Croatia has always been a favorite destination for clients and we just returned from a country-wide, north to south visit. This European country is full of history, stunning medieval cities, authentic hospitality, vineyards and olive groves, turquoise sea, dramatic coastline, and amazingly fresh cuisine.
The Capital City.
Zagreb is Croatia's capital and the gateway for many travelers. The airport is relatively small, easy to navigate, and immigration moves swiftly.
Esplanade Zagreb Hotel is a historic and iconic hotel from the early 1920s, about a 10 minute walk to the Old Town and 30 minutes from the airport. This grand art nouveau property with about 200 rooms has hosted celebrities from Maria Callas to Francis Ford Coppola to Orlando Bloom to U2. We love the history of Esplanade Zagreb Hotel. Zagreb was once a stop on the Orient Express train and Esplanade Zagreb Hotel was built for the glamorous passengers stopping over en route between Paris, Venice, and Istanbul (which explains its walking distance to the rail station).
For clients seeking a hip boutique hotel in the middle of the city center, head over to Amadria Park Hotel Capital. This hotel was a former bank, with vaulted ceilings and contemporary design in a historic building. Located on a busy street with a bit more action, those with an eye toward fashion and design with enjoy their experience at Amadria Park Hotel Capital.
Zagreb Restaurant Suggestions: Noel, Boban, Apetit, Mano
Istria. From Zagreb we drove to Istria, the peninsula located at the top of the Adriatic Sea, and shared by Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. Lots of Venetian influence, particularly in their cuisine.
En route from Zagreb to Rovinj, we stopped to visit San Canzian Hotel & Village, about 1 hour from Rovinj, in the hills of Istria. A gem of a property, San Canzian reminded us of Tuscany with rolling hills, vineyards, and pure tranquility. This “borgo” (or small village) was purchased a few years ago and renovated as a boutique hotel and part of Small Luxury Hotels. Enjoy their Porsche 911 Carrera Cabrio II house car to explore the area's vineyards, olive groves, and small villages. San Canzian is well-suited for couples looking to unwind, eat, drink, and rest for a couple nights.
Must do activity in Rovinj: Make sure you enjoy a truffle experience while in Istria. Be welcomed into a local home and learn how to find and cook with these special delicacies.
Next stop for two nights was Grand Hotel Park Rovinj. This brand new modern hotel directly faces the Old Town in Rovinj and WOW, what a dramatic view from the multi story floor to ceiling windows. Rooms are modern, very spacious, well appointed (top notch hair dryers), and a fabulous champagne breakfast. For travelers who need to stay connected, Grand Hotel Park has very strong wifi. Stroll along a pedestrian promenade overlooking the marina and harbor for about 15 minutes and you are in the heart of Rovinj's Old Town, with shops and cafes.
Rovinj Restaurant Suggestions: Monte and Brasserie Adriatic.
Waterfalls Galore. Next on our Croatian journey was a trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is known for its multiple lakes that are joined by dozens of waterfalls. Perfect for an overnight visit to hike and enjoy fresh air.
Fenomen Plitvice is a charming “rifugio like” property at the national park built in 2018 as a cluster of brand new cottages, many with kitchens. Clean, comfortable, not overly luxurious, just really lovely and perfect for families who want to stay IN the national park. Food was exceptional and service was warm and welcoming.
Dalmatia's Gateway. From Plitvice National Park we drove south to Split, which is Croatia's second largest city and the gateway to the Dalmatian Coast.
For three nights we enjoyed Split and stayed at Santa Lucia Heritage Hotel. We LOVED this hotel, and its amazing General Manager Nevena. Santa Lucia is Split's second oldest hotel, located in this ancient city's Old Town. In 2020 the hotel was completely renovated and beautifully restored with historical focus. Located in a pedestrian only square, the hotel bellman will meet you a few blocks away to assist with your luggage at check-in. While retaining artistic tiled floors and traditional wooden trim moldings, the hotel also benefits from updated touches like bright lighting, super comfy beds, well appointed bathrooms, and spacious rooms. Their Family Gallery Rooms are generously designed "duplex style" on two floors with two bathrooms. Room Tips: Room #212 is a duplex room that sleeps 4. Our room was #101 in front of building overlooking square and very comfortable. Room #104 is a very large studio suite with a stunning arched historic ceiling.
Two doors down from Santa Lucia Heritage Hotel is Palace Judita Heritage Hotel. This boutique hotel is also set on the main square in the Old Town and has old world charm and lovely service. Decorated with traditional ornate touches, every room is unique and offers different styles and color palates. Note, for those with mobility concerns, there are several steps to enter the property and no elevator from the main entrance.
For clients who want a larger hotel, not located in the pedestrian area of the Old Town, the Cornaro Hotel is perfect. While outside the Old Town, it is about a 2 minute walk from the heart of the Old Town. Cornaro is ideal for larger groups (Backroads often stays here on their trips) and has the standardization and feel of a Marriott-type hotel. Modern décor, pet friendly (even offering pet amenities), and large gym, Cornaro is well-suited who prefer traditional "American style" hotels.
Split Restaurant Recommendations: Zinfandel Wine Bar, Bokeria Wine Bar is buzzing with a DJ most nights, Zoi for views and fine dining on the promenade, Café Luxor is a great place for drinks and people watching.
Must do Activity While In/Around Split: Make time for a market visit, lunch/dinner/cooking class in a local home. Spend the afternoon with this husband and wife couple in their amazing home, eat delicious food, hear stories from these warm personalities, listen to a well-curated blues music selection, and cherish your shared memories. We loved this afternoon visit.
Off to Hvar. From Split you can easily access the nearby islands, with Hvar, Brac, and Korcula being some of the most popular islands (especially in summer). The public ferry is about 50 minutes from Split to Hvar and the walk from Santa Lucia to the ferry port is about 10 minutes. There are a few ferry lines which operate service, and Krilo offers high speed, comfortable passenger catamarans. Hvar is Croatia's alternative to Spain's Ibiza, and in July and August travelers enjoy full restaurants, swimming in stunning turquoise waters, and partying until sunrise around the harbor. The best time to visit Hvar is June and September, when temperatures are warm, shops and cafes are open, and there are fewer crowds and a bit quieter party scene.
Things to do in Hvar. If you are looking for an authentic souvenir, Hvar is known for its agave lace. Dating back to the1600s, local Benedictine nuns would weave lace made from agave leaves and there is still a community of nuns on Hvar who weave beautiful lace.
For panoramic views over Hvar and the harbor, hike about 40 minutes up to the Hvar Fortress, or Spanjola. See the cannons, fortress walls, and stunning lookout over Hvar town and the sea.
On the road from Hvar to Stari Grad, there are acres of lavender fields which typically bloom from late May to mid-July. In late June you can visit and enjoy the lavender festivals and tour the fields to understand how lavender is made into aromatics.
Vineyards galore! Hvar has numerous wineries, mostly cultivating indigenous grapes and with a history of winemaking that dates back over 2,000 years. Our favorite varietal? Plavac Mali. Our favorite experience? Visit the Dubokovich Winery for lunch and tasting in their wine cellar.
For clients who want to be near the action, but not necessarily IN the action, they will love Maslina Resort. This boutique hotel is a Relais & Chateaux member, located in Stari Grad and a gem of a property, with a cool, hip vibe and modern decor. Brand newly built in 2020 and owned by a French family, this ultra luxe resort has 50 rooms and 3 villas. With upscale amenities, Maslina Resort is eco friendly and focuses on organic farming and sustainability, with no single use plastics and wooden room keys. The resort is a 15 minute drive from Hvar marina and a 20 minute walk to Stari Grad for additional restaurants. Situated directly on a tranquil bay, with water views, multiple pools, and a pebble beach. Currently Maslina Resort is a seasonal property open from May to October, but there is discussion about remaining open year round in the future. This resort is ideal for families or couples seeking calm and relaxation. The resort is kid friendly with a kids club and a house cat named Garfield, who is a bit of a local celebrity. Most guests enjoy a 4-5 night stay and can take advantage of the resort's two Mercedes house cars or golf carts to visit Stari Grad. Room Tip: Our favorite room at Maslina Resort was the Bay Suite.
Palace Elisabeth Hvar Heritage Hotel is a grand dame historic hotel commanding the top of the Hvar harbor. Once a 3 star hotel with 75 rooms, in 2019 Palace Elisabeth Hvar underwent a $15 million complete restoration and is now a 5 star Leading Hotels of the World property with 45 rooms. Impeccably upgraded from its 1860s creation, Palace Elisabeth Hvar retains old world charm and modern day comforts, with ongoing attention and care given to the property during their seasonal closure. Decor is classic and elegant, with lovely light colors and stellar views. Room Tip: In summer the city view rooms may be quieter since they face away from the sea view promenade and its late night cafes and restaurants.
Steps around the harbor from Palace Elisabeth is the Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel. Entering the lobby, you are greeted with smiling faces and seaside decor in shades of blue. This boutique hotel has 62 rooms and focuses on organic local food. Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel was renovated in 2016 and its decor feels fresh, with a young-at-heart contemporary vibe. The hotel's location is perfect for families with teens or older children who may want to stay out later in town, while mom & dad return to the hotel for a glass of wine at the rooftop bar. Room Tip: Superior rooms are not described with a view, yet most Superior rooms actually offer a side sea view (a nice bonus). If you have family members sharing a twin room, note that the bathrooms have glass enclosed showers without privacy. Our favorite rooms were the three penthouse suites that were added in 2019, which were spacious and offered direct harbor views. Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel has a large indoor pool in their spa, a gym with about six cardio machines, and a fabulous top floor bar with ideal harbor views.
Dining Recommendations in Hvar. Gariful Divino has stellar harbor views and upscale dining. Black Pepper Restaurant Hvar is a popular restaurant tucked away next to Palace Elisabeth and offers locally sourced food, owned by locals, and specializing in local dishes.
Dalmatia's Adriatic Gem. We continued south down the Dalmatian Coast to Dubrovnik. This 16th century walled city on the sea was 70% decimated in the early 1990s during the Croatian War of Independence. With perseverance, international UNESCO recognition, and cultural focus, Dubrovnik was rebuilt and today is visited for its well-preserved buildings, limestone pedestrian Old Town, and cafe culture overlooking the turquoise Adriatic Sea.
Things to do in Dubrovnik. If you do not have a fear of heights, definitely walk the Dubrovnik walls which surround and protect the Old Town with its 1 1/2 mile perimeter. Tip: During summer it is best to walk the walls either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid crowds and heat. Visit the Franciscan Church and Monastery to see Europe's oldest pharmacy, dating back to the 1300s and still a working chemist and a place to purchase locally made cosmetics. If you are seeking locally made jewelry, Dubrovnik Treasures has high quality items and is located in the Old Town. For an authentic culinary experience, agrotourism is prevalent and we were hosted to a local home for a homecooked lunch that would rival any Michelin star restaurant.
We stayed at Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik for three nights in room 015 on the sea level. This hotel has 150 rooms in two adjacent and connected buildings: the Odak building and the Tower building. Rooms look out to the sea and Lokrum Island and you enter the hotel lobby at street level (level 4) and work your way down the cliffside setting toward the sea (level 0). Room Tip: request a room on level 0 to enjoy an outdoor patio overlooking the sea and views to the right of Dubrovnik's Old Town. Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik is a Small Luxury Hotel member and is the closest 5 star hotel to the Old Town. An easy 5 minute walk on the sidewalk from the hotel and you reach the main gate to the Old Town.
About a 10 minute walk further away from the Old Town is the elite 5 star hotel Villa Dubrovnik. With an intimate 56 rooms, this sleek and sexy boutique property hangs over the Adriatic Sea. With sun beds and seaside service, guests are in heaven relaxing on a chaise in the sun and swimming in the sea from Villa Dubrovnik's natural rock "beach". Although it is a 15 minute walk to the Old Town, Villa Dubrovnik also has a fleet of luxury cars to coordinate airport transfers and shuttling to Old Town. The hotel is a member of Leading Hotels of the World and focuses on sustainable travel and Villa Dubrovnik's spa uses local Croatian cosmetic products. In October 2022 Villa Dubrovnik plans to close its doors for a few months to renovate and reopen in June 2023.
In the opposite direction of the Old Town, and still only a 15 minute walk, is the 5 star Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik. Refurbished in 2019, with 90 rooms, this cliffside hotel displays its fashion influence with natural tones and natural textiles. A Small Luxury Hotel member, Hotel Bellevue has direct elevator access to a secluded pebble beach with full hotel service. We loved this hotel.
Where to Eat in Dubrovnik. Proto Restaurant Dubrovnik is known for upscale dining and fresh fish in the heart of the historical city center. We could not get enough gelato during our visit to Croatia! And our favorite gelato shop was Peppino's, with Dolce Vita as a close second!
Visit A Second Country? How About Montenegro? About 60 minutes south of Dubrovnik, is Montenegro's One & Only Portonovi. This ultra luxe resort was built in 2020 and located on the Bay of Kotor. Accommodations are stunning, upscale, spacious, and well-appointed. One & Only has partnered with Switzerland's Chenot Medical Spa so guests can visit for detox programs to promote healthy living and successful aging. Tennis enthusiasts will enjoy One & Only Portonovi's tennis academy with seasoned tennis pros, sun worshippers can relax by the resort's several pools or sandy, manmade beach. Fitness addicts will be in heaven in the hotel gym; one of the largest and best outfitted resort gyms we have seen. If you are traveling with a multi-generational group, One & Only Portonovi's three and four bedroom private homes are off the charts.
Takeaways from Croatia. We knew Croatia was going to be an amazing destination; everyone returns raving of the sea, the dramatic coastline, the ancient cities. The surprise for us? We are foodies and we were over the moon with Croatia's culinary scene. Fresh, full of flavor, "clean" cuisine...we are still dreaming of those meals.
Elli Travel has a team of advisors with strong partnerships in Croatia. Let us share our firsthand destination knowledge to book your Croatian itinerary. We can help with hotel booking, ground transportation, private yachts, private boat excursions, cooking experiences, hiking guides...you name it and we have you covered!
Contact your Elli Travel advisor to assist.