Croatia lodging options are one of a kind: lighthouses and retreats on deserted islands, picturesque farmstays near national parks and sleek hotels in historic palaces. What’s great is that you can find a range of diverse lodgings within an hour’s journey, so during a weeklong holiday you can mix and match luxury with back-to-nature and even back-in-time places to stay.
More traditional options abound too, including an ample choice of hotels and private apartments. According to strict tourism regulations, registered rental properties must display a dark blue plate with the type of accommodation and number of stars received. A three-star lodging is generally a comfortable mid-range place with generous modern facilities. Read on to discover more about where to stay in Croatia.
Croatia Palace and Castle Hotels
Hotels abound throughout Croatia, ranging from two to five stars. Prices normally include buffet breakfast; half and full board can often be arranged. Those fond of perks such as 24-hour reception, maid service and free parking will be amazed by hotels housed in historic palaces. Given their sleek design and fit-for-a-king/queen facilities, these hotels come at a fraction of the price you’d pay in many other European countries.
Italian-influenced Dalmatia teems with town palaces turned into design hotels. An example is the Pucic Palace in Dubrovnik, a 16th-century nobleman’s house meticulously restored into a luxury hotel. The slick Hotel Marmont occupies a 15th-century palace in Split, located only minutes away from 1,700-year-old Diocletian’s Palace, the core of the Old Town protected by UNESCO. And in the town of Korcula on the namesake island, the 18th-century Bishop’s Palace was elegantly restored into the glorious Lesic Dimitri Palace, part of the Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel collection.
The bay of Kvarner in northern Adriatic is known for its Austro-Hungarian hotel villas. The seafront of Opatija, once a favorite getaway of the Habsburg bourgeois, is lined with elaborately decorated mansions such as Hotel Sveti Jakov, nestled near a 19th-century park landscaped in English and French styles. The hotel’s Cantinetta restaurant, surrounded with stone vaults, serves the best of local foods and wines.
A gracious blend of Art Deco heritage and contemporary touches, the 1925 Esplanade Zagreb Hotel showcases impeccable first-class service. The hotel was once a favorite lodging for travelers on the Orient Express train route.
In the Zagreb hinterland, the surrounding countryside area of Zagorje abounds with castles and manor houses dating back to the 13th century. Two of them, Gjalski and Bezanec, feature rich Baroque-themed rooms, sophisticated dining and landscaped gardens.
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Croatia Rental Apartments and Villas
Private apartments are the most ubiquitous lodging option in Zagreb and on the coast. Most are three-star, comfortable, affordable and self-catered places; breakfast is typically not provided. You can easily book them through international websites such as Booking.com and Airbnb.com. Owners are usually friendly and willing to help you get to know the local way of life.
Bed and breakfast opportunities are harder to find, but a few good examples stand out with their top ambience and service. One is Pruga Apartments in rural Istria, a gorgeously renovated two-apartment house whose devoted owners treat you like friends and serve you breakfast with homemade jams and freshly baked cakes. Zagreb’s pioneer and leading B&B is Studio Kairos, situated in a residential building near the main square, with four themed ensuite rooms and delicious breakfasts each morning.
Private villa rentals are popular in Istria and across Dalmatia. Expect great facilities, such as swimming pools and gardens, in serene rural settings. Villas are perfect for larger groups with access to a car. Most are located in areas full of opportunities for outdoor activity, such as cycling, truffle picking and winery hopping.
The 4,000-mile Croatian coastline is blessed with bountiful lighthouses, many of which offer accommodations for travelers. Some are architectural wonders, like the 1849 Veli Rat lighthouse on the island of Dugi Otok, whose walls contain eggwhite for added resistance to sea and wind. Others are built on islands mired in legends. Palagruza, Croatia’s farthest-flung island, was allegedly visited by Pope Alexander III in 1177; he was instantly besotted by this remote enclave, home to many endemic species of flora and fauna. Perched on a 295-foot rock, the 1875 Palagruza lighthouse offers a true frontier experience.
Lighthouses are located in remote areas, ideal for independent types who’d like to go fishing, pick vegetables in the garden or enjoy a beach to themselves. Most lighthouses have keepers who live on site, sometimes with their families, even though digital technology has replaced their traditional duties. The rest of the spaces are turned into three-star self-catered apartments, available for lodging.
During high season you often need to book a lighthouse on a weekly basis; in the off-season it’s cheaper and more flexible. The price typically includes organized boat transfers from the nearest coastal town. To properly enjoy your private paradise, buy provisions (food, bottled water, first-aid kit, etc.) before the transfer, although at some less remote lighthouses provisions can be arranged mid-stay. Note that rainwater is used for showering and cooking; it is drinkable but should be boiled first.
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Robinson Crusoe Retreats
Croatia’s Adriatic coast has more than a thousand islands, many with stone cottages typical for the area. Some of the islands are popular Robinson Crusoe destinations. Echoing the adventures of the popular literary castaway, this holiday concept allows you to escape high-season crowds, go fishing at dawn or simply be at one with nature. If this is your cup of tea, look for remote cottages or fishermen’s houses, especially on the Kornati archipelago (also a namesake national park), or the islands of Murter, Pasman and Iz.
Not all Robinson-style properties are designed to test your survival skills. You can choose to stay in a secluded bay of a large island, where the next shop is within easy reach. Hardcore back-to-nature aficionados can pick a converted fisherman’s cottage on a deserted islet; you’ll need to stock up beforehand. In the middle of the untouched Mediterranean, you will rely on solar-powered electricity and sun-heated rainwater.
Self-catered cottages are generally simple but comfortable, and built to preserve the traditional way of life. The price includes boat transfers from the closest inhabited island. If you’d like more help from the host, make sure to inquire about how involved they are. Some go out of their way to take care of you while ensuring that you enjoy your private wilderness; other hosts are more hands-off.
A highlight among Robinson Crusoe options, the Radej Retreat for Conscious Living on a small islet near Murter is a unique hideaway run by a Croatian-French couple. You’ll be settled in a tiny but adorable stone house about 10 yards from the sea and served healthy breakfast featuring organically grown local ingredients. For your stay, you get to choose among vegetarian, vegan and raw menus, and both yoga and massage therapy are available for a true healing experience.
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Croatia’s diverse and unspoiled countryside is home to eight national parks and 11 nature reserves. Farmstays (agroturizam) in nearby villages are gaining in popularity, attracting people who want to learn about the traditional way of life or enjoy countless outdoor activities. Lodging is usually available in three-star ensuite rooms, with plenty of hearty home-cooked meals.
If you express interest, hosts will involve you with simple farming duties, show you traditional crafts or point you to walking routes through vineyards and forests. Though not places of luxury, many farmstays are tastefully done up in a traditional style. Some even mix it up with a touch of quirkiness, like Agroturizam Duvancic in the Sibenik hinterlands, where guests sleep in giant century-old wine barrels converted into bungalows.
Farmstays are available throughout Croatia, including the less-explored continental areas of Gorski Kotar, Slavonia, Baranja and Zagorje. Many come under the name of eco-house (eko kuca), which means they are built with traditional materials like wood, stone and thatch. Some are situated in ethno villages, like Agroturizam Sklepic in Karanac, a fairy-tale farm in a postcard-pretty village close to Kopacki Rit nature reserve in the Baranja region.
Others are tucked away in far-off wilderness. For horseback riding adventures through the UNESCO-protected Velebit Mountain, go to Linden Tree Retreat; lodging is available in atmospheric cabins as well as in Native American-style teepees equipped with real beds.
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–written by Anja Mutic