For historical reasons, Croatia is a rather strangely-shaped country, consisting of two main landmasses – one to the south and west, the other to the north and east – that are only connected by a narrow stretch of territory, less than 50km (30mi) wide. Bordering Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, Croatia is very much a country of he northwest Balkans.
Three geographic features dominate the appearance and nature of Croatia. These are the Adriatic Basin, providing the country with its long and complex shoreline, the Dinaric Alps, a mountain chain of moderate height that separates the coastal areas from the continental interior, and the Pannonian Plain, a large lowland and inland region traversed by major rivers such as the Danube and its tributaries, Sava and Drava. As a result of the considerable differences between these features in terms of topography, weather and human use, Croatia is remarkably diverse, considering its relatively small size, in appearance and in naturally occuring flora and fauna.
Some key numbers: Croatia occupies an area of 56,594 sq km (21,851 sq mi sq miles), has a little over 4.3 million inhabitants and has a total coastline of 5,835.3 km (3,625.9 mi). It has over 1,200 islands, islets and reefs, but only 47 are permanently inhabited. than 2,000 islands, 170 of which are permanently inhabited. The country is divided into four main regions:
Comprising the central part of the country, this region is the only that touches upon all three major geographic features of Croatia (see above). Thus, it exemplifies the country's diversity, including a large agricultural plain, a range of karstified tall mountains and a short stretch of Adriatic coast. Large forests and the famous Plitvice lakeland are among the area's highlights. Croatia Proper is the historical and economic heartland of the country, containing the attractive and bijou capital city, Zagreb, with only 800,000 inhabitants.
A region of great beauty and great historical interest, Dalmatia consists of a long and mostly narrow stretch of the mainland along the greatest part of Croatia's Adriatic Coast and the adjacent islands. The islands and the – mostly highly attractive – coastal cities feature a distinctively Mediterranean flair and appearance, quite Italianate in style, whereas the inland areas, separated from the shore by steeply sloped mountains, are more continental in character and culturally have much in common with nearby Bosnia. The largest cities here are Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik, each of them with significant historical monuments.
This small region occupies the country's northwestern peninsula, adjacent to the Slovenian border and with strong historical links to Italy. In recent centuries, Istria has frequently changed hands, being owned or occupied in turn by Venice, France, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy. The region contains some of Croatia's most popular resorts and has attracted visitors already since the Roman era. There are no major cities, the largest is Pula.
The least-visited of Croatia's regions, Slavonia is located entirely within the Pannonian basin. Much of the area consists of fertile river valleys and floodplains, separated by hill country. The area is the mainstay of Croatia's agriculture. Due to its location, it has close historical connections with Hungary, Austria and Serbia, The main city here is Osijek.