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Source: CN Traveler
Guide to the best-kept secrets in Croatia
In the past decade Croatia has gone from being the quieter, more-affordable alternative to Italy, to a top summer destination for the super-yacht set. So take a tip from James Stewart and head for one of these lesser-visited corners of the Dalmatian Coast out of season, when the days are warm, and the beaches and vine-covered hillsides are blissfully crowd-free.
Dalmatians call it ‘fijaka’ - a deliciously lazy mood of utter contentment – and it encapsulates the feeling of a Croatian autumn break. The sun is still hot, the sea is still warm and home is still blanketed by damp grey skies – hooray!
Less conducive to the mood is when Dubrovnik is chock-full of coach tours (yes, even in October). So, go instead to those out-of-the-way destinations the Croats themselves escape to; places of pinch-me perfection where lunches are long and nightlife means a nightcap by the harbor. Although most are within an hour of an international airport, they are little haikus of holidaymaking: so simple, so pure and nowadays so sophisticated thanks to a new breed of small hotel. And in late season the prices plummet – but not the temperatures. Now there is something conducive to a fijaka.
LOPUD, ELAPHITI ISLANDS
For island escapism on Dubrovnik’s doorstep
Dubrovnik aristocracy sailed to Lopud for weekend breaks back in the 17th century. But only recently has Lopud been rediscovered as a place to play at Robinson Crusoe while keeping close enough to the city for cultural daytrips. Car-free, certainly carefree, this tiny island – less than five kilometers square and just 200 residents – ticks every box for Brits seeking the simple life: there’s just a village harbor the color of old ivory, faded aristos’ mansions among the cyprus and palm trees, and little to do except read in the warm autumn sun or explore dusty paths, plucking handfuls of wild figs as you go. Walk two kilometers to the other side of the island and you reach Sunj, a pine-edged cove with a horseshoe of sand fine enough for castles. Ferry timetables show you’re only half an hour from Dubrovnik. It feels more like a century.
For Robinson Crusoe-isolation with a five-star chef
Rising out of the sea in a crown of peaks, Vis has all the allure of a Bond-villain hideout. Yet Croatia’s most distant island, washed by the cleanest seas in the Med, is easier to find – 90 minutes by catamaran from Split, Dalmatia’s sassiest city – and far more accommodating, thanks to a brace of fine restaurants: try Villa Kaliopa (32 Vladimira Nazora; 00 385 21 711 755) or Doručak kod Tihane (5 Obala Sv Jurja; 00 385 21 718472) in the village of Kut, and Jastožera in Komiža. Elsewhere, locals’ pop-up restaurants provide a feast using whatever’s freshest, all washed down with local wine; book via local agencies.
Vis is littered with the leftovers of previous visitors. Greek and Roman mosaics are in the undergrowth as well as a museum in Kut; Venetian houses make Komiža postcard-pretty; and forts built by the Austrians and the British crumble among the pines. And, like Capri, only without all the tourists, it has a wild interior, rising to Mount Huma, a playground for activities and adventures (find out more atwww.alternatura.hr), and the coast is scalloped by tiny bays. Stiniva in the south is one of the loveliest in the Med: chock-full in summer, all yours in October.
MLJET, ADRIATIC ISLANDS
For cool walks and empty paths on Dalmatia’s nature island
October is the Goldilocks month for Mljet: with seven hours’ sunshine a day and temperatures averaging 20˚C, neither too hot nor too cold but just right for walking, on an island that the World Wide Fund for Nature names among the last paradises in the Mediterranean. Because its northern third is a national park, Mljet, 90 minutes from Dubrovnik by ferry, remains the same wave-washed island of Aleppo pine and holm oak that Homer eulogised in the Odyssey. Prince Charles was another fan and like most visitors he came with his walking shoes. Pick up a map from the park office at Pristaniste, then climb up Montokuc for a view of aromatic pines cascading down to a silver-blue Adriatic; or take the trail from Soline port to circuit into the park’s wilder heart. You won’t see another soul except for the occasional park ranger (this is their favourite walk). And perhaps a mongoose – the animals were imported in the 1800s to eradicate snakes, so there’s none of those now either.
For rural romance and countryside cuisine, with the coast close at hand
The Romans knew Istria as terra magica. Its interior remains terra incognita for most Brits, despite it being tagged as ‘the new Tuscany’, and autumn sees its northern rump, an hour from Trieste, come into its own. Each morning, hilltop medieval towns sail on seas of mist above river valleys. Each night crisp skies boil with stars. The coast remains close at hand, but with a decent map and a full tank of petrol, you can lose a happy week pootling along sunny lanes you’ll share only with antique tractors. You’ll find places like Motovun, the region’s medieval pin-up, or nearby Groznjan, an improbably pretty village given over to artists. You’ll discover medieval frescos the colour of red-wine stains in the village churches of Beram and Draguc, and more gutsy good food than seems probable as harvest festivals get into swing and fresh local truffles appear on every menu; Toklarija, a gourmet restaurant in the wine-growing hamlet of Sovinjsko Polje (11 Sovinjsko Polje; 00 385 52 663031) and lovely Konoba Mondo (1 Barbacan; 00 385 52 681 791) in Motovun have two of the best. There’s a chance you’ll get lost at times, of course. Then again, maybe that’s half the point.
PAG, NORTH DALMATION ISLANDS
For utter escapism on an island that’s more Martian than Mediterranean
Pag is the surprise of Croatia. The sense of being somewhere utterly unique is palpable as soon as you drive into its bare, pale-pink hills, a landscape as silent and magical as any desert. Yet Pag, linked to the mainland by a bridge 70km north of Zadar, is not just a lesson in the dangers of deforestation (the Venetian Republic stripped the forests for galleons and palaces and the winter wind did the rest). It provides a distinctly different autumn getaway in Dalmatia. During summer Pag Town, the pocket-sized Renaissance capital built on salt and lace, is clogged with coach-tours; Zrće beach is a Croat Ibiza. In October, however, both are quiet and islanders turn their attentions back to the good stuff of Pag: delicious lamb grazed on wild rosemary, a tangy, Parmesan-like cheese, and wine. Boskinac hotel is the destination for all three. Days are spent flitting between a dining table and the beach (visit hiddenRucica bay at sunset), and easy daytrips lie on the mainland: Zadar for relaxed city style, orPaklenica and the Velebit national parks for mountain hikes on cool days.
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