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Losing none of its allure over the years, this floating city of canals, bridges and masks is a place of eternal beauty and enduring elegance. The lagoon of more than 100 islands is a heavenly sight, transporting visitors on a journey through time – from its Roman inception, through centuries of trade to the modern face we see today. Navigate Venice’s sparkling waterways by romantic gondola, or on cruises along wide canal boulevards. View less
Span the Grand Canal over its iconic original crossing, the Rialto Bridge, which – with its parade of tiny shops – gives some of the city’s most endearing views. If the crowds unsettle you at any point, take two turns away from the main thoroughfares to find peace alone, amid the city’s labyrinth of tiny streets. Hurry to Piazza San Marco to be immersed in Venice’s elegant glory. Basilica San Marco transports you back to the wealthy days of the Doges, who ruled for over 1,000 years. Initially their private chapel, it’s now decorated with beautiful Byzantine mosaics. Nearby the Campanile di San Marco bell tower offers views over the higgledy-piggledy rooftops of times gone by. Just a hop skip and a jump around the corner is the Doge’s Palace, where the levels of opulence ramp up even further. Justice was meted out in this stunning Palace, with the guilty walking to the cells across the covered Bridge of Sighs. Vaporetto trips to local islands offer even more adventures to float your boat, whether it’s Murano with its world-famous glass, Torcello with its amazing Cathedrals, or Burano with its handmade lace and delightfully colourful painted houses.
Opatija is a Croatian coastal town on the Adriatic Sea. A fashionable resort in the 19th century, it’s dotted with Habsburg-era villas. The Lungomare is a promenade that snakes along the coastline, offering views of the town and neighboring islands. The 1800s Villa Angiolina, set in a garden of exotic plants, houses the Croatian Museum of Tourism. Parts of St. Jacob’s Church date from the 16th century.
Split is a busy port with numerous ferries operating to and from nearby islands. It is also a popular resort with beaches, pleasant promenades and good hotels. Venetian Gothic and Renaissance houses and several medieval churches add architectural interest. As a major cultural center, Split does not lack in museums and art galleries. However, the city’s principal attraction is Diocletian’s Palace. It occupies an area of 34,680 square yards and was constructed to serve as a residence and a fortified military camp. By the Middle Ages, the palace had been enclosed within a strong wall with square corner towers, enclosing a town with narrow house-lined alleys. As the city grew, people gradually moved outside the walls and the city center shifted westward.
One of the most popular of the island escapes sprinkled across the turquoise Adriatic, Hvar is a glorious idyll of hidden coves, electric blue waters and quietly contented port towns. In recent years, it’s gathered something of a reputation as a party island – mainly earned from Hvar Town’s nocturnal exuberances, and the transient day-tripping yachts that drop by. View less
Soak up the energy, exuberance and fine dining, or sidestep the hedonism to explore a richly refined, rural and historic island – utterly spoiled with sunshine, and hidden beaches, which dazzle with colourful intensity. Bike rides along long sweeping coastal paths, boat journeys from pretty harbours, walks through fields of purple lavender – it’s all waiting for you on heavenly Hvar. Relish the sunshine and explore deserted, idyllic inlets, before sharing strong espressos in quiet harbour towns, surrounded by welcoming, sun-wrinkled locals. There’s also rich Medieval history – the sleepy town of Stari Grad is said to be Croatia’s oldest, dating back to 384 BC. Elsewhere, Jelsa is a postcard perfect place – settle in for a bite to eat, with nothing but the sound of harbour waters lapping and sandpaper scraping boats hulls for company. You can walk to look out over glorious views across to Brac, sometimes watching on as thunderstorms rage and flash, an eternity away over the mainland’s crumpled mountains. You’re also just a short ferry ride from the incredible Golden Horn – an evocative spike of brilliant sand which juts out evocatively into the cobalt-blue sea.
Croatia’s crowning glory rears up vertically from the tranquil waters of the Adriatic, and Dubrovnik’s daunting fortresses town is a truly imposing sight to behold. Encircled by chunky stone walls so thick and dramatic they could have been purpose-built as a film set, this city’s unmatched old town is the setting for countless films and shows – from Star Wars to Robin Hood, Game of Thrones and every production in-between seeking a truly authentic medieval flavour.
This fantasy fortress’s walls – which are no less than 12-metres thick at places – are certainly not just for show, however. They kept Dubrovnik safe when it was a maritime republic and they were besieged as recently as 1991, when Serbian and Montenegrin forces attacked, as Yugoslavia broke apart. Fully restored now, the stone streets of the city take you through a beautiful mosaic of architectural splendour, baroque churches and splashing fountains. Tapering alleys rocket up from the central boulevard of Stradun, offering spectacular views down, but you’ll need to walk the city walls to appreciate the fortress city’s full scale. Banking up sharply to the rear, you can gaze across an ocean of terracotta roofs and church spires, clamouring together before the sparkling Adriatic. Visit the neighbouring fort of Lovrijenac, for another perspective, or swing up to Srd fortress’s glorious panorama on a cable car. Dubrovnik’s streets are crammed with eateries and candlelit tables, where couples splash wine into glasses and enjoy gnocchi mixed with creamy truffle sauces. Nearby beaches like Banje are also close by, and hidden bays reward the intrepid who venture out beyond the old town. Take sunset drinks to sit back and watch as flotillas of sea kayaks roll by, or sail on the pristine waters to explore island gems like Lokrum – where peacocks are the only permanent residents.
Croatia’s Capital of Cool, Zadar is a dazzling mesh of influences and creativity. Romans founded the city before the Venetians, Austrians, French and Italians all had their say, leaving a wealth of architectural interest. Glorious turquoise-water beaches and heavenly waterfalls also lie within easy reach of this energetic city of festivals and outdoor fun. See the old town, with its robust city walls, boasting decorative stone gateways and marble streets. View less
The church of St Donatus, was built from stones pillaged from the Roman forum, while Zadar Cathedral – Dalmatia’s biggest – stands among the many architectural treats of this city, which was once an impenetrable stronghold of Venice’s republic. Head for the ‘pillar of shame’ with its chains to humiliate the criminals of a bygone time – or succumb to the tempting treats of shopping in the market. The sparkling Adriatic’s waters calls you, and Kolovare Beach is a mere ten-minute stroll from the old town. A day trip to Kornat National Park – which incorporates the Zadar Archipelago’s immaculate scattering of beach-fringed islands – or to the divine waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park, will introduce you to more of Croatia’s thrilling natural beauty. The sea truly does sing here in Zadar, thanks to a unique waterfront artwork, which encapsulates the city’s playful spirit. Designed to make music when the waves wash over it, the ebb and flow of the Adriatic, plays the Sea Organ instrument like a maestro. Not far away, the Monument to the Sun is a 22-metre-wide disc, which gathers the sun’s rays during the sunny days, and releases the solar energy in the form of a magical light show after dark. Sit and admire the artwork coming to life, as one of the city’s famous sunsets plays out before you.
A city happy to keep one foot resolutely in its beautiful, illustrious past, Trieste is a treasure, which sits on a historical frontier of civilisations and cultures. Nestled on the coast by the Slovenian border, the city soaked up many influences before returning to Italy in 1954. Wealth as a trading hub helped to shape Trieste’s grand piazzas and soaring artistic architectural achievements. The legendary Bora wind is greeted like an old friend, and it buffs the city in winter. Just like Trieste itself, it will take your breath away. View less
Piazza Unità d’Italia is the grand, central square, and it opens up to the lap of blue waves at one end. Settle in for a quick caffeine hit in this coffee capital – a word of warning, however, most Trieste baristas don’t serve cappuccinos – so plump for a caffè latte instead. The God of the Sea, Neptune, is honoured in a fountain at Piazza del Borsa nearby. Canale Grande is a centrepiece and was built in the 18th century to allow boats to unload their wares and trade. Lined by grandiose, neoclassical buildings, you can enjoy a picturesque stroll by the water. Three pretty bridges span it, while little boats bob and jostle below. Glorious castles crown the area, towering from esteemed vineyards. Don’t miss the fairytale castle of Miramare, which watches over the azure Gulf of Trieste, and looms above glorious gardens. Trieste Cathedral is a constant and reassuring presence for the city, standing on a hilltop overlooking the old town – it features an enchanting chandelier and remarkable painted ceiling.
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