WITH ITS 1,185 ISLANDS along the Balkans' western edge, Croatia calls itself "the Mediterranean as it once was." Neither modernity nor tourism has drastically changed the place yet, so if you wish you'd seen Italy 50 years ago, rent some wheels in Zadar (from $40 per day; sixt.com) and motor down Dalmatia's Adriatic Coastal Road. The 200-mile, two-lane, cliff-hugging E65 to Dubrovnik is an embarrassment of gastro and adventure pit stops. You're immediately surrounded by five national parks, including Paklenica, where a scramble in canyons in the Velebit range is rewarded with smooth-pebble beachside campsites ($5; paklenica.hr). Further south on Peljesac Peninsulawine countryvisit the Milos Vineyard, in Ponikve village, where Frano, the owner, is as poetic as his wines are bold. You'll get a true taste of Croatia with salt-water-dripping-fresh oysters at Vila Koruna restaurant (Tito's fave), on a sheltered bay in Mali Ston. Cut the ignition at Dubrovnik's five-star Grand Villa Argentina (from $270; gva.hr) and get out on the water for a sunset kayak tour; Dalmatian wine, cheese, and olives on nearby Lokrum Island included ($47; adriatickayaktours.com).
Filed To: Culinary