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A coastal oasis with Croatian charm

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Living Pomalo: it’s a Croatian state of mind. Much like their Italian neighbors’ adage about dolce far niente – meaning “the sweetness of doing nothing” – the Croatian version is pomalo, which translates to “take it easy”. This is the unofficial slogan of the Dalmatian coastline: Croatia’s hilly, sunny, island-studded western border, stretching from the island of Rab in the north to the border of Montenegro in the south, with stops in the most beautiful coastal towns in Croatia. along the way including Šibenik, Split and Dubrovnik.

It is the latter who claims his own riviera, like the French with their starry sky. French Riviera and the Italians with their colorful Cinque Terre fishing villages and chic seaside resorts in Portofino. But for a while, it seemed that few tourists knew about the Dubrovnik Riviera. The golden beaches, enchanting islands, sapphire waters and charming historic towns that stretch along the 20km coastline between Dubrovnik and Cavtat were simply for those in the know. Until now.

This is not to say that Croatia is not famous for its tourism; it is one of the most visited destinations in the Mediterranean with 18.9 million travelers landing each year. But many flock to the capital Zagreb, the party island of Hvar (deep pockets willing) or the sandy regions of Split. Dubrovnik, on the other hand, stereotypically attracted history buffs, architecture aficionados and Game Of Thrones fans – until we talk about his five-star, exceptional hospitality seafood restaurants and an impressive cultural program. After all, there’s more than just the city walls of Dubrovnik to explore…

But first, a place to stay. Tourists are spoiled for choice in Dubrovnik, with much of the terracotta-roofed hills above converted from family homes into holiday rentals, alongside five stars settlements lining the coastal approach to the city. But if you’re looking for a stylish home away from home, offering an authentic taste of the Dubrovnik Riviera and breathtaking views, there’s only one choice: the Excelsior Hotel.

The Excelsior Hotel, one of 12 hotels in the Adriatic Luxury Hotels portfolio, is one of the most famous establishments in Croatia. Built in 1913, the six-story property offers stunning views of the Dubrovnik Fortress and a panoramic outlook of the Adriatic Sea enveloping it, with the pine-covered island of Lokrum directly in its line of sight.

The views are enough to make anyone want to book, but it’s the hotel itself that will make you want to come back. Impeccable service begins the moment you walk through the glass doors – the kind that has also served royal guests and celebrity guests such as Queen Elizabeth II and Elizabeth Taylor – and will follow you anywhere at your discretion. Sleek, stylish interiors – think wood-paneled walls, king-size beds and furnishings in magenta and royal blue hues – feature in the 158 rooms, as do sink baths, rain showers and double sinks in adjoining bathrooms.

To wake up that magnificent view every morning, be sure to book a sea-facing abode. Early risers will not only admire the sun slowly rising above the sparkling bay of Dubrovnik, but may also spot kayakers in the bay and the wildlife raising its wings from Lokrum, one of the Dalmatian coast’s many uninhabited islands that has become a naturist playground for adventurers. Croatians.

Before arriving in Croatia, I heard many people say that they had difficulty identifying the country’s cuisine. If my experience is relevant, they probably just didn’t know where to look (or book). Croatia, and particularly the Dalmatian Coast, is famous for its seafood, caught daily from the Adriatic Sea and often simply drizzled with lemon, olive oil and sea salt before being grilled, grilled or baked “under the bell”: a traditional Croatian technique. where meat or fish roasts over open flames using an iron-shaped bell.

If you’re not ready to venture out to one of the city of Dubrovnik’s many (admittedly) tourist trap restaurants, the Excelsior Hotel is home to four restaurants: Sensus Fine Dining, offering Croatian classics such as tortelloni lobster, Salin for a delicious buffet breakfast, Abakus Piano Bar and Terrace, one of the best sea view bars in the city, and finally Prora. Situated on the lower limestone terrace – adjacent to the saltwater pool and the best spots for daytime sunbathing – waves splash just meters from diners while white-clad, candlelit tables welcome plates of incredibly fresh seafood. Executive Chef Peter Obad has created a range of sumptuous dishes to enjoy by the sea, from which they were caught that day, including octopus carpaccio, sea bream tartare, roasted squid and platter of fisherman, including a white fish fillet, swordfish skewer, shrimp and scallops. and mussels.

Although there is plenty to keep you occupied in the hotel itself (the spaindoor swimming pool and gym also worth a detour), it is essential to take a trip to the old town of Dubrovnik. In just 10 minutes on foot you will find yourself at the Ploče Gate, located on the east side of the town. The winding alleys take you to the center, but to understand the city’s historical past – from its status as a tributary state of the Ottoman Empire to the devastating earthquake of 1667 that almost destroyed the entire city – it is best to learn from the locals, and they don’t. I’m not much more informed than Vedran Mezei.

Having grown up in Dubrovnik and having witnessed Croatia’s devastating wars – the Croatian War of Independence took place from 1991 to 1995 between independent Croatian forces and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army – Mezei is adept at guiding you tactfully through Dubrovnik Old Town and its history, showcasing the preserved medieval architecture, baroque buildings and limestone passageways famous in the games of thrones. However, only with local tips and tricks can you discover sights such as the world’s second oldest pharmacy, tucked behind an unassuming church and still serving the surrounding community with rich facial creams based on a recipe from 1317.

Must-see sites in the UNESCO-listed city include the Gothic-Renaissance-style Rector’s Palace, Sponza Palace (the oldest building to survive the 1667 earthquake), St. Blaise Church , decorated with the patron saint of the city, and museums dedicated to the commemoration of those who have passed away. recent conflict: Dubrovnik during the Internal War, set in the Napoleonic imperial fort, and War Photo Limited, organized by New Zealand photojournalist Wade Goddard, who worked in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Elsewhere, you can scale the high city walls (for a fee) to reward yourself with a picturesque panoramic view of Dubrovnik’s terracotta rooftops or take the cable car to 778 meters above sea level for another stunning and tranquil panorama. Foodies will love Posat Restaurant, located just outside Pile Gate and famous for its fresh seafood and open-air setting, as well as the Michelin star Restaurant 360 near Ploče Gate: the most expensive restaurant in Dubrovnik.

If you want to explore more of the Riviera, and we suggest you do, take a trip to Dubrovnik’s charming little sister, Cavtat. Surrounded by mountains and lush pine and cypress forests, it is just 19 km from Dubrovnik and boasts an artistic past (it’s the birthplace of famous painter Vlaho Bukovac) as well as five-star accommodation under the form of Hotel Croatia and Hotel Supetar. The latter has tapped into the neighborhood’s creative core by launching a new artist-in-residence series, where local talent showcases their work. Currently on display, a contemporary artist born in Dubrovnik and trained by Goldsmith. Iva Laterza Obuljenfamous for his colorful abstract paintings.

No trip to the Dubrovnik Riviera would be complete without a dip in the azure bays of the Elaphiti Islands. Running along the west coast of Croatia, the archipelago includes 13 islands – Šipan, Koločep and Lopud among the largest – and speedboat excursions piloted by local skippers can be organized by the Excelsior Hotel. Glittering swimming stops in sandy coves and deeper caves start the day, before stopping at Lopud, once an island of refuge for the Croatian aristocracy and now home to just a few hundred residents, for lunch at La Villa. Served under a canopy of vines to the sound of waves lapping the sandy shore, prepare yourself for a seafood feast fit for a king with plates of langoustine ceviche, lobster tail, sautéed shrimp with white bean cream and scallops with foie gras to fuel your day at sea.

After all, it’s just another day on the Dubrovnik Riviera. It’s relaxed, simple, uncomplicated and fulfilling – and this is where I really understand what Croatians mean by pomalo. This sense of effortless ease is part of their way of life, embodied by its people, its culture and its coast. And that’s what will bring me back to Croatia again and again.

Rooms from £240 per night including breakfast, tour adriaticluxuryhotels.com

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