This week’s winning tip
Best kept secret
The island of Sipan (below), one of the Elaphiti Islands off the coast of Dubrovnik, remains one of Dalmatia’s best kept secrets. Once the summer retreat for noblemen from the mainland, visitors will find a lush and tranquil island where time has little meaning. Instead of the day-trip to Sudurad (“St George”), take the wonderful Sixties ferry “Postira” from Dubrovnik to Sipanska Luka (Sipan port), the main settlement on the island. There’s a hotel but villagers also rent out rooms, so accommodation should be easy. Eat at Marko’s, one of the best restaurants in Croatia, where the seafood is delivered daily by the local fishermen.
In the evening, sit at one of the bars on the harbour front and watch the dusk settle over the panorama of small islands to the north. After just a day, you won’t want to leave.
More advice from readers
As the searing Dubrovnik sun reflects, almost proudly, off the cobbled stones of the Stradun, you know it’s time for a siesta at Buza (Croatian for “hole”). A leisurely walk to this open-air bar takes you through the refreshing shade of dusty residential streets and offers a glimpse into the hidden life of this wonderful city. You will stroll through boys’ impromptu football matches with goalposts drawn on to walls once shattered by shells. You can look up and see grandmothers hanging out the washing from brightly coloured shuttered windows.
Then you arrive. This bar is cut into the cliffs with a dramatic vertical drop to the sea. As you kick off your sandals and sip a refreshing ice cold beer, you will marvel at the cascading blues of the Adriatic and you feel decidedly smug with life.
Julie Squire, Shropshire
I recommend a visit to Zadar to be amazed at the sea organ. It is 220ft long with 35 organ pipes and has been described as a natural musical instrument. The sounds of the wave-created “music” will stay with you for a long time.
Judyth Dunsmore, Teesdale
Head for Rabac
Stay at one of the modern hotels in the quiet coastal resort of Rabac on Istria’s east coast, which is becoming as popular as its more renowned west flank. It is less than one hour by road from Pula airport, itself under two hours flying time from the UK.
The resort is well situated to explore the old and larger Victorian coastal resorts of Rovinj, Porec and Opatija, as well as Pula’s fine Roman amphitheatre.
This northern peninsula of Croatia offers plenty of sunshine hours from April through to October, provides friendly hospitality, good food and wine. Pine forests abound along a rocky coastline with crystal clear waters of the Adriatic offering plenty of opportunities for walking, cycling and swimming from the many quiet coves.
Jon Hodges, Cheshire
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, is easily accessible on a No 14 tram, which stops right outside the door (the stop is called “MSU”). An amazing building, opened fairly recently, with the most incredible selection of contemporary art – some fun and some poignant. The shop has some really wacky ideas for gifts and memorabilia and there is a great restaurant/café run by such friendly people, as is the museum itself. It was one of the highlights of our trip to Zagreb last August.
Kathryn Manthey, Belgium
Bol is best
Still largely undiscovered, Bol on the island of Brac is a jewel in the warm Adriatic Sea. Only a quick catarmaran ride from the mainland, it combines many influences, from Austro-Hungarian to Italian to traditional Dalmatian.
Bol has a romantic palm-lined promenade, with diverse restuarants and bars. Whether you take a day trip to the Unesco sites at Split and Trogir, or the neighbouring island of Hvar, visit the caves at Blaca, dive to sunken Roman villas and shipwrecks, or simply relax on the famous Zlatni Rat beach, once experienced, Bol will never be forgotten. Even Emperor Franz Joseph holidayed at Bol in the 1890s. Do as the Emperor did, and visit Bol.
Ralph Lester, by email
To enjoy the landscape and seascape of the myriad islands of northern Croatia, join a small cruise ship crewed by friendly Croatians, which stops daily for an excursion to a place of interest.
On the island of Krk, tour the old town, with ancient fortifications, and sail on to the island of Grgr, used as a prison during Tito’s time. Ancient Rab, with its four bell towers, beautiful gardens and crystal sea, is fascinating.
The highlight – Mali Losinj – where the waterfront is in the town, offers the Garden of Scents, and for us a parade of nine marching bands from neighbouring villages, coming together for an evening concert in the town square.
Historic Opatija, with its 19th-century buildings, was a favourite resort of Emperor Franz Joseph, and other treats during the week include the Roman amphitheatre of Pula, and Tito’s resort island of Brijuni, with his own animal park.
Carolyn Labrum, Warwick
Owing its fame to the Habsburg Empire, Opatija is an attractive beach resort on the Istrian peninsula in northern Croatia, but it’s also a good place to walk. The delightful eight-mile “Lungomare” coastal promenade passes through Opatija, but for those wishing to escape the busy town, head for the forested slopes of Mount Ucka above.
Although some of the footpaths are steep, the easy Carmen Sylva walk gives welcome shade on a hot day. Slightly more strenuous is the walk up to the medieval town of Veprinac, 1,500ft above sea level, which provides stunning views from outside the church.
Farther afield by car, on Ucka’s western slopes, is the impressive Vela Draga, a limestone canyon valley, complete with nature trail walk and viewpoints. If it’s a clear day, head on further for Ucka’s summit to enjoy a spectacular all-round view of the region.
Mary Davis, Hants
The bustling ferry port of Supetar on the island of Brac has much Croatian charm, and is just a 40-minute ferry ride from the World Heritage city of Split. The harbourside Riva is packed with stone-built bars and restaurants that have a dramatic view of the rugged Dalmatian coastline and the lights and high buildings of Split.
The sunsets on the Adriatic are spectacular. In high season, local people display their art, home-produced olive oil and cheeses, handmade jewellery and the famous Brac stone ornaments and carvings. There are street entertainers and sometimes a floating live band/orchestra moors up to the Riva.
The beaches are of tiny stones which are well kept with boat moorings and decking areas, and the fragrance from the pine trees is always in the air. There is also much to see for sightseers, including two beautiful churches of St Peter and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Sue Mitchell, Herts
Wherever you go in Croatia, you won’t be disappointed. The beautiful alpine scenery runs the length of the country, tumbling into the sparkling Adriatic, which is a myriad blues and greens. We are yet to find a more magnificent coast. Dubrovnik and Split are unmissable, but a more relaxing and cheaper way to enjoy them is to stay in the delightful seaside towns of Cavtat and Trogir. Both are stunning, interesting, convenient for the airport and just a short bus or boat ride away.
An easy way to visit the medieval town of Korcula is by staying in Orebic on the Peljesac peninsula, it’s just a short hop by boat. Do go at night to experience the Moreska Sword Dance. From Orebic also take the ferry to the unspoilt national park on Mljet and walk the walls above Ston.
Marion Gill, Newcastle
Croatia? Go now before the crowds get there and make sure to go off the beaten track, not least north of Split around the Zadar region. If you are looking for the peace and quiet of the Adriatic then this is an area to enjoy and explore.
With one major national park beginning little more than 100 yards behind the coast road near Stari Grad, it is a stretch of Croatia that has remained largely untouched and very different than the more popular areas of Krk or Pula in the north of the country or Dubrovnik in the south.
Inland from the coast is the more famous Unesco national park with the Plitvice Lakes, a major tourist attraction but well worth the effort. Go in the spring when the crowds are light, the flora and fauna fantastic and the waters clear as crystal.
Stephen Ivall, Cornwall
Capture the castle
Trakoscan is one of the most attractive and most visited castles in Croatia, located on the hills of Croatian Zagorje. It was built in the 13th century and its distinctive architectural feature is its Romanesque turrets from the 12th and 13th centuries. The large lake in front of the castle is something that should not be missed either.
Travis Fennell, by email
One of our favourite towns on the island is Jelsa, particularly late May or mid-September. This can be reached by catamaran from Split daily. Otherwise you take the ferry from Split to Stari Grad, which runs three times daily in winter and more often between June and September.
There is a three-and-a-half mile walk along the coast to the next town of Vrboska. If the return trip is too much, check bus timetables first and catch a bus back to Jelsa. Or alternatively bus out and walk back and there are several places to stop for a swim.
Steve Jones, Devon
While most people use the peninsula of Peljesac as a gateway to Korcula and the islands, what it offers is well worth a day of your holiday. The towns at the tips of the peninsula, Mali Ston and Loviste, while small, have some of the best seafood and shellfish in Croatia. In between, explore the various vineyards as you weave through the mountain roads. The coastline and mountain scenery is stunning, and the beaches much quieter than the mainland; for the best view, head to the walls of Ston for views of the sea and the nearby salt marshes.
Rob Tuffnell, London
The former prisoner-of-war island, Goli Otok, lies off beautiful Rab, an island of dramatic landscapes and seascapes, which makes it worth staying on in order to explore its every mile. Rab is also where you can take a boat tour to the island of Goli Otok. This is a bleak place but a reminder of the persecution political activists had to endure.
You can explore Goli Otok for several hours, in summer feeling the sweltering heat and in winter, enduring the harsh and bitter winds. There are only shells of buildings left but they are worth exploring as you simultaneously feel and hear, silently, the pain endured by many on this, the Croatian Alcatraz.
Susan Scott, Perth
Do the rounds
Circumnavigating Dubrovnik’s walls is a “must”. To avoid cruise-ship crowds, shun the Pile Gate access and go to the quieter entrance on Svetog Dominika overlooking the old port. Climb up and admire the ancient roofscape (repantiled after the 1991-92 siege) and find refreshments on the seaward sides. Afterwards it’s a short walk to the cable car on Petra Kresimira for the Napoleonic Imperial Fort on Mount Srd.
From here the city is laid out magnificently map-like below: to the right are the beautiful Elaphiti Islands; left is the garden island of Lokrum, just a short boat trip away; and farther left the small port of Cavtat with lunch by the sea at restaurant Bugenvila.
Now head for the fort’s museum running contemporary newsreel of the siege, while outside, the walls facing the mountains still reveal artillery damage showing what the defenders endured preventing Dubrovnik’s fall.
David Stevens, Kent
Boatmen of Zadar
In Zadar, take a cool morning dip in the clear blue waters outside Hotel Niko – early enough and you’ll have the whole beach to yourself – before a simple lunch of fresh grilled fish at the family-run hotel.
The most memorable way to reach the historic Old Town is to join locals in the queue for the “Boatmen of Zadar” who have been rowing residents across the harbour in small wooden boats for more than 800 years.
As the light begins to fade follow the crowds down to the quay where hundreds gather each evening at architect Nikola Basic’s sublime “Greeting to the Sun” sculpture to celebrate the setting of the sun in an unforgettable way.
Alfred Hitchcock famously declared the sunsets in Zadar to be the best in the world, and you’d be hard pressed to disagree with him.
Melanie Clarkson, by email
Land and sea
Hire a boat and start in beautiful Dubrovnik – late afternoon to avoid the cruise ship passengers. Visit the Old Pharmacy, which dates from 1317. Walk the city walls and descend to the Buza bar on the rocks below.
Next morning, up early to take the cable car to Mount Srd for breathtaking views. Visit Napoleon’s fortress and the museum about the 1991-92 “Homeland War”.
Back to the boat and begin island-hopping: Mljet for its pretty harbour, beaches and lovely walks; Hvar for its Venetian square, riotous nightlife and excellent tapas bar, Konoba Menego; Brac for its stunning beach and modern vineyard – here to taste the local wine, stiva; Korcula for its spectacular Moreska show, where sword dancers clash and strike sparks into the night; Sipan, an island of 400 inhabitants, for its peace and tranquillity.
Ann Mills, Beds