There’s the sparkling Adriatic, the homegrown vino, the agreeable climate, the dramatic, croissant-shaped coastline – but Croatia’s charm is more than just surface level. Its cities, isles and hamlets play host to a lingering European summer, but serve up a serious side of history, too.
The architecture, cuisine and culture here is rich and storied, thanks to a saga that saw Roman and Byzantine emperors, Venetian rulers, Ottoman sultans, Hungarian kings, Habsburg monarchs, and several clashing Westeros houses (sort of, anyway) take up residence over the years. These days those wishing to take up residence come with more tranquility in mind. So if you like a bit of backstory with your breaks, here’s where to stay in Croatia.
For storied sea views
Get Hvar from the crowds (sorry) at this nature-inspired hideaway on the Dalmatian Coast. Decor is rich in heritage: materials include Croatian oak and pine, hewn rock from the island of Brač, and limestone from just down the coast. The lands’ pre-existing olive trees were preserved and incorporated into the building of the hotel – ‘maslina’ translates as ‘olive’ in fact.
One for the books The hotel has an entire menu of cigars to choose from, should you feel suitably decadent, as well as a dedicated garden to light up in. The limestone-walled Pharomatiq spa has a gym with sea views, an aqua-thermal suite of steam rooms and saunas, and garden-to-skin spa treatments.
Legend has it Hvar is home to one of the oldest towns in Europe – Stari Grad – dating back to 384 BC when the Ancient Greeks founded a colony of Pharos there. You’ll spot centuries-old Hvar Castle, ruin-dotted plains and terracotta-topped Venetian-style villages.
For a prescriptive past
You needn’t look far for a dose of history at Palazzo Rainis: the villa was the turn-of-the-century home of Venetian chemist Giovanni Rainis. Old-world glamour and four-poster beds feature in rooms, but there’s a sleek basement spa with a modern-day gym, sauna and jacuzzi too – a well-worked blend of heritage and innovation.
One for the books It’s the stately proportions, balconied rooms and sea views that provide the aesthetic appeal, but head to the restaurant for a true triumph of Istrian cuisine. Local, seasonal produce is paired with experimental aplomb by star Croat chef Tom Gretic.
Legend has it The restaurant and bar – Chemistry and Potions respectively – are named in deference to the former owner. Beyond the palazzo’s walls, you’ll find history-steeped streets, plus the nearby Roman amphitheatre in Pula, the ancient fishing port of Rovinj, and the charming old town of Poreč.
For cultural city chronicles
The historic Hotel Excelsior surveys two central parts of the city’s legend – the mediaeval Old Town and the Adriatic. Stay in the handsome, 1913-built Villa Odak or the majestic modern tower, complete with concrete flooring and pops of colour. The restaurants go big on seafood. Have breakfast on the terrace at Salin, lunch at beachside Proora (do not bypass the local oysters), and dinner at the chef’s table at Sensus.
One for the books Opt for room 208 in Villa Odak for sky-high ceilings, antique carpeting and bath tub big enough for two. Set sail through the famously clear waters to neighbouring pine-clad Lokrum island for a day trip to remember.
Legend has it The Bond-worthy bolthole was formerly a royal residence, but has also hosted Sir Roger Moore, as well as two A-list Lizzies: Queen Elizabeth II and Elizabeth Taylor. There are plenty of historic sights in the Unesco-protected Dubrovnik – enter via Ploče Gate, the eastern entrance to the Old Town and a five-minute walk from the hotel.
For nature’s take
The island of Dugi Otok averages 3.3 days of snow – or nai in Dalmatian dialect – a year, which is said to intensify the flavour of the local olives. Villa Nai 3.3 knows this well, given the thousand-or-so organic olive trees that have been receiving the TLC of the owner Goran Morović and his family since 1607.
One for the books The eight rooms, all designed by renowned Croatian architect Nikola Bašić, are individually decorated. Each has a private terrace with views of the olive groves or the Adriatic, plus bathrooms with soaking tubs and walk-in showers.
Legend has it Much of the stone used to build the hotel was excavated from the site it stands on, and the building itself is integrated as much as possible into the natural landscape. Take in the history of the land at the nearby national parks: coves and clear waters at Kornati; cliffs and saltwater lakes at Telašćica; mountain slopes and beech forests at Paklenica.
For a hamlet-turned-hideaway
Once upon a time, San Canzian was a mediaeval hamlet in the Istrian countryside – now it’s a stone-walled hideout, with 21st-century style within. The hotel’s home village of Mužolini Donji is surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, and the peninsula is known for its coveted coastline, stitched-in-time settlements, and fanciful folk tales.
One for the books Rooms 23 and 24 face out to the farmland – book them for views to really write home about. The romantic suite lives up to its name, with a balcony worthy of Shakespearean lovers.
Legend has it The hotel is infused with the lives of the hillside village residents, and its restaurant is a love letter to the region (the hotel produces liberal amounts of its own olive oil). Feast on fruit and vegetables grown on the grounds and provisions from heritage cheese makers, oyster harvesters and local farmers, fishermen and butchers.
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