Mainly seen as the launch pad for sailing to the hipper islands beyond, it’s worth exploring Split for a day or two as this dynamic city offers a slice of Croatian life as it has been for thousands of years.
Head inside Diocletan’s Palace to find bars, restaurants and shops, plus the homes of some 3,000 locals. Built by the Roman emperor Diocletian around 1,700 years ago, many of Split’s historical buildings are found within the palace boundaries too. To take in the views from up-high, climb the Saint Dominus Cathedral for a spectacular panorama. Inside the cathedral there are impressive intricate wooden sculptures of biblical characters while an eerie crypt is located underneath the building. Failing that, simply kick back al-fresco on the renovated Riva (seafront), sipping a coffee and soaking up the sun while you wait for your yacht to arrive. Hell yes.
Saint Dominus Cathedral
Open: 8am-7pm Monday to Saturday, 12.30pm-6.30pm Sundays
Tickets: Cathedral 15KN, Treasury 15KN, Belfry 10KN
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Here’s a pub quiz-esque factoid for you: Brac is home to the quarry from which the pristine white stone was mined for The White House itself in Washington DC, USA. Impress your mates with that baby.
You can visit the stonemason school here to watch the unique stone be chiselled, now into fountains and such usually used to adorn the streets of Split. Other than that, it’s the not-particularly appealing-sounding Zlatni Rat you want to aim for.
The long pebbly beach that reaches out into the Adriatic Sea encourages swimmers and windsurfers to spend their days in the water. A tree-lined pedestrian promenade connects the strip to the old town, where you can explore the shops and stop off for a cooling drink at a cafe.
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Hvar draws in the crowds because it offers a little bit of everything – oh, and it’s the sunniest spot in the whole country. Hvar Town is home to swanky hotels, bars and restaurants, where a night out is as much about seeing and being seen as it is sampling the local produce. Stari Grad and Jelsa are the sleepier and arguably more charming older towns, while the inland offers heady fields of lavender, rosemary and heather, rocky mountain paths and ancient abandoned hamlets. The nearby Pakleni Islands supply the crystal clear lagoons for snorkelling and optional nudey beaches for all-over sunbathing.
The residents of Vis are still adjusting to the boat-loads of tourists off-loading into their previously quiet harbour; the island was cut off from foreign visitors for nearly 40 years, right up until 1989, as it served as the military base for the Yugoslav National Army (you will see a Bond villain-esque ‘lair’ built into the mountains, which served as an exit and entry point for submarines). This, of course, means it remains delightfully underdeveloped, and so retains its charm and stress-free way of life, which seeps into you through osmosis as soon as you step ashore. Go inland to sample Croatia’s vugava wine among its stretching vineyards; take a stroll to see a mishmash of cultures past: a Greek cemetery, Roman ruins and crumbling English fortress; enjoy fresh seafood at a harbour-side restaurant and, if you’re feeling brave, seek out a nudist beach, tucked away in numerous pebbly coves, or simply lie back on arguably the most beautiful stretch, Komiza Bay.
The skinny streets of Dubrovnik are now teaming with tourists, and so to meander with ease through a fortified town of Renaissance and Gothic architecture you can head to Korcula. See the impressive St Mark’s Cathedral, St Peter’s Church and Marco Polo’s alleged place of birth; regardless of whether it really is or not, the tall house’s windows offer an impressive vista. Gather in the town square for religious ceremonies and folk dancing, or explore outside the stone walls to find vineyards, olive groves, small villages, dense woodland and sandy coves on the south, or pebbly beaches to the north.
St Mark’s Cathedral
Open: 9am-2pm and 5pm-7pm seven days a week April to October
Marco Polo museum
Open: 9am-12am seven days a week
For people that need action during their beach holiday, Mljet is the perfect destination. The lush island has some of the best diving in the world – which they’ve managed to mostly keep a secret thus far.
The tranquil deep-blue sea here is alive with coral reefs and underwater caves, and the water is said to be some of the cleanest in the world. On diving trips you can visit the Odysseus Cave, where Ancient Greek legend has it the namesake hero was nursed back to health by the sea nymph, Calypso. You can also see a recently discovered 16th-century shipwreck, which has yielded thousands of ancient artefacts including bronze cannons.
The two salt water lakes on the island are exceptionally warm and known for their medicinal powers. You can also rent canoes or kayaks for the day which will allow you to visit the ruins of a 12th-century island monastery in the middle of the bigger ‘Great Lake.’
Handsome Dubrovnik has fast-risen through the ranks to be considered one of the most romantic cities in the world alongside Paris and Venice. When you first set eyes on the ancient walled city it will take your breath away. Strolling hand-in-hand down the marble streets or watching the sun set over the glimmering Adriatic Sea from the 500-year-old walls will never cease to amaze.
The pedestrian-only old town with its aristocratic piazza and Baroque architecture has dozens of top-notch restaurants with fresh seafood bought in daily. We particularly recommend the naughtily named Lady Pi-Pi with an even naughtier statue of said lady out front. Be prepared to queue, but the tuna steak is worth every minute.
Dubrovnik isn’t only a fairytale city – it also has pristine beaches (and some nudist bays) that you can enjoy by day. Banje Beach is close to the Old Town, offering a dramatic backdrop against which to get your tan. The crude-sounding Sveti Jakov is a 20-minute walk from the city, but it’s truly a hidden gem with loungers and shades and a shallow, warm ocean for relaxed bathing.
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Prancing bottlenosed dolphins and flying vultures are the big attraction of the Kvarner Gulf islands, as well as hiking and climbiing in the national parks of Risnjak and Paklenice.
Get into the carny spirit at Croatia’s biggest carnival is Rio in Rijeka. Running for more than four days in January and February, with parades and celebrations aplenty, it’s worth checking out. See the Rijeka Carnival website.
Croatia’s capital Zagreb is in central Croatia and has a distinctly different vibe to Dubrovnik. With a strong medieval history, you can see the Bloody Bridge where two settlements Gradec and Kaptol battled over the land. With trams, gardens and a mix of museums and architecture, Zagreb is slowly becoming a more desirable city to visit.
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The music festivals
Croatia is suddenly the country for electronic dance festivals. From old forts to luxury yachts to pool-side to right on the sand, the settings are as much of a draw as the top DJs. Choose from these annual festivals:
Croatia’s biggest open-air festival focuses on renowned indie rock and electronica – all in an ideal island setting. Yes please.
Lake Jarun, Zagreb | inmusicfestival.com/en
Started in Miami, America’s foremost electronica event has been coming to Europe since 2013. With the three days topped off by a pool-side set from a leading DJ, this is a mammoth dance party to end all others.
Split | ultraeurope.com
Ibiza Rocks, which hosts weekly club nights on the Balearic island, condenses its mega programme of electronic music into five nights of live music, DJs, producers and emerging talent playing under the stars in Croatia. There’s a main festival stage, beach raves and boat parties galore.
Zrce beach, Pag Island | croatiarocks.com
Stop Making Sense
You’ll dance all day and all night under the stars and on the beach in this magical private bay with tiki bars, beach sports and boat parties.
Tisno | stopmakingsense.eu
Dimensions showcases the world’s best underground electronic music in the beautiful location of an abandoned 19th-century fort right by the stunning Adriatic coastline, with the opening concert in a 2000-year-old amphitheatre. Boat and beach parties day and night offer a fantastic experience sound-tracked by brilliant live and DJ talent. N.B. If you can’t make Dimensions, check out Outlook below, which is the same location a few days later.
Port Punta Christo, Pula | dimensionsfestival.com
It’s all about that bass at Outlook, which joins the dots between musical legends right through to the next generation of up-and-coming talent. Some of the finest live acts and DJs in the world descend upon a 19th-century fort for five days and nights of amazing bass music in Croatia.