Wild national parks, pristine waters, picturesque cliff-sides, red-tiled roofed buildings, and romantic old towns: Welcome to Dalmatia! Are you ready to be welcomed by a unique culture and sprawling, wild landscapes? Follow us on a tour along a section of the Croatian coastline and its beautiful isles that stretches from Zadar to Dubrovnik.
Dalmatia is a region in the south of Croatia with a unique culture and landscape. Diverse, rugged and charming in equal measure, whether you are interested in sailing, history or food and wine. Containing over 79 islands, 500 islets and influences from the Ottoman Empire, the Venetians and the Roman Empire, Dalmatia is a holiday destination that has something for everyone.
The recommended starting point is a flight into Split, one of Croatia’s largest cities and a great hub to visit the spots mentioned below. An extensive ferry and catamaran network links all of these locations and what follows is a selected itinerary to the best trips around the Dalmatian isles curated by photographer Lucia Canavan.
Island Brač is a short ferry ride from Split and like all of the islands in Dalmatia, possesses a unique landscape, charm, and culture. Lining the winding country paths are the island’s sheep, which can be found both in the fields and “na špitzi” (spit-roasted), in many roadside konobas. Brač is also famous for its stone and quarries, the white marble forming part of parliament buildings across the Austro-Hungarian empire and inside the White House. Many stalls in local ports sell items fashioned from the stone, and if you are lucky you will be invited into a škarpelin’s (stonemason) workshop, where everything, including the škarpelin, is drenched in white, soft dust. The influence of the stone is everywhere on the island, from the inhabitant’s garden ornaments, the roofs of houses, and the walls lining the ports. Prehistoric Illyrian strongholds are scattered throughout the island. The north coast has Roman limestone quarries, one with a carving of burly Hercules still in situ at Rasoha, and there is an interesting Early Christian basilica from the Late Roman era by a lovely beach at Povlja.
There are plenty of curious little towns one should stop by even for a coffee or a break from all of the hiking and walking. We suggest taking a break at Pučisće or at Milna and Bol, which are all small charming towns.
Dalmatia and Brač offer some of the most beautiful beaches in the Adriatic. The most famous one is Zlatni Rat near the town Bol. Zlatni Rat has been regularly listed as one of the top beaches in Europe. Its distinctive shape can be seen in many travel brochures, which made it one of the symbols of Croatian tourism. Other beaches we’d suggest visiting if Zlatni Rat is too busy are Murvica, and the sandy Lovrečina located in Postira.
We also suggest you pay a visit to the Blaca Monastery and Hermitage, the most preserved among a number of Renaissance hermitage monasteries that were erected in the karst caves of Vidova Gora on the south of Brac Island.
Last but not least, many people don’t know that one of Dalmatia’s hikes, the Vidova Gora, will take you to the highest point in the Adriatic islands. Take a break on top and enjoy the stunning view.
Vis is situated more remotely than most Dalmatian islands with a two hour ferry ride from Split, but if there is space in your itinerary you should make the visit. A small island, it is most commonly known for its rugged, hidden beaches often found twisting their way sharply through the surrounding cliffs, with the rocks shielding the beaches even from the most curious sailors. These beaches regularly feature on lists of the most beautiful in Europe. For our curator, Vis is the most romantic island of all.
The picturesque towns of Vis and Komiža are great places to use as a base for exploring and offer complete relaxation.
Our curator’s favorite beaches are Stiniva, Pritišćina, Srebrena, Stončica, Grandovac. Most of the beaches in Vis aren’t easily reachable, you can reach them by a brief 30 minute walk. However, that is the true beauty of these natural coves, as once you reach them, you’ll be welcomed by the peacefulness of nature.
Since Vis is quite far from the rest of the island, we suggest to book an accommodation on land. Villa Orange Tree House is a newly renovated stone villa, originating from the 17th century. The inside has been totally reworked, whilst retaining exposed old stone walls. Based in the old town of Kut, a very short walk away from the sea, local shops and some of the island’s top restaurants. Another boutique hotel we’d suggest booking is Boutique Hotel Pomalo, a small luxury inn with a selected number of rooms. The inn also offers booking of boat tours to the surrounding little islands of the Blue Cave, The Green Cave, The island of Bisevo, A donkey sanctuary, and any number of islets just minutes from Vis.
There are plenty of restaurants on the island, but our curator’s favourite restaurants are the following: Gostionica Aerodrom & Wine Bar, Restaurant Pojoda, Restaurant Roki’s, family farm Konoba Magić. All offer a mix of fresh seafood, wines and traditional Croatian plates such as the peka, a roast meal of either meat or seafood with potatoes and assorted veggies.
The island of Korčula can also be accessed by ferry from Split or Pelješac (Orebić) and is a haven for relaxation and wine lovers. Two indigenous grapes are grown here, with the majority being Pošip, dry white wine, and the remainder Grk, typically grown in much smaller quantities in Lumbarda and reaching a higher price than Pošip due to the unique tase (grk meaning bitter in Croatian). The many towns throughout Korčula are blanketed in vineyards (Čara and Smokvica are particular highlights), and those patient enough for golden hour can take advantage of the sun drenching the landscape. For braver adventurers, there are many hidden coves and bays (if you follow stone paths south from the main road through the island you may be lucky enough to find one). These beaches, surrounded by steep, rocky vineyards and filled with crystal clear waters, are a sanctuary with almost guaranteed solitude. Korčula also boasts one of the best-preserved Venetian port towns in Europe and is reportedly the birthplace of Marco Polo.
Due to their remoteness, large hotels are seldom found on the islands, but there are thousands of apartments and villas to choose from which more typically cater to those seeking privacy.
Our curators favorite beaches are Pupnatska Luka, Bačva and last but not least, Pržina, a 400m long sandy beach, one of the rare sandy beaches on the island.
There are a few restaurants worth trying on the island and our curator’s favourites are: Konoba Mate in Pupnat (a short drive from the Pupnatska Luka), Adio Mare (the oldest restaurant in Korcula), LD Restaurant - for those seeking a unique dining experience (belonging to Lešić Dimitri Palace, a luxurious hotel in the heart of Korcula Old Town).
Not technically an island (connected to the mainland via the Ston road) but extremely remote and possibly the most diverse area of Dalmatia. To the North, you can find isolated fishing villages with spanking fresh seafood, a windsurfing paradise in Viganj, and an almost 1000m high mountain in Sveti Ilija. Further to the south, the landscape is dominated again by vineyards, with the indigenous grape Plavac Mali dominating the slopes. Plavac Mali is a relative of the Zinfandel grape, the heavy tannins, and bold fruits pairing well with the local dish peka, a meat or octopus stew cooked within a metal dome and surrounded by shimmering coals. The village of Potomje is an ideal place to stop for tastings (we recommend Kiridžija or Križ wineries, which have got the best from a grape that can often be overpowering), and don’t miss the Dingač tunnel, a thoroughfare bored through the rock and boasting spectacular views of the steep vineyards leading down to the sea.
Just south of Drace, the roads are littered with stalls selling fresh mussels and oysters. The water on this side of the peninsula is ideal for cultivating these shells and this area provides much of Croatia with its seafood. Ston, with its medieval stone walls and salt pans surrounding the city, is a distinctive town and well worth stopping for some oysters, however during peak season it can be overcrowded. Mali Ston, a small town a couple of kilometers away, offers a quieter alternative with soothing sea views and excellent local restaurants like Bota Šare or Ficović in nearby Hodilje.
In the small idyllic village of Kuna on the Peljesac peninsula you’ll find Agriturismo Antunović, a family farm, whose offer has expanded with accommodation units. All rooms are located in a 300 year-old recently renovated house and are furnished in a rustic style, at the same time very pleasant and comfortable, measuring 40 square meters and with bathroom. Breakfast is served in the tavern and all products come from the farm.
Last but not least, if you still want to explore the surrounding beaches on the island, we’d suggest paying a visit to Plaž Divna (the name translates as Beautiful), Trstenica, Jezero, Mokalo and Żuljana.
“The Pearl of the Adriatic,” Dubrovnik is the most visited Dalmatian old town in Croatia. Founded in the 13th century, Dubrovnik became an important sea port in the Mediterranean under Venetian rule. Best visited outside of peak season due to the heat and excessive crowds in July and August, Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful cities on earth. Surrounded by mountains to the north and the sea to the south, the old town is famous for its city walls and pristine examples of Baroque and Medieval architecture. Polished limestone lines the floors of the city and there is much pleasure to be found wandering the back streets, where smaller independent coffee shops, bars, and restaurants can be found amongst the diverse historical sites of this UNESCO Heritage location.
Spectacular sunset drinks are a must in Buža Bar, just outside the city walls, found through an innocuous doorway. Dubrovnik also contains several beaches outside of the city walls, DIVOVIĆI and Sveti Jakov being personal favorites.
A huge variety of hotels exists in Dubrovnik, ranging from smaller boutique options to large chains with everything in between.
The surrounding area of Dubrovnik is also a great place to explore. Smaller seaside towns like Cavtat or Mali Zaton offer a quieter charm. Pasjača beach, in the Konavle region, is well off the beaten track and a long hike is needed for access, but as you make your way along the cliffside path the view opens to reveal a stunning jewel of a beach, carved out of the rock and again containing crystal clear waters.