Discover two must-see sides to Croatia
If holidaying in Croatia conjures up images of beaches carpeted in towels and crowds of sightseers in search of ‘Game of Thrones’ locations, it’s time to look a little closer. From living history played out in ancient palaces to little-visited islands, here are two top takes on a luxury Croatian getaway.
1. SPOTLIGHT ON SPLIT
Dubrovnik’s terracotta hues may bring George R.R Martin’s ‘King’s Landing’ to life. But venture up the coast to Split and you’ll find fact more fantastical than fiction.
As you stroll along the Riva, look beyond the palm trees and restaurant canopies to the patchwork walls above. Here and there you’ll spy Roman columns between the brickwork that hint at treasures within. Walk through the vast wooden gates, past the market stalls and up the stairs, and you’ll be in the majestic central square of Diocletian’s Palace.
Despite being one of the most complete examples of original Roman architecture, this is no museum piece. Over a thousand years ago, people fleeing marauding pirates made the abandoned palace their home. And today the walls enclose temples and a cathedral, shops and restaurants, homes and boutique hotels.
Listen out for Croatian choirs, their voices spiralling around the ancient Vestibule dome and out into the sunlight above. Then take a seat at restaurant tables hugging the walls of ancient stone alleyways for olive oil and lemon-infused Mediterranean dishes. Some of our favourites are truffle pasta at Figa, and fresh scallops and squid ink risotto at Konoba Nikola.
From the heart of Split, to its ‘lungs’. The pine-clad hill leaping up over the rooftops is Marjan forest park. It may be hard work climbing to the summit, but the reward is a beautiful view over the old town, down the coast towards Dubrovnik and out across the islands.
Dalmatia at your fingertips
With its central location on the Dalmatian coast, Split is a good base for everything from wine tours to day cruises. You could take a private tour up to Krka National Park to swim beneath magnificent waterfalls. Or hop aboard a boat with your very own skipper to explore the Blue Grotto, with its iridescent pools.
Sip champagne as you sail back into Split at sunset. Or, if a night of partying is on the cards, take a speedboat transfer to legendary clubbing island Hvar – with a sunrise pick-up.
Where to stay: Hotel Vestibul Palace is a contemporary, minimalist retreat set within the walls of Diocletian’s Palace.
2. LOŠINJ LAID BARE
If one day (or night) immersed in the sights and sounds of the sea isn’t enough, make for an island. The choices off the Dalmatian coast – Bol, Hvar and Brac, among others – draw big crowds from May to September. For somewhere a little more serene, look north to Lošinj.
Dedicated to relaxation
Lošinj is part of the Kvarner Archipelago, a clutch of islands that counts dolphins and turtles as some of its most regular visitors. And even among this peaceful bunch, Lošinj has made a name for itself as a wellness retreat since the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
If you pitch up by boat, you’ll land in Mali Lošinj, a picture-perfect Mediterranean town whose harbour is lined with brightly painted merchant houses. It’s also here that you’ll be able to sample fresh-off-the-boat seafood. Look out for local takes on Buzara, a shellfish medley lightly cooked in white wine with garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs.
Exploring natural wonders
With miles of undeveloped coastline and warm, clear waters, Lošinj is made for wild swimming. Stick close to Mali Lošinj to find sheltered pebble beaches such as Golden Bay. Or charter a yacht to find a cove all to yourself. Those confident on the water may wish to hire a sail or speedboat to explore the Kornati Labyrinth, a scattering of islets that make up a protected National Park.
Where to stay: Boutique Hotel Alhambra is a spa hotel just outside Mali Lošinj, set in a sheltered bay on the sunset side of the island.