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Croatia’s warm-weather charms

At this time of year I frequently get asked where I’m going to spend my summer holidays.

At this time of year I frequently get asked where I’m going to spend my summer holidays. Not an easy answer, as every day, word of new destinations and existing gems comes across my desk.

That sees me either shifting my plans or trying to squeeze more and more places into one trip, with the result being a manic week of travelling, rather than the relaxing break I had hoped for. However, this year is different.

Why? Because the place that I’m heading to is currently streets ahead of anywhere else in Europe to take a break in and nothing that I have seen or read about this year has come close to making me change my opinion. Where I am talking about? Croatia.

It’s the home of sun-drenched coastlines with some of the prettiest bays and bluest waters you will ever see, serene islands, beautiful cities and a rich culture that delights you upon your arrival and stays with you for years after you have left.

Whilst many people know about the charms of Dubrovnik (and rightly so) Croatia still contains many hidden gems that the travelling world is only just waking up to. I could write an essay on the wonders of the place here, but space doesn’t allow it, so I have had to filter through my long list of highlights and share with you my top three spots. How to learn about the rest? Simple. Just go.

Hvar
Hip partying and gourmet seafood: The island of Hvar is a jewel in the Adriatic Sea, found north (a ferry ride or short helicopter hop) off Dubrovnik’s coast. This unspoiled island is becoming one of Eastern Europe’s hippest coastal party spots. The word now is to forget Ibiza, because it’s all about Hvar. Hip bars, clubs and restaurants combine with rugged ancient landscapes filled with fragrant sage and lavender, rich aloe and pine trees.

Spend days on the water, or wine tasting in the vineyards before heading to the waterfront in the medieval heart of Hvar for sunset drinks looking over the Paklinski Islands and gearing up for a long night out.

Dubrovnik
Cobbled streets and thriving cafés: Yes, you may know it but you need to go back. Soak up the medieval mood radiating from the old squares, magnificent stone columns and wide streets of Dubrovnik.

Stroll the atmospheric pedestrianized paving slabs of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and admire its forts, red-tile roofed-buildings, churches and monasteries. The Old Town is brimming with cafes, bars and restaurants hugging the Adriatic seafront, perfect for a morning coffee or evening sundowner.

A picture-perfect place and if you were after an alternative take on it I’d recommend taking a guided kayak tour around the grand city walls, or mountain biking in nearby Konavle valley to explore the local countryside.

Korcula
Medieval charm and one super lux retreat: People say Hvar is a secret. Well, maybe, but this one is a true secret. My insider tip: Head for the stunning island of Korcula, right now hottest thing to rise from this country. It’s flung roughly equidistant between Dubr­ovnik and Hvar.

The beautiful stone castle welcoming you as you sail into the harbour is just a taste of the old world charm that the island oozes. Get lost in the winding alleyways, between terracotta-tiled houses and tiny churches.

It’s all a short stroll from the beach of this up-and-coming island that few on the tourist trail know about.

A true escape amongst the warm waters of the Adriatic. Go now and be the envy of your friends with your tales of your time in this undiscovered spot.

Good to know
Where to stay: Riva Hotel in Hvar is Croatia’s first and only member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Expect old world charm, state of the art luxury, exceptional designed and superb sunset views over the Islands.

No better place to lay your head after a hard day of strolling, sunbathing and partying in Dubrovnik than at the Pucic Palace. Hidden within the walls of the medieval town, there is a brand new luxury retreat opening this month: the Lesic Dimitri Palace is a restored 18th century bishop’s palace with five adjoining medieval cottages.

Each room is designed with exceptional attention to detail and themed on a different region of Marco Polo’s Silk Road travels.

Shopping:
The main shopping area in Dubrovnik is The Stradun, but for a great local market go to Gundulic Square which has a wonderful fruit and flower market every morning, except for Sundays.

Getting there: Croatia is accessible from most European countries by coach, and by ferry from Italy or Greece. There are major international airports in Dubrovnink, Pula, Split, Zadar and Zagreb.

Getting around: Renting a car is straightforward, and there are good and inexpensive bus and train services that links major cities.

When to go: The best weather is from April to September. July and August are high season, with high prices and crowded beaches and towns.

Travel pro
• Tom Marchant is the founder of award-winning travel company Black Tomato, www.blacktomato.co.uk.

 
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