The rise of luxury travel in Croatia
As summer arrives and temperatures rise, one of the hottest new destinations for the high end traveller in 2014 is Croatia. Prepare the yacht and head for Dalmatia: your summer romance is just beginning.
Popular for its tight network of islands, which make it an ideal sailing destination, Croatia is currently enjoying a boom in luxury tourism. With the civil war long over and 1 year of EU membership coming up fast, the country’s treasures are being rediscovered by the international jet set as the hospitality industry improves its offerings. An important mark of recognition came last year when three hotels were selected to join the prestigious Relais & Chateaux fellowship.
Mr Philippe Gombert, International President at Relais & Chateaux, explains. “Croatia is fresh and new as a luxury tourist destination. Previously associated with mass tourism, post war it has emerged as a new country and naturally the public is curious.”
These factors have helped bring about a return to the country’s origins, which now makes it a top choice for those looking for authentic experiences. Not as overcrowded as its Mediterranean neighbours, visitors are spoilt with a beautiful coast which offers numerous coves and private spots, and some of the cleanest water in Europe. The famous Croatian hospitality contributes to a more personal stay. As Gombert points out, “Authenticity and sustainable tourism are widely available given most of the hotels are small and there are no massive resorts.”
The appeal doesn’t stop there: “Add the excellent wines and good quality terroir into the mix and you can understand why Croatia has an edge.” Indeed, gourmet travellers will not be disappointed by the fresh seafood and indigenous grape varieties cultivated by local boutique wineries and family businesses.
Out of the four Relais & Chateaux properties in Croatia, the most exclusive is the Lešić Dimitri Palace on Korčula island. The quieter neighbour to trendy Hvar, it has a medieval town centre which cars are prohibited from entering. Housed in a restored 18th-century bishop’s palace, rumoured location of Marco Polo’s home, it is staffed entirely by locals who treat all guests like friends. Order a bottle of local wine Grk and listen as the waiter in the hotel’s restaurant delves into the grape’s rich culture. And if you’re lucky, manager Toni will sing for you in his best baritone.
As for Relais & Chateaux’s future plans? “There is potential but we are selective so the process takes time. We will let the boom settle a bit before exploring the opportunities that will inevitably arise. We need to be absolutely sure that every member we accept is right for our collection and shares our values.”