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Friday, January 13, 2012

Sun, Savory Seafood and Late Nights on Croatia’s Adriatic Coast

By James Ullrich

Croatia isn’t the first place most Americans associate with a fun time on a picturesque European beach. They’d be forgiven for thinking that wild nights, sunny beaches and great seafood are restricted to the coasts of Italy or southern France. But Croatia’s Adriatic coast is fast becoming the new beach party hotspot, drawing throngs of young European sun worshipers in search of affordable fun. And where there’s youth there’s no shortage of roaring nightlife when the sun goes down. I’ve found there’s a lot about “Eastern Europe’s Riviera” that’s worth enjoying.

Situated on the warm, blue waters of the Adriatic, the coast of Croatia has been the recipient of great press in recent years. Since the end of the Balkan civil war people from around the continent have descended on the area. Taking advantage of the low prices and warm weather, travelers like me favor the earthy charm of the region over the snootier, pricier locales of the French Riviera and Italy. With the savings, I can afford to stay longer—and play harder—on its picturesque beaches, seafood cafes, and open-all-night clubs.

Dubrovnik, jutting out over the bathtub-warm Dalmatian coast, is a treasure trove of tasty opportunities. Lovely and historic, the city’s cobbles once rivaled nearby Venice for supremacy. Rightfully called “the Pearl of Adriatic Sea”, its ring of thick, imposing defensive walls testify to its former importance. Now Dubrovnik plays the role of a world class city hosting festivals, cultural events, and tourists enjoying its inviting atmosphere, great restaurants, and sunny climate.

Photo of Dubrovnik - Credit:

Photo of Dubrovnik - Credit:

Large chunks of the Old Town are now traffic-free zones, making ambling along the winding streets a stress-free experience. I love taking an evening stroll as the aroma of freshly caught seafood snakes through the cobbled lanes. Do yourself a favor and duck into a family-owned restaurant and enjoy some of the local cuisine. Like any coastal area, a rich tradition has evolved as generations of fishermen and local chefs translated their greatest food resource into a tasty art.

Some Croatian favorites include grilled red mullet, savory stews, fresh oyster with lemons, and the amazing shrimp buzara, a sauce of tomatoes, white wine, onions and breadcrumbs. Because of its proximity to other coastal countries, some Croatian fish dishes also carry Italian and Spanish influences.

Many restaurants hug the cliffs jutting out over the sea, affording diners with a breathtaking view of the aqua-blue waters spreading out into the horizon. Local restaurants serving great traditional fare include the laid-back Sesame, the old-fashioned Dubrovacki Kantun, and the popular Rozarij.

Photo of coast from Dubrovnik - Credit:

Once the shops of Old Town close for the night, revelers come out and the cobbled quarters become the scene of music, drinking and flirting till early morning. Clubs and bars abound along the winding lanes. Some clubs spin middle-of-the road electronica and some cater to a more artsy/underground crowd. Latino Club Fuego and Beach Club Banjo are popular, as is the unique Revelin, located inside the historic Revelin Fortress.

In terms of bars, there are plenty, particularly a clutch located behind the cathedral. Faux Irish pubs are the latest craze, packed with Aussies, Americans and UK partiers—but few locals. Katie O’Connor’s holds the title of Oldest Irish Pub in Town, and is situated in an old stone cellar. Pub Karaka, an Irish wannabe, is popular too.

Be warned: Revelers in Dubrovnik like to up the classiness when they hit the town, so don’t dress in your worn jeans, Nike trainers and unwashed shirt. If you brought some nice clothes, now’s the time to break them out. I feel embarrassed when I show up wearing the same undignified garb I wore that morning. My rumpled Adidas t-shirt and Converse shoes won’t cut it. Neither will yours.

In terms of Dubrovnik accommodations, cheap beds can be found at Vila Micika Hostel and Dubrovnik Backpacker’s Club and Youth Hostel, Dubrovnik. At the other end of the spectrum, plusher experiences can be had at the Hotel Kazbek, Hotel Bellevue, and Hotel Excelsior.

Don’t let an opportunity to visit one of Croatia’s great island experiences pass you by. A 30-minute drive across the causeway from Zadar, Pag Island hosts an interesting mix of traditional culture and modernity infused with the vibrancy brought out by its young visitors. The throbbing night scene in the town of Novalja has led the island to be nicknamed “the Balkan Ibiza” by young Europeans in search of a less touristy experience than its overrated Spanish counterpart. The party begins on the beach and continues through the night at the sweaty, crowded clubs.

Needless to say, afternoon siestas are popular here. Accommodations on the island range from hostels (the well-located Big Yellow House) to nice hotels (Hotel Tony and Hotel Boskinac) to camping grounds for the rustic set.

Once you’re sunburned and partied out, take a couple days to recover because there’s much left to explore. The Istrian Coast is charming, and its main attraction, Rovinj, is an idyllic town worth getting lost in (and you will; the ancient winding streets of its old town core are confusing but picturesque). Split is another great option. Considered Croatia’s “second city’, Split boasts a rich Roman history sharing space with some of the best upscale shopping opportunities on the Dalmatian coast. Try the seafood here. You’ll be glad you did.

Photo of Split - Credit:

Though still enjoyable solo (you’ll meet plenty of new friends), the region is best experienced with people who share your energy level and interests. Depending on your preference for nighttime activities, you might want to try the romantic/family route (think lovely snusets over the sea) or party it up with close pals who’ll keep your secrets (think Animal House on the beach). Summer is the best time to visit if you’re interested in the beach, particularly July and August. Winter brings shorter days, cooler temperatures, but lesser crowds.

Thanks to the proximity of mountains to the coast, mountain biking and trekking opportunities can be done without much extra travel.
Treks can range from the simple coastal walks to complete mountain adventures. In the winter, skiing is hugely popular; the Croatian Olympic center at Bjelolasica is a top-notch facility and draws would-be slalom champs. In the summer, thousands of hard-core kayakers and scuba divers tag team the sea.

For those of you who only have a week or two to spend, I recommend spending a few days in Dubrovnik, scenic Rovinj with a quick jaunt to the island of Havar and then on to Split for a couple more days before returning home.

Photo of Havar - Credit:

Balmy climate, blue water, and historic cities—at a more affordable price than the better-known alternatives to the west. I’ve found that the popular-again Croatian coast is more crowded every year, but that’s the thing about great places; there’s a reason why they don’t remain a well-kept secret for long.


Author Bio:

James Ullrich is a thirty-three year-old freelance writer. He recently completed his first novel, a contemporary thriller set in Rome and Prague. When not writing, he enjoys traveling through Europe with a backpack and a journal. He’s currently working on his next novel. He lives in Seattle.


  1. Croatia is absolutely blooming nowadays, visitors are getting really attracted by its coastline.

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