I planned our Croatia trip almost a year in advance – we had no big plans to look forward to and Croatia was always on our bucket list so it made sense to get something in the diary. It was a daunting task – there’s so many must-see places that it’s futile to try to tick them all off in one week, so we settled on an itinerary of five nights in Split (to include day trips to nearby gems), two nights in Korčula and then two final nights in Dubrovnik before flying home. See below for my Croatia travel tips based on my first taste of this gorgeous country!
Tip #1: Don’t spend more than two or three nights in Split, and instead spend more time in Korčula or a more peaceful island such as Hvar or Brac.
I came across Apartment Luxury Palace No.1, a beautiful one-bed apartment right in the heart of Diocletian’s Palace with its very own hot tub and terrace. You might think that staying within the confines of a UNESCO World Heritage site would be peaceful, but on a Friday night in peak tourist season the palace is less royal and more rave! The Diocletian’s Palace was absolutely heaving with people when we arrived, so we were perked up to see that the apartment owner had left us some freebies:
Complimentary fruit, biscuits and wine from the owner of our Airbnb
The main living area
The master bedroom
Breakfast on the terrace
The hot tub with a glimpse of the Saint Domnius Bell Tower
Walking around the Roman ruins is captivating; every time you look up you’ll find gorgeously worn shutters, intricate chimneys and columns, or a cloudless sky framed by the opening of a vestibule.
Tip #2: If you’re short on time and money, Diocletian’s Palace has reams of cheap pizza stalls and well-priced gelato.
We only ate out one evening within the palace grounds, at a place called Appetit – my steak was good but Ned wasn’t so convinced about his braised beef! It didn’t help we were there super early and the place was artificially forcing an atmosphere with electronic music despite there only being three tables’ worth of punters. I’d also thoroughly recommend Buffet Fife, quick, cheap and unbelievably tasty Croatian cuisine.
Tip #3: Don’t be fools like us and withdraw lots of Euros for your Croatia trip – even though some places accept them, it’s technically illegal to use as currency so it’s best to get a small amount of Kunas and then top up as and when you need to. Another tip we were told by a fellow traveller was to choose the option that lets the bank set the conversion rate on ATMs to get a better deal.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that sandy beaches are better than pebbly ones, and the good news is that there’s the golden Bačvice beach just a few minutes’ walk from the main town centre. However, this beach is REALLY busy (Costa Del Hell) so (Tip #4) I’d recommend walking along the coast towards Radisson Blu, as the beach there is less hectic.
We stopped walking once we reached the Mistral Beach Bar & Restaurant. The food here was pricey but tasty with the fluffiest home-baked bread rolls I think I’ve ever been lucky enough to try! You can also rent a sun lounger at their beach bar.
Lunch at the Mistral restaurant
The next day we tried out Plaza Kasjuni. You can either spend 45 minutes walking along the coastal road from the Riva of Split (bearing in mind that the pavement stops at one point) up towards Joe’s Beach Lounge & Bar, or get the No.12 Bus from here.
You can rent a sun lounger for 100 Kuna, overlooking the beautiful Kasjuni bay. The water is so salty you can almost float but be warned – the seabed is very, very jagged! Unfortunately for us, one of Joe’s restaurants didn’t serve food(!) and its sister restaurant had a big birthday group reservation and so there was a two-hour wait. My advice is to reserve a table before you go!
Our first encounter of this quiet little beach was on our Split Sunset Sea Kayaking Tour. The no.12 bus also takes you there directly. We got into our kayaks (much to the disapproval of a local self-entitled idiot who harassed our tour guides for ruining ‘his’ stretch of sea) and set off towards an old military posting, past The Mediterranean Institute for Life Sciences and then onwards to a quiet bay. En route, we spotted a couple of nudists who really didn’t expect thirty kayakers to glide past!
Most of the group posed for Go Pro shots as they jumped off a jagged boulder, whereas Ned and I opted for a few moments chilling on a more attainable rock on the shore. We then headed back and watched the sun set from our kayaks before the tour officially ended.
Krka Waterfalls – Day Trip
Although we technically booked a tour, it was really just a return bus journey with a brief river cruise from Skradin to the park entrance. Tip #5 – Buy your tour ticket as part of a special offer bundled in with the sea kayaking tour. On the cruise we were treated to the most stunning views of untouched nature, as if humans had never discovered this slice of the world before. It was only when we got through the entrance that we started to appreciate just how busy the place was!
Once you’ve bought your ticket and walked into the park, (tip #6) is to turn left towards the wooden walkway rather than going straight to the waterfalls. That way, you’re going ‘against’ the majority of tourists as they loop along the path.
Following the path around, there’s various little pockets of water bordered by rugged bushes to explore, very much like tiny secret gardens! Come lunchtime, food at the Buffet restaurant near the Mill was good if slightly overpriced, and unfortunately we didn’t get to go too close to the waterfalls as it was packed with people 🙁
To start your ascent up this hill, walk past Buffet Fife up Solurat Ul. and then turn right up the stairs when you reach Hotel Garden Apartment. Once you reach the top of the steps, you’ll find a viewpoint to your left (opposite Cafe Bar Vidilica) where you’ll see a gorgeous view of Split, as seen in the pic below:
From what we could see, there’s no real end point to the trail but we continued past Bene Beach and towards a marina full of yachts. The dense forest offers a lot of much-needed shade, and en route you’ll also find the odd secluded cove – (tip #7) definitely seek a space there to bathe rather than walking all the way to Prva Voda plaža, a distinctively average beach. Next time I go I’d also consider paying closer attention to this blog post by Becky Snyder detailing the best way to explore the mountains.
Getting there from Split: First of all, getting the ferry from Split was a bit of an ordeal – the Jardolinijia website doesn’t say which part of the port to go to, and all the ferries look the same and are a long way apart from each other so tip #8, leave yourself plenty of time to find/board the ferry. We booked the 9.15am ferry (via Hvar) but narrowly avoided missing it thanks to running about like headless chickens with a broken and far too heavy suitcase! We got to the old town port just in time for midday, where we were easily able to find a taxi to get to Tara’s Lodge.
It takes about 10 minutes to get from the port to the lodge by taxi, and upon arrival you’re greeted with a complimentary drink each 🙂 The resort is located in a pristine bay minutes from the old town of Korčula, with units decorated in a minimalist Nordic style. FYI, we had room #20 and the panoramic sea view was slightly obscured by the main restaurant building.
Tip #9 Visit the beautiful Zrnovska Banja bay while it’s still wonderfully undeveloped! The lodge is essentially the only touristy place we could spot which means you feel like you’re a true local while lying on Tara’s bean bag beds, but there’s lots of new buildings being built and I suspect it won’t stay this preserved forever. The only drawback is that there’s not many other options for food or drinks unless you’re willing to go to Korčula old town or explore further inland.
Every Thursday they hold a big barbecue on the shore. It’s over £35 (350 Kunas) which is ridiculously overpriced, but you are a captive audience. The food was awesome though – we could choose from traditional skinless sausage, pork shoulder or chicken kebabs.
Korčula Old Town
We walked towards the old town in time for sunset. Along the coast were some secluded beaches and stunning views to boot of the mainland. For me, the old town is reminiscent of Cartagena in Colombia with its brightly painted houses and palm trees lining the roads.
Tip #10: Sit atop the town at Massimo Cocktail Bar in time for sunset. The bar offers 360 views from a medieval tower. To enter, you have to climb a ladder to get to the main bar, where poor Ned and I had to cover our eyes as dozens of girls with tiny skirts made their way down to leave! Finally we were able to get our seat, and before I could question how they get the cocktails into the bar, I noticed the little basket being raised up by a pulley system! The waitresses shout down the orders to the barmen downstairs 🍷🍸🍹
Šetalište Petra Kanavelića has arguably the poshest restaurants, all with reserved tables along the shore. You can easily find a bite to eat by exploring the walled town, and luckily we found an empty and deceptively average-looking place called Fundamentum. I tried the seabass with roasted vegetables and Ned opted for a Korčula speciality called Korculanski Scartocet (marinated baby beef filled with cheese and prosciutto, with homemade macaroni). This was the best introduction we had to Croatian cuisine throughout the entire trip!
Tip #11 Rather than rough it on the usual ferry, you can pay just 22 Euros (paid in Kunas) for a transfer onwards to Dubrovnik via the Korkyra travel agency. The cost includes hotel pick-up, then drop off to a boat at the Old town port which then takes you to the mainland before a very rocky and white-knuckle drive through the mountains towards Dubrovnik.
Once there, must-see attractions include walking the city walls, taking the cable car and sea kayaking at sunset. As we plan to come back to this beautiful place again soon, we decided to take it easy and spend most of our time at our hotel, the only ‘activity’ we did was City Walls:To get to the entrance, you can enter via Pile Gate and entry costs 120 Kunas per adult. There’s also plenty of stops along the walls to get an ice cream or a snack so don’t worry about bringing too much with you.
Tip #12 to infinity: One day, you HAVE to visit Villa Dubrovnik. It’s seriously a place you’d think only exists in dreams. OK, it’s ridiculously expensive which is why we only stayed two nights as the cherry to top our trip. The hotel itself is made of Brac stone and designed by two Croatians to a stunning finish, making Ned and I feel like we were being entertained at someone’s Venice Beach mansion!
We plumped for room 201 (executive suite) as it included a hot tub, and according to Trip Advisor was the best suite to watch the sunset. It’s a shame that this was overlooked by anyone taking the lift of chilling near the swimming pool, doubled with the fact that there was no curtain for us to bathe privately. The suite has a well-sized bathtub, his-and-hers sinks and a large bed with silk sheets. Because we chose the executive suite, breakfast delivered to our room was free of charge too! The lunch menu was reasonably priced (compared to the eye-watering amounts I imagined they’d charge) and you get to experience a gorgeous view of the walled city across the ocean.
The grounds also included:
* Swimming pool with choice of indoor or outdoor sunbeds
* Spa (if you book with Mr & Mrs Smith they give you a 30-minute ‘Diamond Bed’ treatment, but don’t bother!)
* Free gym with reasonable choice of equipment
* Concrete beach with private swimming area
* Numerous luxury lounges with a wide range of books
* Prosciutto Wine Bar (amazing view of the walled town at sunset)
* Vaporetto boat service to the old town. The boat had technical issues during our stay so we had a free taxi shuttle instead
To wrap up, this truly was a trip of a lifetime and it blows my mind that Croatia is less than 3 hours to fly to from London. No need to fly long-haul to find paradise ever again! Ned and I have already decided that we’ll head back next year and visit Hvar, Brac and spend more relaxation time in Korčula. All I know is that I can’t wait to write up my next Croatia travel blog post in 2017 🙂