Italy has some competition. Croatia, the slender post-Cold War country that sits just across the Adriatic Sea from the land that is home to pizzas and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, is quietly luring the jet-setting class to its soil. In particular, the rugged coastal city of Dubrovnik offering unending views of the emerald sea and petite untouched islands is thriving with a surge of international guests. American couples and roving European families are quickly filling its medieval streets and winding coastal highways, and it is not a surprise to the Adriatic Luxury Hotels (ALH) group. I was able to spend a few sublime days in Dubrovnik and stayed at two stunning properties owned by the ALH group, a hotel collection dedicated to the promotion of Croatia as an understated, remarkable destination.
One aspect that struck me about the ALH group was its patronage of Croatia. Most luxury hotel groups rarely focus attention on one country, but the ALH group's entire collection comprises solely of Croatian hotels and services. The attention to design detail, the exclusively of the small properties, and the extensive planning needed to work with historically protected properties led me to believe the ALH group had a deeper connection to Croatia overall. Indeed, the founder of the ALH group Goran Strok, is Croatian born.
Despite Strok's whirlwind career as a professional racecar driver and later, as a noted international businessman, Strok did not lose sight of his heritage and long linage of family roots to the former Republic of Ragusa. Today, after nearly 15 years of tedious hotel renovations and openings, the ALH Group (now owned by Luksic Group) continues to aggressively purchase historical properties and work closely with the Croatian Privatization Fund, which has earned the group the title of "a pioneer in transforming the Croatian luxury tourism sector," according to media outlets such as NBC.
If possible, arrive in the late evening to the eleven-room Villa Orsula that rests a mile and half from the city's Old Town. Cloaked in blackness, the view that lay before the window sills of the spacious suite were a mystery upon arrival. The next morning, the surprise of the calm, blue sea against the chiseled islands in a panoramic view from the room’s shuddered windows was awe-inspiring. Scurrying from window to window and breathing in the Mediterranean air, we marveled at the cascading lush gardens below. The hotel's dining area, the Victoria Restaurant and Lounge Bar, offer even better displays of the Old City — the 13th century "Pearl of the Adriatic" — and a favored filming spot for American TV shows including Game of Thrones. While dining, the server boasted there was no better view of the Old City than from Villa Orsula, especially while savoring a scrumptious breakfast of fresh fruit, homemade yogurt, delectable crepes and Croatian lattes.
The Villa's private beach is shared with the neighboring Hotel Excelsior. While many Americans are more accustomed to sandy beaches — like the ones of the tropics or the California coastline — the rocky, naturally tiered platforms this little beach offered proved just as beautiful. Guests smiled while diving off the ledges into the serene water, while others splashed in the man-made pool high above the water's mark. To take a break from the sun, retreat to your suite to admire the modern décor while reading on the corner patio. Strok’s wife, Renata personally led the design of each of the ALH group’s properties, and her sense of subtle elegance surrounds the entire hotel. The suite’s master bathroom is particularly stunning, surrounded by imported gleaming white tile with a glass shower showcased in the center.
Just a few miles from the Villa Orsula is another ALH coastal property, the Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik. From a distance, as one walks along the sidewalk of the bay, this hotel appears as a modern blue box housed in glass and perched just above the water’s edge of a rare white pebble beach. Every opportunity to capture uninterrupted views of the nearly overwhelming blue water of the Miramare Bay is artfully taken there, from the floor-to-ceiling glass lobby to the glass elevators. Inside the accommodations, our suite offered two large patios and constant summer breezes from the sea below.
The beach at Hotel Bellevue is a must-do, as it is one of the rarest in the area to naturally possess a smooth pebble strip of rocks which leads right into the crisp water. An entire section is reserved just for Hotel Bellevue guests, and gracious staff members roam the rows of beach-goers lounging under giant bright umbrellas. After basking on the beach, enjoy lunch at Beach Restaurant Nevera where fresh daily-caught calamari and lobster can be savored. Additionally, Hotel Bellevue’s revered Restaurant Vapor can be enjoyed from breakfast to late night. Led by up-and-coming Executive Chef Saša Računica, Restaurant Vapor’s signature dishes include anything fresh caught from the sea, such as Računica’smonkfish Carpaccio with caviar vinaigrette.
Overall, the pearl of Croatia,, Dubrovnik, is best experienced via the hospitality and vision of the ALH group. Visit this little gem before Croatia becomes the Mediterranean’s next luxurious Mecca filled with crowded streets and overpopulated accommodations.