A couple of weeks ago I visited the Dalmatian coast in Croatia, first at the tiny island of Obonjan for the coolest and most chilled festival I’ve ever been to. I’m talking morning yoga by the pool followed by boat trips and excursions and topping it off with jumping beach parties with international DJs. The festival’s creator, Dan Blackledge describes it as “the best bits of a summer holiday with a festival vibe”. I would say that is pretty much bang on, a sort of Butlins for adults with much better entertainment and less rain.

obonjan-hut

Obonjan

 

The next part of my trip was, hanging out in the beautiful old town of Split, dancing to Rudimental at the Split Beach Festival and day tripping to the breath taking islands of Hvar and Brač. It was a total whirlwind trip, with so much going on, but it left me with a deep yearning to head back to Croatia ASAP.

Croatia has become the shining star of southern Europe in recent years, with more and more visitors flocking to the crystal clear waters of the Dalmatian coast and the historic cities of Dubrovnik and Zadar. But what is it that’s drawing people away from the more established destinations like Ibiza or the Greek Islands? Well here’s why I think it’s become so popular:

So many Festivals

There doesn’t seem to be a week goes by in Croatia where there isn’t a festival going on, and the draw of festivalling in Croatia as opposed to say the UK is that it’s a holiday and festival rolled into one. No need to pack your wellies and raincoat, most of these events host boat parties, beach parties, pool parties and all night parties, so just bring your bikini and a big dose of energy! Big names in the Croatian festival scene include: Electric Elephant, Hideout, Outlook, Ultra, Yacht week and Sonus.

obonjan-festival

obonjan-festival

Awesome Beach bars & clubs

Croatia has been dubbed “the new Ibiza” and with good reason, there is an abundance of amazing beach clubs and bars. Carpe Diem club is probably the most famous beach club in Croatia, based on a tiny private island near Hvar, by day you can chill on the beds topping up your tan and cooling off in the clear blue waters and by night you’ll be dancing on the tables till the sun comes up. Water taxis run from Hvar all night and take only 10mins and there are also return trips organised from Split (around an hour)

Carpe Diem Bar

Carpe Diem Bar

Other notable mentions are Noa Beach club on Zrce beach, Pag, which is in the north of Croatia and the island that hosts Hideout festival, and Hula Hula, on the island of Hvar. But seriously, there are so many great party places there isn’t enough space to mention them here.

Carpe Diem Hvar

Carpe Diem Hvar 

It’s so cheap

The cost of things in Croatia may have risen with its popularity in recent years, but it’s still incredible value, especially if you’re coming from Western Europe, America or OZ/NZ. Prices vary depending on where you are, with Hvar probably being the most expensive of the islands and up north in Pag being one of the cheapest.

Prices below are what I saw in the Dalmatian region in peak season:

3 star hotel room: £40-£60pn

Hostel bed: £15-£20pppn

Pizza: £4-7

3 course meal with wine: £15-25

Glass of wine: £1.50-£2.50

Large beer: £1.50 – £2.50

Coffee: £0.80

Bottle of water: £0.10

There are some rip offs though, especially with excursions. The full day catamaran trip I went on cost 640kuna (£70ish) turned out to be a bit of a con as there were no guided tours of the islands, buffet lunch or free flowing wine as promised. Just a plastic bottle of some unknown spirit passed round while the captain serenaded us with a ukulele!! Luckily the other people on the trip were hilarious and with the help of a few bottles of wine bought on shore, we saw the funny side of things…I’d still like my £70 back though, ha!

 

Food and drink

Before I visited I’ve got to admit I couldn’t have told you what Croatian cuisine was like, or what their local drink was, but the best way to describe it is pretty much like Italian food, they’d probably hate me for saying that, but with Italy just across the Adriatic and sharing a border in the north the overlapping of cuisine is a natural thing. Pizza, pasta, seafood and salads are on the menu in most restaurants, however my favourite national dish was the black cuttlefish risotto. It may look a little bit scary, but trust me; it was the best risotto I’ve ever eaten.

Black Cuttlefish Risotto

Black Cuttlefish Risotto

Croatia also produces delicious wines, particularly white. I’ve got to say, I was expecting something akin to vinegar but I was pleasantly surprised, and the local beers (Pan & Ožujsko) are refreshing and served ice cold on a sunny day really hit the spot. Of course all the usual international brands are available everywhere, but at a slightly higher price.

Delicious Croatian Food

Delicious Croatian Food

And if you want as much cheap drink forced down your neck in the shortest period of time for £15 I can highly recommend the famous Split pub-crawl, which happens every single night during the summer. Just turn up to the tower square in the centre of the old town and prepare for things to get very, very messy!

Tower pub-crawl Split

 It has the most breath taking sights on earth

If you’re not too hung-over from all the partying you have to go visit at least one of these amazing sites, you will feel like you’ve stepped into the pages of National Geographic:

The island of Brac with its Golden Horn beach, the UNESCO world heritage site of Plitvice Lakes with its turquoise water, krka Waterfalls, The Blue lagoon, The Blue Cave, Green Cave…not to mention all of the ancient Roman towns and amphitheatres. You will have enough Instagrams to last a lifetime #nofilter.

Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes

Old Town Square

It’s so easy to Island hop

There are so many islands, all with their different character, why wouldn’t you want to see as many as possible? Plus it’s really easy. There’s no need to book your trip, just turn up to the port and buy a ticket on the day to where you want to go. (www.jadrolinija.hr/en/ferrycroatia) to look at timings and price. Alternatively you could book a day trip (read reviews to avoid rip offs!) to see multiple sites in a day, these can be booked a day in advance from any of the tourist information offices you see around the ports, there’s no need to book online before you go. Or you could even stay on a boat and cruise around the Adriatic partying in every port such as Sail Croatia or Yacht week.

Hvar Island

Hvar Island

 

why is Croatia so popular

 The Game of Thrones effect

Who doesn’t love Game of Thrones?! Seriously! I’m kinda obsessed with it to be honest. That is why I loved visiting Diocletian’s’ Palace in Split, which was used as Khaleesi’s throne room in Slavers Bay. Lots of different locations from the show were filmed in Croatia, the whole of Dubrovnik is pretty much Kings Landing, and lots of Meereen is shot in Split. There are tonnes of organised Game of Thrones tours if that’s your bag.

 

Split Old Town

Split Old Town

Diocletian's Palace

Diocletian’s Palace

I’m already planning my next trip Croatia, bring on summer 2017!

 

How to get there

Wizz Air, Easyjet both pretty cheap flights to Split, Dubrovnik and Pula. There are also ferries from Ancona in Italy if you can find a cheap flight to Florence.

 

 When to go

Well that all depends on what kind of vibe you’re after. I went early august which was incredibly busy, especially on the 8th as it was Croatian national holiday and pretty much everyone descended on the beach that day. Unless going for a specific event I would suggest going in early September, after the bulk of the crowds have gone, but there’s still lots of atmosphere and the sea is nice and warm.