Here’s the thing about Croatia. It’s so incredibly cool. It just doesn’t know it yet.
Hrvatska’s (as locals call it) gorgeous islands and bohemian coastal towns recall the French and Italian Rivieras (without the crowds and pretensions). That they’re hard to get to makes them all the more worth it.
Start in Split, the grooviest of the mainland towns, a quick stopover on your way to the islands and an easy connecting flight from Frankfurt and Rome (or an overnight ferry ride from Ancona, if you happen to be jaunting through Tuscany). As you wander the mazelike town, take note: There are travertine and red tile roofs everywhere, and Croatian chicks make ’80s styles look totally tubular. At Magma (Batijanova 52a TS9), score Nubian-princess hoop earrings, which Dalmatian sailors (pirates, all) once wore to ensure proper burials.
Then head down the coast toward Dubrovnik, jewel of the Adriatic. Hire a yacht or ferry down to Hvar, a spot favored for its nightlife. Dine at Macondo (order shrimp, bouzzara-style), then hit the club Carpe Diem, right on the water.
But don’t stay on Hvar. Take a ten-minute water taxi to oh-so-boho Palmizana. The Meneghello family took over the tiny island a century ago and built groovy villas overlooking the Adriatic. Earth mother Dagmar will regale you with stories of visiting artists. Her son runs Toto, the haute Mediterranean resto that serves superfresh fish and lemony Swiss chard. You can hike the island in about an hour: Pack sunscreen and stop to sunbathe at the gorgeous inlets and float in the salty Adriatic. Dionis, the café on the other side of the island (try the pickled rosemary), has great views. The next morning take the ferry from Stari Grad to Dubrovnik, with a quick stop in Korcula, another stunning island with a gorgeous old town. The coast is so beautiful, the eight-hour ride will fly by.
Dubrovnik is suspended in time: It’s Latin, Slavic, Baroque, and medieval. Most guides say you only need a day or so to see the fortified city, but you’ll dread your departure. Enter the old city via the Pile or Poce Gates; stroll La Strada (Dubrovnik’s Champs Elysées) to La Luza Square. Climb the stairs (starting at either end) and walk the walls for breathtaking views of city and sea.
For star treatment, stay at the Hotel Excelsior or Grand Villa Argentina, just outside the center of town, or at the recently renovated Pucic Palace, the only hotel inside the city gates. Book an outdoor table at Proto (Široka ulica 1, 20000; 385-20-323-234), the rooftop resto in the old city. On your second night, head outside the city to the old-school Atlas Club Nautika (Brsalje 3, 20000; 385-20-442-526, 385-20-442-573) or the new-school East West, which doesn’t have an address (look on the beach, a few minutes from the Poce gate). The Taverna Rustica at the Excelsior has fab cuttlefish risotto and a view of the city. Finally, head to Bar Hemingway, off La Luza Square, and scheme how to stay forever.
Photo Credit: Juliana Jaoudi