6 Things to Do in Croatia That Live Up to the Hype
It seems that Croatia was on everyone's Instagram feed this summer. The Eastern European country has been on people's radars for a few years now, and it's not hard to understand why: The crystal-clear waters, rich history, and hundreds of islands sprinkled along the coast of the Adriatic Sea make this a surefire hit for avid travelers. Among those who recently flocked to the popular European destination are photographer and filmmaker Amy Seder of Away Lands and Alessandra Ford Balazs, daughter of famed hotelier André Balazs and Ford Models CEO Katie Ford.
We caught up with the two well-traveled women to get their best tips firsthand, and they didn't disappoint. From lavish Dubrovnik hotels to little-known wine regions and unspoiled islands, they had tips for every type of traveler and every budget. Only have six days to spend in Croatia? We crafted the perfect itinerary based on our two travel pros' best tips.
Day 1: Dubrovnik
"Start with Dubrovnik," suggests Ford Balazs. "This irresistible city, perfectly situated on water's edge, was built out of precious white stone and is the home to some of the most beautiful churches, squares, and secret alleyways. That in itself is spectacular enough, but this old Mediterranean city has so much more to offer."
Stay: "Be sure to stay in the old city," says Ford Balazs. "If you are looking for a five-star luxury experience, look no further than Hotel Excelsior. It's the epitome of luxe perfection. It boasts breathtaking, unobstructed views of the ocean and private beaches, all the while maintaining a cultural panache, just steps from the UNESCO Old Town walls of Dubrovnik. Or try Hotel Villa Dubrovnik. Crisp and modern, this Croatian mainstay is perched on the sun-soaked coastline in Dubrovnik. With only 58 rooms, it's a more intimate hotel and the perfect place to unplug and relax. Walk down to the rocky coastline to find lounge chairs nestled on platforms overlooking the cliff face, and relax as you listen to the ocean crash against the rocks beneath you."
Eat: "I love Nautika," says the heiress. "It's a great mixture of classic and modern cuisine, with a view to match. Or try Portrait, a new restaurant of the star Croatian chef Jeffrey Vella. It's a delicious bistro set within the romantic Gundulic Palace, and the perfect place to enjoy the best local ingredients, served to you with a modern twist. Lastly, I would recommend 360°. Modern, relaxed, and very trendy, this new place is committed to elegance and the finest cuisine. The chef is inspired by Mediterranean flavors but is also grounded in classic French gastronomy. The décor and setting are exquisite and worth a stop, even if only for cocktails.
"At night, go to Buza Bar in the old city and enjoy your drinks and live music in the most sensational fashion. This bar is not any bar; it balances on the cliffs that surround the old city, hanging over the beautiful Mediterranean waters. I also love La Bodega in the center square. It's a great place for drinks, music, and people watching. With an incredible wine selection (over 240 Croatian wines alone), it's definitely worth checking out."
Day 2: Lopud
"From Dubrovnik, take a day trip to one of the many beautiful islands near the mainland, either by boat or ferry, to enjoy the unique shingle and rock slab beaches," says Ford Balazs. "It's a lot more exquisite than it sounds. You can easily travel to Lopud from Dubrovnik. Due to several storms, you will find beautiful relics of old structures, less traffic, and some of Croatia's best beaches."
Eat: "If you're up for a quick drive, you can enjoy dinner at Restaurant Gverovic Orsan, a fresh Mediterranean restaurant with seafood and incredible sunsets on this charming private beach overlooking the Adriatic Sea," suggests Ford Balazs. "Or eat world-renowned oysters in the beautiful little town of Mali Ston, about 30 minutes from Dubrovnik."
Day 3: Mljet
After Dubrovnik, sail off to the islands on the Dalmatian Coast. "Sailing through the islands was by far the highlight of our trip," says Seder. "Being able to stop and swim every morning and then explore the towns every afternoon was such a dream." Some of the closest islands include Mljet—which features a beautiful national park recommended by Seder—and the Pelješac peninsula, home of a beautiful wine region recommended by Ford Balazs. "I really enjoyed my visit to Saints Hills Winery," she says.
Stay: "We stayed on a cruise ship, which I highly recommend," says Seder. "It was great to unpack our bags and have all of our things in one place, but we able to see a new island or destination every day. We made great friends, and it was a really fun way to get around. We went with Koda Sail and were really impressed with the quality of the food on board as well as the room size."
Day 4: Korčula
On day four, hop over to the island of Korčula. "Small and relatively remote, this little island is worth the trek," says Ford Balazs. "Just don't do what I did and try to sail around the entire island. There should be a sign on the map: 'Warning: Island is larger than it appears.' You can also learn how to catch uni from local fisherman—just get stranded in a makeshift sailboat and they will let you into their amazing community with open arms."
Seder agreed that the small island was a highlight of her trip: "My favorite city was Korčula," she says. "There is ancient white stone everywhere that has been polished through hundreds of years of wear. It looks like something out of a storybook."
Stay: "Skip the hotel and rent an apartment at Marco-Polo Apartments within the old walled city (where you want to stay in order to be close to everything)," suggests Ford Balazs.
Sail in Style
Day 5: Hvar
"Hvar is a larger island with a bit of a younger crowd, but it's definitely worth at least a night's stay," says Ford Balazs. "Get out of the port, rent a scooter, and go beach hopping. It may be a little crowded, but be sure to visit the fort and pop over to Brač beaches. Or if you're visiting in June or July, take a trip to view the beautiful lavender fields."
Stay: "This is one of those times that I recommend skipping the hotel," adds the heiress. "The accommodations at Jagoda & Ante Bracanović House are simple but include everything you could need at a reasonable price (eat-in kitchens, private bathrooms, balconies, and air conditioning)."
Eat: "My favorite restaurant in Croatia is Fig Cafe in Hvar," says Seder. "It was up a couple of blocks away from the main craziness of the port in a beautiful stone alleyway, and their Mexican dishes are amazing. We are from Southern California and really know our Mexican food, for context. For drinks, the famous Hula Hula is great for a day party with DJs, piña coladas, and floating docks that you can swim to from the bar. At night, Carpe Diem is a full experience—it's on a private island that you can only get to by boat taxi and features dancers, pyrotechnics, and endless indoor and outdoor areas. I'm not a nightclub person, but this place was a wild experience I am so glad I didn't miss."
Day 6: Split
End your trip in beautiful Split, where you can also take a day trip to the nearby Krka National Park. "The main port of Split is beautiful—and very crowded," says Seder. "Due to the massive influx of tourism the past few years, it's also surprisingly expensive. Overall, restaurants and attractions here were the most expensive we saw throughout our summer in Europe—more so than Paris or Rome or Amsterdam. But the country is beautiful!"
Stay: "Opt out of a hotel and still experience the beauty and, at times, more of the culture Croatia has to offer," says Ford Balazs. "One of the truly unique things about Croatia (especially on one of its many beautiful islands) is the option to stay at house or apartment in lieu of a hotel. If you're traveling with a lighter load and fewer requirements, simply find a villa, Airbnb, or a place to stay as you walk off of the ferry and see many people holding signs for accommodations. I know it sounds risky, but every time I have done it, it has reaped great rewards and spawned extremely fun adventures."
Eat: "For a nice upscale dinner, we went to Bokeria in Split, which I would highly recommend," suggests Seder. "It had great food, a very nice wine list, and it's one of the most popular places in town."
Next up: how to explore the Greek island every fashion girl loves.