Roman villas, Yugoslav mansions and wild deer: hop over to Brijuni Islands
'Untouched nature of beautiful islands', promises the website of Brijuni National Park. 'Beautiful' is an understatement, and 'untouched' far from the truth: it’s precisely the human touch present in this landscape for millennia that makes it captivating. Arriving at the Veli ('Great') Brijun port after a 15-minute ferry ride from the pastel-hued town of Fažana across the bay, your first encounter with the long history of the islands will be a look at Neptun and Istra hotels and the delicate boathouse protruding into the sea. Columned balconies, Secession-era arches and ornaments, midcentury furniture and elegantly clad waiters all call to mind the grandeur of the resort’s Habsburg-era origins. Much of the charm is owed to the authenticity of what you see, rather than the kind of contrived nostalgia aesthetic that can overwhelm. It almost makes you grateful that none of the successive governments’ promises for a major revamp to the resort materialised. The hotel staff, in fact, boast that many guests request one of the rooms without air-conditioning, to immerse themselves fully in the holiday spirit of the early 1900s. With or without air-conditioning, as you sip your Aperol Spritz, you are part of a tradition started by Austro-Hungarian aristocrats and Venetian socialites who flocked to Brijuni to enjoy the sea and the cocktails, to play tennis, polo and golf, but mostly not to do very much at all. These days most visitors from mainland Istria to Veli Brijun don’t stay ove
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Widely recognized as one of the best and most amibtious restaurants on the Adriatic, Pelegrini lives up to its reputation. The elaborate tasting menu (955 kn + 600 kn wine pairing) showcases exquisite traditional ingredients of the Dalmatian sea, lakes and fields, transformed into imaginative dishes by Rudolf Štefan's team. The restuarant also offers a 4-course minimum à la carte meal (400 kn), as well as a newly-introduced, inspired platter of 13 bites (899 kn, including wine). Meals at Pelegrini consist of such creations as the mint-granita-covered oysters, the duck prosciutto with goat cheese and peppers, and the anchovies terrine. The vegetarian options here, featuring Đuveđ frito misto and chickpeas, deserve as much attention as the fish and meat dishes, as do the wines, including a Pelegrini-Bibich collaboration. Pelegrini succesfuly defies the expectations one might have of food at remarkable urban locations: platters for two are served at the tables outside, with a view of the monumental Gothic-Renaissance-era St. James Cathedral, while the tasting menu is well suited for the atmosphere of the large terrace, atop a cistern with four interestingly-carved wells.
Dubrovnik may be one of the hottest destinations in Europe at the moment, but there’s no getting around the fact that, on certain days in peak season, the city suffers from its popularity as a cruise port. The solution? Explore the city's landmarks and surrounding coastline by boat. You can hire a speedboat to the restaurant Bowa, secluded in a lush cove of crystalline waters on Šipan, the farthest and largest of the three Elafiti islands. Šipan’s fishermen deliver fresh daily catch, and the nowadays atypical though traditional Dubrovnik dishes like the cuttlefish orzotto or the fig and ginger salad promise to indulge demanding palates. No need to announce your visit for a lunch at the terrace, but call ahead and prepare to splurge to meet the minimum spend at one of the elevated, tiki-style cabanas, where you might occasionally spot a supermodel or a Real Madrid player. Apart from that (avoidable) minimum-spend, the only thing to mind in this idyllic bay might be the few too many Instagram-pleasing floaties and the accompanying photoshoots. On the way there, take a dip at Koločep’s Blue Cave, illuminated inside with an electric, slightly eerie aqua light, and visit the quaint Suđurađ town afterwards, where the nobility of Dubrovnik’s glory era spent their idle summer days.
Arula Ethno Bakery
Arula is not the most ornate spot in town, yet its location at the start of Korčula’s flowery western promenade makes a pretty sight. The sweets they sell are authentic and outrageously good; but stop by on the early side, before the apple and cherry pies are gone. The bakers here still make traditional sweets like the Klašuni biscuits and the Utopljenik (drowned man) sweet breads, many of these distinct to Korčula. But choices are tough to make and you are inevitably tempted to take at least a few to go, as you should also try the satisfying, old-fashioned marmalade doughnuts, or indulge in the ultimate treat — the Arula cake, a delightful mix of chocolate, oranges and carob — all at prices from a pre-touristic era.
Vrnik Arts Club
Among all the islets in Korčula’s archipelago, Vrnik has a singularly laid-back air to it, with a town beach of small pebbles and hues so vivid you’ll have trouble deciding between taking a dip and observing the turquoise waters from the docks. Vrnik Arts Club offers great food on the tranquil terrace in front of what was once the island's school. Opened in 2018, the chef and menu have changed in two consecutive summers, but the excellent quality of the food has remained the same. The standout starters are the fried shrimp, the local hard cheese and pršut — served with melon, candied almonds and olives — as well as the swordfish ceviche. Among the mains, fresh traditional seafood dishes, some with atypical sides, pastas, and heartier meat options all live up to the setting. While some patrons stay for dessert, others opt for another swim or a round of the boules game to the left of the town church, before boarding their vessels and leaving for the day. Much to the joy of fortunate visitors, the church occasionally hosts choir and classical music concerts in the evenings.
Moro Beach Stupe
Moro Beach Bar at the tiny Stupe, run by the same people as Vrnik Arts Club on Vrnik/Skoj, has been one of Korčula archipelago’s highlights both for visitors and sailing regulars. The sea around Stupe is astoundingly clear and its colours vary wildly between the surrounding islets, while the imposing peaks of Pelješac in the distance add to the dramatic landscape. Beach hoppers delight in the wine from Korčula, to the right of the isle, or Pelješac, to the left, and the concoctions of the skilled bartenders, who deftly prepare drinks to the pitter-patter of electronic beats. Unexpectedly for a lively beach bar, the food here is genuinely good, offering classic Dalmatian snacks of high quality as well as more ambitious dishes, such as the gnudi and homemade pastas. As the sun descends, the few who remain have the spot to themselves, and the atmosphere is complemented marvellously by the sounds of the '80s and '90s.
G&T Club Lounge and Brasserie at Hotel De La Ville
Set a few steps from the western entrance to the Old Town, the terrace of Hotel De La Ville captures the days of Korčula’s belle époque. Since 1912, this was the spot to enjoy coffee and excellent wine from local vineyards, where the captains of the docked ships gathered, as they do now regularly at a table near the hotel entrance, reading the papers, discussing the weather and political developments among Korčula’s smart set, beneath the shadow of blooming oleanders. The terrace is now just as grand and pleasant and the charm of its bygone days is well preserved, although the menus are updated with trendy summer cocktails featuring gin from the bar’s extensive collection. If you find yourself lingering long after the first drink, preferring the natural shade to the heat of beach, the daytime bites provide excellent replenishment, from the high-grade local pršut, cheese and Torkul olive oil, to the chocolate, carob and orange flavors of the Arula cake from the bakery. At night, the bistro serves traditional dishes with a contemporary French-inspired twist: the handmade Žrnovo makaruni pasta, the risottos, among them a delicious blacker-than-black cuttlefish option, and a selection of fresh fish dishes keep visitors happy as they watch the sun disappearing on the horizon, followed by orange-infused crêpes or the refreshing lemon sorbet.
A short drive from Korcula Town towards Lumbarda, Maslina is a no-frills, honest local eatery that remains one of our favourites on the island. The pogača with aubergines and cheese (the local bread, akin to focaccia), the fish spread, and seasonal salads are wonderful starters, while the hearty swordfish, pašticada, or home-made makaruni pasta each make a very good meal. The chocolate-coated fig dessert and the liqueur it's served with, however, are worth the visit alone. Konoba Maslina's shaded terrace is a place to escape the crowds and the heat and enjoy the delicious fare at accessible prices.
A quick boat ride or a 45-minute southward trek from Hvar, Robinson's little stone-house kitchen is hidden behind Mekićevica, a cove famous for its bright waters and white pebbles even in the tough competition of Hvar's blue beaches. Taking its name from the lack of electricity and other "essential infrastructure," Robinson is one of those remarkable spots on the Adriatic whose appeal is hard to convey in short without distracting from one of its aspects. You won't be bothered by such troubles, or anything at all, while sitting at the tables in its olive grove, overlooking the beach and a lighthouse on an islet in the distance, or swimming as you wait for the food to arrive. And the traditional food served here is excellent: most popular are the rich gregada and brodetto (Hvar's potato-based and Dalmatia's tomato-based fish stewes, recpectively), the seafood spaghetti, grilled fish, octopus salad, and lobster, but whatever Domagoj — the owner, chef and waiter — catches will live up to the standard. If the sun is still high and a boat can take you for another dip, two bays down from Mekicevica and Robinson is one of Hvar's special nameless beaches, with two agave cactuses in the background — one can't miss it right before the next, bigger Milna bay. (Domagoj can also help you with organizing the boat ride to Robinson — his number is attached here and at the restaurant's website.)