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Top 5 Croatian Coast

I first visited Croatia to cover the war in the early 1990s and have watched in amazement and with pride as the country has not only recovered, but also become one of the rising tourist stars of Europe. I've now written six guidebooks and hundreds of articles on what is one of my favourite countries and I'd like to share my knowledge of Croatia with you.

Today the glittering coast - a glorious land of islands and sea alive with Roman and Venetian ghosts - boasts a sweep of remarkable towns and cities that are up there with the most appealing in Europe. Swirl in easy flight connections from Edinburgh and there has never been a better time to go. Read on as I've just been back and have the perfect 5 Croatian coastal getaways for you...

1. Opatija - For me this glorious old world resort is 'Vienna on Sea'. It was the favoured Adriatic resort for citizens of Vienna when Austria held sway over the region and much of the ornate architecture lingers on from that period. There are wee cafes where you can enjoy Austrian-influenced cakes, a lovely waterfront walk - the lungomare - and a brilliant tourism museum that looks at the growth of Opatija as a tourist destination for the rich and the famous, including composers such as Mahler and Puccini.

Recommended Hotel: The Hotel Bevanda actually grew up around the famous restaurant of the same name. That is fitting as it still boasts one of the best restaurants in Croatia. On my latest visit I spent quite a bit of time with its top dog - Croatian Masterchef celebrity Andrej Barbieri - who is a brilliant chef and visionary, playing a major part in the country's growing reputation as a foodie hub. Book a room with a sea view.

2. Zadar - This Northern Dalmatian city struggled to recover from the shelling it endured during the 1990s war, but is now one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the region. And no wonder. On its picturesque old town peninsula, Roman remnants and Venetian grandeur compete for attention along with the most striking church in Croatia, St Donat's. The local café culture and nightlife are legendary and there are two of the finest pieces of public art I've ever seen across the 100 countries I've been to. The Sun Salutation stores the sun's energy by day to explode in a sea of colour at night, while the Sea Organ uses the power of the waves to create unique music. And there are the sunsets, which Alfred Hitchcock eulogised as the finest in the world.

Recommended Hotel - Zadar is a bit thin on the ground for hotels, so it's handy that the Hotel Bastion is one of the best in Croatia. It is symbolic of the two sides of the city. Set in a grand historic bastion, the décor is bright and hip, a proper boutique hotel. Their spa is excellent too with a large Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. Their acclaimed restaurant is also worth staying in for. Look out for black truffles from the surrounding region, which were only certified in late 2014. Local rumour has it that the white fungi of autumn are soon to be certified too so watch this space...

3. Split - Split is mind-blowing. The centre of Croatia's second largest city is founded around the still intact massive retirement palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian. Unlike some cities history is very much of the living kind in Split as you can wander around it all, with people now living and running bars and restaurants in the old palace buildings. Split is the country's biggest ferry port too so there is an irrepressible buzz about this thrilling city. Most people used to just pass through Split. Today everyone wants to stay.

Recommended Hotels - After years of a severe shortage Split now has some seriously good hotels. My favourite is the Hotel Vestibul Palace, a real boutique secret tucked away on the little explored second tier of Diocletian's Palace. You are sleeping right where the Romans used to bed down in a wee oasis of luxury that feels set apart from the bustle on the waterfront Riva and the main part of Diocletian's Palace.


4. Korcula Town - Local legend has it that famous explorer Marco Polo was born in Korcula Town (you can even visit 'his' house) and if he was I can certainly see why he chose to return to relax in this picture postcard gem after his global meanderings. The compact old town is awash with narrow stone streets, cute wee shops and graceful churches. After exploring this atmospheric core there are plenty of cafes and restaurants offering respite from the summer heat on the breezy waterfront terrace that ripples around the old walls.

Recommended Hotel: The Lesic Palace is one of finest luxury hotels not just in Croatia, but anywhere in the Adriatic. To call it a hotel is something of a misnomer. It is literally palatial, with the multi bedroom 'residences' all reclining within a grand old Bishop's Palace right in the old town, which has been brilliantly revamped using as many local materials as possible. The restaurant at this ultra slick Relais & Chateaux escape, LD, is Korcula's finest too so settle in here on their Adriatic terrace and experience head chef Toni Erceg's brilliant recreations of Adriatic dishes.

5. Dubrovnik - Lord Byron's 'Pearl of the Adriatic' really is something deeply special. During the war I failed to get down here as it was cut off, but those days are mercifully long gone. It is easy to see why the producers of Game of Thrones chose this deeply dramatic one time city state as the perfect setting for their King's Landing. The sturdy (never breached) city walls tower above the sparkling Adriatic on one flank and peer up towards a steep sweep of limestone mountains on the other. Within this impossibly pretty setting is a perfectly preserved baroque city whose graceful stone buildings these days only house around 1,000 people. They are also home to myriad bars, cafes, restaurants and shops. Yes, Dubrovnik is getting busy in the summer months, but the influx of tourist revenue is also meaning local restaurants and hotels are investing and improving all the time.

Mighty walls of Dubrovnik from a canoe

Recommended Hotel - I've been staying at the Excelsior Hotel for over a decade now. It for me remains the finest five star option despite some serious competition these days. It boasts the best view in the city of the old town across the water so it's essential to book a sea view room! I love that you can slip straight into the sea too with the same view in front of the hotel and dine down here by the water. Their award-winning spa is for me the city's finest.

Robin travelled to Dubrovnik with easyJet and travelled around using a car through Holiday Autos. More information can be found in the Lonely Planet guide to Croatia and on the official website of the Croatian Tourist Office.

About Robin

Robin McKelvie has been a travel writer, broadcaster and photographer since 1997. He has written thousands of travel articles for magazines and newspapers across five continents. In recent years he has also moved heavily into online writing, social media and blogging.