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 Maslina Resort, a 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.
ZORI TIMELESS HOTEL
For pressing pause on the present
Perched pretty behind Palmižana beach is Zori Timeless Hotel, a cluster of four burnt-orange dwellings with gently swaying hammocks, sun-drenched loungers, al fresco dining spaces and glorious sea views. Three come with a private pool, the fourth with a hot tub – but should you wish to set sail to further waters then you’re well positioned for exploring the Adriatic around Hvar, Brač, Vis and the Pakleni islands.
One for the books Sveti Klement is a laid-back limestone island that prefers forests to freeways (it’s a completely car-free destination, save for a tractor here and a golf buggy there), making it prime for complete tranquillity.
Legend has it Look out for the antique stone bath tubs, which were once used for storing olive oil.
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.
MENEGHETTI WINE HOTEL & WINERY
For legendary vines
Dining on just-picked fruit and vegetables; drinking full-bodied reds and crisp whites; wandering gardens, groves and vineyards – this Istrian estate encourages all of these – and we love it all the more for it. Meneghetti’s traditional white-stone mansion was built in the 19th-century and now boasts light-filled rooms, a restaurant, a spa and three pools. Food is a focus here, much of which is grown in the grounds – the rest sourced locally from award-winning producers on the peninsula.
One for the books The 14 varieties produced here are put to use in more ways than one – try them at wine tastings; paired with dinner in the farm-to-fork restaurant; or during vinotherapy treatments in the spa (think red wine serum and cold-pressed grape oil).
Legend has it There’s a glorious running route to a nearby private beach, winding through woods, vineyards and olive groves. It’ll take just 20 minutes at a gentle pace; plus you can cool off in the ocean before making your way back by foot (or catching the free shuttle).
VILLA NAI 3.3
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.
SAN CANZIAN VILLAGE & HOTEL
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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