I've been to the Croatian Coast a few times in the last 10 years (3 mos. at a time)& loved it. Now, I'm taking my husband & best friend of 6 yrs., who hasn't been to Croatia. We'll be travelling to small villages from the Island of Krk along the coastline to Split. The locals love visitors. They have wonderful fresh open markets & cozy restaurants along the coastline. You can rent an upper-level 'pension' very reasonably viewing the sparkling Adriatic and its open beaches!
See + Do
Yachting on the Dalmatian Coast
Given its proximity to Italy and Greece, it's no surprise that the Dalmatian Coast has been drawing big-money yachts—we're talking $10 million and up—away from the tried and true Mediterranean routes. But chartering a motor yacht or sailboat is not limited to millionaires. Many charters originate from Split and last one week—enough time to complete a circuit that takes in Hvar, Vis, Korčula, and Brač. Both crewed and bareboat (sans crew; ICC or RYA license required) charters are available. The best time to be on the water is in the months just before and after the high season of July and August: Besides having fewer boats to contend with, the winds are stronger. SAT Yachting in Split has luxury yachts, motorboats, sailboats, and catamarans. Prices compare favorably to those in Greece and Italy: A weeklong bareboat charter of a 46-foot Bavaria 46 sailboat, which sleeps up to eight, is just north of $4,000, excluding food and port charges; a roomier Lagoon 440 catamaran without crew runs closer to $9,000 (385-21-544-033; www.sat-yachting.hr).
See + Do
Wine Tasting on the Dalmatian Coast
Nearly every island town has a communal wine press, and a large number of families bottle their own. That's because wine is an integral part of most Dalmatians' social identity. And since Croatia is not yet a member of the European Union (it's a candidate—the smart money has it joining up in 2009), it isn't hampered by regulations regarding production and export. The Zlatan Otok winery in Sveta Nedjelja, Hvar, is an ideal place to taste the robust flavors that result when grapes grow facing south under a sun that beats down 300 days a year. Sample the winery's red Plavac Mali; the grape is a relative of California's Zinfandel and regularly reaches 14 percent alcohol (385-21-745-803; zlatanotok.hr). On Korčula, try the dry, white Grk, which is full-bodied enough to serve with red meat. The Marinka vineyard serves up a fine example, and also rents rooms. On the island of Brač, the community winery Poljoprivredna Zadruga produces some of the best wines on the island. The Bolski Plavac—a powerful red reminiscent of Sangiovese—is an exceptional bargain (385-21-635-055).
See + Do
Traditional Boating on the Dalmatian Coast
Dalmatia's original fishing vessels—30-foot wood boats with two sails and six-inch keels that were ideal for pulling up onto the shore—have largely disappeared due to modern boatbuilding technology and the tradition of burning boats in sacrifice to St. Nicholas, the fisherman's patron saint. Today, only two replicas exist. One is operated by friendly Aussie couple Shane Braddock and Julie Morgan, who run Lifejacket Adventures. They'll take you on a day sail to Brac island from Split, with lunch and swimming included. They also offer a sunset sail to nearby Šolta and Čiovo Islands (385-98-931-6400; www.lifejacketadventures.com).
See + Do
Sailing School, Hvar, Croatia
, Hvar 21450, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 717 813
Sailing has always been a necessity around these parts, and tourists can learn the fundamentals of the ancient art at Hvar Adventure, which has courses for novices and more experienced sailors. The class is taught in English and normally lasts a week; beginners return to Hvar town each night, while advanced sailors sleep on board and island-hop. Book well ahead, as the weeklong programs sell out quickly; prices start at $850.
See + Do
Sea Kayaking in Dubrovnik
The calm Adriatic waters surrounding Dubrovnik are ideal for sea kayaking and make it easy to traverse the islands powered by your own two handsno experience necessary. Both Adriatic Sea Kayaking (opened by 1998's Miss Universe Croatia, Ivana Grzetic) and Adventure Dalmatia offer half-day jaunts as well as multiday journeys that cater to total novices and X Game aficionados alike. Half-day treks, which start at around $50, should be paddle-time enough to experience the islands.
See + Do
Festivals of the Dalmatian Coast
Winter is chilly on the Dalmatian Coast. No wonder the warm months are filled with opportunities to get out and about, such as Split's monthlong Summer Festival a performing arts celebration that fills theaters, squares, and galleries all over town. Highlights from past years include Le Corsaire, performed by the Latvian National Opera and Ballet House, and concerts by Moscow's Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra (runs from mid-July to mid-August; 385-21-363-014; www.splitsko-ljeto.hr). July and August is also the time for Korčula's traditional Festival of Sword Dances, a re-creation of a battle between two 16th-century armies. Combatants dressed in flowing red and black uniforms duel with genuine metal sabers (though they're not terribly sharp) in a tightly choreographed flurry of sparks, sweat, and bloody knuckles to the accompaniment of brass bands. The zaniest festival takes place in the end of July in Sutivan, Brač: Vanka Regule, a sort of Adriatic X Games, in which participants free-dive, windsurf, long-distance kayak, and jump bikes into the sea (385-98-522-725; www.vankaregule.com).
See + Do
Diving, Vis, Croatia
, Vis 21480, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 713 651
Like to wreck-dive? Thousands of years of maritime trading and naval battles means more than a few sunken ships in Dalmatian waters. ISSA Diving Center in Komiža, Vis, takes clients down as far as their experience and talents allow. One highlight is a B-17 bomber that went into the drink in 1944 on the southeast side of the island and now sits in 250 feet of water. For less experienced divers—ISSA honors PADI and NAUI certifications—there are also plenty of caves and reefs. Newbies can be certified or can opt to snorkel.
Seasonal: April to October.
See + Do
Blue Cave, Biševo, Croatia
Just across the water from Vis, the island of Biševo is famous for its waterlogged rock cavern, locally called the Modra Špilja, that can only be reached by boat. For an hour or so a day, usually beginning around 11 a.m., the grotto seems to glow from underneath with an incandescent blue light. Charter boats leave every morning from Komiža, on Vis, though once there, you'll have to swim or hop on a rowboat to get inside the cave. And while there's no question that most visitors feel an otherworldly connection to the place, on summer days it can get distractingly crowded.
See + Do
Diocletian's Palace, Croatia
Since visitors usually make a beeline for the islands, Split is overlooked as a destination. A pity: Croatia's second city is home to this 416,000-square-foot retirement villa Roman Emperor Diocletian built for himself in 305 AD. Today, the Palace is a living monument—a walled city home to 3,000 residents, reams of cafes, bistros, boutiques, and even a hotel. It's a surreal intermingling of past and present: The very same pieces Diocletian used to decorate his villa—such as the Egyptian sphinxes, which look down serenely from pedestals—still adorn the place. Kids play soccer alongside monuments like the Cathedral of Sveti Duje (Saint Domnius) and the Baptistery of St. John (Jupiter's Temple, in Diocletian's time). You realize that the Croatians not only take their history seriously, they still live in it.
See + Do
Beaches of the Dalmatian Coast
There are more beaches on the hundreds of small islands in the area than one could possibly count, many of them appearing and disappearing with the tide on secluded coves. They're often pebbled with small, smooth rocks (due to the calmness of the sea there are no strong waves to crush them into sand over time), so shoes or sandals are mandatory—but a bikini top is not. (And bottoms are sometimes negotiable.) While we recommend finding your own favorite by foot, bicycle, or kayak, a handful merit singling out. On Brač, Zlatni Rat is the most photographed beach in Croatia (just one example shown here), an arc of textured sand that juts into the ocean like the blade of a knife and is the launching point for the windsurfers who make pilgrimages to the island. In the mainland city of Split, the place to be is Bačvice, a lively, shallow, and sandy expanse lined with cafes and bars—it's a prime place to see how gorgeous (and friendly) young Croatians are. Stiniva, Vis's best beach, is a wedge of sand that's nearly closed off from the open water by cliffs squeezing in on either side—a classic protected cove. You'll have to arrive by small boat or by navigating a narrow footpath. The Adriatic, by the way, is a lovely place to swim, with summer temperatures averaging 77 degrees.
Luna, Hvar, Croatia
Hvar Town, Hvar 21450, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 741 400
Italians love Hvar, and they especially love Luna—one of the few places on the island that might be described as glam. Owner Tomislav Rudan understands that visitors want a break from the standard fare and rustic ambience, so he serves dishes such as smoked salmon, shrimp gazpacho, and beef tenderloin with a truffle cream and mushroom sauce—a welcome break from picking tiny bones out of your teeth (fish in Croatia is rarely filleted). Located in the center of town, the restaurant has a dining room with a swirl of quirky paintings and a moon-shaped rooftop terrace. You'll hear a babble of languages and see many of the same good-looking folks at Carpe Diem later that night.
Closed November to March. Lunch and dinner.
Nostromo Restaurant, Croatia
Split 21000, Croatia
Tel: 385 91 405 6666
Savvy globe trekkers know that to find a good seafood restaurant you head for the local fish market. Split's market is worth a wander, with its singing, haggling, and bantering Croats selling lobsters, eels, and squid ink. While Nostromo isn't quite on the water itself, it attracts Split's upper echelon in an wood-bedecked dining room in the fish market that feels like a yacht's galley. The chefs know to leave well enough alone, using a minimum of spices and sauces to let the flavor of the fish come through. Start with a plate of local oysters before diving into the Nostromo plate, which includes sautéed shrimp, squid, mussels, scallops, and clams tossed with olive oil and parsley.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily: 6 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Adriana Hvar Marina Hotel & Spa, Hvar, Croatia
Hvar Town, Hvar 21450, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 750 200
It's no surprise that this 59-room hotel became an instant favorite of the Croatian Riviera crowd when it opened in the summer of 2007. The Adriana's views of the megayachts are unparalleled, and the Top, the hotel's sleek roof bar, is the coolest place to party. On warm nights during the high season, it's the spot to sip a cocktail or a glass of Champagne while overlooking the twinkling lights in the harbor. The rooms are decorated in an Asian-inspired minimalist style, with dark wood floors; Japanese-patterned lamps; and touches of amber, persimmon, and lavender (the island's ubiquitous fragrant herb also pops up in lavender-scented massages at the on-site spa). But be careful when you book: Some rooms and apartments look out onto the city, but the best come with a million-dollar view of the mammoth vessels and humble fishing boats moored in the harbor.
Riva Hotel, Hvar, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 750 100
The first thing you see when you disembark on Hvar island are the wicker lounge chairs and plush pillows on the patio of this harbor-front hotel, so prominent a landmark that it doesn't even get a street address. The newer Adriana hotel across the way gets all the buzz, while the quieter Riva attracts a clientele that is just as savvy, but decidedly less scene-obsessed. Completely renovated in 2006, Riva's 54 small but well-designed rooms are decorated with vibrant touches of deep red and polished wood accents, plus images of Brigitte Bardot, Anita Ekberg, and other great sex symbols of the past. The hotel is a couple of doors down from the bustling Carpe Diem club, and the clientele here is similarly young and beautiful. You can't beat Riva's embankment bar for relaxing with a cocktail at sunset; the view is just as stunning 12 hours later when you sip coffee a few feet from the yachts and catamarans.
Hotel Vestibul Palace, Croatia
Split 21000, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 329 329
Split, the busy mainland town, most often serves as a jumping-off point to the islands. The best reason to linger? Diocletian's Palace. Originally the retirement home of a Roman emperor (that would be Mr. Diocletian), today the 1,700-plus-year-old structure is jammed with apartments—some 3,000 citizens live here—as well as shops, bistros, and cafes. In 2005, it finally got a hotel worth staying in, too. Located between the Emperor's chambers and the Peristil Square, this is as close as you'll get to sleeping in royal quarters in Croatia, location-wise. And if the emperor were to commission digs today, we have a feeling they would be something like this. With a mere five rooms and two suites, it's a true-blue boutique, with locally produced custom-made contemporary furniture that looks fabulous against the naked, ancient stone walls. Gleaming blond hardwood parquet floors, heated towel racks, flat-screen TVs, marble bathrooms and low beds with leather-embossed headboards prove this to be the most modern place you're likely to stay on the coast—despite the centuries-old view out the window. It's a fantastic juxtaposition. With those few rooms, though, book early.
Dešković Palace, Brač, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 778 240
Just an hour by ferry from the mainland town of Split, the island of Brač is popular with tourists, but few folks go farther than the bustling seaside town of Bol. A drive through rolling hillsides of olive trees and vineyards leads you to Pučišća, a sleepy seaside village most famous for producing the stone used in the White House. It's also home to the Dešković Palace, a renovated Renaissance palace built in 1467. Run by an heiress and artist named Rožića, who teaches painting in her on-premises studio, the hotel has a cheery and low-key atmosphere and is often filled with return guests who happened onto the property sometime in yesteryear. All of the 15 rooms have high ceilings, wood floors, and one-of-a-kind furniture that one suspects may be hundreds of years old. You'll be drawn to Pučišća for the sleepy feel of a real fishing village, but you just might stay on for the hotel restaurant's tagliatelle with truffle cream sauce. It's nearly as divine as the Saint Jerome church, right next door.
Closed December and January.
Le Méridien Lav, Croatia
Podstrana 21312, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 500 500
Le Méridien, which opened in 2006, packs several restaurants, cafés, and barsas well as a seaside infinity pool, spa, private beaches (with 24-hour lifeguards), casino, and marinain and around a group of nondescript high-rise buildings right on the Adriatic. Located a 20-minute ride from Split (past the suburbs and across a barren stretch of coast), the hotel is obviously geared toward the all-in-one, no-need-to-leave resort crowd. Don't worry; there is a free shuttle to and from town, for when you crave architecture and history. Most of the 381 spacious rooms have direct sea views and are decorated in classic (if a bit bland) beige and navy blue with discreet touches of wood paneling and rich fabrics. Thankfully, the service, long a downside of staying in the area, functions at the international standard, including 24-hour room service and a knowledgeable concierge.
Villa Giardino, Brač, Croatia
Bol, Brač 21420, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 635 900
Of all the Dalmatian Islands, Brač is the sportiest. It has first-class windsurfing and kite-boarding, and seems to attract a fair number of young, narrow-waisted types looking for action. A lot of the action is centered around Bol, Brač's most happening coastal town. Among the uninviting 1970s-era state-run options around town, Villa Giardino is a true find. Located a five-minute walk from the beach, it has a sauna and massages, gardens, and a terrace overlooking the Adriatic sea that's a terrific place to have breakfast before heading out to the water. The 10 rooms have sea or garden views and satellite TV. The decor might throw off X-Games types, though: It's positively crammed with Art Nouveau sculptures, 19th-century Croatian oils, and 17th-century wooden angels. If that's your thing, request room No. 4, the Franz Joseph room. The bed is a dark wood, chunky, manly-looking half tester where the emperor of Austria himself slept when he visited the island in 1876. (No worries, the mattress is new enough.)
Closed October to April.
Pansion Marinka, Korčula, Croatia
Tel: 385 20 712 007
Wine tourism is big along the Dalmatian coast. After years of catering to oenophile tourists—mainly French—one family with a local vineyard decided to house 'em, too. Located on the island of Korčula, in the friendly wine-producing town of Lumbarda, the Pansion Marinka's mission is simple: It offers countrified hospitality centered around the love of vino. Frano and Visna Milina provide guests with organic food from their farm, a quiet atmosphere in a large house with 10 rooms and three suites, and lots of leisurely opportunities to tipple the quite excellent local white called Grk. (Breakfast and dinner are offered, but not included. It is, however, mad, mad cheap—and expect the wine to be had for well less than $15 a bottle.) The newly renovated, meticulously tiled rooms have comfortable beds and expansive terraces. Frano will also take guests out to harvest grapes in the vineyard or show them the workings of the farm.
Palmižana, Palmižana, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 717 270
Hvar Town is a great place to party, sure enough, but even hard-core types might consider taking a night or two off to rest their heads on the tiny island of Palmižana, 20 minutes from town by water taxi. Secluded and surrounded by empty beaches, this private family estate is a quirky, art colony–like ramble in the midst of 600-plus acres of protected nature preserve. The luxury doesn't come from slick amenities, though: It's aimed more to types who revel in a space so wonderfully overgrown with exotic flora, first planted more than a century ago. There are two family-operated restaurants, five bungalows, five villas, and two houses containing a total of three one-bedroom suites and three two-bedroom suites. Most are filled with abstract paintings collected by the compound's grande dame, Dagmar Meneghello. The grounds are great fun to wander around: Flowers cascade over stone walls, and there are many spots where you can linger alone and look out at the sea. In summer, the family hosts art exhibitions with works by young artists.
Closed November to April.
Hotel Podstine, Hvar, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 740 400
In the height of summer, Hvar begins to feel overrun with noisy Italians, British second-home owners, and German families. Hotel Podstine offers an ideal mix: It's a beautiful 15-minute walk along a seaside path from town, so it's close to first-rate nightlife, but totally quiet when you've had your dose of disco. Built under a rock cliff, the hotel also has its own beach. The 51 double rooms are big but unimaginative, with beds on tile floors and straightforward bathrooms. You will, however, find satellite TV, minibars, room service, and AC. And some of the sea-facing rooms have large terraces with wicker furniture overlooking the Pakleni Islands—a quick boat ride away. Be sure to ask for a sea view or else you may be facing that rock wall.
Closed November to March.