Croatia: 5 Beauty Spots on the Dalmatian Coast

Having dusted itself down after the civil war of 1991 to 1995, Croatia has reemerged as a unique destination that is even easier to access now that it is a member of the European Union. The crowning glory of this jewel of the Adriatic is a coastline that extends a breathtaking 1,778km and encompasses a remarkable 1,185 islands. You owe it to yourself to rent a car in Croatia and discover the staggering beauty of the coast of the Dalmatian province. Here’s a head start:

cheap car hire dubrovnik1. Dubrovnik

Glittering among the silken waters of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik is a gem of exceptional beauty. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is encircled by two kilometres of medieval walls, from which you can enjoy stunning views of the Adriatic, the harbour, and the red-tiled roofs of the city.

Though battered by Serbian and Montenegrin forces in the 1990s, Dubrovnik has since been returned to its former glory, with the only visible reminders of the conflict a scattering of shrapnel marks on the walls. Brimming with exclusive hotels and restaurants (as well as a myriad of tourists, Dubrovnik remains the kind of place where you can still discover secret delights away from the main streets.

2. Hvar

Undulating hills carpeted in wild flowers, sunny beaches studded with cosy inlets and coves, imposing mountains, exclusive boutiques, and lush vineyards are just some of the features of Hvar, one of the most popular Adriatic islands.

Hvar town is a glossy enclave of yachts and gourmet restaurants, but it’s not all about flashing the cash on this stunning island. The sunniest location in Croatia, Hvar is a naturally beautiful refuge scented with lavender and home to the charming port town of Jelsa and the ancient settlement of Stari Grad.

Hvar Town is dominated by the remains of fortifications left by a succession of invaders, with a broad promenade leading to a sparkling sapphire sea and a picturesque fishing harbour. The 13th-century walls flank exquisitely embellished Gothic palaces and pedestrianised marble streets, and although a selection of fine restaurants targets a yacht-owning clientele, Hvar also caters to a younger, more diverse crowd.

cheap car rental croatia3.Ston

You may have fallen in love with the Dalmatian coast, but so have many other people, so take a break from the tourist trail with a visit to the neighbouring towns of Ston and Mali Ston on the Peljesac peninsula. Ston is about  59km northwest of Dubrovnik, and although you won’t find any major resorts or five-star hotels here, what you will discover is an enchanting combination of good restaurants, scenic surroundings, charming old houses, and Europe’s longest fortifications.

This is not a beach destination (although Prapratna Cove is just 5km away), but there is plenty to see in Ston, and the atmosphere is captivating. Visit Ston during the annual salt harvest (July and August) for a fascinating glimpse of local culture. Salt production has been the cornerstone of economic activity here since the Middle Ages, and Ston’s saltworks are among the oldest and best-preserved in Europe. Watch as salt is harvested manually, before being packed onto wagons for distribution.

5. Zadar

Zadar does not attract the attention that other towns on the Dalmatian coast do, but it should. A buzzing cafe culture and vibrant market infuse the town with life, and a marble-lined, pedestrianised old town encourages you to slow down and soak up the atmosphere.

Zadar retains its old Roman street plan, complete with spectacular ruins. The imposing Church of St Donat incorporates the Roman legacy, as it was built on the site of a Roman forum and features some of the original architecture. One of Zadar’s architectural highlights, the circular church is flanked by three circular apses and creates a mighty impression when you stand in its shadow.

A windy day is the best time to appreciate the Sea Organ, an art installation comprising a set of pipes cut into Zadar’s promenade, which produce everything from soft chords to unnerving groans, depending on the weather.   Architect Nikola Bašić also designed the Monument to the Sun, a large disc of solar-powered cells that turns into a kaleidoscopic disco ball at sunset.

cheap car rental croatia4. Split

Drive past the high-rise, featureless apartment buildings on the outskirts of Split and head for the coast and the spectacular ruins of the Diocletian Palace, dating from about 300 A.D.

One of the world’s most impressive Roman ruins, Diocletian’s Palace is named after the emperor for whom it was erected as a retirement home, but today it thrives as a compact walled city where a vibrant community lives and works.

The UNESCO-protected palace itself is a diverse collection of Egyptian columns from Luxor, Roman arches, Gothic palaces, and Baroque balconies. They represent the heart of Split’s economic and social life, teeming with shoppers, socialisers, workers, children, and tourists.