As you flit between the lush, green islands along the Dalmatian Coast, sipping on Mai Tais with toes dipped in turquoise waters, it’s hard to remember a time when Croatia was not only a destination we’d never have considered, but one that was utterly war-torn. These days, little evidence of the early 90s civil war remains to be seen, unless you’ve got a keen historical eye and a well-informed guide in tow. In today’s calmer times, whether you’re a culture vulture or a sun worshipper, a sailing enthusiast or the most eager of foodies, Croatia has become the European traveller’s most beloved gem. From the people, who are warm and friendly, to the most delectable of seafood dishes, the staggeringly beautiful scenery and the hypnotically blue sea, there’s simply not enough time in the world to list the reasons why you should skip France, Spain or Italy in favour of this country. Getting around is blissfully stress-free and as for what to do? Well, how much time do you have?
Without exaggerating, you could take the three-hour flight from Dublin to Dubrovnik once a year for twenty years, and still manage to have an entirely different holiday each time you travel. One year, you could start off at the beloved old town and travel your way up toward the more affordable Split and Zadar, or you could base yourself in Dubrovnik and spend your days lolling about on the Elaphiti Islands. Party goers will find their rhythm on the island of Hvar while those after the ultimate chill out will adore Mljet, Korcula and Brac. Having sampled a little bit of everything, below you’ll find some highlights that will have a particular appeal to Irish newlyweds.
Sun Gardens, Dubrovnik
Testament to the reputation of the Radisson worldwide, the Sun Gardens Dubrovnik complex is heaven’s answer to a hotel. With several pool options, bars and restaurants and a private beach, not to mention their state of the art spa facilities, you’ll be hard pushed to find a property to rival this one. Despite its size, it still boasts an intimate, never crowded atmosphere. For those who want for nothing more than to fly and flop, the Sun Gardens, about a half hour outside of Dubrovnik, is just the ticket. Of course if you’re after a little more activity, you’ll be well catered to here. There are numerous water sporting activities, daily excursions and a private shuttle boat that takes you right into the old town of Dubrovnik. Ideally, you’ll top and tail your trip to Croatia with two to three nights here for the ultimate wind-down. If Carlsberg did hotels… seriously.
Eat at The Market for fish platters fit for a King.
Do rise early for the best outdoor seats at breakfast. Do split your time between the beach and the pool for the best of both worlds.
Don’t bother packing beach towels; the hotel provides these for you. Don’t make too many plans to leave the complex, you just won’t want to once you’re there. Don’t sweat it if the clouds descend, you’ll happily spend a day at the spa without missing the absence of the sun.
Amfora Grand Beach Resort, Hvar
The Suncani hotel group are the proud owners of Hvar’s finest hotels; the Amfora Grand Beach Resort will make for a beach lover’s favourite. Such is the extent of the services available here, if you decided to eat, drink and spend your leisure time on the hotel grounds only, you could happily do so. And forget what you thought about European hotel breakfasts; the Amfora’s offering is the breakfast of champions. From the cascading pool to the never-crowded beach in front of the property, the comfortable beds to the bedroom views, this hotel ticks every traveller’s boxes. Especially magical is the short walk from the hotel to the port. The scenery will stop you in your tracks every time.
Eat at Wine & Butchery for the world’s most mouth-watering steak, D’Vino’s for exquisite fine dining and Dalmatino’s for mouth-watering local fish and fun, buzzy atmosphere.
Do rent your own private boat to island hop off the coast of Hvar. For very little money, you’ll have free reign for the whole day, and you’ll feel like a proper intrepid explorer doing it by yourself. Make sure you catch the sun setting from Hula Hula bar, just around the corner from the Amfora hotel. Though relatively close to home, when you’re here, you’ll feel as though you’re in Asia. For those after a taste of luxury, the pontoons available at Bonj Beach Club are the stuff of dreams. A glass of Moet on a four-poster sun bed? Life simply doesn’t get better.
Don’t forget to book your transfers in advance, whether you get a catamaran or drive. If you’ve got your eye on a popular restaurant such as those mentioned above, don’t forget to phone ahead and book your table; the best ones are always busy.
Hotel Kazbek, Dubrovnik
Reminiscent of the kind of villa you’re likely to find in Tuscany, the 5 star Kazbek is charming, intimate and low-key in the best kind of way. At it’s fullest, you’ll never find more than 26 guests in this hotel, meaning plenty of peace and quiet for all involved. Situated just moments away (by bus) from the old town, here you enjoy a fantastic location without the hustle and bustle of central Dubrovnik. Boasting oldy worldy vibes and lots of attention to detail, the Kazbek is an oasis calm in an otherwise busy place. With made to order breakfast options and the comfiest beds, what more could you want?
Eat at Azur Dubrovnik in the old town, for affordable, amazing food served by some of the most charming, friendly locals. From the Seafood Laksa to the Postmodern Jukebox soundtrack, you’ll likely eat here twice. Day trippers to Lokrum island shouldn’t miss Lacroma where you can avail of a 30% Happy Hour lunch discount between 11.30 and 12.30pm. If you fancy lunch nearby the hotel, Orsan promises some of the tastiest, most affordable fish you’ll find in Croatia.
Drink at Buza Bar (AKA the hole in the wall), nestled among the rocks just outside the city walls, with incredible sunsets and amazing views. At Buza they only serve wine and beer and it’s often very busy, but there’s a very similar bar just a bit further around the corner, where you’ll be guaranteed a seat, the same views and a greater choice of drink options.
Do make some time for the cable cars; the views are unmissable and the wait is never long. Do walk the city walls at sunset, see below.
Don’t waste your money on the Game of Thrones tours; simply Google locations in advance and then pay a paltry 100 Kuna to walk the city walls at sunset where you’ll get all of the GOT vibes. Also, if you are staying outside of the old town, don’t waste your money on taxis in and out of the city centre, the bus service is reliable, cheap and super quick.