Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian coastline and isles have blossomed to become some of Croatia’s most sought-after escapes. Dubrovnik’s glittering marble lanes juxtaposed against sturdy sixteenth century battlements allude to its complex cultural heritage. No doubt this marriage of historical fortitude, empire-influenced architecture and natural beauty is the reason that thousands of Game of Thrones fans flock to the city and instantly understand why its fortifications and streets were chosen as the atmospheric backdrop to King’s Landing. Both the Venetian Republic and the Republic of Ragusa still make their splendid architectural presences felt.
Yet there’s so much more to discover, especially if you have a hankering to avoid the crowds and experience the culture, soothing landscapes, and some great wines and delicacies. The true blue waters of the Adriatic and inviting coves make the beaches of the Dalmatian coast a seaside getaway reminiscent of the Mediterranean, yet this inlet sea carves a geography and feel that is more muted and gentle. The islands each show a distinct personality, so exploring this narrow belt of the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea by island-hopping becomes every bit as desirable a pastime as in the Greek islands too. There’s less land and sea to cover though, with the historical region and wine region stretching only as far as the island of Rab in the north down to the Bay of Kotor in the south, meaning that the highlights of Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian Coast comprise an achievable voyage of discovery in one sublime holiday.
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You can arrive in Dubrovnik or larger Split by air, land, or sea, with global flights into the region now far more accessible in frequency and price. However, given the “island life” nature of this region, it’s entirely within reach from Italy by ferry from Ancona or Bari, and sailing to and around the isles is de rigeur. If you’re splashing out, then this region has some of the most widely available options to arrive by helicopter from some other equally-salubrious stop on your tour of Europe. Driving down through mainland Europe, taking in the northeast of Italy, Slovenia and Istria offers a scenic option with many interesting stops.
The Croatian Kuna (HRK) is national tender, despite Croatia’s EU membership. It’s advisable to change money as you go, as there is intense competition between foreign exchange agencies in Croatia, so you can shop around and find excellent rates.
All the established stores accept international credit cards and ATMs delivering local currency are easy to find in the main cities (Zadar, Šibenik, Split, Dubrovnik) and larger towns.
Whilst you can plan travel here all year round, due to the region’s mild Mediterranean climate, tourist season in Croatia begins around Easter and peaks in the summer, when warm, sunny weather prevails. In Dubrovnik, that peak may well be something you’ll want to avoid. The crowds of Game of Thrones, Star Wars and Robin Hood fans mingling with frequent cruise passengers on the narrow ramparts of the city, in 40-degree heat, may not be the experience you seek. However, that’s a great excuse to decamp to the city’s watering holes and hostelries for a break. If you’re looking to visit anywhere outside of Dubrovnik, you’ll find June to September busy but buzzy. Just ensure to book your flights, accommodation and tours well in advance so you don’t miss out.
Our tip is to visit outside of the peak months, where possible. Winters in the region can be mild but rainy, and some tourist facilities close in November until March. Spring is more vibrant, but can bring showers. Regardless, that can be a chance worth taking in May or early June, when the area’s natural beauty is bursting with promise.
Your visit duration can fit flexibly into a wider tour of mainland Europe or can form the focus of a single-stop holiday, for there’s plenty to amuse here – destination dining opportunities showcasing local ingredients in their cultural context, water sports that enable you to commune with the serene sea, scenic walks, and wineries that exemplify the unique terroir and culture. However, as part of a larger trip exploring the hinterland of this stunning coastline, we’d recommend a week or eight days to discover the food and wine experiences that abound here, as well as some “downtime” days in which to soak up the sun and luxuriate in delectable wine and food.
This sought-after city offers many amusements, but we’d recommend a tour of the 2.5km of city walls for the views over the old town and grand bay alone. Thereafter, grab some cool (free) water from the Old Town fountains and head to your choice of The War Photo Limited gallery, The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin, the Rector’s Palace or Sponza Palace.
Pronounced “Tsavtat”, this harbour town is easily and quickly accessible by water taxi from Dubrovnik. It’s a small, vibrant town where you can join the Dalmatian version of La Passeggiata past visiting superyachts lit up in their glittering splendour; or grab some refreshing gelato from Kuca Sladoleda (House of Ice Cream) for your walk along the coast road towards Tiha Cove, where on the beaches in front of the Hotel Albatros and Hotel Epidaurus, you’ll be captivated by sunsets unrivalled in the world.
Pelješac is a peninsula situated about an hour’s drive from Dubrovnik. It is around 70 km long and is connected with the Croatian mainland at its narrowest point, near Ston town.
This is the area you’ll want to visit to sample wine that has been sea-aged for 700 days at https://www.edivovina.hr/, or indeed dive for the amphorae yourself.
The islands of Korčula and Mljet are just across the channel (more delicious wines here), and the peninsula makes a perfect day trip from Dubrovnik. Self-drive or book a private tour of the peninsula that includes wine tasting Dingač, Postup and Plavac in the Potomje region, and oyster sampling in the area around Ston.
Head to the fashionable Riva for a promenade along the seafront with its cosmopolitan bars and alfresco restaurants, where you can see and be seen. For an escape away from other pleasure-seekers, Bene Beach is a secluded cove on the northern fringe of forested Marjan Park. A cool and leisurely wander through the forest will lead you to this pebbly seafront, evocative of untouched nature. Given its isolated position, there’s a handy restaurant not too far away.
Sometimes called the St Tropez of Croatia, Hvar town on Hvar island affords plenty of shopping and supping opportunities. From Split, take the catamaran to Hvar town itself or car ferry to Stari Grad, depending on whether you have a willing designated driver. To see the breathtaking views over the town, bay and wilderness islets, you’ll need to climb the town steps to the Fortica Španjola. Once there, you’ll have earned a relaxing sojourn at a pretty pavement café, glass of local Pošip in hand.
A well-kept secret before becoming the background location for Mamma Mia 2, having been an army base for the former Yugoslavia. When opened as a tourist destination in 1989, it became clear to the visiting public that the small population had left the sumptuous scenery unscathed. This is a perfect stop at the end of your trip, to catch your breath and unfurl on its gorgeous beaches. Not just because much of the island is dedicated to vineyards producing white, Vugava and red, Plavac.
Day 1 Split: Begin a seven-day tour of Dalmatia in the historic World Heritage City of Split, recognised by UNESCO for the ancient Palace of Diocletian and the Old City that developed within its walls.
Day #2 Trogir and Ciovo Island: From Split, make your way circa 15 nautical miles to the nearby city of Trogir, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. There, discover the ancient gastronomic traditions that are still influencing Croatian chefs today. If you’re craving a beach escape, take a quick ride to the island of Ciovo, the largest in the Trogir archipelago. Head to the eastern side of the island for pristine and tranquil beaches like Kava Beach. Ciovo is also a great place for squid fishing so be sure to sample a dish of some of the freshest squid while on the island.
Day #3 Brač: Sail on to Brač, an island famed for its beaches and lovely white limestone which was used in the construction of Diocletian’s Palace and other important buildings in Croatia and abroad (including the White House in Washington D.C.). Brač is the largest island of central Dalmatia and offers gourmands a feast for the senses. The island is famous for its lamb dishes and procip, a delicious fresh cheese that is cut into slices and baked in caramelized sugar. After a big meal you can relax one of Europe’s best beaches located in Bol on the southern part of the island. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try out surfing around Zlatni Rat.
Day #4 and #5 Hvar: Tour the old town of Hvar and take in the splendour of its Gothic and Venetian architecture. This island is also celebrated worldwide for its wine and cuisine. With an impressive gastronomic history dating back to ancient Greece, the people of Hvar have been perfecting dishes through adapting practices and recipes from diverse cultures, and enhancing them with native spices. One of the biggest wine festivals in Croatia, Festa Vina!, takes place in Jesla, the last weekend of August each year.
Day #6 and #7 Split: After spending time in Hvar, be sure to bring aboard a few bottles from Hvar’s boutique wineries to enjoy on your trip back to Split. As you near Split, take time to cruise around the picturesque Marjan peninsula where you’ll find several stunning coves and impressive cliffs, perfect for climbers. Once back on the mainland, consider extending your wine knowledge further. The mystery of the origins of the Zinfandel grape was finally solved and traced back to the lands of Kaštela, northwest of Split. You can taste the original Zinfandel in its native habitat, while touring the charming villages of Kaštela.
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