Everything you crave at the uber-luxury hideaway that is

Villa Nai 3.3

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aves have fascinated humans since prehistory. They have provided homes and have been sources of both safety and danger. The owners of Villa Nai 3.3 have put a twist on ‘caves’ by offering a downright luxury hideaway dug out of the limestone hills of Dugi Otok Island just off mainland Zadar in Croatia.

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Location 

Designed by one of Croatia’s leading architects, Nikola Bašić, Villa Nai 3.3, this secluded wonder stands proudly surrounded by over 1000 olive trees. And while the hotel is embedded into the rock, it’s integrated into the natural landscape seamlessly. The ancient family-owned grove has a small on-site mill and owner Goran Morović is ever-ready to hold olive-oil tasting sessions.

Naturally an advocate of the green stuff, Goran hails drinking a concoction of it made with 25 olive leaves immersed in water daily for optimum health. Experts agree as the oil, which is available to buy in sophisticated chic bottles, has won multiple awards. 

Guests can arrive in style privately thanks to the on-site helipad but those without such means of transport can catch the hour-long ferry from mainland Zadar and complete the rest of the journey via road. The approach via this route via a narrow, chalky path weaving through olive trees, dry stone walls and an orange clay tennis court is nothing short of mesmerising.

The automatic black iron gate with Villa Nai 3.3 carved into it signals your arrival at this incredibly lavish eight-bedroom wonder.  

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Rooms

The rock-bred design of the exterior continues inside throughout this eight-bedroom adult-only (children over 14 years are accepted) property. Of varying sizes (all are incredibly capacious), the bedrooms differ only slightly with some having four poster beds and a fireplace for those chilly days and nights. Limestone walls provide a dramatic cave-man backdrop to the huge comfy beds while the rest of the contemporary Italian furniture courtesy of Giorgetti (the brand has been creating premium furniture since 1898) injects a well-balanced modern flair. 

The individually designed rooms with Istrian natural stone polished floors and high ceilings are understated yet sophisticated with a decor of neutral earthy colour tones of creams and beiges. Views from the floor-to-ceiling patios afford guests of the Adriatic or olive groves.  

A member of the Leading Hotels of the World, you can expect top-notch amenities inside the rooms (and indeed the rest of the hotel). Coffee machines, a mini bar with a range of drinks, fluffy slippers and robes, pool bag containing beach towels, robes and flip-flops, are provided. Wall-mounted TVs are not as big as I would expect of a place of this calibre but with wonderful views outside, I wouldn’t imagine many people would want to be glued to a screen. 

The bathrooms are a little gem in themselves with stand-alone bathtubs, separate double walk-in showers and his and hers vanity basins. Outside a private terrace awaits with comfortable cushioned outdoor furniture under a rock-like natural canopy. It provided the perfect place for some sun salutations (there’s a small outdoor courtyard gym area with a stationary bike, elliptical machine and yoga mats). With direct access to the hotel’s 23m infinity pool dotted with sun-loungers, I didn’t have far to venture for some serious r and r.  

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Poolside and spa 

Inside, there’s a smaller saltwater pool in the light-filled spa. Being of a cold-disposition I was delighted to find a Finnish-style sauna within this space. What’s more, I was afforded an impromptu mediation session with the gentle bird-chirping sounds coming from the speaker. 

Nothing beats a good massage after checking into a hotel and again Villa Nai 3.3 has pulled out all the stops when it comes to offering a pamper session. A variety of massages are offered where the therapist uses olive and paste made from the fruits just meters away. My therapist expertly used her limbs to iron out the knots around my shoulders before massaging the concoction into my face while giving me a head massage. The result following the sleep-inducing treatment was emerging with glowing skin ready for food for the soul.  

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Food and drink 

There are two dining options at Villa Nai 3.3. Grotto 11,000 is the al-fresco dining space in the secluded courtyard, which is remarkable. The numeric in the name refers to the year ancient remains found on the island. It’s equipped with a pizza oven and a vertical grill chiselled into the limestone paying homage to homo-sapiens who once roamed the island of Dugi Otok. 

The inside restaurant seats over 20 guests while the terrace dining area on the other side of the glass patio provides a great way to kick start the day with a hearty breakfast polished with an organic coffee served from 8 am to 11 am.  

Food as can expected from a joint like this is nothing short of incredible. Organic vegetables including courgettes, tomatoes, and cucumber are grown just yards away atop the hotel. There are also 50 strong chickens clucking away in the fresh air producing freshly laid eggs daily.  

Being so close to the sea, locally sourced fish is a menu staple as is sourcing local produce such as goat’s cheese and honey. Although there is no set menu, South African chef Steve tailors food to suit guests’ needs. Whether they are vegan, vegetarian or have food intolerances makes no odds. The food is guaranteed to be fresh and satisfy the fussiest of clientele. And the service is next to none. A multicultural team are always on hand to provide a warm welcoming, highly professional and discreet service. 

The hotel is strict on its zero-food waste policy—the on-site desalination plant processes salt water which is used to water crops and for consumption. Meanwhile, food waste is utilised as fertiliser for the garden. Furthermore, products used in bedrooms and communal areas are free from harsh harmful chemicals. 

It would be a sin not to mention the bakery offerings, made lovingly by pastry whiz Alauddin. Springy freshly baked bread from the oven is available at all meals not least to soak up Villa Nai 3.3’s unequalled olive oil while carefully curated desserts help round off meals perfectly. The night cream we had was so divine I drifted off to sleep dreaming of it. 

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Things to do  

If you can pull yourself away from the lap of luxury of Villa Nai 3.3, I highly recommend heading down to the nearby quaint villages of Zaglav and Sali. Telašćica Nature Park and Kornati National Parks – two of Croatia’s most serene and photogenic spots are also a short drive away and can be fully enjoyed by a hike, bike or stroll. It’s no wonder British actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who is reportedly been offered the role of the new James Bond, succeeding Daniel Craig) shot a new commercial for Armani’s perfume Aqua di Gio in the Telašćica Nature Park.

The rest of the island, the seventh largest island in the Adriatic is 45 km long and only a few kilometres wide. Its name derives precisely from the distinctive shape and can be translated as ‘long Island’. No matter where you go on the island whether by foot, bike or boat, you’ll be immersed by turquoise calm, crystal clear water flanked by green islands and dramatic grey cliffs. Want a bird’s eye view? Climb the 160 or so steps of the imposing Veli Rat lighthouse for splendid views from a 40 m height.

Keeping with the cave theme of Villa Nai 3.3, I also suggest exploring the many caves in Dugi Otok. Caves give us some of the most compelling evidence about early human societies. Because the atmosphere deep instead of caves is generally stable, artefacts and artworks left in caves can survive for thousands of years.

There are not many places you can say you’ve stayed in a cave-like luxury abode without a tent in sight. What’s more, you’ll have the bonus of beating light pollution that we city dwellers have become far too accustomed to. So switch off, lay back and allow nighttime star gazing at acres of star-scattered sky at night to envelope you. Let the peace speak for itself at this splendid rural spot.

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Address: Žman 199, 23282 Žman, Dugi Otok, Croatia 

Getting there: Zadar airport is around 55 minutes away. A ferry from Zaglav or Žman port brings you to the island from where the hotel can pick you up for free 

Phone: 00 385 23 643 520    

Website: https://villanai.com/