Official NameRepublic of Croatia.

Official NameRepublic of Croatia.

LanguageCroat, written in the Roman alphabet.

PopulationEstimated at approximately five million, most of them Croats. Since the Balkan war the number of Serbs living in Croatia has declined from 12 per cent to 5 per cent. Other ethnic groups include Italians, Slavic Muslims, Hungarians, Albanians and Slovenes.

Size21,857 square miles, the most distinctive feature of which is its beautiful Adriatic coastline, stretching for 1,778km. It also has 1,185 offshore islands. Belgium would fit into it almost twice.

National DishAlong the Adriatic coast, Croatia is renowned for the variety of its Mediterranean seafood dishes, the most popular of which are Dalmatian brodet (mixed fish stewed with rice) and prstaci (fresh shellfish). By contrast, the cuisine of inland Croatia, particularly in Zagreb and the north-west, features hearty meat dishes. Look out for steak à la Zagreb (veal stuffed with ham and cheese, covered in breadcrumbs and fried).

Best MonumentAs a city, Dubrovnik is unrivalled in terms of beauty and cultural heritage and very few visible signs remain of the shelling it received in 1991 and 1992. A close second is the palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian. Built between AD295 and 305, it is widely considered to be the finest surviving example of Classical defence architecture in Europe. Situated in Split, overlooking the harbour, the imposing palace has been named a world heritage site by Unesco.

Most Famous CitizenDavor Suker, the centre-forward for the Croatian football team. He shot to international stardom during the 1998 World Cup, when he was the leading scorer, helping Croatia to third place in the competition.

Best Moment In HistoryDespite the subsequent war, the declaration of Croatian independence in 1991 was the culmination of a tide of nationalism that had come to the fore after the "Croatian Spring" in 1971 and the death of Tito in 1980. It represented a decisive break from the totalitarian state that had been in place since Tito seized power in October 1944.

Worst Moment In HistoryThe destruction of Vukovar in 1991 by Serb-Yugoslav forces rates as one of the most tragic events of the war. On a human level, it is estimated that 1,700 people were killed and 4,000 wounded. In addition, many more simply disappeared, their remains re-emerging in the numerous mass graves outside Vukovar. The town, once one of the loveliest along the Danube with a history that stretches back to the 10th century, still awaits proper reconstruction, a process estimated to cost $2.5bn.

Essential AccessoryBooks in English are scarce, so bring your own.

What Not To DoMention the war. Its traumatic effects still, understandably, make it a rather delicate subject.