Croatia © Les Haines

With its magnificent coastline boasting picturesque islands and reefs, and a countryside scattered with Roman ruins and medieval villages, Croatia is fast becoming a rival to Greece for tempting those looking for beautiful beaches, great food and rich history.

After centuries of being geographically sliced and diced to suit empires, conquerors and political and ethnic divisions, Croatia has been left with a diverse cultural legacy and a wealth of historical attractions. The long Adriatic Coast forms the western leg of the arc-shaped country, tapering to the unique ancient seaport of Dubrovnik in the south, while the land between the rivers Drava and Sava form the northern section. The capital, Zagreb, sits in between.

Although Croatia's history is dramatic, the atmosphere of this balmy Mediterranean country is now tranquil, with sleepy old towns and impossibly picturesque lakes and beaches. The wonderful landscape is easily explored on foot or by mountain bike as the country is criss-crossed with good trails, which might come in handy as the delicious food and wine will have to be walked off.

But the most prominent feature of Croatian holidays is the glorious Dalmatian Coast, indented with rocky cliffs, dramatic peninsulas and small inlets. Many quality hotels and marinas have been resurrected or constructed in the past few years, rapidly making Croatia an exceedingly popular cruise destination.

There is a special atmosphere in Croatian towns and villages, many of which were built on the sites of ancient Greek settlements from as far back as the 4th century BC. With a reserved but hospitable population, a Mediterranean climate and scenic beauty, Croatia is one of Europe's best tourist hotspots.