Aficionados of Croatia have long regarded the country as having it all. Fabulous cities laden with treasures, glorious beaches, craggy coastline, thrilling countryside and a fascinating history.
What’s more, Croatia offers great value for money. So here’s our guide for this summer… just make sure you get there before the crowds return.
CITIES OF CULTURE
Living history: The city of Dubrovnik, located on Croatia’s south coast, is known as the Pearl of the Adriatic
Dubrovnik, pictured, features high 16th-century walls, medieval churches and monasteries — plus a cable car up to Mount Srd to enjoy spectacular views of the coast
Dubrovnik is known as the Pearl of the Adriatic and it’s easy to understand why, with its high 16th-century walls, medieval churches and monasteries — plus a cable car up to Mount Srd to enjoy spectacular views of the coast.
Meanwhile to the north, Split, Croatia’s second biggest city, was first settled in the 3rd century BC. Its historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s home to many first-rate seafood restaurants. Further north still is Sibenik in Dalmatia, another fine historic city, conquered by the Republic of Venice in 1116.
Rijeka (pronounced ree-acre) is next up on the coastline, a major port that was a European Capital of Culture in 2020 (sadly missing out on visitors due to the pandemic).
One of its most popular attractions, aside from its impressive castle and National Theatre, where ballet shows and opera concerts are held, is the Galeb (‘seagull’ in Croatian), a former Yugoslav naval vessel commandeered by communist ruler Marshal Tito.
Split, Croatia’s second biggest city, was first settled in the 3rd century BC and its centre is a Unesco World Heritage site
Sibenik in Dalmatia is another fine historic city. It was conquered by the Republic of Venice in 1116
He transformed into his lavishly furnished pleasure pad for entertaining guests such as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He even sailed up the Thames in it to visit Winston Churchill, too.
Add in Pula and Rovinj, former Roman settlements on the coast (Pula is home to a splendid amphitheatre), and Zagreb, the lively inland capital, with its cafes, art galleries and museums (including the weird and wonderful Museum of Broken Relationships) — and there is more than enough for the most avid culture vulture to get their teeth into.
HOW TO DO IT? Seven-day self-drives combining Zagreb and the Plitvice lake district from £1,175pp B&B including flights, hotels and car hire (regent-holidays.co.uk).
Seven nights at Hotel Dubrovnik Palace from £1,108pp B&B on August 19 with Gatwick flights and private transfer (tui.co.uk).
Seven nights at the Jupiter Luxury Hotel in Split from £724pp B&B in August with Heathrow flights (britishairways.com/holidays).
BEST OF THE BEACHES
Zlatni Rat Beach on the island of Brac is often used on tourist board adverts for the country, such is its beauty
Saharun Beach on the island of Dugi Otok features a lovely half-mile curve of smooth white stones and crystal-clear water
On the island of Hvar – made famous by the arrival of the jetset, including Hollywood celebrities and British royals – take a break from the bars and nightclubs for the quiet beach at Pokrivenik
Superb beaches are to be found all along the coast, although they tend to be smaller than those elsewhere in the Med, with grainier sand or pebbles. Often hotels will have no beach at all, merely a jetty or rocky area with steps into the water.
Among the best beaches are the ones at Murvica on the island of Brac in Dalmatia, Zlatni Rat Beach (also on Brac and often used on tourist board adverts for the country such is its beauty), Bacvice beach in Split, and Punta Rata near Makarska in Dalmatia, tucked away beneath Mount Biokovo.
Another top recommendation is Saharun Beach on the island of Dugi Otok, with a lovely half-mile curve of smooth white stones and crystal-clear water.
Meanwhile, on the island of Hvar — made famous by the arrival of the jetset, including Hollywood celebrities and British royals (Prince Harry once went with friends for a wild weekend) — take a break from the bars and nightclubs for the quiet beach at Pokrivenik.
HOW TO DO IT? Seven nights at the TUI Blue Adriatic Beach from £911pp all-inclusive from Gatwick on August 6 (tui.co.uk).
Seven nights at Hotel Croatia by Cavtat Bay, from £929pp half-board with London flights and transfers on August 11 (tropicalsky.co.uk).
Seven nights at the Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik Hotel from £849pp B&B with Gatwick flights and private transfers (flightcentre.co.uk).
HEAD FOR THE HILLS
Often called the ‘golden island’ because of its renowned shimmering sunsets, Krk is a favourite of Croats
An aerial shot of the island of Cres, which is much loved by birdwatchers with its rare colony of European griffon vultures, golden eagles, peregrines and kestrels
- 14 nights at a four- bedroom villa sleeping eight in Cavtat near Dubrovnik from £4,046 in August excluding flights; use code DU050 (croatianvillas.com).
- 14 nights at the Lapad Residence four-bedroom villa with a pool sleeping eight in Lapad near Dubrovnik from £14,059 in August excluding flights (jamesvillas.co.uk).
- Seven nights in Villa Demetra on the outskirts of Porec in early September from £2,798, sleeping eight, flights excluded (villa plus.com).
- Try oliverstravels.com, tuivillas.com and vrbo.com.
- Flights available from jet2.com, tui.co.uk, ba.com, easyjet.com.
Away from the coast, Croatia’s undulating landscape with well-maintained trails through national parks and lakes has long attracted hikers.
Some of the best adventures are to be had in the wilds of Risnjak National Park (home to the Risnjak mountain range, with remote mountain huts and fantastic views), Northern Velebit National Park (the country’s newest national park with more mountain trails) and Plitvice Lakes National Park. There is also the rugged Paklenica National Park, and Krka National Park, with waterfalls, lakes and a Franciscan monastery.
Some of the islands also have good hiking paths, particularly Lopud and Mljet.
HOW TO DO IT? Seven nights on a guided Croatia: Islands and Mountain tour covering Paklenica and Krka national parks plus the island of Brac, Dubrovnik and Split from £1,199pp B&B, with flights in early September and all activities included (exodus.co.uk). Seven nights on a self-guided Castles to Coast Walk on the Istrian peninsula from £1,729pp B&B with luggage transfers between hotels and flights in August (headwater.com).
Seven nights at Alana Beachclub at the foot of the Paklenica National Park from £1,779pp half-board plus four evening meals with Gatwick to Zadar flights on August 20 (neilson.co.uk).
With so many islands (around 1,200) it’s hard to know where to begin. But this is all part of the joy of island-hopping — you never quite know what’s coming next. Either catch ferries, use bridges from the mainland or sail yourself.
Often called the ‘golden island’ because of its renowned shimmering sunsets, Krk is a favourite of Croats; many have summer homes there. Expect pretty bays and secret coves near Malinska.
Meanwhile, a 50-minute ferry from Split, the island of Brac is home to Europe’s oldest stonemasonry school, robust local red wine and some great beaches.
The island of Lokrum near Dubrovnik has a naturist beach (if that’s your thing), while the island of Cres is much loved by birdwatchers with its rare colony of European griffon vultures, golden eagles, peregrines and kestrels.
HOW TO DO IT? Six-night skippered flotilla holidays in southern Croatia from £1,158pp excluding flights (responsibletravel.com). Six-night skippered yacht charters from Dubrovnik to the islands of Korcula, Hvar and Vis from £3,399pp B&B, based on four sharing, with flights and transfers (abercrombiekent.co.uk).
Eight nights with a full day’s private sailing and stays on the islands of Korcula and Hvar from £2,950pp with flights (originaltravel.co.uk).
Additional reporting: Julia Mora and Jo Fernandez