See the Croatian hub of history and its neighbouring islands through the eyes of a local resident, Mirela Foric Srna.
If crystal blue waters, unspoiled Mediterranean islands and rich cultural history are your thing, then Croatia may well be your next destination. While in these unsettling times many of us have taken to travelling virtually via an evening scroll on our Instagram feeds or Pinterest boards, you can always wonder if a destination really lives up to its online representation. ‘Are the waters really that blue, or has the saturation been turned up a notch or two?’ you may ask yourself. As any local Croatian will tell you, the seas of the Adriatic really are that clear, and if anything, are better in real life than online. And the urban city scene? Even more thriving than any Lonely Planet guide will have you believe. But instead of giving you a tourist’s version of an insider guide, we asked our friend Mirela Foric Srna, former CEO of Buro24/7 for Central and Eastern Europe as well as a born and bred Croatian, where she’d take you in her home country. Over to you, Mirela...
Croatia is my home, it’s where I am deeply rooted and always feel safe. I couldn’t imagine summer without coming here, and even though I haven’t lived here fully for over 10 years now, I still miss its easy way of life, great people, fresh food, the most beautiful sea and landscapes. For your tour, let’s begin with the one and only, the most popular city in Croatia, Dubrovnik. Dating back to the 7th century, when it was called Ragusa, its history and beauty put it on the UNESCO protection list as a world heritage site. It really is a one-of-a-kind place.
Mirela Foric Srna
9AM: MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY
Gradska Kavana is the place to see and be seen. Always busy with both locals and tourists, it has a bustling atmosphere from breakfast in the morning to aperitivo in the late afternoon. In the heart of the city’s historic district, Gradska Kavana fuses traditional Croatian recipes, with locally sourced ingredients and modern culinary skills.
Because who doesn’t love to peruse the local shop offering whilst on vacation? For fashion, check out Maria Store, which is run by my dear friend. Located in the old town in a 16th Century monastery, here you’ll find a curated edit of international luxury brands such as Valentino, Celine, Loewe, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga. For a more local souvenir, I always buy handcrafted jewellery by Croatian craftsmen, such as Konavoka earrings and many more beautiful pieces in the many jewellery shops around Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street. Another place I always head to is the oldest pharmacy in town; Male Brace. Great for all you beauty obsessives, here you’ll find skincare produced with century-old recipes that were used by Franciscans. A personal favourite is the citrus hand cream and rose-based facial moisturiser.
Fish-lovers should put Proto at the top of their list. Serving up fresh seafood inspired by an indigenous cuisine, it attracts locals and tourists alike. In the heart of the Old Town and set on a side street with an expansive terrace, it overlooks the whitewashed Dubrovnik stone buildings, oozing romance in a casual dining environment.
3PM: PONDER SOME ART
Get a water taxi to the island of Lopud and head to Your Black Horizon Art Pavilion for a joint work by Olafur Eliasson and David Adjaye. The pair created a light installation which showcases the changing colours in Lopud horizon over a 24 hour period, shortened into a 15 minute LED display. A fusion of contemporary art and architecture set amongst Cypress trees on the island’s bay, this space is a spectacle for any art-lovers. And there is always time for a nice swim afterwards in the bay of Lopud, access to water is all around the main strip, just hop in and enjoy the clearest blue waters.
Proto fish restaurant
Foodies will rejoice in the Michelin-approved Nautika restaurant. Overlooking Lovrijenac fortress and the Adriatic (be sure to reserve a panoramic table if you can), this isn’t just dinner but an opportunity to see Dubrovnik in all its glory. Offering five and seven course meals, this five-star establishment is a must, as is their foie gras and shrimp with polenta dish. Another equally excellent dining option is restaurant 360. As the name suggests, it too offers spectacular views, so try and book in just before sunset, and be sure to order a Maracuja cocktail – the best town in my opinion!
10PM: SEE A SHOW
If you happen to be visiting during the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, seeing a show or concert is a must. Held in some spectacular venues across the city, the festivities showcase some of Croatia’s most talented musicians and breathtaking views.
Dubrovnik Summer Festival
For me the best hotel is Villa Dubrovnik. I love the food, amazing service and their spa treatments using Sodashi skincare (a clean, organic Australian brand) are second to none. If you’re coming as a family, perhaps look into the Radisson Blu as its facilities are really catered to children and young teens, with tennis courts and a beach, but be aware it is based slightly outside the city centre.
Restaurant at Villa Dubrovnik
Private terrace at Villa Dubrovnik
One of Croatia’s most wonderful delights are its islands. For island hopping it’s best to hire a boat for the day, Euromarine is a reliable go-to for us as it can charter boats of all sizes. Where Lopud and Šipan are around 30 minutes away from Dubrovnik by private boat or car ferry, Mljet and Korčula are slightly longer. Don’t let this put you off however, as to thoroughly experience ‘real Croatia’, the islands are an absolute must.
If Lopud’s aforementioned gallery isn’t enough of a reason to visit, then its natural beauty and history certainly is. My favourite of all the islands, there is something so chic and romantic about it! The main bay is spotlighted by a Franciscan Monastery from 1483, which has been recently renovated and is absolutely stunning. It’s open via public walk throughs and in the summer it hosts art shows. Have lunch at Obala restaurant or go for a swim at its large sandy beach, Sunj, which is located on the other side of the island. The best bakery is in the island’s large hotel Lafodia, which also has a good pizza place. And if you are looking for more luxurious digs, Lazure is a luxury 8-bedroom outpost of the main Lafodia hotel, that looks like a yacht crashed into the hill! And the best part, there are no cars on the island. A real treat.
What Mljet lacks in restaurant offerings it makes up for in landscape. It’s without a doubt the most spectacular of all the islands. Take a hike in the national park Jezera and thrill seekers should seek out the Odysseus Cave. Just remember to charge your camera battery as the photo opportunities are out of this world.
National Park Jezera
Korčula is one of Croatia’s most up-and-coming islands, crawling with young people and has a cluster of great restaurants. If you get peckish (or thirsty) wander up to Moro Beach Stupe, a relatively new beach bar with a relaxed vibe - Carpe Diem all the way! For those that can’t stand to lie on a lounger longer than a few hours, walk up to the island’s gallery, Vapor, which showcases a large selection of contemporary art by Croatian artists. When it comes to dinner, how about a traditional Dalmatia experience? Family-run Adio Mare has bags of charm and hasn’t really changed since it opened in 1974. Ask for a spot on the shaded terrace and enjoy their selection of local wines, as well as their excellent grilled meats and fish. If staying on the island, try and get a reservation at Lesic Dimitri Palace, a collection of luxury apartments with full hotel service. Its design, staff and history make it quite special, not to mention its refined gourmet restaurant.
Moro Beach Stupe
Lesic Dimitri Palace
More of a small, quaint fisherman village, Šipan is known for its laid-back ambiance and wine. Around the corner from the main bay is the best lunch spot; BOWA. A secluded blue lagoon that boasts a South of France vibe, be sure to book a cabana for lunch with your own private sun loungers ahead of time.