bit in moderate rain. Lonely Planet pages seem to be thinner which obviously makes the book slightly lighter to carry but less resistant to moisture and rain.


      - - - - - - - - - - Bad points - - - - - - - - - -


      * Structure of the chapters - well, if you want to call it a structure at all. Bus and Train connections are listed at the end of every chapter and not anywhere close to the how to get there information of the particular city. Walking around with your guidebook is annoying at the best of times but having to look through loads of pages to find this very useful bit of information is simply stupid. Including the times right at the beginning of every city´s description would make the whole thing much better. Accommodation information is even worse; instead of writing a price range next to the listing they mark it from 1 to 7 - making you to look forward to the first view pages what these numbers mean. And to make matters worse this information is not on the first few pages but hidden away in the Basics section of the book.

      * Pricing - The pricing section was so surprisingly inaccurate that I gave up looking at it after a few days. Some restaurants that were described as dirt cheap charged horrendous prices while other places that were marked as overpriced were actually perfectly reasonable. Prices in Guidebooks are often inaccurate due to the long time span between printing and using them. However, this book was printed only 3 months before I started with my trip. You cannot tell me that prices for a pizza change by over 3 pounds in the course of as many months.
      The worst part is that there are no prices at all when it comes to train and bus travel. Understandably those prices change, however a general direction like "around 10 pounds between Plitvice and Zagreb" would have been much appreciated. This is for me the biggest let down of the whole book, making me return to Lonely Planet again.

      * "How to get there" information - This section at the end of every sub-chapter per city is ok-ish but totally useless when it comes to out of the way destinations. Why describing over two whole pages a natural attraction without giving any clue on how to find it. Even if there is no public transport a little note explaining this fact would have been very helpful. The description on how to reach the Veternica Cave near Zagreb mentions a well-marked path - which turned out to be a 40min uphill hike through the mud and over fallen trees. Something similar happened with quite a few other destinations making me doubtful that the writer has ever been there at all.


      - - - - - - - - - Would I use it again? - - - - - - - - - -


      Croatia was one of the countries I did not know much about before flying there and although it surely is an incredible country I don´t think I will go back in the near future. Having that said, if I ever go back I will try to venture off the beaten track and try to discover the east of the country rather than the heavily touristy coastline. Unfortunately already the easily accessible parts of Croatia were not well covered in this guide book making therefore absolutely unsuitable for any adventure trips far away from the tourist hot spots like Split.

      My main problem with the book was that I had the feeling it was written mainly for people with a bit of spare cash rather than for backpackers. This is absolutely fine if you go on a two week summer holiday with a fixed budget whilst rendering the book completely useless if you are backpacking on a shoestring. If you want help and advice on how to travel cheaply I would recommend checking out the Lonely Planet Guidebooks - in my opinion better written and more suitable when money is tight.

      If you belong to this first category and if you stay well on the beaten track you will probably find this book quite helpful. It does mention loads of restaurants and hotels rather than hostels. The main destinations are well described and information about trains and busses (without prices however) seemed to be accurate.

      Awarding this guidebook 06 out of 10 possible points might seem a bit harsh but I was rather disappointed and often had to seek additional help online or in a tourist information. Unfortunately the prices in the whole book were totally off which is surprising given that the book was only printed 3 months before I started my trip. The lacking bus and train prices made it rather useless for spontaneous decisions and in some cases the information was wrong or looked at least as if it was written to direct the reader towards a particular hotel/restaurant. Sadly not an ideal travel buddy and not a perfect source of advice when standing lost in a strange yet beautiful country.


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      The Rough Guide to Croatia can be bought at any book store or on Amazon for 13.99 pounds.


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      Thank you for reading and rating my review

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        26.06.2004 21:54
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        The Croatians say that if you count the number of spots on a Dalmatian dog you will find that there are over two thousand of them ? as many spots as there are islands along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Our ship, the M/S Dalmacija, was to take us from the Port of Venice, across the Adriatic and then we were to cruise through the islands, isles and reefs of Dalmatia docking and disembarking at several historic towns and cities such as Split and Dubrovnik, with a brief visit to Corfu and Montenegro and then returning to Venice for a last spectacular evening viewing Venice by night in a motorboat. Are you excited ? because we certainly were? The M/S Dalmacija's main claim to fame was that it was used to film scenes for the film 'The Talented Mr Ripley' adapted from a novel by Patricia Highsmith and starring Matt Damon and Jude Law. It was clearly the oldest ship we had sailed on and had an air of faded grandeur about it, but it had a charming Croatian crew, a swimming pool, Lido bar, a Grand Salon and a very attractive restaurant and most importantly with just the one sitting as a two sitting restaurant is a nightmare to avoid on any cruise ship. Once shown to our cabin I instantly refused to sleep in a cabin with no windows or portholes (It felt like an underwater coffin) and we managed to organise an alternative cabin with two portholes then I was happy. I think Morty took me seriously when I told him there was no way there'd be any sex in this underwater tomb so we'd better get a better cabin than this for our eight day holiday. The 7.15 a.m. Astraeus airline flight from Gatwick to Brescia in Italy took less than two hours and then a two hour coach journey to the Port of Venice. Embarkation time for the M/S Dalmacija' was at 2.00p.m and we set sail at 4.00p.m - after a couple of glasses of wine in a Venetian waterside cafe ? our destination being the medieval town of Korcula situated on a peninsula jutting out into the A
        driatic. We were crossing the Adriatic at night and the arrival time at Korcula in Croatia on the South Dalmatian coast was at 10.00a.m and we didn't feel a thing. The overnight crossing was as a calm as a mill pond and we slept like babies. As we approached the dock in Korcula we were soon to realise that there is a photo opportunity in every inch of the Dalmatian coast as it is all simply beautiful. The sea is as calm and as blue as the brochures illustrate. The islands range from large inhabited ones with smart hotels and marinas to privately owned ones to those the size of small rocks, and many are for sale. Whatever their size they are all a delight to see. No wonder Croatia is attracting divers and yachters worldwide. It is a dream destination for all lovers of water-sports of any kind with dozens of Marinas both on the mainland and on the islands. The climate is Adriatic/Mediterranean allowing sea swimming from April to November and although our journey was in mid-June and the temperatures were high there was always a welcome cooling breeze on the coast from the gentle Adriatic Sea. Our previous experiences from river cruising has generally been that many city ports are a coach journey from the city centres but as we docked at Korcula we were to discover that every single port of call we were to make docked right on the town and city edge. A simple walk was all that was needed to enter the heart of things armed with a good guide book, comfortable footwear and a bottle of water. The old thick stoned walled town of Korcula dates from the 15th Century and is the birth-place of Marco Polo where his house still exists and can be visited. Once we'd walked round the small town and visited an obligatory museum and a church we sat in a shaded stone floored square and drank cold cheap beers at one euro a litre and gazed at the old stone buildings all as yet untouched by mass tourism and wondered how long this would remain untouched an
        d become like Spain and Greece? We waved goodbye to Korcula from our ship at 8.00a.m the next morning and began our journey along the coast to Dubrovnik recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage site and fondly named The Jewel of the Adriatic. As lunchtime approached Dubrovnik came into view. I was curious as to what we would feel as Dubrovnik was under siege during the Homeland War and tourism was obviously destroyed. The siege lasted for seven months and the city inhabitants were trapped behind the medieval city walls. Electricity and communications were cut off and the people hid in their basements. More than five hundred historic buildings were destroyed and lives were lost ? and all this was as recently as 1998! Well, with UNESCO money they have rebuilt this beautiful Dalmatian city. Restoring all the buildings using original materials and the strangest sight are the roofs of all these medieval buildings. They were originally red tiles but over hundreds of years had been weathered to become a mixture of colours ranging from brown, green, terracotta and yellow but every single roof has been replaced with brand new terracotta tiles and this medieval walled city looked like an unreal fairyland. Once again there was no need for an organised tour as we simply walked into the city and after a brief wander around looking at Palaces and Cathedrals we decided to walk around the city's medieval walls. There is an entrance fee payable which goes towards maintaining these walls and a very steep climb to reach the top, but once there it was all worth the effort. The astonishing birds'-eye-view of the Adriatic and the overall view of the city of Dubrovnik set against the backdrop of mountains and sea told me that UNESCO has invested their money wisely in rebuilding this unique city. There are several shelled buildings left on display purposely to show the visitor the extent of the destruction ? but even seeing these ruins made it hard to believe tha
        t this was the place we had read so much about in our daily newspapers. The Croatians make delicious ice-cream so after again sitting in a shaded square and admiring the architecture we ambled back to our ship for dinner and our departure from Dubrovnik at 8.00p.m. Since March this year British Airways fly three times a week to Dubrovnik airport. I have earmarked this for a weekend break. The pavement restaurants, the hotels, the ambience and the scenery and culture make this an ideal place for a relaxing weekend break. So hey there, those romantics amongst you why not think about Dubrovnik as a welcome change from the usual European cities and book up before the prices go up ? because they will you know? At this stage I will mention shopping. It was apparent that in Dubrovnik, and as we discovered later on whilst visiting Split, the Croatians like designer clothes but if needed I can buy them in the UK so I was on the look out for something to buy that was peculiar to the region. The handmade jewellery was pretty, usually silver and Adriatic coral, as well as smart jewellery shops selling very beautifully crafted 14crt. Gold: I always buy an item of jewellery for myself as a reminder of my holiday so I was keeping a keen eye open. For those not interested in jewellery I would recommend buying an original painting from one of the many artists' galleries evident in every town and city that we visited. Apparently under Communism all the food produced in the country was organic by nature and this is very obviously so as everywhere there are local food markets with family producers setting up their stalls and displaying fruit, vegetables, hams and cheeses and flowers that were fresher and tastier than anything we can buy in the UK. The produce was glistening with freshness. Croatian wine is highly regarded but expensive due to high production costs (mostly produced in small family run vineyards) and I look forward to seeing Dalmatian win
        es in my local Wine Shop in the future when they perhaps streamline the production and are able to enter this competitive global market. Seafood is a speciality along the coast as well as the Italian influence on food whilst inland the meatier Hungarian and Austrian dishes are offered. The Croatians love outdoor Café and Bar living and the evening we had dinner onshore the waiter brought that day's fishing catch to our table on a huge plate and we chose the whole fish we wanted to eat for our dinner which arrived later grilled in olive oil and herbs complete with baskets of excellent bread and organic salads and vegetables. We started with a vast bowl of moules cooked in garlic and wine and a plate of smoked ham, cheese and tomatoes and finished with an excellent strudel. All the meals we ate were obviously very fresh ingredients and simply and perfectly cooked. Eating in Croatia is a pleasure. We set sail from Dubrovnik at 8.00pm - destination Corfu! I have never wanted to visit Corfu and now that I have been there I never want to go there again. We sailed through the night and again we felt nothing as the sea was so calm and we arrived in Corfu at 11.00am the next morning. The only thing I have to say about Corfu is that I hope Croatia take note of the effects that mass tourism has had on this very beautiful island and see it as a warning as to what can happen to such natural beauty when care isn't taken with environmental issues such as over-building and pollution. It made us appreciate Croatia even more than ever and we couldn't wait to set sail again at 7.00pm. However, our next port of call was to be Montenegro and the Bay of Kotor arriving at 10.30 am the next morning. And what an arrival it was. As the ship navigated its way through natural inlets dotted with islands and mountains riding straight out of the sea all the Church bells from all of the Churches on the mainland and the islands rang their bells in welcome as
        the M/S Dalmacija hooted its ship's horn in reply. The Bay of Kotor is recognised as the southernmost fjord in the world. We disembarked and took a trip into the mountains over treacherous hairpin bends stopping in a tiny village and lunching on cheeses and hams and visiting the Palace of the last King of Montenegro, King Nikola Petrovic, before returning to Kotor for a last look at this medieval jewel also protected by UNESCO. This won't be my last look because this will be my preferred town for a weekend visit once BA gets a scheduled route to the nearest airport. A comment here about churches and palaces: Croatia is the third country we have visited that's now free from Communist rule, the others being Russia and Hungary. In all three countries the tours and excursions want to drag the visitor round their churches and monasteries now that they have religious freedom. Once I have seen a painting of the Last Supper, the Virgin Mary and Child and walls of religious icons depicting rather dodgy looking saints ? then I've had enough. I prefer to find my culture by people watching, viewing the architecture, the local crafts and crafts and a well written local guide book than listening to interminable descriptions of invasions and saints and dead kings and queens. I understand how history is important but when at all possible we explore on our own rather than in a group. We were departing from Kotor at 7.30p.m: and another night cruising along the Adriatic anticipating our arrival at Split the following morning at 8.30a.m. Although this was our first time cruising on the sea, as we prefer river cruises, we have agreed that an ocean cruise will never be a choice for us. Hugging the coast like this means that land is always there on the horizon and the thought of spending endless days at sea with nothing else but water around us isn't a holiday option for us. Particularly as this would mean getting involved with other passengers for a
        social life and although we are sociable people the thought of being trapped on board for any length of time with strangers would make us feel trapped. Split is situated in Middle Dalmatia and is culturally and economically a very important city. It is a major port, university and industrial city. We had booked an organised coach tour to take us on an hour and a half journey from the old town of Split into the heart of Dalmatia and it was to last all day long. It needn't have taken all day as the highlight was to be a visit to the Krka Waterfalls in the Krka National Park but it would appear that the Croatian Tourist board insists that as many visitors see as much as possible of Croatian so our day long trip consisted of several detours into other towns to see yet more religious monuments. I can understand why they do this as they want every major town and city to have a bite of the tourist cake so we just had to suffer this, although we would have preferred going straight to the National Park and spend more time there. For good reason too: The park is a natural wonderland of gorges and waterfalls on the river Krka and our admission ticket included a motor boat ride across lakes and passing dozens of cascading waterfalls. The boat dropped us off at a walking point from which we took a half hour walk over man -made bridges passing over seventeen waterfalls cascading over seventeen natural barriers which took us back to our starting place. We then drove back to Split for a tour of the Old City the highlight being the 4th Century Roman Palace and a visit to the cellars. There was enough time for me to find a pair of filigree 14crt gold ear-rings that I bought as a memory of Croatia at a very reasonable price. The Croatian currency is the Kuna but, although not strictly legal as yet, everywhere accepted our euros and major credit cards were not a problem. Our ship sailed at 7.00p.m that evening and we docked the next morning at 8.00a.m:
        at Rovinj on the Istrian Peninsula. Rovinj is surrounded by over fifteen islands and islets and although a compact old town seems to be taking tourism very much in its stride. Jules Verne is said to have chosen Rovinj as a setting for some of the chapters in his novel 'Mathias Sandorf' A wander through the artists' street, a steep climb up to the main Church and then back to the main cobbled square for a first class Croatian coffee as it dawned on us that we would be leaving Croatia at 1.30p.m: for a six hour cruise crossing the Adriatic and back to Venice for 7.00p.m where this wonderful adventure had all begun just one week ago. There was one more treat in store for us. After docking in the Port of Venice and having dinner we were going on a three hour trip on a motor boat seeing Venice by night ? but that isn't Croatia is it? Croatia is a very beautiful country with plenty for the tourist to do: Water sports, inland canoeing and rafting, hiking and climbing in the mountains, beaches to relax on, uninhabited islands to visit, historic walled cities to explore. There are many festivals to celebrate the Croatian arts and culture through the year. The coastal resorts are ideal for children with many larger hotels having children's' clubs ? although if you want sandy beaches then do some research before you book as many beaches are rocky and swimming is done from pontoons. The Croatians want us as tourists and are very hospitable. The food is excellent, the beer is good, prices are reasonable, the Adriatic is clean and there aren't any McDonalds. So do you all think you would like to visit Croatia after reading my review?

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      • Product Details

        "The Rough Guide to Croatia" is your ultimate handbook to one of Europe's most beautiful countries. From the medieval city of Dubrovnik and the unspoilt island of Vis to the rural hinterland of Zagreb, this guide captures all of Croatia's highlights in a full colour introduction. The top hotels, bars and restaurants are all uncovered in the detailed listings section with the new 'Author's Pick' feature highlighting the very best options. There are plenty of practical tips on a host of outdoor activities from hiking the hills to scuba diving in the Adriatic. The guide also looks at Croatia's history, folk music and literature and comes complete with maps and plans for every area. "The Rough Guide to Croatia" is like having a local friend plan your trip!