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    F1S SELECTS

    An Insider’s Guide to

    Visiting Croatia and

    Montenegro in 2021

     

    F1RST Selects

    An Insider’s Guide to Visiting Croatia and Montenegro in 2021

    F1S advisor Liora Manilof gives the scoop on her recent, 17-day trip—including an overnight stay in Istanbul.

     

    Along with Greece, Croatia and Montenegro are also once again welcoming tourists. In May, F1S advisor Liora Manilof spent 17 days traveling through both countries. Here, she tells us about her experience—from truffle hunting in Istria to a lux stay in Portonovi, plus an overnight in Istanbul.

     

    Croatia

    From Miami, I flew Turkish Airlines to Croatia via Istanbul—and the experience was wonderful. After having limited service for over a year, Turkish Airlines has resumed full onboard service, including its inflight chefs in Business class. Safety protocols were taken seriously in both Istanbul and in Croatia, with masks worn by all. 

    The experience on the ground looks a little different as airlines and governments are navigating reopening the borders, and I arrived earlier than usual since the check-in process is longer. For Croatia, the airline agent needed to verify all documents, which In this case, includes a negative PCR or viral antigen test taken 48 hours prior to departure or proof of complete vaccination, and prepaid vouchers of hotel stays.

    In Croatia, my journey started in Zagreb, the capital. The city itself is best discovered on foot, where you can find cute coffee shops, get lost in alleyways in search of the city’s street art, and roam through the colorful market. 

    To the southwest of Zagreb was my next stop, Rovinj, a romantic and historic town on the Istrian Peninsula. Istria is heaven for foodies—and also the white truffle capital of the world. Often compared to Tuscany and other “charming towns,” Istria has its own unique culture and appeal, as well as vast winelands and renowned oil olive production. Here I visited with a local family who are 3rd generation truffle-hunters in Buzet village. Led by their truffle dogs, Bruno and Stiv, we had an unforgettable truffle hunt and lunch. 

    Another highlight was Plitvice Lakes National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was out-of-this-world gorgeous, consisting of 16 crystal clear blue lakes and beautiful waterfalls cascading from one into the next. (Pro-tip: Choose the route that is a little longer and requires a bit more effort. The views are simply stunning.) 

    From there, I continued on to my favorite city in Croatia: Split. The city itself is one of the most historic in the country, and I was within walking distance to the old town and Diocletian’s Palace, a 1700-year-old Roman ruin that forms more than half of the old town today.

     

    What I love about the old town of Split is that it is the perfect place to wander historic alleyways, where you’ll find beautiful surprises in almost every corner. Known for its food, (the gelato is a must!) you will come across many charming little cafes, restaurants, and bars. 

    We had planned to meet a local celebrity chef at the charming Trogir green market for a market walk and shopping, but couldn’t due to the rain. Instead, we went to Chef’s private venue on the slopes of Mt. Kozjak, overlooking Split Bay and enjoyed exquisite food with wine pairing. 

    Split is also the perfect base for exploring national parks, visiting one of Croatia’s most spectacular beaches, and island hopping—which was next on my journey. 

    On the island of Hvar, I stayed at Maslina Resort. Just opened last summer, it’s in the UNESCO-protected town of Stari Grad, and is surrounded by a staggering 30,000-square-meters of olive groves and pine trees. Embodying the feel of “mindful luxury,” every detail of my stay felt like it had been designed to enhance the mental wellbeing of the guests. 

    We also stopped in Ston for one of the experiences I was most looking forward to: visiting the Oyster Farm. On a private tour with a local farmer, we learned how the oysters are grown while eating them fresh from the sea! We were also treated to a stop on his private island for mussels alla buzara, a traditional Dalmatian dish prepared with nothing but olive oil and local herbs, all topped with homemade rakija, similar to brandy.

    My final stop in Croatia was Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic. I can honestly say, now is the time to visit this city. There are no cruise ships, so crowds are less, and you can take advantage and walk the city walls. I suggest arriving early, around 8 am, and exploring the Old Town afterward. A must-do: Seek out Buza Bar in Old Town, a hidden gem on the side of a cliff, for sunset drinks.

     

    Montenegro

     

     

    As Croatia’s lesser-known neighbor, Montenegro shares a lot of the same architecture, scenery, and climate—and has its own breathtaking views of the Adriatic coastline, historic walled towns, beautiful lakes, and mountains. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, it joined with Serbia and was part of ‘Serbia and Montenegro’ until it got its independence in 2006. You can still see signs of the communist legacy, but the country is investing hard as it tries to join the European Union—and though they are not part of the EU, their currency is the Euro. 

    It took about an hour to cross the border from Dubrovnik into Montenegro. Non-vaccinated travelers must have a negative PCR test, done at least 72 hours prior. (Lab results usually come within 12 hours.) At the border, you must present your passport, visa (if required), and either your negative PCR test result or vaccination card.

    My first stop was the Regent Porto Montenegro. About an hour from the border, you can save time by taking a 40-minute ferry that crosses the bay of Kotor, also known as Boka Bay. The hotel is located in the Porto Montenegro marina village filled with high-end shops, gourmet restaurants, and of course extravagant mega-yachts. (Many consider it a mini-Monaco.)

    While there, be sure to visit the old town of Kotor, which is known for its narrow, cobbled streets and grand squares, where the old town walls date back to the 15th century.

    It’s a charming, historic place to stroll, have a cold beer in the main piazza or enjoy unique Montenegrin cuisine at one of the many quaint restaurants and cafes. On the weekend, join the locals for drinks, music, and dancing, or head to the newly opened Nikki Beach.

     

     

     

     

     

    "We then stayed at One & Only Portonovi, which just opened on May 1. This sophisticated, elegant and personal resort is located in the exclusive Portonovi community and is only an hour from Dubrovnik airport by car or 2.5 hours from Podgorica airport."
    Liora Manilof

    The staff is excellent, providing a level of personal service that exudes luxury from arrival to departure. It’s a big hotel, in terms of rooms and facilities, but the overall mood is very quiet and relaxing. You can also take part in the hotel’s Chenot Espace, “a transformative journey of detoxing and resetting the body based on the renowned Chenot Method”, as they explain, including features like individualized wellness treatments and meal plans. 

    Due to a lockdown extension in Turkey, instead of spending a few nights in Istanbul, as I had planned, I decided to extend my stay in Montenegro. I booked a private home for the additional nights, rented a car, and explored the country from the tiniest villages to the main capital city—and it was truly amazing. 

     

    Istanbul

    On my way back to Miami, I was able to overnight in Istanbul and stayed at the extravagant Shangri-la Hotel, situated on the banks of the Bosphorus in Besiktas. Just like Istanbul itself, the hotel is grand with a very welcoming environment.

    As you step into the lobby, you are blown away by the two-story chandelier and bouquets of flowers everywhere. My room was pretty amazing, too—chic with a soft neutral palette, spacious, comfortable, and views over the Bosphorus. I was pleasantly welcomed with a lovely plate of baklava and mixed nuts. In fact, throughout my stay, the service was on point. (And I’m looking forward to my next visit when I can experience their amazing, signature CHI Spa.)

    Before heading to the airport, I decided to visit the old city, even though I was told everything on the weekends is closed. To my pleasant surprise, the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque were open, with no entrance fees and no crowds. I strolled through the Arasta Bazaar located by the Blue Mosque and was lucky enough to get some shopping in before my flight.

     

    Overall Impression

     

     

    Throughout my journey in Croatia and Montenegro, I felt safe. Having a trusted partner like Calvados Club allowed me to see what both countries have to offer, and capture the beauty of their culture, nature, history, and people. 

    We received a very warm, hospitable welcome from local residents, not only in the hotels but also walking the towns. They are enjoying life, gathering with friends for a coffee and/or drinks, and dining al fresco. I truly believe travel right now can be done responsibly and safely, with consideration given to all risks, challenges, and rewards. I found this to be particularly true in both Croatia and Montenegro, and I am so glad I had this amazing experience. 

     

     

     

     

     

    Insider Tips:

      • Get to the airport early because the check-in process—even in first or business class—is longer than usual. The agent needs to verify all documents necessary for your final destination/connection.
      • Take full advantage of fewer crowds—the beauty of traveling right now!—and having places like this Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia seemingly to yourself.
      • In Montenegro, masks must be worn indoors, restaurants and bars close at midnight, and groups must be fewer than 12 people. In Croatia, restaurants and bars must close by 10 pm.
      • Working with a travel advisor has become beneficial now more than ever. From planning a custom itinerary to arranging for things like in-room Covid tests at your hotel or private villa, they bring a wealth of experience, knowledge, and connections to the table. These travel professionals also keep your safety top of mind and can help you push back plans or pivot plans when unexpected changes in travel requirements occur. 

       

      F1S travel advisors can help make your stay in Croatia and Montenegro unforgettable. Let us know when you’re ready and we’ll work our magic.

     

    Talk to an advisor now!
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