SIX REASONS TO CHECK OUT CROATIA
By: Anja Mutic
Photo: www.forbes.com / Panopticum
6 Reasons To Check Out Croatia This Summer
The summer season is about to kick off in Croatia, the buzziest time to visit. Here are six reasons to book your trip now, from a new UNESCO Global Geopark to swish just-unveiled hotels, a plush hotspot for glamping – and, finally, a nonstop flight from the US to Croatia, the first one in 28 years.
Hvar is having its moment in the spotlight. Opening this summer, Palace Elisabeth right at the historic heart of town is the island’s first five-star heritage hotel (with 45 luxury rooms and suites) and history dating back to the 13th century. After being closed for a 20-year renovation, the Theater of Hvar – the third oldest theater in Europe, more than 400 years old – reopened this spring; it is now open for visitors during the day and frequently hosts events like fashion shows, grand balls and a variety of other happenings. The 58th annual Hvar Summer Festival that just started on June 1 (through Sept 28) is among the longest-lasting festivals on the Adriatic coast, showcasing music performances that aim to preserve Croatia’s rich musical heritage. The annual Lavender Festival in Velo Grablje (June 28–29) celebrates the small village’s fragrant lavender fields with a local produce fair, art and music.
THE ZING OF ZAGREB
No more a mere stopover on the way down south, Croatia’s capital is now firmly on the map as a city break destination. A slew of exciting hotel openings attests to that. Canopy by Hilton Zagrebopened its first hotel in continental Europe in Zagreb in fall 2018 (the brand’s only other property is in Reykjavik). It features 151 rooms with locally inspired design, a bustling café-bar that draws in locals and tasty food served at the ReUnion Restaurant. Also opened in 2019 is Amadria Park Capital, a grand heritage hotel in a former bank with Art Deco and Art Nouveau influences. Finally, Zagreb’s grande dame of hotels, Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, just received the 2019 award for best historic hotel in Europe, for its stunning architecture, lavish interiors and up-to-the-minute facilities. Once a hotspot for travelers on the Orient Express train, the hotel has hosted a slew of celebs since its opening in 1925 – and still delivers on glamor and style.
DON’T MISS VIS
Remote Vis has been the go-to island for those in-the-know, for its gorgeous beaches, fantastic foodie scene, laid-back vibe and most recently, its starring in Mamma Mia 2. Now UNESCO has declared Vis Archipelago – which includes the islands and islets of Vis, Biševo, Sveti Andrija, Brusnik, Jabuka and Palagruža – a Global Geopark (the second one in Croatia, after Papuk nature park in Slavonia). With large sand deposits, unique caves and land masses formed by fierce winds in the Ice Age, the archipelago has findings of flint quarries that the islands’ first inhabitants used for early tools, some 8000 years ago. These days, the Blue Cave on Biševo is the showstopper that attracts for its otherworldly multihued light. Based in Komiža, one of two towns on Vis island, Alternatura offers excellent adventure tours and activities all around the Vis archipelago, from sea kayaking to Blue Cave outings.
FLY DIRECT FROM PHILLY TO DUBROVNIK
As of earlier this month, you can now fly direct from Philadelphia to Dubrovnik for the first time in 28 years. Yes, you’ve heard that right; 1991 was the last time a nonstop route (on Pan Am) operated between the US and Croatia. American’s new route, though seasonal (three times weekly, through Sept 27) is the only direct flight on a US carrier between the US and Croatia. Another reason to go? To check out the completely refurbished Bellevue Hotel, part of the Adriatic Luxury Hotels; already a favorite with visitors from the US, this boutique cliffside hideaway was just unveiled after a major refresh.
MICHELIN-RATED FOODIE BOOM
Croatia has been a rising star on the world’s culinary scene, drawing in serious food lovers for its top-quality ingredients and up-and-coming chefs creating inventive dishes. This year, in addition to its three Michelin-starred restaurants – Monte in Rovinj, 360˚ in Dubrovnik and Pelegrini in Šibenik – two more restaurants scored stars. At dimly lit Noel, in Zagreb’s hot “design district,” chef Goran Kočiš whips up creative modern European fare; think sea urchin risotto and black Slavonian pork cappellacci. At Draga di Lovrana, a hotel in the Kvarner Gulf with panoramic vistas over the bay, young chef Deni Srdoč conjures up artfully presented Mediterranean dishes with a hint of French and Italian flavors; the fish and scampi (Kvarner is known for them) come straight from the family’s own fishing boats.
GO GLAMPING BY PLITVICE LAKES
Proclaimed the first national park in Croatia back in 1949, Plitvice Lakes National Park is a must-see while in Croatia (in 2018, 1.7 million people visited Plitvice). This year, the park – the oldest of Croatia’s eight national parks – is celebrating its 70th birthday so make sure you check out its enchanting water wonderland. Around since 1968,
Plitvice Holiday Resort, in the village of Grabovac just a couple of miles from the park, unveiled its glamping addition in fall 2018; this is their first summer season. In addition to its camping pitches and rooms, the rural resort now has swish lake cabins, gorgeous tree houses up in tall pines and tipi-like tents.