Commencing my Croatian adventure in Split, I spent four days exploring the mainland through an array of unique experiences. Gearing up in hard helmets and head torches, I ventured 350m deep underground into the Diocletian Roman aqueduct, an impressive structure almost 1,700 years old. Guided by an expert cave biologist, this experience provided a fascinating historical overview of Split.
Driving inland to a peaceful woodland spot, I met a lovely Dalmatian family who have devoted their lives to truffle hunting. Setting out into the trees with the father, daughter, and three amazing Lagotto Romagnolo dogs, we went in search of Croatia’s hidden underground treasure. Hunting for fresh truffles is an absorbing experience; witnessing the highly-trained dogs sniff the strong scent from above ground, before lying on their find, we then used special tools to dig out the truffle. Ending our adventure with a sensational, truffle-infused three-course meal set amidst the trees was a real treat.
Travelling by car along the coastal road was an eye-opening experience, with lovely island and quaint village vistas. I explored Šibenik, an authentic town with a breathtaking 15th century stone cathedral decorated with 71 sculpted faces. Skradin was my next stop, a charming village set on the Krka River, and the gateway to Krka National Park, a heavenly natural environment where rushing waterfalls and emerald-green waters flow through. Here you can savour the serenity of the sparkling waters, or embrace fantastic hiking and biking opportunities. Journeying to Plastovo, I had a special wine-tasting experience at Bibich winery, owned by Alen and Vesna Bibić. Following the war, Alen restored his family’s estate, becoming the first individual to put Croatian wines on the world list. Alen’s innovation, coupled with Vesna’s gastronomy creates an iconic wine pairing experience, set in a stunning hilltop location.
For a brilliant foodie experience in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Trogir, I was welcomed into the home of Tatjana, a remarkable chef who introduced me to a variety of mouth-watering dishes. With a backdrop of local music, I learned about Croatian cuisine and felt completely at home in the cosy, kitchen setting.
For my final mainland adventure, I drove south through sweeping valleys, sprawling vineyards, and over the Bosnian border to the peaceful towns of Ston and Mali Ston.
From here, I boarded a boat to the tiny private island of Ostroc for a delectable lunch of fresh mussels and oysters. Hosted by Denis and his nephew Damir, I learned about the rare European flat oysters (found in only four places on the continent) and witnessed their unique farming methods, before tucking into a sensational meal, accompanied by homemade myrtle brandy, bread, and olive oil. Continuing to the jaw-dropping city of Dubrovnik, I strolled through the old town, before embarking on my next adventure.
A short 30-minute speedboat away from Dubrovnik lies the idyllic island of Lopud, one of the Elaphiti trio and home to just over 200 people. Wonderfully remote, empty of crowds, cars, and free of noise, Lopud is a truly special place. Stone houses are in abundance, luscious gardens filter through the settlements, and ruined fortresses seemingly guard the island from their hilltop setting. To traverse the landscape, one can hike, bicycle, or be driven in buggies along the winding trails, further enhancing the unique nature of this island.
We were lucky to experience the magic of LOPUD 1483, our breathtaking home for three memorable nights. Speeding around the northern tip of the island, the Franciscan monastery creeps into view, standing proud on its rocky private peninsula. With a striking façade and a tranquil air, I immediately felt captivated by this impressive building.
Mooring in the small harbour, the manager Klara greeted us before we wandered the cobbled streets and stepped across the grand threshold into the grounds of the monastery. Before entering the private house, there is a beautiful church for members of the community to experience. Peering upwards, a beautiful church bell rings out, cutting the silence with its enchanting sound – a perfect island welcome.
For centuries, the monastery has been a place of worship, refuge, healing, and contemplation, and today LOPUD 1483 stands as a modern sacred space where people can blissfully escape from the busy world.
Originally there were 13 monk cells within the monastery walls, now there are five exquisite suites, each with its own unique character, yet all consistent in design and ambience. With four overlooking the glistening Adriatic waters, and one peering into the medicinal garden, you can expect wonderful vistas throughout.
Each features a unique combination of contemporary art pieces, bespoke furniture by Italian designer, Paola Lenti, and Renaissance furniture from the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection. Beyond these artistic elements, every small aspect of the suite, from embroidered lavender bags to locally-made bathroom products, adds a thoughtful touch to the room.
The corridors are spacious with wooden floors, ceilings, and windows. Striking pieces of furniture and art continue to filter throughout the interiors, whilst freshly picked flowers stand daintily in glass vases. Within the monastery walls there are ample spaces for gathering together after days spent exploring the island. You may choose to make pizzas in the Old Kitchen’s open fire or host a dinner party in the grand dining room. The sunset terrace above the fortress is an unforgettable setting for sundowners and stargazing, whilst the cloister creates an atmospheric space to relax or have drinks.
As a group, we fully immersed ourselves in the Lopud experience. Our days were spent kayaking, paddle boarding, and swimming in the turquoise waters, before returning to the house to soak in the Croatian rays. With private access to the sea, the surrounding waters feel as though they are only yours, making for a particularly serene experience. We spent a day cruising around the island, exploring natural caves, and snorkelling, before mooring at Sunj Beach, one of few sandy bays in the area where the waters are calm and crystal-clear.
Venturing inland, there are an array of walking trails to discover, each winding its way through verdant nature where lizards bask on rocks and butterflies flit through the greenery. Walking to the ancient Sutvrac fortress offers outstanding panoramas of the Elaphiti islands and the pristine Dalmatian coast. Most notably of all is the utmost peace and tranquillity which radiates through Lopud’s landscape – a silence which is only interrupted by monastery bells and the occasional engine of a boat rumble through the sea.
Wellness undoubtedly takes centre stage at LOPUD 1483. Meals are carefully curated from natural, locally-sourced ingredients; vegetables and herbs are hand-picked from the monastery’s garden, eggs collected from the hens, and seafood caught daily from the Adriatic waters. For ultimate relaxation, we had a restorative yoga session on the front deck and a relaxing massage in the spa, located high in the fortress walls.
Between the monastery and the fortress lies the Sacred Garden, a contemplative pathway of nine stops which invites guests to connect with the deeper teachings of plant medicine and spirituality. The picturesque garden is maintained by one gardener, a knowledgeable botanist who has created a majestic natural environment, teeming with life.
For travellers seeking an authentic sun-soaked retreat, I encourage you to discover the wonders of LOPUD 1483. The unique integration of contemporary luxury with fascinating history, creates an utterly timeless environment. Whether you have been exploring the mainland, or sailing the Adriatic Sea, consider Lopud Island for a special Croatian experience.
For a full Croatian itinerary, click here.