A Blissful Vacation to Croatia during the Pandemic!
Updated: Jan 2, 2021
A beautiful sea breeze, crystal clear waters, luscious landscapes and amazing food and wine…I fully understand why everyone I know that has already visited Hvar, absolutely loved it. It is such a beautiful island. We stayed in Hvar Town, in the heart of the action. The island has rich history and is a port on the Croatian Adriatic Sea. In July 2020 I decided to venture from Canada to Europe, to reunite with my Mum in the UK and continue on to vacation in Croatia. For our first night we stayed at Amfora Grand Beach Resort and Spa. It is a solid 4* hotel which is located across from a beach and has gorgeous green landscaping, beautiful swimming pools and breathtaking views. This hotel is part of the Suncani Hvar Hotel Group and is their largest property on the island with over 300 rooms. The hotel has a beautiful lobby with a central bar and lounge area. Our arrival day was also my Mum’s birthday so our travel concierge (our clients get 24/7 access to their own local concierge in destination) had booked us the best table at the best restaurant in Hvar called Gariful. Only the best for my Mum! We toasted and celebrated with some delicious Croatian rose bubbly and enjoyed a divine multi course dinner and fresh seafood. The next morning I woke up and took one look at the view and pinched myself. I couldn’t believe after everything here we were in Croatia. It was 24 degrees and only 8am, I was so ready for sunshine and blue skies! We headed down for breakfast at the hotel and to my surprise, it was still being served as a buffet. There was hand sanitizer before you walked into the huge restaurant, but still. That quite honestly was my one and only slightly cringe/nervous moment of the entire trip. We just sat down and waited for the larger crowds to disperse before grabbing one plate of food and making a swift exit (and sanitizing again!).
We spent the day down at the pool, reading our books, sipping on local wine and just generally unwinding, as we settled in to the start of our much anticipated holiday! We enjoyed a poolside lunch and it was divine. We were so happy to be in the Mediterranean! Later that day, we transferred over to Palace Elisabeth, Suncani Hotel Group's prized possession. The first and only true five star hotel on the island of Hvar, we arrived on opening day for their much anticipated but necessarily delayed summer season. The hotel only opened its door in September 2019 and shut in the October as it is a seasonal hotel. You could tell the staff were genuinely excited to welcome their first guests! The hotel was absolutely gorgeous in every way. A boutique hotel with only 33 rooms and 12 suites. The hotel has been restored to its former glory, and was extremely luxurious and our room was very spacious. Our view from our bedroom was overlooking the hotel grounds and the marina. Breakfast was a feast at the hotel every morning. As soon as you sat down, they bring you a platter of fresh cheese and meats, all locally-sourced from the island, and delicious fruit. As a unique touch (and their American GM's idea) you also have access to a complimentary Bloody Mary menu with fun adaptations for a morning cocktail. You then ordered whatever you want from their a la carte menu- we tried various dishes over our stay and all were delicious! I was in heaven as breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. The General Manger, Deni, kindly invited us for drinks and some appies so we could have a chat and get to know each better (our industry is all about relationships!) and he was able to share the this history of the hotel and their vision as it has come to life. We spent a morning in the spa having massages and enjoying the pool and lounge area, which we had to ourselves! We enjoyed time walking around the marina and stopping for cocktails at the many waterfront bars. One afternoon we adventured out on a half day tour which I can’t recommend enough. Our English-speaking guide Tea (pronounced Tear) was waiting for us in the hotel lobby and we walked to the air conditioned van that was waiting for us. We wore our masks, as did the driver and Tea. First stop was the picture-perfect viewpoint overlooking Hvar and the marina. As we continued our journey we learned about the rich agriculture history Hvar has. We pulled over on the side of the road and checked out some lavender fields. Did you know Croatia once produced 10% of the world's lavender production? Tragically large fires on the island in the 60s and again in the 90s destroyed most of the fields. Our next stop was definitely a highlight of the tour - a private wine and olive oil tasting inside the winemaker’s cellar. There is a huge wine growing history in Croatia and on the island, dating back to the 1800s! WOW- it was such a great experience, I was blown away walking into the cellar to see this stunning candlelit set up. The winemaker, Dubokovic, guided us through his fabulous wine portfolio and we enjoyed local cheese, bread and various olive oils all made on the island of Hvar. I ordered my favourite white and red wines and ordered a variety of olive oil infusions, each came in these lovely bottles. I would worry about my luggage allowance later...
Our final stop was a late lunch in a village that was abandoned in the 60s but it was recently turned into a restaurant by one of the families who used to live there. The restaurant name translated to "Old Fireplace" in honour of the traditional stove which used to be the central area for family gatherings. We were going to experience our first "Peka" meal, a very traditional cooking process in Croatia, where you enjoy cooked octopus or meat). The next day we had hired a private boat to take us cruising around the stunning bays for the day. It was the best day ever! The water was warm, crystal-clear and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Our skipper took us around the Pakleni Islands which were stunning, and way less crowded than normal years. We cruised by the infamous beach clubs, which were sadly closed this season due to low numbers. Our skipper, Bepo wanted to show us his favourite areas and hidden gems, so we totally trusted him and we cruised over to another part of Hvar.
We stopped for lunch in the village of Milna. It was so sad to see these amazing waterfront restaurants all empty. They were so grateful to have some guests. Lunch was delicious! We were literally the only people at the restaurant. Next door was completely empty too. The travel and tourism industry has been hit incredibly hard. While we got to enjoy the magic of being in Hvar without the crowds, which was a privilege for sure, I couldn't help but feel sad experiencing the reality of the devastation to so many livelihoods. The hoteliers, restaurant staff, bar staff and all service people, were so happy and grateful to have us there spending in their economy.
We spent the afternoon in a small bay and I spent hours in the water as I am such a water baby! I didn't want the day to end, but like all good things, they must come to an end. Renting a boat for a day is an absolute must if you visit Croatia! Worth every single penny. That evening Ivana and Z from VIA Croatia met us and took us for a surprise dinner. We took a private mini van through the hills and arrived in this small village, it was about ten minutes away from Hvar Town. Turns out we were back in the village of Milna, where we had cruised to earlier today. This time we were checking out a brand new restaurant, which their friend had just opened called NOTOS Beach Club. The food was outstanding! It's the new talk of the town and going to be a new hotspot of the Hvar crowd. The owner T was great and told us about how he came up with the concept of NOTOS and his sustainability passion and integration into the building materials and the food served. We also had octopus- so tender! We have been spoiled with seafood this entire trip! For our last full day we went to the hotel's private beach club, which is just a 10 minute walk away. It is the oldest beach hotel in Hvar as it was built in 1907, but it was renovated last year. Ironically, it was overcast and even rained a little on our last day, which is very unusual for July, and on Hvar, which is known to be Europe's sunniest island. Nonetheless it was warm and we still enjoyed our day. During our stay we also did a quick site inspection to check out their third property, the Adriana Spa Hotel. Another gorgeous boutique hotel with 62 rooms. Sadly the hotel will not be opening this season, but I was happy to see the property as it was renovated 2 years ago and was absolutely gorgeous! I loved their spa suites and Penthouses. Most rooms had a stunning view of the marina. For our final night we decided to have our dinner at our hotel, Palace Elisabeth. It was a splurge, but well worth it. The food was divine. The sunset was perfect! What a magical trip with my Mum, memories we will never forget! On my last day, we arrived into Split in the early morning as Mum had a flight to catch at noon. We went for breakfast the Hotel Briig- the newest and coolest boutique hotel. A funky design hotel, it was right by the ocean (FYI, the beaches in Split are no where near as nice as on the islands). The hotel has two fabulous penthouse suites which each have a large terrace and outdoor hot tub! For any Game of Thrones fans out there, Split was a key filming location. We went to the Split City Museum and visited the basement halls where the dragons were held! Did you know there a big Jewish history in Split? It's home to the 2nd oldest, active synagogue in the world. We walked around on the cobbled streets exploring and learning about the the city's history with our passionate local guide. He was thrilled to give a tour as he hadn't worked all summer. Split is very picturesque with lots of alleys and narrow walkways. There were still tourists, just a very low percentage compared to normal. I took the opportunity to visit Hotel Vesitbul Palace too, a real boutique property (just 7 rooms), in the heart of the old city. The property is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Ivana treated me to a final lunch at her favourite hidden gem in Split, called Konoba Lucac, the food was divine! Thank you to Ivana and Z, my partners at VIA Croatia for helping to plan and execute this incredible vacation!
I can’t wait to get back to Croatia…next time, I will be chartering a catamaran for a week sailing around the islands!