How do I describe Croatia…? I could use words like breath-taking, welcoming, relaxed, tropical, or venerable, but we all know that words alone cannot describe the emotion and instant nostalgia that is created while travelling. What I can tell you is that throughout the process of researching and planning our honeymoon everyone kept telling us to go to Croatia. “It’s unforgettable.” “It’s one of the only places I can’t wait to return to.” “It’s an absolute must-see.” And they were all so correct.
About 6 months before our wedding, we started looking into honeymoon destinations. For as long as I can remember, when I thought of my honeymoon I pictured myself laying on a blue beach chair surrounded by white stucco walls and the endless blue waters of the Mediterranean. Conveniently, since we were getting married in Ireland, anywhere on the Mediterranean was just a short flight.
My first thought was Greece, because it seemed that nowhere could fit my fantasy so well. I found though that as I began to tell people this, I kept getting the response “Greece is nice, but have you ever been to Croatia?” At first it kind of annoyed me. Why was everyone telling me Croatia was better? Greece is supposed to be the ultimate, right? I continued to get that same response from almost everyone I spoke to, and eventually it began to sink in.
I contacted a travel agent that specialised in honeymoons and couples vacations on the Mediterranean. I told them our time frame (up to 10 days), dates, early August, and the places we were interested in: Greece and Croatia. They also recommended the Amalfi Coast in Italy which sounded divine as well. Then they said they’d do some research and get back in touch. A few days later I was sent full itineraries for each location, and while they all sounded incredible I was really drawn to the Croatia itinerary for its “off-the-beaten-path” feel as well as the price tag! It was significantly cheaper that either Greece or Italy. While I am a believer that for your honeymoon you should really try to ignore the price tag (within reason!) we were talking a much better deal, for a location as unique and beautiful, with half the crowds of the other two.
Needless to say, we decided on Croatia and have never looked back once.
We ended up with a timeline of 9 days and 8 nights. We found that from Ireland by far the best option was to fly in and out of the city of Dubrovnik. By doing this, we were able to get direct 3-hour flights, on Aer Lingus, from Dublin and avoid 6-9+ hour flights, which had layovers in all sorts of places. Since we were flying in and out of the same place, we needed to stay there for the first and last night of the trip, but it wasn’t the only place we wanted to see. Now Croatia isn’t a large country, but it can be a time investment to get around. Dubrovnik is separated from the rest of the country by Bosnia, so you have to factor in crossing two international borders to see any of the other major cities. We really wanted to relax on our honeymoon (so weird right?!), so we decided we would only try to go to one other city. We spent the first 3.5 days and 3 nights in Dubrovnik, the next 3 days and 3 nights on the island of Hvar (a spectacular place out in a beautiful part of the Mediterranean sea), and we finished the trip with 2.5 days and 2 nights back in Dubrovnik.
view of Old Town from the walls
walking through the streets of Old Town
walking along the Stradrun
MUST SEES & DOS:
- Explore Old Town – Ever heard of a little show called Game of Thrones? Yes? Well then Dubrovnik is probably known to you as King’s Landing! All the scenes King’s Landing scenes are filmed on-location here because of it’s ancient feel and the unique and intricate alleys and passage ways. I’ve never seen anything like it, and the Old Town area really exudes history and culture. Grab a Croatian coffee and take a stroll down the main street, Stradrun, to check out the shops and see Rector’s Palace and the Bell Tower. Stop for a fresh, cold glass of water from one of the fountains in town. The water is clean and drinkable and flows down from the mountains! Then, wait for the sun to go down with a glass (or a bottle) of Croatian wine and see the place come alive with outdoor clubs and street performances.
- The City Walls – The main attraction of Dubrovnik. The walls stretch, uninterrupted, around the oldest part of the city for over 6,000 feet, and date back as far as the 9th century. You’ve probably never touched anything that old. I know I hadn’t! The reason they are so popular isn’t their age though. It’s the unforgettable views. You can see for miles in all directions and have a spectacular view of the sea and Lokrum Island.
- Try the local cuisine – There are so many restaurants in Dubrovnik. After about 5pm in the Old Town it can feel like you can’t walk anywhere without almost falling over a cafe table. The options are seemingly endless. You have your pick of everything from sushi to Neapolitan pizza. We sampled many things, but the traditional cuisine was the most exciting. After all, why go for pizza and ice cream when you can get that anywhere?Although we did do just that one evening. The traditional dishes are a mix between Eastern European and Mediterranean cuisines, but tending toward the later along the coast. Our favourite traditional cuisine was from Restaurant Zoe, part of the resort we stayed at for the first stay in Dubrovnik. As we found everywhere in Croatia, the food was incredibly fresh and often organic (though no one advertised that) which added a whole new depth of flavour. Other places we liked were: Oyster & Sushi Bar Bota, Pizzeria Mirakul, Atlantic Kitchen and Gradska Kavana.
- Go to a local beach – Croatia is home to many Blue Flag beaches, and the weather here in the summer time is definitely beach worthy. When we were there it was a cool 88 F (31 C), so we couldn’t wait to get into the water. The Mediterranean sea is also very warm, so there really isn’t any of the inching in that you have to do when dipping into the Pacific or Atlantic. You can dive right in for instant relief from the heat. We had the most beautiful rock beach as a part of our resort, here, where we spent a few lazy days and afternoons. There are also great beaches right outside of the Old Town. Banji Beach is the most famous since it has a popular club attached. We checked it out one day and found it to be very crowded and definitely suited more toward the young, single, clubbing crowd. However, the water was undeniably beautiful and the atmosphere was fun and lively. Try Copacabana Beach if you’re into water parks or with a family, or for a more relaxed and quiet beach walk to Sveti Jakov Beach.
- Other things we didn’t do but heard great things about were the Dubrovnik Cable Car and the Island of Lokrum
WHERE TO STAY:
- Hotel Neptun an Importanne Resort Hotel – The first hotel on our honeymoon. We chose it because we really wanted the resort experience, complete with fine dining, amazing views and a day at the spa, and we received all and then some! If you’re looking for a spot with these qualities, plus an amazing beach, then look no further than Importanne Resort.
- Fresh* Sheets Bed & Breakfast – The last place we stayed on the trip, but definitely not the least! This chic and intimate B&B is located in the heart of Old Town, just a few steps from the Cathedral. It’s run by a Canadian ex-pat, so you’ll have absolutely no communication issues. They even offer to help plan out your stay, so you hit the sites you’re really interested in. Also, no need to stake out a table at the extremely popular Troubadour Jazz Cafe because you’ll be right above it! Just open your window, and let the smooth jazz float in.
grabbing some fresh water from a fountain
looking into Old Town from the walls
views of the fortresses
the Franciscan Monastery
WHAT TO SEE & DO:
- Charter a sailboat – Spending a day at sea in the Mediterranean was definitely one of my bucket list items, and it’s now crossed off! Hvar is chock full of boat charters due to the beautiful islands and caves within a short boat trip from the city. The harbor is really the focal point of the place, and there’s even boat traffic to get a parking place! Many charters use speed boats, but I really wanted to go by sailboat because it seemed so much more romantic and special. We used a company called Hvar-Adventure to do this, and they were fabulous. We sailed for a few hours to the Green Cave on the Island of Vis, and its beauty really must be seen to be appreciated. It is a natural cave where you can see rock formations like stalactites and stalagmites as well as fish and maybe even scuba divers! There is hole in the roof of the cave that you can climb up to (and jump through! Yikes!) that illuminates the cave with a gorgeous diffused light. After swimming around there for a bit, we climbed back on the boat and sailed off to a small, secluded beach where we weighed anchor. There our guide set up a delicious tapas lunch for us on the boat, and we swam around a bit more in the crystal clear water before sailing back to Hvar for dinner.
- Eat at Dalmatino – A serious must if you’re in Hvar. Multiple people recommended this place to us for its unique style and delicious food. What makes them particularly special is the way in which they serve you. Once seated, your waiter comes to take your drink order and answer any questions you may have about the menu. Then, they begin to bring you little extras between each course. In our case, we were able to try local liquors, carob beans, and a local port. Plus, our starters and main dishes were delicious as well!
- Visit the town of Milna – We actually stayed in the town of Milna just outside of Hvar. It was much quieter and felt more laid-back than the city. It is full of incredible local restaurants, and the centre of the town is a small but beautiful beach. Come here to see the way the natives of Croatia do their holidays, and make sure to stay for a perfect Mediterranean style dinner with a sea view.
- Drink as much local wine as you can – Newsflash: Croatia is a wine country. They have the perfect climate for wine grapes and produce wonderful wines. Wondering why you’ve never heard of this? Because they cannot export their wine, you can only enjoy it in Croatia. Reason enough for a visit, right? We never had a bad wine while we were there, and we drank a lot of it.
- Other things to do that we didn’t end up doing were the Hvar Fortress and Bonj Les Bains Beach Club
WHERE TO STAY:
- Hotel Fortuna – I can’t say enough great things about this wonderful boutique hotel. It’s family-owned and operated, and they truly are the nicest people. The accommodation is spacious and modern, and they really went all out to make sure we were having a nice stay. The hotel faces the beach and has it’s own restaurant with a patio that sits right on the beach. We spent our nights there eating too much, drinking the house wine (made from grapes from their vineyard) and laughing until late in the night.
looking into Hvar from the harbor
exploring the streets of Hvar
the streets of Milna
the rock beach on the edge of Milna
So, there you have it. We had an absolutely wonderful time, and cannot recommend Croatia enough. I hope you have the opportunity to visit this spectacular country at least once in your life!