The clear, warm waters of the Adriatic coast; an epic variety of natural landscapes; a rich cultural history that dates back to the cradle of civilization; and a wonderfully unhurried lifestyle: Croatia has it all. Best of all, this beautiful and unspoiled country still feels relatively undiscovered
Bathed by the crystal waters of the Adriatic, Croatia's Dalmatian coast offers untold variations on the theme of paradise. With lush subtropical vegetation giving way to stark limestone wilderness, and with beaches that range from intimate pebbly coves to sweeping parasol-covered shores, Dalmatia offers both solitude and sociability, and an awesome sense of nature's power to rejuvenate and inspire.
Dalmatia's natural beauty is never static. Shifting light turns the sea from blue to green to turquoise, while whispering breezes awaken the scents of carob, wild fennel, rosemary and thyme. Pastel greens of olive bushes alternate with the deeper hues of vineyards, cypresses and pines. Wall-hugging cacti sprout vivacious flowers, only to wither and fall after a day or two's bloom.
Yet the seductive appeal of Dalmatia does not just rest solely in its natural beauty. It is also a region of rich cultural heritage, its history shaped by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Venetians, as well as the Slav tribes who subsequently coalesced into the Croatian nation. Old-master paintings peer from the altars of ancient churches, while jutting bastions recall a time when municipal pride had to be defended against marauding pirates, or the fearsome galleys of the Ottoman Empire. Spread along Dalmatia's shores are villages of mellow stone, their gardens sprouting purple spears of bougainvillea, blushing pink oleanders and shimmying palms.
Central to the Dalmatian lifestyle is the idea that life is to be enjoyed and its pleasures are not to be hurried. From the first coffee of the morning to that final, soul-soothing glass of prošek dessert wine in the evening, the good things in life should be savored, never rushed.
In the medieval town of Korčula, the Lešić Dimitri Palace
Embracing contemporary comforts while showing deep respect for Dalmatian tradition is the Lešić Dimitri Palace in Korčula, the ancient walled town that occupies the eastern tip of the island of the same name. As befits the birthplace of Marco Polo, the hotel's interiors exude a spirit of globe-trotting adventure, with luxuriant fabrics evoking the textures and colors of Venice, Southern Asia and the Far East.
With its castellated turrets and flamboyantly decorated cathedral, Korčula is indeed an outstanding museum piece, but it is also full of the contrasts of contemporary life, a town where street cats bask outside chic fashion boutiques, and children sell seashells on Renaissance piazzas.
Further proof of the enduring balance between tradition and innovation comes in the shape of Lešić Dimitri's restaurant, LD, where the fresh catch hauled in by Korčula's fishermen is transformed with mercurial skill into a unique Adriatic culinary experience.
Elegance and wine at Villa Korta Katarina & Winery
Many of the most compelling destinations start out as a personal dream, and Villa Korta Katarina & Winery is a prime example. Americans Lee and Penny Anderson discovered southern Dalmatia's rugged, heart-stopping Pelješac peninsula after taking part in humanitarian missions in nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina. Falling in love with the area, and inspired by its reputation as the source of Croatia's most highly-prized wines, they purchased a stunning art-deco former hotel, and decided to transform it into a winery and luxury residence.
It's in the owners' keenly felt enthusiasm for wine that Villa Korta Katarina & Winery's relationship with the Dalmatian landscape is truly expressed. Cloaked in vineyards, and sitting atop a barrel-filled cellar that has become a laboratory of oenological excellence, the villa has quickly become one of the most prestigious wineries in the country.
Key to Pelječac's wine-producing potential is Plavac mali, the endemic grape cultivated tenaciously on the steep slopes of Pelješac's southern shore. It is the combination of dry stony soil, intense sunshine and salty sea air that produces fruit uniquely rich in flavor. The sweat and toil of local harvesters, who require agility, stamina and persistence to pick their way along the precipitous upper slopes, are additional ingredients in this famously luxuriant, velvety red.
Blended with nature, Maslina Resort
Offering a bold architectural statement, one that also blends seamlessly into the local landscape, is a luxury hotel on the island of Hvar. Maslina Resort seeks to be at one with its surroundings. An unapologetically geometric piece of modern design, its outer cladding of wooden slats echoes the slender tree-trunks of the surrounding woodland.
Swathed in pines and olive trees, the resort and its cluster of satellite apartments sit above Maslinica bay, a sheltered and unhurried spot where locals come to swim, stroll or cycle.
Commitment to the environment is a crucial plank of the resort's philosophy, and sustainability is more than just a fashionable phrase. Maslina Resort is plastic free, and committed to recycling. Food is seasonal and locally sourced: the resort's head chef can frequently be seen emerging from Maslina Resort's organic garden clutching an armful of herbs and vegetables.
While offering an air of self-contained seclusion the resort is within easy reach of Stari Grad, founded by the ancient Greeks in the 4th century BC. It's a town that welcomes visitors but retains its own timeless rhythms, its warren of ancient alleys opening out suddenly into piazzas filled with potted plants and playing children.
The eternal Mediterranean, with its symbiosis of human civilization and natural order, is here in all its restorative power.