Escaping to the islands
Islands in general hold a mystical attraction that nobody can quite explain – a sort of romantic ideal, each one a world of its own, where you might find something extraordinary. So what a feeling it is to jump aboard a white-and-blue Jadrolinija ferry, bound for one of Dalmatia’s glorious islands: trendy Hvar with its lavender fields, Brac with its lovely Zlatni Rat beach, or Korcula, the supposed birthplace of epic explorer Marco Polo.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
While the islands are idyllic and captivating, Dalmatia’s celebrated coastal cities, Dubrovnik and Split, are truly magnificent, which is why they’re also UNESCO World Heritage Sites. With centuries' worth of majestic stone buildings contained within beautifully preserved medieval fortifications, these pedestrian-only old towns are a true step back in time.
Beaches and bathing – naked too
Urban life is one thing, but many people come on holiday to escape it and strip down to basics. There’s not much sand in Dalmatia, so don’t expect long golden stretches lined with umbrellas. Instead, you get a coastline made up of countless little hidden coves - secluded pebble beaches, sheltered by rocks and backed by fragrant pinewoods. And as these beaches offer so much privacy, nudism is widely accepted. In fact, Croatia was one of the first countries to pioneer nudism – King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson bathed naked here back in 1936. Read more about the beaches on my Dalmatian Coast Things to do page.
Crashing waves, wind in your hair, saltwater in your eyes – but we love it. Someone once summed up sailing as an experience that is boring for 90 per cent of the time, and utterly terrifying for the remaining 10 per cent. Well, Dalmatian waters are relatively calm and sheltered, with plenty of islands within sight of one another, so they’re also good for beginners. There are more than 30 well-equipped modern marinas, plus plenty of unspoilt coves where you can put down anchor in blissful solitude. And lots of charter companies renting boats, both bareboat or with a skipper. Read about one company on my Sailing from Hvar page.
High-adrenaline water sports
Besides sailing, here’s your chance to try scuba diving (there are many dive schools along the mainland coast, and on the islands of Hvar, Korcula and Brac), wind surfing (Bol on Brač is the country’s top surfing destination, read more here: Windsurfing off Brač ) and sea kayaking (organised tours depart from Dubrovnik for the Elafiti islands, and from Hvar Town for the tiny Pakleni islands). Take a look at my review of Sea kayaking from Dubrovnik.
Seafood, seafood, seafood…
Fresh fish, lobster, oysters and mussels (the best ones are from Ston, near Dubrovnik), squid and octopus are all part of the traditional Dalmatian diet. Not only is the quality top-notch, but the way seafood is prepared here enhances the natural flavours, rather than overpowering them. Fresh fish is generally barbecued then drizzled with olive oil and served with a wedge of lemon, while shellfish are prepared na buzaru – thrown into a hot pan with olive oil, garlic, white wine and parsley. Take a look at my Dalmatian Coast Cafés and Restaurants page to find out where to eat.
There’s a saying in Dalmatia that fish should swim three times: in the sea, in olive oil, and then in wine. Luckily Dalmatia’s vineyards produce some excellent wines, though most are consumed here, and are consequently little known abroad. The best reds are found on Pelješac peninsular and the south side of Hvar, while the best whites are from Korcula and the north side of Hvar. Some vineyards are open to the public, so you can taste their wines before buying bottles to bring home. Read my review of Wine tasting on Pelješac .
Dramatic mountains and gorges
Not just sea and islands, but mountains too. Dalmatia’s rugged Dinaric Alps soar some 1700m above the mainland coast, meaning that your choice of destinations is not limited to the seaside. You might have a day Hiking on Mount Biokovo , a rocky mass rising behind the seaside town of Makarska, or try white water rafting or rock climbing in the Cetina Valley, a dramatic rocky gorge, which meets the sea at Omiš, close to Split.
Quality rather than quantity
Dalmatia now has some amazing luxury accommodation options, and the nice thing is, most of them are small, intimate boutique hotels offering personalised service. Check out the Lesic Dimitri Palace in Korčula Town with just six residences, the Pucic Palace in Dubrovnik with 19 rooms and suites, and the Hotel Vestibul Palace in Split with nine rooms and two suites. And as the Croatian National Tourist Board is actively encouraging the creation of small family-run hotels, there should be plenty more to come in the future. See all of my accommodation recommendations on my Dalmatian Coast Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Dalmatian Coast page.
The glamour factor
Until recently, the cool thing about Dalmatia was that it wasn’t cool. In fact, it wasn’t even rated. Now gradually being discovered by the rich and famous, it’s certainly holding its own against St Tropez and Bora Bora, with recent visitors including John Malkovich, Gwyneth Paltrow, Roman Abramovich, Eva Longoria, Sean Connery and Beyonce.