I had been trying to get my husband to go to Croatia for years. YEARS! Even before the inaugural season of Below Deck Med. Initially, he wanted to swap Croatia out of our trip in favor of Greece. Our travel agent said we should swap Croatia out in favor of Greece. Multiple people told me how much they loved Greece. NO! This was my chance to finally visit to Croatia and nobody was talking me out of it. The promise of fresh oysters, lots of wine, and no ferries was enough to get my husband on board.
There are lots of ways to get to Croatia, but I wouldn’t recommend the way we did it. We went straight from a wedding in Ann Arbour, MI to our honeymoon, so we had to fly from Detroit to Chicago, go through security again (which meant throwing away the drinks I already bought for the long flight), Chicago to Dublin, where the customs process was far more calm and civilized than TSA at O’Hare, then our final flight from Dublin to Dubrovnik, which my luggage didn’t make.
I would recommend the direct(!) flight from Philadelphia to Dubrovnik, which is new in 2019. There is also a direct flight from Toronto to Zagreb. For indirect flights, try to pick ones with stops in London, Munich, or Frankfurt. A lot of people fly into Dubrovnik via Rome, which I do not recommend. The Rome airport is notorious for theft. At least when I finally got my luggage, the contents were undisturbed. I couldn’t say as much for the person ahead of me in the lost luggage line who had her shoes and jewelry case stolen from her checked bag in the Rome airport.
While in Croatia, we stayed at Villa Dubrovnik, which was my favorite hotel of the trip based on hospitality, the hotel restaurants, and the “beach”. It was a short drive from the airport and within walking distance of Old Town, aka King’s Landing. Villa Dubrovnik is a beautiful boutique hotel nestled into the rocky shore of Dubrovnik with gorgeous water views from every room, restaurant, and lounge area. It’s so nestled into the rocky cliffs, that you actually have to take an elevator from the street down to the hotel.
The people who work at the hotel are so kind and welcoming. Every time we walked by the lobby, we were greeted by name and asked if we needed anything. We stayed up far too late at the wedding the night before leaving and I barely slept an hour on the plane, even after taking two Emergen-Zzz, so I was especially grumpy when my bag was lost. But they had chilled champagne waiting on our patio and immediately took over the process of locating my luggage – contacting the airport and airline – quickly making all my worries melt away.
After checking in, we went to have our first meal. Our favorite restaurant at the hotel was Restaurant Pjerin. Every night for dinner, we sat at a small table at the edge of the patio, under the bright stars, listening to the rustling of the Scots Pines and the waves crashing in the ocean. The first night, we had their tasting menu, which was easily our best meal at the hotel, and maybe of our entire time in the city. Every meal began with a small amuse bouche, and I wish I wrote down what they all were because they were the most delicious little bites.
As for the tasting menu, we received:
Red Prawns Carpaccio with Avocado and Seasonal Vegetables – paired with Tomac Millenium, Plešivicia
Spaghetti with Lobster – paired with Meneghetti, Mavazija, Istria
Line Caught Sea Bass with Chili Pepper Scented Mangold and Lemon Mayonnaise – paired with Saint Hills Nevina, Istria
Braised Veal Cheek with “Pappa al Pomodoro” and Potato Cream – paired with Tomac Crni Pinot, Plesivica
Mango Parfait with Tropical Fruit – paired with Korlat, Boutique Merlot, Benkovac
Everything was amazing, but oh.my.gosh I was immediately hooked on the lobster pasta. I legitimately ate it every day we were there. I also learned throughout this entire trip that homemade pasta is just so much better than dried, store-bought. While I ate lobster pasta every night, J tried their veal and got the sea bass again (both delicious).
Restaurant Pjerin was also where we had breakfast every morning. It was included in our stay, but instead of a little buffet, they treated it like a proper meal. We could sit down, read the paper, and order as much off the menu as we pleased, and still didn’t have to pay a chit. Instead of seeming annoyed that we stayed so long for a meal where they wouldn’t get any tip, the wait staff seemed generally concerned if we didn’t order more food or finish everything on our plate. Smoothies, omelets, poached eggs, pastries, fruit... it all kept coming, and it was all amazing.
The other restaurant at Villa Dubrovnik is the Al Fresco Bar Giardino, which was open for lunch. There was also a Proscuitto and Wine bar, but it was not open during our stay. The Al Fresco Bar Giardino had a variety of dishes, but we couldn’t be convinced to eat anything but their seafood. It was so fresh and so briny, thanks to the Adriatic. It is easily the best seafood I’ve ever had. We would typically get their cold platter for two, which consisted of oysters with raspberry vingoinette, “knežev dvor” (octopus, squid, cuttlefish, shrimp and crunchy vegetables), and tuna tartar. You could also order food from the AL Fresco Bar Giardino down at the “beach” and pool. At the beach, oysters and local Croatian tuna were our go-to – Tuna Niçoise salad for me and Tuna Wrap for J. The pool was lovely (and heated), but we stayed by the beach.
Beaches in Dubrovnik aren’t your typical beaches. There is no sand, just large rocks with more rocks in the ocean. But it is just as relaxing and, I personally think, more fun. Each rock was typically big enough for two to three chairs, which created privacy and prevented overcrowding. You could go from eating oysters to snorkeling with the cutest little fish by moving two inches. I thought I would hate that you had to swim in deep water, but the water is so clear you could see everything – all the way to the ocean floor – which was gorgeous. Plus you don’t get sand in everything you own.
There are a few sandy beaches in Croatia, some of which we visited by boat. We were given four options for our boat day. Full day at Mljet Island national park, a full day with Korcula island tour, or a half/full day exploring the Elafiti Islands with snorkeling. I’ll be discussing the boat day we chose and our other excursions in my next post, so stay tuned! For now, here are some quick travel tips for Croatia…
CROATIA TRAVEL TIPS
They are part of the EU and Euros are accepted in some places, but the official currency is Croatian Kunas. I chose to take out kuna (kn) from an ATM and use those the entire time.
One USD is typically equal to six or seven kn.
One Euro is typically equal to seven to eight kn.
Gratuities are not mandatory and it is solely at your discretion.
For drivers: anything is appreciated for the airport transfers, but €10 - €15 (or 75-115 kn) is appropriate for a half day of service, and €15 - €20 (115-150 kn) for a full-day.
Tour guides: they recommend €12- €18 (90-130 kn) for a half day and €18 - €30 (90-225 kn) for a full day. Boat Captains should be tipped €25 - €35 (185-250 kn).
10% is a sufficient tip at formal restaurants, but you can just round up the bill at cafés and bars.
Uber is new to the country and rides were not easily available when we were there. Taxis were easy to find around the entrance to Old Town and most hotels can arrange for taxis or private car services.
Multiple cruise ships stop in Old Town every day and thousands of tourists come aboard from these ships. For the best experience, go early in the day or later in the evening to avoid the masses.
If you have any questions about our stay, let me know in the comments!