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The Lowdown | Croatia

Islands of Dalmatia (with a Montenegro extension) Words by Jane Foster

Where Croatia

Quick Quote $1000 per day per person including hotels

Best Season Summer

Thinking of Islands, sailing, beaches, seafood eateries

With 1800km of sun-kissed mainland coast, and over a thousand islands and islets (48 of which are inhabited), Croatia's turquoise blue Adriatic is a sailor's paradise. Expect a balmy Mediterranean climate, Venetian-era harbor towns, pinewoods, vineyards, olive groves, and secluded pebble coves. If you haven't sailed before, the good news is that the east Adriatic is relatively sheltered from gusty winds - the islands run parallel to the mountainous mainland coast, and lie close together, so it rarely takes more than an hour or two to sail from one to another. Here we pick our favorites, explaining what makes each one special.

Island of Hvar

On Croatia's most fashionable island, activity centers on aristocratic Hvar Town, with centuries-old stone buildings rimming a sheltered harbor, smart hotels, rustic-chic eateries, late-night bars, and a hilltop castle.

"Gently wild and thrillingly unspoiled, the Dalmatian islands invite us to return to a way of living that is more simple and more pure – relishing an early morning swim, hoisting up the sails to the mercy of the wind, and slumbering to the sound of crickets".

It's stunningly romantic, but does get very crowded, with yachts mooring up several abreast in peak season. Beyond the glamour, Hvar fades away into a purple haze of lavender fields and hillside vineyards. Escape the crowds by putting down anchor off the tiny pine-scented Pakleni islets, home to the well-equipped ACI marina Palmizana on Sveti Klement, and a handful of waterside restaurants and beach bars. Or head to Stari Grad, Hvar's oldest settlement, sitting at the end of a long narrow bay, noted for low-profile gourmet seafood restaurants, much-loved by yachters.

 

 

Where to Stay on Hvar

In Hvar Town, Hotel Adriana offers contemporary design and a rooftop pool. Out of town, in a secluded inlet, Little Green Bay is a barefoot-chic boutique hotel.

 

Where to Eat on Hvar

Macondo is the best place to try local gregada (fish casserole with potato and onion) in Hvar Town. On Sveti Klement, dine on fresh fish in open-air art gallery at Palmizana.

 

What to Do on Hvar

Go late-night partying at Carpe Diem Beach Club on Marinkovac, and sample local wines at Andro Tomic's Bastijana in Jelsa.

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Words by Jane Foster Croatia Editor

Originating from the rural Yorkshire Dales, Jane Foster has divided almost two decades between Athens, Greece, and Split, Croatia. With a background in architecture and a penchant for wild landscapes, secret beaches and peculiar buildings, she is author of several guidebooks and writes about Greece, Croatia and Montenegro for the Daily Telegraph, as well as contributing to publications such as Elite Traveler, SilverKris, Virgin Australia Voyeur, Ronda and Burgess Superyacht magazine.

Island of Korcula

Green and mountainous, Korcula is best known for medieval Korcula Town, sitting compact on a tiny fortified peninsular. Supposedly the birthplace of explorer Marco Polo, its quaint centuries-old stone alleys reveal a splendid Gothic-Renaissance cathedral, a Venetian loggia, and several small museums. Next to the old town, ACI marina Korcula offers moorings and facilities. Nearby, Lumbarda is known for its small sandy beach, and white Grk wine, made from grapes first brought here by the Ancient Greek. In the rural interior, you'll find sleepy villages set amid olive groves and elegant cypresses.

 

Where to Stay on Korcula

In Korcula Town, the discrete Lesic Dimitri Palace occupies a complex of beautifully renovated old stone buildings, with five plush residences (themed around the travels of Marco Polo), a gourmet restaurant and a small spa.

 

Where to Eat on Korcula

Overlooking the water in Korcula Town, sophisticated Filipi does contemporary Adriatic seafood dishes. In the hills, rustic agrotourism eateries Konoba Mate and Konoba Maha serve local goat's cheese, barbecued meat dishes, and the Korcula specialty, handmade makaruni pasta.

 

What to Do on Korcula

Watch an after-dark performance of the Moreska (a medieval sword dance) in Korcula Town, and go wine tasting at Bire in Lumbarda.

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Kornati Islands

Lying off the mainland coast, between Sibenik and Zadar, the wild rocky uninhabited islets of the Kornati archipelago resemble a moonscape. 89 of these islands, islets and reefs lie within Kornati National Park. Historically, the people of nearby Murter farmed them, keeping sheep and bees. Expect blissfully untouched nature—look out for the European shag, hovering over the water and diving, and peregrine falcons overhead. There are 16 sheltered bays, where overnight anchoring is permitted, and 20 rustic seasonal eateries, frequented almost exclusively by yachters. The ACI marina Piskera, on Piskera, has mooring and facilities.

 

Where to Stay near the Kornati

The Kornati islets are protected, so there are no hotels. A fine choice nearby is D-Resort Sibenik, offering contemporary design and a small marina in Sibenik on the mainland.

 

Where to Eat on the Kornati

In Strižnja Bay on Kornat, Konoba Darko serves freshly caught fish - on request, you can join the owner on an early-morning fishing trip. Nearby, in Anica Bay on Levrnaka, Konoba Levrnaka does fresh seafood and tender roast local lamb.

 

What to Do on the Kornati

On summer afternoons, the thermal mistral wind provides respite from the heat - this is a place to switch off and harmonize with the elements. Or go snorkeling to investigate Adriatic marine life.

Island of Mljet

Dalmatia's southernmost island, Mljet is covered by dense pine forests, concealing two turquoise salt-water lakes, Veliko Jezero (Big Lake) and Malo Jezero (Small Lake), connected by a narrow channel.  The larger lake has an enchanting islet and a 12th-century Benedictine monastery. The western third of Mljet lies within Mljet National Park, blissfully protected from modern development. There are no big towns or villages here, the island having remained something of a backwater through the centuries.

 

Where to Stay on Mljet

Most visitors to Mljet come as day-trippers – few stay overnight, apart from sailing folk, who drop anchor in the sheltered bays of Pomena and Polace (there's no marina). Mljet's only proper hotel is the 3-star Hotel Odisej in Pomena, offering basic but comfortable accommodation.

 

Where to Eat on Mljet

The outstanding Maestral restaurant lies hidden away in Okuklje bay, on Mljet's north coast, east of the national park. Moorings are available out front – try the black risotto (made from cuttlefish ink), grilled sea bass, and phenomenal chocolate lava cake.

 

What to Do on Mljet

Hire bikes and cycle the 11-km perimeter of Veliko Jezero (Big Lake), stopping to swim in the lake, then sail along the south coast, to Odysseus' Cave, which you can enter through a tunnel by dinghy.

Montenegro

South of Croatia lies Montenegro, named after the soaring limestone mountains of the interior. Kotor Bay, often dubbed Europe's southernmost fjord, is a 28-km meandering inlet, and home to the charming medieval-walled town of Kotor, today a UNESCO world heritage site. Down the coast, ancient Budva gives onto open sea, and has some decent sand-and-pebble beaches.  Inland, you'll find dramatic mountains, canyons and lakes, perfect for hiking, cycling, rafting and bird watching. Note that charter boats sailing from Montenegro into Croatia need a special license, and must pay VAT on the number of days spent in Croatia, but Croatian-registered boats are free to enter Montenegro.

 

Where to Stay on the Montenegrin coast

Superyacht marina Porto Montenegro in Tivat is home to the 5-star Hotel Regent Porto Montenegro and a 64m infinity pool. Near Budva, Amam Sveti Stefan occupies a tiny fortified islet, attached to the mainland by a causeway.

 

Where to Eat on the Montenegrin coast

At the mouth of Kotor Bay, Ribarksa Selo serves fresh fish on a waterside terrace with a small beach. Aman Sveti Stefan hosts Nobu Montenegro, a summer pop-up restaurant serving Nobu Matsuhisa's prestigious Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine.

 

What to Do on the Montenegrin coast

Explore Kotor's delightful Old Town, and go wine tasting at Savina in Herceg Novi.

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