In recent years, Brits have flocked to Croatia in the summer months, heading to the coast to explore the charming coastal towns that stretch along the 1,800km shoreline or to revel in its world-famous festivals.
Heading inland in December, however, offers an altogether different yet enchanting experience.
My first port of call was Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, which has been crowned the best European Christmas market destination for the last three years.
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Zagreb’s public spaces are filled with colourful stools selling local handmade trinkets, the scent of mulled wine and local culinary delights such as baked štrukli.
Strolling through Zrinjevac, one of Zagreb’s most scenic and relaxing parks, was a particular highlight, with live music adding to the festive atmosphere.
Every year Zagreb Christmas markets are decorated with a different theme – this year the Nutcracker took centre stage.
The fairytale was vividly brought to life in the Grič Tunnel – a pedestrian tunnel located in the city centre.
The tunnel, which was built during World War 2 as a shelter, was decked out with nutcracker dolls, dangling snowflakes and other yuletide treats.
Of course, no Christmas experience would be complete without a spot of ice skating, and Zagreb’s offering comes with a romantic backdrop.
The ice skating rink is located in King Tomislav Square, an elegant square located in the city centre that is flanked by the grand central station and the palatial 19th-century Art Pavilion.
The festive scenes are not merely confined to the city, however. In fact, an hour’s drive outside Zagreb lies the festive fantasyland SalajLand.
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SalajLand’s key selling point is its bedazzling light display – five million lights to be precise – which illuminate a series of wooden bridges, lakes and snaking pathways in the woods.
It is also worth taking the two hour trip from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes, one of Croatia’s oldest national parks, located in the central part of Croatia.
The national park, which is famed for its cascading lakes and waterfalls, is a popular retreat in the summer months.
Visiting in December is equally as magical. When I arrived, the landscape was cloaked in a thick layer of snow, evoking an authentic winter wonderland experience.
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The bucolic region of Zagorje, which is located an hour’s drive north of Zagreb, is also an essential stop on the itinerary.
The verdant green hills, medieval castles and rich cultural heritage of this region make it a must-see spot.
Zagorje’s customs and traditions reflect the region’s quaint charm.
Zagorje is famed for its handcrafted wooden toys and local workshops offer the chance to try your hand at some local craftsmanship too – I definitely should have left it to the professionals.
Direct return flights are available on Skyscanner from London Heathrow to Zagreb with British Airways (britishairways.com) at £83.00. For more information on how to get the most out of your trip to Croatia head over to the Croatia Full of Life website.
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