Living Like the Rich & Famous in Croatia

September 23, 2008 by

Europe, Food, Drink & Travel, Places to Go, Suggested Itineraries, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Forget the South of France. Forget Italy. And Ibiza. These days being glamorous on your yacht, wearing flowing white designer linen, and partying every night is all about – Croatia.

Kevin Spacey, Nicky Hilton, Valentino, Gwyneth Paltrow – they’ve all discovered it. And this summer I was right there with them. Sort of.

Yachts in Hvar Croatia
The yacht life, Croatia

Hvar town is a focal point. The population of 3,000 swells to 30,000 visitors a day during summer months. August is the really busy time and the weather is hot, hot. But anytime from June through to early September you are likely to get good weather. Although fewer celebrity-spotting opportunities.

I spent a week on the island of Hvar this past August. We rented an apartment in a private house in Hvar township and it was great. I booked it through the internet so I could see what we were getting and where it was: close to a beach, close to restaurants and shops but on the edge of the small town so it was less crazy noisy than I feared.

Our landlady was lovely. A Croatian widow, she and her late husband spent their marriage gradually expanding the house, adding a new floor whenever they had the money, until she now has six apartments to rent. The garden was full of flowers with tables and chairs overlooking the islands just off Hvar. We sat with her eating homemade cake, drinking fabulous coffee and the local firewater Rakija, watching yachts and ferries come and go. It was definitely not the anonymous hotel experience and Croatia is rich with these kinds of homestays and private apartment rentals. They are cheaper too.

Hvar township has a wonderful riva, a waterfront walk past restaurants and cafes and yachts (actually huge motor boats). Here is where the whole town comes out to promenade and eat ice cream of an evening. And stare with envy at the luxury yachts pulled up to the dock. Who knows how much these people pay for the privilege of backing their boats into these scarce spaces so they can eat dinner, watch huge screen TVs, and drink cocktails watched by the envious masses on dry land. Owning (or do some of them rent?) these enormous cruisers does seem to involve an element of exhibitionism. The more private, the less wealthy, or the latecomers have to anchor in the bay and be ferried in and out of port; last year even Nicky Hilton had to live that way. So, it’s not who you are, it’s who you know (or pay).

During the day, bronzed, bikinied bodies bask on the rocks or cram onto the pebbled beaches. I wonder what the fish and birds make of the crazy humanity. The smart fish make for deeper water I suspect, avoiding the slick of oil from those who swim – there is a particular concoction you can buy only in this part of Croatia (Dalmatia) which consists of oil and lard (I am told) and is guaranteed to give a deep golden brown tan. You can spot the locals a mile off because they do look well roasted. The tourists who mess with this stuff are more likely to be seen in the lobster-ward of the local hospital. You have been warned.

The fish are also smart to take refuge because the restaurants specialise in seafood and I have never eaten so well in my life. Every restaurant we tried was superb. I recommend climbing up the narrow stepped streets off the main square to find restaurants and bars – they are better quality and less manic. Many of them have gardens and the waiters are welcoming, fluent in English and very patient considering the volume of tourists they see.

nightclub in Hvar croatia
Nightlife in Hvar, Croatia

And as for clubbing. The place to be seen in Hvar is Carpe Diem – coffee by day in a relaxed courtyard and queueing by night for a less relaxed drink and dance. It’s right opposite where the ferry comes in which makes it handy for dancing all night then heading back to Split on the 6.30am ferry. This may have been a good plan for Kevin Spacey who reportedly ran amok there one evening this summer.

There is also Veneranda, a club in an old fortress up the hill amongst the trees. This was my favourite. Outdoors and with a swimming pool. And the best bathrooms I’ve found in Croatia – not to be sniffed at, so to speak. Most of the clubs have a door charge, although if you have a fast talking local with you, it is often reduced.

Along the waterfront there are lots of bars with music. Pick the kind of night you want then pick your venue! From backpackers complaining about each other then attempting some late night seduction, to the cocktail bars full of women in their sixties who stopped eating in 1980-something and still buy their clothes at the teen stores. As one of my companions said: ‘Your handbag should not be bigger than your entire outfit. Especially at that age…’

Hvar is famous for its lavender and I highly recommend buying some to calm you after a hectic night of clubbing. It is also very easy to hire a car and drive around the island. The landscape is spectacular and the other towns are also lovely: Jelsa, Stari Grad etc. Stari Grad is where the car ferry comes in from Split, while the faster passenger catamaran comes in to Hvar directly. As a passenger getting on and off the car ferry, dodging the cars is a challenge, so I recommend the catamaran. Although finding the bus across the island from Stari Grad to Hvar was easy – just look for the lined up buses and the people milling around. In August, try and book your ferry ticket in advance – you can book online (Jadrolinija Ferries) or buy tickets at the ferry offices the day before. We arrived in Split to find the catamaran we intended to take booked out, hence our arrival by slower car ferry and bus.

Next Stop: Dubrovnik

Arriving in Split by plane is the most common way to get to the islands and there is an inexpensive airport bus which goes right to the ferry terminal. Then it’s a matter of asking at the first Jadrolinija kiosk where you need to buy your ticket and which one is your ferry. All the ships to the islands: Brac, Vis, Hvar, Korcula leave from the main port. In summer, ferries are fairly frequent but timing them with planes can be tricky.
If you need to leave luggage for a few hours, go to the bus station halfway down the dock. It’s a little external window with a lady to take your bags.

Similarly with Dubrovnik. Which is a must visit. Most people arrive by plane – those of us without a yacht that is. Again, there is an inexpensive airport bus which gets you to the old town Pile gate. The return is less easy as you have to catch the airport bus from the main bus terminal some distance from the old town.

We rented another private apartment and it was definitely the guy’s permanent home which he moved out of for the summer months. All his clothes were there, his CDs and guitar. Cosy! But it was a lovely place to stay, right under the city walls. We were lucky enough to have a terrace and could hear the conversations of the people walking the walls. Again, we found it on the internet. But be careful – Dubrovnik old town has a lot of steps to get up to the backstreets so if you don’t like mountain-goating, choose carefully.

Of course, all these towns have swanky hotels too and I have stayed in the Dubrovnik Hilton and the Hotel Excelsior and they were both fabulous for watching sunsets and drinking cocktails. (Hey, I was richer then, although never yacht-rich!)

Dubrovnik gets very crowded, what with all the walled-in narrow streets – last year it made the papers when it was so gridlocked with pedestrians no one could actually get in or out of the town centre! We escaped to the nearby island of Lokrum for a day. An ex-monastery, it is said to be haunted so don’t stay overnight. Not that you can as it is now a national park. Great for walking and swimming. It even has a salt lake for kids to swim safely.

Dubrovnik is where I had my real brush with fame. The paparazzi were excited, the tourists were staring – but not at me. At legendary fashion designer Valentino. And yes, I admit, I had my photo taken with him too. Why? Call it sunstroke. Although I am a huge fan of what he did with red, my favourite colour. He was there staying on his yacht in the harbour – there is not the same pretentious docking of yachts as there is in Hvar – and apparently the next day he met up with Gwyneth and they cruised up to Hvar. Wonder if they pulled in to dock or kept to the privacy of the bay? I suspect the true celebrities do the latter.

So, now the paparazzi have returned to their bedsits, the celebrities have retreated behind the walls of their mansions, and the yacht crews are heading for the new season in Miami and Florida.

And I am tanned, well-fed and happy to have had such a great holiday in such beautiful places. That’s the nice thing about this part of the world: even those of us on a budget, whose yachts only exist in the bathtub, who can’t wear white for fear of spaghetti stains and who stagger home to rented apartments at dawn looking less than glamorous, can still be part of this life. Even if only for a week or two a year.

-Philippa Burne

Planning a trip? Read Philippa’s previous post about things to do in Dubrovnik, or browse Viator’s tours in Croatia and Dubrovnik.


6 Responses to “Living Like the Rich & Famous in Croatia”

  1. Lauren K Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Croatia is a hidden gem that is simply fabulous. I literally have no complaints about my time there. I spent some time there this summer and visited Zagreb, Split and my favorite Korcula island. Ah, I miss it!

  2. Billigflug Says:

    Croatia is a wonderful place to travel to. The people are friendly, hospitable and loose. What I like the most is that the prices are really low so you can have a great holiday for much less money than elsewhere. The weather is great, the beaches and the sea are beautiful and the nature has many marvelous places to discover. And of course the nightlife is an awesome, also, since the younger people seem to catch up everything they´ve had to miss during the hard times in the past. Can´t await my next journey to Croatia. Thanks for your detailed post, I will follow some of your recommendations.

  3. Jet Set Life Says:

    Thanks for the information on Croatia. We’ll have to add it to our list of places to look at for our next video.

  4. liesl Says:

    I have learned of the place when I got acquainted with the famous pianist, Maksim. I am so familiar of some European countries.
    Anyway, I think there are a lot to see in Europe. Each country is unique and got tons of scenic spots. I would not be surprised if travelers/tourists would fall in love with Croatia.

  5. Neuwagen Says:

    Croatia is a nice place, very good beach and beautiful girls. Good weather and good prices. One can have a cheap and luxury holiday.

  6. Kevin Says:

    I had no idea about Croatia being such a beautiful city to travel to!

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