One love for captivating Croatia: Radio 1 star Jameela Jamil is seduced by Croatia on a sun-kissed holiday in Dubrovnik and Split
- Radio 1 star fulfils long-term dream to visit the Adriatic shores of Croatia
- DJ spends a blissful week in historic Dubrovnik and party-loving Split
- She also ventured across to the island of Brac in search of quiet beaches
For at least a decade I have been bombarded with proclamations from friends and strangers that Croatia is the most beautiful place in the world.
Having travelled a fair portion of the planet in my 28 years, I denied that anywhere could match Rome, my favourite city. But at last I decided to put it to the test – and found myself sitting at Gatwick Airport, arms tightly folded, marinaded in a light scepticism.
Our time was limited, so we chose just three portions of Croatia, starting in Dubrovnik.
Simply gorgeous: Jameela’s travels took her across to the fabled Croatian island of Brac
We landed at 9pm and were taken straight to our hotel, the Valamar President Hotel up in the hills, a ten-minute drive from the popular old town. From the outside it looks like a golf course. From the inside, it looks like somewhere Brangelina would stay.
(Cue me immediately looking around for Brangelina. They weren’t there.)
To call this hotel grand would be a vast understatement. It had the panoramic views of the ocean and the space and luxury that I’ve not yet encountered anywhere before. I skipped all the way to my room. My boyfriend was mortified. At £200 a night (although it would have been far cheaper had I not booked about 15 minutes before we left for the airport…), I hoped for something relatively decent.
But a lovely kingsize room, with full patio and breakfast table, practically on the private beach was not what I was expecting. One very inelegant hop over my balcony and I would be feet-on-sand.
Morning came after a wonderful sleep and the view was officially ridiculous.
Miles and miles of perfectly clear-blue Adriatic Sea, surrounded by untouched islands and peppered with the odd palm tree for effect.
I headed with caution to the breakfast ‘buffet’. I hate the word buffet. You’re often greeted by slightly cold, very salty, mass-cooked slop. But not here.
A long-term ambition: Jameela had wanted to visit Croatia for a long time – but was unprepared for its beauty
Here I walked into the kind of breakfast selection that gives you a panic attack. ‘How the hell can I get all of this into my mouth before 11am?’ Tailor-made omelettes and pancakes cooked by on-hand chefs. Beautiful fruits, cheeses, fresh smoothies, sausages, vegetables and delicious Croatian cakes. This was simply not conducive to having to wear a bikini.
Once I had consumed enough for a small family, and was barely able to breathe, I rolled on to the private hotel beach. Luxury loungers, fluffy towels, perfect, clean, calm sea… Water sports heavily available, lots of water toys for babies and very disabled- and family-accessible.
One tip: as Croatia is certainly rocky, buy those hideous aqua shoes. Don’t go in the sea barefoot. In my first hour I stepped on a sea urchin that gifted me with about 40 spines, wedged deep into my foot. I can’t recall that kind of pain before. The pain led me to say the most unbelievable thing out loud: ‘Oh God, I wish I had a pair of Crocs’ (said by nobody under 85, ever). But seriously, do it.
By 8 o’clock we headed out to the famed Dubrovnik old town, which is hidden within enormous stone walls. Everything inside is made of marble, so you walk into what feels like a grand, pristine film set, bursting with character and beautiful architecture.
A city of star quality: Jameela was captivated by the history and beauty of Dubrovnik
It is insane to think that little over 20 years ago the place was brutally bombed in the 1991 siege. It is therefore doted upon and cherished by its residents.
The restaurants are busy and full of traditional Italian cuisine (pizza, pasta, fish). And the town is packed with young people. The little alleys contain quaint bars with the steps covered in cushions for passers-by to rest and drink.
The atmosphere is bustling and alive. It’s genuinely one of the most stunning places I have ever seen. It takes hours to investigate every nook and cranny and every staggering view at the top of the enormous flights of marble stairs.
We went back three nights in a row, each time sampling different alleyway restaurants and bars.
They all have pretty much the same food, same price, same menu, same standard, so I won’t tell you where to go. Just avoid the main courtyard as the touristic nature diminishes the standard of food. And the pizza looks a week old. Eurgh.
After only three days investigating Dubrovnik and falling madly in love with the sights, I had shamelessly replaced Rome with this as my favourite city.
Youthful vibe: Split is a city with a real party spirit, according to Jameela
Next, on to Split, a three-hour scenic bus journey up the coast.
As we drove into town, I was rather concerned that it looked like a lads’ holiday destination. The word ‘kebab’ was written everywhere. But as we got closer to the centre, where our hotel was, the architecture and peace made a strong comeback.
We had booked into the Cornaro Hotel. To get in, you walk through a charming pink courtyard, where you are met by staff so friendly and helpful you almost feel suspicious. We Brits are savages in comparison with the service you get in Croatia.
We were taken up to our room through a cute hotel with the decor of a plush luxury yacht on the inside and into our lovely deluxe room. Everything was new and modern but still very elegant. The bed was comfortable and the room very quiet, despite being in the heart of the action.
Breakfast was OK. Get there on the early side as the hot food was barely tepid at 10am. But the pastries were fresh and tasty, and I have never seen such a multicultural breakfast in my life. English fry-up, croissants, German cake, and a very casual tray of crayfish sushi.
Split is full of life. But I warn you – it’s very young life. The average age is between 18 and 24. You need energy. Loud, pumping open-air bars and clubs line the streets. Once you get into the old town, things quieten down and you can have some lovely grilled fish in the courtyards.
The hotel staff recommended a restaurant called NoStress, so we went. Terrible name. Mediocre starter and absolutely excellent main course. The kind of chicken and fish that makes you slightly emotional. I highly recommend it.
After that we sauntered along the beautifully preserved palace walls, apparently haunted by ghosts, none of which I was greeted by, thank God.
Away from it all: As well as beaches of varying crowdedness, Brac deals in quiet island charm
Shops are open till late and you are merely five minutes from the port, which is home to some of the most incredible yachts I have ever seen. (I looked around for Brangelina again. Not here either.)
The next day I decided Split was a little too restless for me. So I hopped on a very cheap ferry (they leave every hour and a half until midnight) to the nearest island, Brac. It was 45 painless minutes, and so worth it. Such a charming place – by far the most family-friendly I have ever visited. Plentiful water activities for children, clean beaches and the prettiest port in Croatia so far.
Brac is known for its V-shaped beach, Bol. I didn’t bother. It’s an expensive cab ride to and fro, there is no shade, and it is rammed with tourists. Instead, walk from the ferry and find your own pretty little coves, visited only by locals and with the kind of views that are completely overwhelming.
The kind of views that can make you forget that you have cellulite, or even what your name is.
For dinner we ventured to a quaint little restaurant called Vila Dora, in a corner by the port. Beautiful, simple, fresh food – it was the best meal in Croatia so far. Bravo.
We hopped on the ferry back and had our last sleep in Croatia. It was miserable to be leaving. The final day was spent wandering around Split’s lovely old town, full to the brim with people wearing ancient Roman clothing acting out historical scenes in the streets to the delight of the crowds, mostly the women. The soldiers wear very little skirts. And Croatian men are HOT. (Wear sunglasses if with partner to allow you to ogle in peace.) Generally I give what I saw of Croatia five stars.
What a beautiful country, what lovely people. What a relaxed and welcoming place that has over-come staggering adversity to become one of the most desirable spots on the planet.
I was horrified to be leaving and I booked my next trip there the minute I finished this review.
Travel Facts: Plan your own sunshine break on the Croatian coast
Prestige Holidays (www.prestigeholidays.co.uk/croatia, 01425 480400) offers one-week holidays in Croatia from £999 per person. This price includes return flights from Gatwick with easyJet to Dubrovnik and back to Gatwick from Split, a group B hire car, four nights’ B&B at the Valamar Dubrovnik President and three nights’ B&B at the Hotel Cornaro in Split.
Source: Mail Online