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(E) Croatia in London Times
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  02/3/2004 | Tourism | Unrated
(E) Croatia in London Times

 

Complete Croatia


Better sailing than Turkey, islands to rival those of Greece,
and a cuisine to match Italy's: it's the hot spot that
came in from the cold, says David Wickers

Ask anyone: Croatia is the hottest destination in the
Med this summer. The Dalmatian coast, they will tell
you, with its close-hauled constellation of 1,000
islands, is the "new Riviera"; while the Istrian
peninsula, with its Italian looks and flavours, is "the
new Tuscany". But these slick phrases miss the point.
Croatia isn't really a "new" anything: it is still very
much its old self. In the late 1980s, half a million
of us came to play here and almost universally loved
it, but during the civil war, we shifted our allegiance
to Spain, Greece and Turkey ? even though most of
Croatia was never touched by the conflict. Well, we're
finally back. About 170,000 British visitors are
expected in 2004, and 24 holiday companies are
featuring the country for the first time.

The smart set are already there in force. Steven
Spielberg, Pierce Brosnan, Andre Agassi, Gywneth
Paltrow and Sean Connery are all among the celebrity
names to appear in the hotel visitor books. Some like
the country so much they bought a piece: Robert De
Niro, Clint Eastwood and Sharon Stone are each rumoured
to be buying their own private island.

If you visited back in the 1980s, you'll find Croatia
largely unchanged. A few designer hotels have opened,
welcome alternatives to the rather drab 1960s
structures, but otherwise its glittering coast remains
just as it was 20 years ago ? and all the lovelier for
that. And if you can't afford to buy an island, don't
worry: you can certainly afford a holiday, because
Croatia now offers perhaps the best value for money
anywhere on the Med.

Unless stated, prices are per person per week, based on
two sharing, and include transfers. Where packages
include flights, prices are based on London departures.
Operators using scheduled carriers can often arrange
connections from UK regional airports or Ireland,
usually for £50-£100. In several cases, we have given
two prices, the first for departures in June, the
second in August, to give an idea of the savings to be
made outside school holidays


CROATIA FOR BEACHES

CROATIA HAS more than 1,000 miles of mainland littoral,
as well as those 1,000 islands. The swimming is
sparkling ? 58 resorts fly Blue Flags ? although the
beaches tend to be narrow and pebbly.


TUCEPI

The 40-mile Makarska Riviera used to be the gold coast
of Yugoslav tourism. Most of its resorts are not worth
a look, but Tucepi is attractive, friendly and low-key,
with a beach, a marina and a good hotel. The town of
Makarska is within easy reach if you want some livelier
evenings, while a ferry to the island of Brac makes
split weeks an easy option.


BRELA

This is a cluster of gorgeous white-pebble beaches
backed by a thick fringe of fragrant pines, with
watersports on the main strand and a shaded coast path
to some smaller, quieter neighbours. If you want to up
the tempo at night, walk to next-door Baska Voda.

CAVTAT

An elegant resort of waterfront cafes, palm trees and
whitewashed houses. It has access to some good beaches
and is linked to Dubrovnik by regular boats and buses.

BOL

Most tourists to the island of Brac head for Supetar,
but the south of the island, around Bol, is where your
beach mat wants to be, spread on the famous Zlatni Rat
or Golden Cape. The beach looks like a shark's fin and
stars on all the posters (although the pebbly texture
is a tad disappointing). Bol itself, a mile or so from
the Rat, is a pretty, stone-built town with a good
gallery of 20th-century Croatian art.


KOVERSADA

Croatia has long been a popular nudist retreat,
especially for the Germans and the Dutch. Koversada, on
the Istrian peninsula, is the oldest of about 30
official naturist resorts (there are scores of
unofficial strips, so to speak). Visit www.cronatur.com
for more details.

Sample package: £349/£401, half-board, with Peng Travel
(0845 345 8345, www.pengtravel.co.uk), including
scheduled flights from Gatwick (add £20 from
Manchester).


CROATIA FOR CULTURE

From Roman to gothic, renaissance to baroque and on to
art nouveau, Croatia has a wealth of historic
architecture.


THE ISTRIAN PENINSULA

As you'd guess from looking at a map, the Italian
influence is strong in this northern corner of the
country. The area was ruled from Venice for 400 years
and its influence is stamped on the local architecture
? in the spectacular walled towns, many bear the
imprint of the Venetian lion. Most towns have two
names, one Croatian, one Italian; there's lots of
spaghetti, risotto and pizza on the menus; and there
are also some impressive Roman ruins.

Istria is low on beaches, but makes up for that in
fascinating, appealing little towns. Both Rovinj and
Porec have handsome horseshoe harbours, lots of cafes
and restaurants and a potterer's treat of narrow
backstreets jumbled together on peninsulas. (The hotels
on their outskirts are not so charming, so be sure to
stay in the centre.) Venice itself is an easy hop away
by hydrofoil.

Sample package: the Neptun, overlooking the harbour in
Porec, costs £445/£489, half-board, with Thomson (0870
606 1470, www.thomsonlakesandmountains.com), with
flights from Gatwick or Manchester (from £35 extra). Or
try Balkan Holidays (0845 130 1114,
www.balkanholidays.co.uk) or Holiday Options (0870 420
8372, www.holidayoptions.co.uk).


DUBROVNIK

Byron's "Pearl of the Adriatic" is a handsome
aristocratic town encased in 15th-century walls. Along
with Venice, Pisa and Genoa, Dubrovnik was one of the
power hubs of the medieval Med, its vast wealth the
reason for its Renaissance palaces, baroque towers,
cloistered monasteries, churches and treasuries of art
(Tintorettos, Titians and more). Although it took an
almighty hammering during the war, restoration is now
more or less complete and remarkably seamless, barring
the glare of thousands of new roof tiles.

Sample package: push the boat out and stay at the
19-room Pucic Palace, the only luxury boutique hotel in
the country, converted from an 18th-century nobleman's
house within the city walls, overlooking the daily
fruit-and-veg market on Gundulic Square.

THE KVARNER RIVIERA

Opatija is one of the most sophisticated of Croatia's
resorts, its buildings, formal gardens and promenade
still redolent of its 19th-century heyday, when its
sheltered climate made it the winter playground for
Austro-Hungarian toffs.

THE PELJESAC PENINSULA

A place to escape the crowds, even in August. As well
as being home to Croatia's best vineyards, this is also
where you'll find the 14th-century fortifications of
Ston, a Dalmatian version of the Great Wall of China,
which rollercoasters up and over impossible contours.
The town, once rich from salt, has a tiny harbour, Mali
Ston ? a centre for oysters.

Sample price: the waterfront Ostrea (00 385 20 754555,
www.ostrea.hr; doubles with breakfast about £80) is a
superb family-owned 10-room hotel. The owners also have
the nearby Kapetanova Kuca (Captain's House)
restaurant, where local molluscs and black risotto
(made with squid ink) can be combined with local wines.
Also bookable through Bond Tours (01372 745300,
www.bondtours.com).


THE BIGGER PICTURE

Rather than concentrate on one area, it's perfectly
possible to take in many of Croatia's cultural
highlights in one trip: the country is relatively small
and transport links are good.

Sample package: ACE Study Tours (01223 835055,
www.study-tours.org) has a two-week trip in May
(leaving on the 14th) that scoops up most of the
cultural must-sees on the mainland. It starts in the
capital, Zagreb, exploring the old fortified upper
town, home to the cathedral, churches, palaces and
museums, and the newer, Vienna-like lower town with its
elegant pavement cafes. It then continues by coach to
the Plitvice Lakes National Park (where a duckboarded
footpath leads you right over the top of spectacular
waterfalls); Zadar, home to a Roman forum and Sacred
Art Museum; the Roman emperor Diocletian's palace in
Split; nearby Trogir, a perfectly preserved outpost of
La Serenissima; and Dubrovnik. It costs £1,755, B&B,
with scheduled flights from Heathrow to Zagreb and back
from Dubrovnik, excursions and entrance fees. Or try
Bond Tours (01372 745300, www.bondtours.com); Consort
(0845 345 0300, www.consorttravel.com); Cox & Kings
(020 7873 5027, www.coxandkings.co.uk); Martin Randall
(020 8742 3355, www.mar
tinrandall.com); Page & Moy (0870 010 6460,
www.page-moy.co.uk); or Titan (01293 440033,
www.titantravel.co.uk).

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

CROATIA FOR ISLANDS



WHAT CROATIA does best, almost on a par with Greece, is
islands. No two are alike, most having grown up in
isolation from their neighbours. The way to enjoy them
is to hop. It would take a whole, delightful summer to
work your way down the chain, flying in to Pula or
Rijeka in the north and home from Dubrovnik. On a more
realistic time frame, you should fly into Split and
work your way south along the Dalmatian archipelago.
Here are the best stops along the way.


BRAC

Aside from Bol and the beaches, its interior is covered
in olive and lemon groves, vineyards, wild herbs,
free-ranging sheep and quarries whose pale stone was
used to build the White House in Washington, DC and the
altar in Liverpool cathedral.

HVAR

The most Riviera-chic of Croatia's islands, its main
town is a Renaissance show of palaces, with a Venetian
main square flagstoned in polished marble as slippery
as an ice rink. The old arsenal is part gallery, part
17th-century jewel-box theatre, while overlooking
everything is a fortress with a tiny museum of
shipwreck finds.

KORCULA

Roughly the size of the Isle of Wight, its main draw is
the 14th-century walled Venetian town, supposedly the
birthplace of Marco Polo (lots of De Polos live on the
island today). There's even a St Mark's Cathedral,
housing a Tintoretto, as well as an impressive
collection of art in the Bishop's Treasury, which
boasts a Tiepolo.

VIS

The sleepy old fishing village of Komiza serves as the
departure point for excursions to Vis's sister island
of Bisevo, to see the Blue Cave, the Balkans' answer to
Capri's Blue Grotto. It's at its best at midday, when
the sun angles in to illuminate the cave in iridescent
blues.

MLJET

This is the most natural of the islands, covered in
ancient pines and oaks and mostly protected as a
national park. Explore by rented bike as well as by
canoe across a pair of saltwater lakes. At the southern
end are some of Croatia's rare sandy beaches.

Sample packages: last year, I sailed on board Bozidar,
one of a handful of historic vessels that carry
passengers between islands on the Dalmatian coast.
Built 100 years ago to ferry fruit from Alexandria to
Venice, the Bozidar has been converted into a simple
cruising boat, a living, creaking, romantic example of
Mediterranean maritime heritage, all wood, balustrades
and louvred shutter doors. It sailed from the Unesco
World Heritage town of Trogir, just 15 minutes from
Split airport, visiting each of the islands described
above. It's chartered throughout the summer by Explore
Worldwide (01252 760000, www.exploreworldwide.com): a
week-long trip on the Bozidar, which has 10 pocket-size
double cabins with shared facilities, costs £689,
half-board (June or August), including flights. You
could charter your own boat: a group of friends in an
old-fashioned schooner sleeping eight would pay a total
of £8,300/£9,636, half-board, including flights from
Heathrow to Split, with The Ultimate Travel Company
(020 7828 7
778, www.theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk). Or, if you
are looking for cruising with more hotel-style
comforts, consider Hebridean Spirit (01756 704704,
www.hebridean.co.uk). The ship has three one-week
itineraries in April, May and October visiting several
islands, from £3,590, including all meals, drinks,
tips, excursions and flights. You can also hop
independently but with prebooked accommodation.
Croatian Affair (020 7385 7111, www.croatianaffair.com)
has four itineraries, two for one week, two for a
fortnight. A two-weeker, divided between Hvar, Vis and
Brac, costs £526/£765, B&B, including flights from
Birmingham, Bristol, Gatwick, Manchester, Norwich or
Edinburgh to Split or Dubrovnik, and your first ferry
ticket.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


CROATIA FOR SAILING

WHY TAKE a chance on Croatia rather than stick with
Greece and Turkey, the established haunts of
warm-weather sailors? Simple answer: the coast of
Croatia has statistics to make sailors spill their
grog. With those 1,000 islands, 500 harbours, 48
marinas and hundreds of safe anchorages, it makes for
some of the best sailing in the Med ? and it's a lot
less crowded than the old favourites.

Sample package: Sunsail (023 9222 2222,
www.sunsail.com) has three bases in Croatia: Kornati
(near Zadar airport), Kremik (near Split) and
Dubrovnik, with a choice of both flotilla sailing (five
different itineraries to choose from) or bareboat.

. £820, with flights from Gatwick to Dubrovnik or
Zadar(also Manchester to Dubrovnik). Or try Neilson
(0870 333 3356, www.neilson.com), which has a base on
the island of Mljet; Activity Holidays (0845 345 7418,
www.activity- holidays.co.uk) in Murter; Sailing
Holidays (020 8459 8787, www.sailingholidays.com) in
Kremik and Tucepi; Nautilus (01732 867445,
www.nautilus-yachting.com) in Pula, Zadar, Biograd,
Murter, Split and Dubrovnik; and The Moorings (01227
776677, www.themoorings.com) in Dubrovnik and Trogir.


CROATIA FOR FAMILIES

Croatia isn't in the first division of family
destinations in the Med ? the lack of sandy beaches is
a serious disadvantage for many ? but there are a few
good options here.

KOLOCEP

Just 30 minutes from Dubrovnik, the traffic-free island
of Kolocep has several sandy coves and just one hotel,
the family-friendly Villas Kolocep, on a wooded
hillside above the sea. Children's entertainment is
laid on during the school holidays and there is also
tennis and watersports.



ACTIVE IN THE ALPS

Families looking for adventure could consider a
two-week trip that combines Croatia with the Slovenian
Alps, with sea- kayaking, rock-climbing, white- water
rafting, mountain-biking, night canoeing,
hydrospeeding, canyoning and boating on the agenda.



CAMPING IN CROATIA

A good budget alternative if you can face the
1,000-mile drive. Eurocamp has three sites in Croatia:
the large and lively Lanternacamp, at Porec, with
pools, hot tub, shops, restaurants and sports; Simuni,
on the island of Pag, which is quiet, unspoilt and
ideal for relaxation; and Poljana, on the tiny island
of Losinj, a small, friendly site with a restaurant,
gelateria, shop and a programme of activities.


STILL HAVEN'T FOUND WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR?

DIVING

Croatia offers great visibility, wrecks, wall and cave
dives, with Biograd na Moru being one of the best
bases. Bosmere Travel (01473 834094) has a week's B&B
in a pension and 10 dives (courses can also be
arranged) for £275/£300, excluding flights. Also try
Neilson (0870 333 3346, www. neilson.com).



KAYAKING

Explore the Dalmatian coast by sea kayak, based at
Villa Vilina on the island of Lopud: £800/£875, B&B,
including flights from Gatwick and three days' guided
kayaking, with Original Travel (020 7978 7333,
www.originaltravel.co.uk).


ESCAPING

Croats say that when God made the world, he took the
offcuts, tossed them into the sea and left them where
they fell. The result: the Kornati, a national park of
about 100 wild, barren mostly deserted, limestone
islands. You can rent a handful of simple fishermen's
cottages, where you have to draw water from a well and
have your groceries delivered by boat. They come with
the option of a motorboat or rowing boat and cost about
£525/£565 (June/August), including flights from
Gatwick to Split, a night in Split and six on an
island, through Bond Tours (01372 745300,
www.bondtours.com).



MULTIACTIVITY

St Michael's Hotel, in Trilj, 20 miles from Split on
the banks of the Cetina River, has an Adventurer Club
that arranges rafting, canoe safaris, trekking,
kayaking, mountain-biking, riding, paragliding and
canyoning. A week costs £699, half-board, between June
and September, with Hidden Croatia (020 7736 6066,
www.hiddencroatia.com), including activities and
flights from Stansted to Split. Also try The Adventure
Company (01420 541007, www.adventure company.co.uk).


David Wickers travelled as a guest of Explore Worldwide

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Create your own Croatian holiday: the flights, the
ferries, the places to stay

Croatia has no cheap-as-chips flight deals (yet), but
independent travellers need not think of it as
difficult territory: there are several ways to get
there, and accommodation options galore.



SCHEDULED FLIGHTS

With Croatia's popularity taking off in 2004, don't
expect to pick up a flight at the last minute ?
especially in high summer. Direct, scheduled fares from
London to Zagreb start at about £175, if booked with
an airline. Alternatively, try Travelocity (0870 111
7060, www.travelocity.co.uk), which has flights to
Split (via Prague) with Czech Airlines from £223, from
Birmingham, Edinburgh, Manchester and Heathrow; or
Opodo (0870 241 7051, www.opodo.co.uk). Aer Lingus
(0818 365000, www.aerlingus.com) has flights from
Dublin to Dubrovnik from €251.

Dubrovnik is served by direct flights from Dublin with
Aer Lingus (0818 36500, www.aerlingus.com); from
Gatwick with British Airways (0870 850 9850,
www.ba.com) and Croatia Airlines (020 8563 0022,
www.croatiaairlines.hr); from Glasgow (Croatia
Airlines, June 22 to July 27 only); and from Manchester
(Croatia Airlines).

The other airports with direct flights (all with
Croatia Airlines) are Pula (from Gatwick and
Manchester); Rijeka (from Heathrow); Split (from
Manchester and Gatwick); and Zagreb (from Heathrow).


CHARTER FLIGHTS

It is not just scheduled airlines that are heavily
booked: getting a good flight-only deal with a charter
airline is becoming more tricky too. Flightline (0800
036 0777, www.flightline.co.uk) has fares from Gatwick
to Dubrovnik from £198, or to Pula from £296. There are
also charter flights from Birmingham, Bournemouth,
Bristol, Glasgow, Jersey, Manchester, Norwich and
Stansted. Contact Airtours (0870 900 8639,
www.airtours.co.uk); Hidden Croatia (020 7736 6066,
www.hiddencroatia.com); Holiday Options (0870 420 8372,
www.holidayoptions.co.uk); or Thomson Holidays (0870
550 2555, www.thomson.co.uk). For flights from Dublin
and Cork, contact Concorde Travel (01 872 7066,
www.concordetravel.ie).


GETTING AROUND

An extensive ferry network links some 40 islands, plus
60 coastal resorts. Most are operated by Jadrolinija
and need to be booked locally, but one exception is the
six-times-weekly service from Rijeka, which calls at
Zadar, Split, Hvar (Stari Grad), Korcula, Mljet and
Dubrovnik. Passengers cannot hop on and off at ports on
the way using the same ticket, but need to buy
individual sectors. To sail from Rijeka to Dubrovnik
costs about £50, for example, including a cabin (based
on two sharing). To book, call 00 385-51 666111
(www.jadrolinija.hr) or, in the UK, Viamare (0870 410
6040, www.viamare.com) or Dalmatian and Istrian Travel
(020 8749 5255).

Car hire costs about £200 a week for the smallest car,
including insurance, from Budget (0870 156 5656,
www.budget.co.uk). Or try Sixt (0870 155 5800,
www.e-sixt.co.uk).


HOTEL STAYS

Independent travellers should ignore the big hotels ?
they are geared for package holidaymakers and so charge
silly rack rates (about £40pp per night for a grim
three-star). Instead, stay in private rooms, which
you'll find through local tourist offices or simply by
looking out for signs reading "sobe" (or camere,
zimmer, chambres or just rooms). These are typically
offered by a swat team of quayside grannies who meet
every ferry. The price for a room for two, often a mini
flat with kitchen and bathroom, can be as little as
£25.

Further information: Croatian National Tourist Board
(020 8563 7979, www.croatia.hr ).

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,160-985721_1,00.html

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