Deserted white beaches, charming Mediterranean architecture, cuisine and wine to rival Italy’s—but with fewer crowds and lower prices. Croatia’s appeals are many, and recently we’re seeing a lot of interest from our clients. (It might also have to do with some little show called Game of Thrones that’s filmed there). 

But with its attractions spread along a rugged coastline and countless islands, it can be a tricky vacation to plan. We usually recommend exploring the country in a luxury chartered gulet—a traditional wooden sailing yacht—but those need to be reserved well in advance and can be pricey. Here’s an alternative that takes in the highlights and also gets you off the beaten path. 


By Peter J. Frank
Vis
Photo by Shutterstock

SPLIT & THE ISLANDS

(3 days)

We recommend starting in Croatia’s second city (you can connect through most European hubs, including London, Paris and Frankfurt) and then making your way down the coast. Set on the Adriatic, Split is dominated by the 4th-century Diocletian’s Palace, a huge complex remarkable not only for its maze of streets and ancient buildings but for the fact that they’re still inhabited by regular folks. 

Split is also the ideal jumping-off point for the Dalmatian Islands, which you can do as a day-trip (or two) on a chartered boat (or even an Uber Boat!). Our favorites include untouched Bisevo, with its magical Blue Grotto, and Vis, with its well-preserved historic sites and natural beauty. We recommend visiting Hvar—called the Ibiza of the Adriatic for its proliferation of yachts and nightclubs—in the daytime, when its charms are more apparent.

For hotels, we recommend staying in Split, as accommodations on the islands aren’t quite up to snuff. Le Meridien Lav is modern and upmarket. Hotel Park is older and more elegant, located directly above the main beach. Vestibul Palace has an enviable location within Diocletian’s Palace, but its contemporary design isn’t for everyone. 


Dubrovnik's Old City
Photo by Shutterstock

DUBROVNIK

(2 days)

Around 3 1/2 hours south of Split, Dubrovnik has earned UNESCO World Heritage status for its medieval stone ramparts and distinctive red rooftops. Unfortunately, that designation also draws crowds. We recommend, for at least the first morning, hiring a guide to get you oriented and, more important, to help you skip the lines at historic sites. Must-stops within the Old City walls include the delightful Franciscan Monastery, the Rector’s Palace, and the Cathedral with its paintings by Titian and Raphael.

Another way to avoid the throngs: head to the countryside. Skylark can arrange a visit to the village of Čilipi, where a local family will welcome you to their ranch and serve lunch—usually peka, a traditional stew of vegetables and meat cooked under an iron bell—made with ingredients from their garden.

Experiencing Dubrovnik from the water provides a fascinating shift in perspective. Skylark can organize a sea kayaking adventure that starts beneath the fort of Lovrijenac and has you rowing (easily) around the old city walls and to a hidden cave beach.

We like to put Skylark members up in either the stylish Villa Dubrovnik, which overlooks the Old City from its cliffside perch, or the Hotel Excelsior, the city’s grande dame, which recently reopened after a major revamp. 

Aman Sveti Stefan
Photo by Aman Resorts

MONTENEGRO

(2 days)

To wrap up the trip, we often recommend a stay at the Aman Sveti Stefan, an incredible property on its own tiny island in Montenegro, just across the border from Croatia. The drive itself is pretty magical: you’ll ride through Bay of Kotor, the only fjord in the Mediterranean, and stop in the beautiful, sleepy town of Perast to visit Our Lady of the Rocks. The chapel, built by fishermen in the 15th century on a tiny islet in the bay, is filled with devotional artifacts and paintings.

To create its hotel, Aman fully restored a medieval village on the island of Sveti Stefan, which is connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. The fortified stone buildings are topped with red-tiled roofs and connected by ivy-clad plazas. It’s impossibly romantic—but with a roster of activities that include watersports, cycling and fishing, there’s enough to keep (older) kids occupied.