Croatia offers more than 1,100 miles of meandering mainland coast backed by rugged limestone mountains, along with hundreds of scattered islands and islets, of which 47 are inhabited. It is also dotted with historic and beautifully preserved harbour towns, relics of the four centuries between 1420 and 1797 when it was occupied by the Venetians. This combination makes it the perfect option for those who like to combine cultural sightseeing with lazing on the beach.
What’s more, Croatia, despite being an EU member since 2013, does not use the euro. So expect your pound to stretch much further here than in other Mediterranean favourites such as France and Italy.
But where to go? Below is our guide to Croatia’s five coastal regions: South Dalmatia, Central Dalmatia, North Dalmatia, Kvarner and Istria. Within each region, one beach and two standout towns have been highlighted, along with a nearby not-to-be-missed inland attraction, food and wine suggestions, and hotel recommendations. Remember that there’s very little sand in Croatia – almost all the beaches are of pebble and rock, or in some cases you swim from man-made concrete bathing platforms with steps into the sea.
You can fly direct to South Dalmatia’s largest city, Dubrovnik, from various UK airports, with British Airways, EasyJet and Jet2.com.
Dubrovnik, formerly known as Ragusa, was for centuries a wealthy independent city-republic, which slowly expanded to include a stretch of coast and the tiny Elafiti islets.
From Dubrovnik’s Gruž port, you can make day trips by boat to the Elafiti, as well as the island of Mljet, where Mljet National Park encompasses two stunning turquoise lakes, rimmed by dense woodland – rent a bike and cycle around the lakes, or hire a kayak and paddle across.
Northwest up the coast, tiny Ston (famed for excellent fresh oysters and mussels) is the gateway to the rugged Pelješac peninsular, which produces some of Croatia’s top red wines, notably Dingač. Opposite Pelješac, verdant Korčula is South Dalmatia’s biggest island.