A European island you've never heard of but can't miss: Hvar, Croatia
Hvar may be an unfamilar name to you, but this sun-kissed island off the coast of Croatia has been discovered by celebrities and jetsetters like Bill Gates and Gwyneth Paltrow and is on its way to becoming the next St. Tropez (New York Times article; free registration required). The war in the Balkans kept mass tourism at bay during the 90s, and the island's ancient towns and rugged hills still maintain their integrity. But, it's worth visiting soon—prices are going up with its growing popularity and, before you know it, Pamela Anderson will be making it the setting of her next wedding.
"Arriving by boat is the perfect way to approach Hvar," says SmarterTravel Contributing Editor RaeJean Stokes, who visited the island in 2004. "You'll see green, lavender-covered mountains drop directly into an azure colored Adriatic." Hvar town is the main attraction on this 40-mile island, boasting a beautiful 13th-century piazza with polished white stones, 15th- and 16th-century churches, and a medieval fortress. In the evenings you can dine at restaurants serving typical Mediterranean cuisine and seafood and then hang out at the clubs and bars with all the hipsters.
Sunning and swimming at the island's gorgeous white-stone beaches are the most popular pursuits during the day. "The beaches are decidedly European with liberal attitudes in regards to swimwear," says Stokes. Or, to get away from the crowds, you can visit some of the island's other towns and villages like Stari Grad and Jelsa, or head out into the countryside to see lavender fields, vineyards, and olive groves. "The scent of lavender fills the air everywhere you go," says Stokes.
If you're not sailing your own yacht, you can reach the island by ferry from the city of Split on mainland Croatia. You can fly to Split from New York in May 2007 on British Airways for $941 round-trip including taxes and fees.