It’s probably a terrible idea to compare countries, especially ones in which we’ve only scratched the surface. Our Italian friends will protest, our Croatian friends will groan. Even so, we decided it would be fun and helpful to other travellers if we highlighted the best and worst of each country by comparing it to its neighbour!
So here we go. Just two travellers’ opinions, based on limited experience and less knowledge.
Sorry Croatia, but I think we all know that Italy is the Food Capital of the World. In Italy, you have to work pretty hard to get a bad meal – especially in Tuscany and Umbria, where we spent most of our time. Almost every slice of pizza was great, almost every pasta dish a revelation. There are plentiful, hearty choices for vegetarians and vegans, and it’s not considered weird if you don’t want cheese on your pizza.
If you like grilled animals, Croatia might be a great eating destination for you. We prefer animals to be free to run around in forests, so the choices were almost always pizza or pasta. Neither was great. Admittedly, some of the seafood was very tempting, and if you’re a fish fan, Croatia might be food heaven for you.
Since there are bakeries in virtually every small town in both countries, we sampled at least one per day. In Italy, the sweets were magnificent, delicious, fluffy pieces of yum. The bread, on the other hand, varied from town to town and region to region. It was usually a little dissatisfying. Croatians really know how to do bread, but their sweet baked goods are lacking (not that that stopped us from eating them daily).
Places to stay are cheap and plentiful in Croatia, with sobe (rooms in private homes) being the chief source of beds. No matter how small the town, the sobe were always spotlessly clean. We also found that almost all sobe had a full kitchen, so this saved us from having to eat the poor Croatian food every night!
In Italy, you need to do some advance research to get a good B&B, but there are plenty around. The Agriturismo business in Italy is also great, and provides decent accommodation in the middle of nowhere, on a farm, which is often useful for cycle tourists.
One thing we found in both countries is that the places run by women are almost always just a little cleaner and more comfortable than those run by men. To be blatantly sexist, a woman’s touch goes a long way.
The camping we saw in Italy was pretty bad, quite frankly, but most of the campgrounds were still closed, so we didn’t have much experience there. In Croatia, there are lots of luxury campsites, often not very close to anything interesting, but, as we experienced at Solaris, they might be fun as a destination in their own right.
This is where we’re really going to make enemies.
In general, Croatians seemed happier, more welcoming, and more helpful than the Italians we encountered. We were almost always greeted with friendly smiles, and people seemed more than happy to spend time talking and explaining things to us. Almost everyone speaks English in coastal Croatia, so that makes it a lot easier to communicate and may have a big effect on how we felt we were received.
The big exception in Croatia were the Jadrolinija ferry company employees, who were brusque, uncommunicative, and universally unhelpful.
It Italy, almost no one could or would speak English to us, which is fine of course. We don’t expect everyone to speak our language. We had a lot of fun trying to communicate using body language, and Italians are much better at that than Croatians. Combined with our minimal understanding of Italian, we got along just fine. Still, we met fewer truly sunny, happy people in Italy, and many more grouchy grumps who made us feel as though they would have preferred us to stay at home.
Aside from the closed camping, Italy was a little more prepared for tourists at this time of year. In Croatia, there is a definitive season – June to September – and if you’re there outside that time, you can expect most things to be closed or under construction. Italy has a more year-round tourist trade, so they seemed less surprised to see us.
In Italy, it was sometimes very hard to figure out how things worked, which way to go, details of schedules and timetables, and the like. We’re not sure if this is down to disorganisation, or the language barrier. Either way, we felt Croatia was a little easier to navigate.
April was a great time to travel in both countries. Nothing was busy except for the big monuments (The Vatican and Plitvice Lakes) and we were secure showing up in any town, knowing we’d easily find a room for the night.
WiFi was a little sporadic in both countries. In Italy, we found that cafes almost always had free (and fast) WiFi, until we got to a city that offered free city-wide WiFi (Urbino, for example). To use that, you have to register for the WiFi using an Italian phone number and Italian social security number! So that’s pretty useless for your average non-Italian tourist. When we did manage (once) to get onto this system, it was so slow as to be pretty useless anyway. We also found that WiFi was rarely available at our accommodation, so we could only get online while spending extra cash while sitting in smoky cafes.
In Croatia, WiFi is offered more widely, but it also fails to work more often. You don’t really know until you try it if there is in fact WiFi that is useable, or terrible WiFi that doesn’t really work. More than once we checked in to a place and were given a password to a system that didn’t go online. Campgrounds were the worst offenders, universally offering slow, intermittent, and unreliable WiFi.
Finally, there was a small section of Central Dalmation, near Makarska, where suddenly free WiFi was hard to find, and everyone was charging for it. Weird.
The Croatian roads we encountered were much better than those in Italy. The road surfaces themselves are remarkably good in Croatia – not surprising considering how many road crews we saw. In Italy, almost every road we took was cracked and bumpy, making for some shaky riding.
Italian drivers are infamous for being fast and a little crazy, and this proved to be true. They tended to speed by us very close, and we got a few irritated honks almost every day. In Croatia, tour buses are the big threat. Most cars and trucks slow down a little and move over as they drive by, but for some reason, tour buses just acted like we weren’t there, giving us a mini heart attack every time one went by.
Both countries are filled with hills, so you can expect a lot of ups and downs in either place.
And The Winner Is…
We aren’t going to pick a favourite here – that’s like picking a favourite food or a favourite yoga pose. They are all good in their own ways. Italy has high art, culture, and delicious food. Croatia has gorgeous vistas, luxurious sun ‘n’ sea destinations, and friendly people. Might as well visit both! ♥