Last September I visited Croatia for the first time. From relative obscurity, Croatia has in recent years soared to become one of the most popular summer holiday destinations for the UK. Perhaps it’s the turquoise sea, or the thousands of tiny islands dotting the coastal waters, or maybe it’s just the lack of euro currency; but Croatia is now firmly up there on the must-visit list of almost everyone I know.
Croatia’s past is a chequered one. Only two decades ago, Croatia was at the heart of a brutal war of independence, fighting against Yugoslav rule. The scars are still evident in the enormous, empty shells of once-grand resorts that litter the rocky coastline, walls riddled with graffiti and bullet holes.
We stayed in the beautiful town of Cavtat, a 30 minute taxi boat ride from Dubrovnik, at the Hotel Croatia. The hotel is a colossal structure, occupying much of the peninsula which encircles Cavtat harbour like a beached cruise ship. In high season a hotel of this size would be bottom of my list, but in mid-September we had much of it to ourselves – endless views to explore and hidden pools to swim in.
The town of Cavtat itself is a beautiful, sleepy little resort – though again this might be quite different in high season. The whole town is built around the harbour, which loops down the peninsula, up another little headland and back again like a giant W. The low-rise sandstone buildings hug the harbourside, with restaurants and bars spilling out onto waterside terraces. The harbour itself is as still as a millpond – in fact, one of the (four!) swimming ‘pools’ at the hotel is simply a roped off section of the harbour (which you can see below).
Beyond the peninsula, the waves open up, unopposed by land. One afternoon, we took a tiny little put-put boat from the harbour, loaded it up with snacks and sunscreen, and headed out into the blue. The coastline offers endless little coves, islands and hidden beaches to explore.
Whilst Dubrovnik gets all of the fanfare and love – in many ways deservedly so – Cavtat remains the sleepy little sister. Tucked just down the coast, this is a hidden gem of a town; boasting the same beautiful limestone buildings with those iconic terracotta roofs, whilst escaping the cruise ship hoardes (though not the yachting oligarchs). If you’re ever in the area, stop in Cavtat and embrace the slow pace of life (…and order a fresh seafood platter from Dolium for me).