A Croatian adventure through the Eyes of a Sports Fan. The Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo stranglehold on the Ballon d’Or is officially over. Croatian sensation Luka Modrić capped off 2018 to remember</a> by winning European football’s oldest individual prize and validating his status as one of the sport’s elite in the process. So, in honour of the irrepressible captain of the Croatian national football team, Travel Weekli has decided to take a look at some sporting destinations in Modrić’s home country of Croatia.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikipedia Entrance to Mladost Hall
Historic Mladost Hall in Karlovac is home to the HRK Karlovac, one of the 12 clubs competing in the Dukat Premijer Liga, Croatia’s premier handball league. Croatia, of course, has a longstanding love affair with handball, and Mladost Hall has witnessed many a number of matches. It has also seen its fair share of basketball games, as it was home to the now defunct basketball team KK Željezničar Karlovac. It also hosted the 1970 FIBA World Championship and Eurobasket 1975. The venue itself is nothing to sneeze at, but its storied history makes it a must-see destination for all sports fans.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikipedia The Centar Zamet’s façade
The Centar Zamet in Rijeka is a stunning feat of architecture. It has, in fact, received both local and international acclaim, notably the Vladimir Nazor Award in 2009 and ArchDaily Building of the Year Award, also in 2009. It is a multipurpose venue that has hosted, among others, international chess tournaments and prestigious bowl championships, along with a slew of concerts by local and foreign acts. Centar Zamet has an Instagram-worthy façade and is one of the country’s most beautiful venues — sports related or otherwise.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikipedia The Arena Zagreb’s façade
Like Centar Zamet, the Arena Zagreb is also a stunning feat of architecture — only bigger, bolder, better. It is an undisputed landmark, one that both sports fans and non-sports fans ought to visit when they travel to Croatia. Of course, the Arena Zagreb is a citadel for sports, as it hosts a range of sporting events that include hockey, futsal, athletics, volleyball, basketball, and yes, handball. The arena was actually built to host the 2009 World Men’s Handball Championship, before becoming a home for other sports. It also houses one of the largest shopping-entertainment centers in Zagreb, which means there are plenty of other things to do here apart from enjoying sports.
Zlatni Rat and Hvar Island
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikipedia An aerial view of Zlatni Rat
They are beaches, yes, and they happen to be two of Croatia’s best. So, why are they on this list, right? They are included here because of picigin (pronounced “pih-tsih-gheen”), a beach sport that is uniquely Croatia’s own</a>. Picigin is a shallow-water alternative to water polo (another Croatian favourite), and it originated in the city of Split in the early 1900s. In this beach sport, players stand around in a circle and bat around a ball, with the objective of keeping it airborne. Simple, isn’t it? But it’s a joy to play, and the fact that you can play it on a beach makes it well worth trying, especially if said beach is Zlatni Rat or Hvar Island.
Stadion Gospin Dolac
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikipedia A view of Stadion Gospin Dolac
A stadium has to be all sorts of special to be hailed as one of the most beautiful in the world, and Stadion Gospin Dolac in Imotsky is exactly that. Included in BBC’s list of 10 most beautiful stadiums in the world, Gospin Dolac was described by BBC’s Ciaran Varley as being “straight-out-of-a-dream.” And such is an apt description for this venue, which was built in 1989 as the home of football club NK Imotski. It’s a unique selling point? Directly behind the stadium is a 500-meter drop to a stunningly beautiful lake. Feel free to take a peek, but just be very careful, lest you end up taking a swim in the lake’s crystal-clear water.
Igralište Batarija Football Stadium
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikipedia The Kamerlengo Castle in the background
If Gospin Dolac is majestic, then Igralište Batarija is quirky at best, and therein lies its charm. Located at Trogir, this small stadium is nothing special, really. But then here’s this neat fact: It is nestled between two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, namely the Venetian-built Kamerlengo Castle on one end and the Renaissance-style fortress Tower of St. Marco on the other end. That Igralište Batarija is literally a stone’s throw away from a UNESCO World Heritage Site seems mere happenstance; that it sits right in-between two such sites makes the stadium oddly special.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikipedia Entrance to the western side of Stadion Maksimir
Football, obviously, is one of the most popular sports in Croatia, on par even with handball. Hence, the preponderance of football stadiums in this list. But unlike Stadion Gospin Dolac and Igralište Batarija, the Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb is for the proverbial big boys, with its over 35,000 capacity and historical gravitas. Built way back in 1912, Stadion Maksimir has been the site of many a number of important matches, including the semifinals of the UEFA Euro 1976 and Croatia’s first football match in the modern era. The longtime home of DInamo Zagreb (the winningest club in Croatian football history), Stadion Maksimir has also hosted UEFA Champions League matches. Said league is one of the most prestigious in the world and is contested by top-division European clubs like Dinamo. The Zagreb-based club again competed in the UEFA Champions League this year but was unable to make it to the knockout phase. Their home venue, meanwhile, looks set for a long overdue facelift, although proposals for such continue to be postponed.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikipedia A view of Mount Medvednica
Another popular sport in Croatia is skiing. In fact, the most successful female alpine skier in Winter Olympics history —Janica Kostelić — hails from Zagreb. And why not? Parts of this country are particularly inviting for skiing. The village of Velika in the Slavonia region and Platak Ski Resort in Rijeka are excellent spots no doubt. But Mount Medvednica, located just north of Zagreb, takes the cake so to speak as Croatia’s foremost skiing attraction. It boasts of a winter sports center in the northern slopes facing Sljeme, and it has hosted quite a number of FIS World Cup slalom skiing races already. Notably, skiing season in the region has been prolonged considerably with the installation of equipment that produce artificial snow.
Clearly, Croatia has quite a sporting heritage, and evidence of it is the various sports destinations in the country. Small wonder then why the aforementioned Modrić — the newly minted Ballon d’Or winner —became the athletic wunderkind that he is now. He is not alone, though, as some of his compatriots have also been making names for themselves in the world of sports. That bodes well for the Croatian sports scene, which is enjoying a seeming renaissance. This would be the best Croatian adventure for any post mad perosn.
Another thing to do in Croatia is the Games of Thrones tour.