26 October 2016

Enjoy the history of this dramatic coastline
Croatia, the coast with the most!
Radio 1's Jameela Jamil tests the claim that this is one of the world's most beautiful places - and finds case proved
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or at least a decade I have been bombarded with proclamations from friends and strangers that Croatia is among the world's most gorgeous destinations. At last I decided to put it to the test. Time was somewhat limited, so we chose just three portions of Croatia, starting in Dubrovnik. First stop was the Valamar President Hotel up in the hills, a ten-minute drive from the old town. From the outside it looks like a golf course. From the inside, it looks like somewhere Brangelina would stay.

To call this hotel grand would be an understatement. It had panoramic views of the ocean, space and luxury. I skipped all the way to my room - kingsized and practically on the beautiful private beach. One very inelegant hop over my balcony and I would be feeton- sand. The clear-blue Adriatic Sea stretched away, with lots of islands in view peppered with palm trees.
Expore the Island of Brac Bol, Croatia
The breakfast selection was the kind to give you a panic attack. Tailor-made omelettes and pancakes cooked by on-hand chefs. Beautiful fruits, cheeses, fresh smoothies, sausages, vegetables and delicious Croatian cakes. This was simply not conducive to having to wear a bikini.
Cocktails at sunset: Happy hour at Buza in Dubrovnik
"You walk into what feels like a grand, pristine film set, bursting with character and beautiful architecture."
On the private beach were luxury loungers, fluffy towels - water sports heavily available, lots of water toys for babies and all disabled and family accessible. But one tip - there are plenty of rocks about, so do invest in a pair of those hideous aqua shoes. We headed to Dubrovnik old town, which is hidden within enormous stone walls. Everything inside is made of marble, so you walk into what feels like a grand, pristine film set, bursting with character and beautiful architecture.

It is insane to think that the place was brutally bombed in the 1991 siege. It is therefore now cherished by its residents. The restaurants are busy and full of traditional Italian cuisine (pizza, pasta, fish). And the town is packed with young people. The little alleys contain quaint bars with the steps covered in cushions for passers-by to rest and drink. The atmosphere is bustling and takes hours to investigate every nook and cranny and every staggering view at the top of the enormous flights of marble stairs. We went back three nights in a row, each time sampling different alleyway restaurants and bars. Next, on to Split, a three-hour scenic bus journey up the coast.

We had booked into the Cornaro Hotel. The entrance is through a charming pink courtyard, where you are met by incredibly friendly staff. The unusual decor of the hotel gives it the air of a plush luxury yacht, and our room was modern and elegant. Split is full of life. You need energy. Loud, pumping open-air bars and clubs line the streets. Once you get into the old town, things quieten down and you can have some lovely grilled fish in the courtyards. The hotel staff recommended a restaurant called NoStress, so we went. I highly recommend it too.
After that we sauntered along the beautifully preserved palace walls, apparently haunted by ghosts, none of which I was greeted by, thank goodness. Shops are open till late and you are merely five minutes from the port, which is home to some of the most incredible yachts I have ever seen. (I look around for Brangelina again. Not here either.)

The next day I hopped on a very cheap ferry (they leave every hour and a half until midnight) to the nearest island, Brac. It was 45 painless minutes, and so worth it. Such a charming place - by far the most family-friendly I have ever visited.
Plentiful water activities for children, clean beaches and the prettiest port in Croatia so far. Brac is known for its V-shaped beach, Bol. But you can walk from the ferry and find your own pretty little coves, visited only by locals and with the kind of views that are completely overwhelming. For dinner we ventured to a quaint little restaurant called Vila Dora, in a corner by the port. Beautiful, simple, fresh food - it was the best meal in Croatia so far. Bravo. We hopped on the ferry back and had our last sleep in Croatia. It was miserable to be leaving.

The final day was spent wandering around Split's lovely old town, full to the brim with people wearing ancient Roman clothing acting out historical scenes in the streets to the delight of the crowds. The soldiers wear very little skirts... and Croatian men are HOT. (Wear sunglasses if with partner to allow you to ogle in peace.) What a beautiful country, what lovely people. What a relaxed and welcoming place that has overcome staggering adversity to become one of the most desirable spots on the planet.

Original article published in Jun 2015. All info and prices correct at time of publication.

"Beautiful, simple, fresh food - it was the best meal in Croatia so far."
Historic Dubrovnik harbour
The bright lights of Split at night
The Valamar President Hotel
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