let's spend some sundrenched days swimming in the adriatic, eating grilled fish, enjoying friends and family in a sweet villa on a idealic island. maybe we'll visit some roman ruins, take a day trip to another island, go party on hvar, or make a pinata. summer memories to keep for a lifetime. let's do it while we're young and beautiful.
Pojoda, Vis, Croatia
Vis Town, Vis 21480, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 711 575
Tucked away in an alley in the neighborhood of Kut, Pojoda is renowned for its full-bodied interpretations of ancient recipes. Our recommendation: the brodetto, a traditional stew made with tomatoes, wine, olive oil, monkfish, and lobster. Why is it so good? We don't know: When we asked owner and head chef Zoran Brajčić for the recipe, he said, "Nobody can imitate the dish. Even if you know the ingredients, how can you know how big my pinch is? I've got big hands." Couple the brodetto with a bottle of local Vugava white wine.
Lunch and dinner daily: 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Kaliopa, Vis, Croatia
Vis Town, Vis 21480, Croatia
Tel: 385 21 711 755
Vis, 28 miles into the Adriatic from the nearest coast, feels more secluded than its sister islands. Kaliopa echoes this sensibility: Hidden in a garden next to an old villa by the sea, it isn't a place you're likely to stumble upon. The owner, Goran Pecarevic, doesn't like crowds, either; in fact, he says his goal is to get smaller and smaller until he's serving only himself. Metaphysical puzzles aside, the food is delicious. Order a bottle of island-made red Plavac Mali, and start with smoked-fish soup or risotto with mussels and shrimp; next tuck into the tuna carpaccio slathered in domestic olive oil and sprinkled with capers. With only 50 seats outside, reservations are essential.
Dinner nightly: 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Bars and Clubs of the Dalmatian Coast
Hvar Town has become the party capital of the Adriatic. This is due in large part to Carpe Diem Bar and Lounge, a longstanding outdoor-indoor spot (pictured) whose afternoon après-beach scene often spirals into an all-night dance party. It's on the international DJ circuit, and sees a beautiful crowd of Europeans in their 20s and 30s who know one another from other global hot spots—"Brigitte, didn't I see you last week in St. Tropez?" (385-21-742-369; www.carpe-diem-hvar.com).
A few other nightlife spots lack Carpe Diem's following but stand out as fun places to let loose after a beach day. In Split, Puls 2 is one of a cadre of modish cafe-bars inside Diocletian's Palace. Locals and tourists mix under the stars drinking the best local beer, Karlovačko (1 Buvinina; no phone). In Bol, on the island of Brač, the action is at Hotel Kaštil's Varadero Cocktail Bar, an open-air nightspot with good DJs for when you're up dancing and comfortable wicker furniture for when you're not (385-21-635-996; www.kastil.hr). In Korčula Town, one of the coolest bars you'll ever experience is Massimo. It's actually part of the ancient fortified seaside wall: You climb a ladder to the crenellated tower, which looks over the water and town; bartenders serve drinks via a pulley system (385-20-715-073).
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
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
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
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.
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.
Islands on Sale
Is there an upside to the down economy? If you're an island-goer, the answer is an unqualified yes. Places that were once prohibitive for many are now more accessible than ever before (hello, Seychelles!), and even old favorites are seeing their prices chopped (this is the summer for Fiji). We hunted down 14 of the best island bargains around the globe, from the Seychelles to Jamaica, Hawaii to Sicily. Even better, prices will be falling further throughout the summer, and many of these deals are good through December. So grab your bikini and get goingyou won't see prices like these again anytime soon.
Pictured: Intercontinental Resort and Thalasso Spa, Bora Bora , French Polynesia
Note: Sometimes great trips are easily booked on your own, but sometimes it helps to have a destination specialist who really knows the region inside and out, and whose connections can secure upgrades and even better deals than you could find solo. We've listed the names of travel agents from Wendy Perrin's annual World's Top Travel Specialists list wherever we think having one would enhance your experience.
From the July 2009 issue of Condé Nast Traveler