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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.
Hotel Korčula, Korčula, Croatia
Korčula Town, Korčula 20260, Croatia
Tel: 385 20 711 078, Fax: 385 20 711 026
Walled, medieval Korčula Town is sometimes (and rightly) referred to as little Dubrovnik: It has much of that bigger city's charm, but on a scale that's easily walked. Located on the main drag, the Hotel Korčula's facade, dating to 1912, is the property's strongest feature. There's also a large terrace with a restaurant and cafe—a great place to take in sunsets and live music. But the fact that this is the best hotel in town proves that the Croatian hospitality industry has work to do. The service is friendly and the restaurant fine, but—well, let's be kind and just say that the place needs modernization. The 20 rooms, with orange drapes and high, dark-wood ceilings, have a feeling of opulence trapped in time—with no air-conditioning. Ask for a room on the first floor, where large windows mean a chance for sea breezes.
See + Do
Walls in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik's 82-foot walls were built between the 8th and 13th centuries to keep invaders out, but these days the picturesque limestone fortifications do a better job of attracting foreigners than repelling them. The walls extend for more than a mile, so set aside an hour to walk their length and take in the view of terra-cotta roofs and the sea. The most photogenic (and romantic) view comes one to two hours before closing time, when the sunset gently illuminates the rooftops of Old Town. Plan more time if you want to stop for a coffee or cocktail (vendors set up cafés along the way) or visit the Aquarium and Maritime Museum at the wall's southeastern edge. A staircase by the Pile Gate, at the beginning of the Stradun, leads to the entrance. But you can also access the walls from the Franciscan Monastery, St. Luke's Tower, and St. John's Fortress.
See + Do
An island just ten minutes' ferry ride away, Lokrum was declared a nature reserve in 1964. Legend has it that Richard the Lion-Hearted was shipwrecked here in 1192 after the Crusades. In the 19th century, Ferdinand Maximilian of Hapsburg erected a mansion here. Now, there's a botanical garden (open to the public since 1959) and a hilltop fortress built by the French in 1806, with great views of the city and the islands. A little interior lake, the Mrtvo More (Dead Sea), is perfect for childrenand tends to remain peaceful even when the many beaches on the perimeter are packed.
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.
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.
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.
Astoria Design Hotel, Croatia
Tel: 385 51 706 043