It’s easy to find peace and quiet in this popular destination, discovers Joanna Booth

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We can’t get enough of Croatia – it’s official. British visitor numbers grew to over 400,000 in 2013, a huge 23% increase on the previous year. That’s great news for Croatia, but perhaps less of a boon for holidaymakers hoping to avoid the crowds.

There’s no need to cross Croatia off the list. Hotspots such as Dubrovnik may heave in high season, but there are plenty of lesser-known corners where clients can find their own space. Another option is to book a twin centre with one of Croatia’s intriguing but less-touristed neighbours.

LOOK NORTH




Southern Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast tends to hog the limelight, and its signature caramel-coloured walled towns are certainly stunners. However, the Adriatic shore farther north has its own distinct charm. The neighbouring regions of Istria and the Kvarner Riviera are lush and green, with mountains rising in close proximity to the coast.

Istria’s beaches tend to be pebbly, but the water is clear and blue and there are plenty of tranquil bays. Inland, rolling green hills are punctuated with medieval villages and hilltop towns like Motovun (pictured).

Seaside towns abound, with Rovinj one of the prettiest. Here the church spire overlooks a warren of narrow lanes packed with stylish cafes and restaurants. Kirker Holidays suggests the four-star Villa Tuttorotto, a characterful, seven-room boutique with sea views in the heart of the old town. Three nights with breakfast start from £638 including flights and transfers.

Pula is Istria’s largest town, and is where Italy’s long influence over the region is most evident. Among other Roman remains, there’s a large and well-preserved amphitheatre.

It no longer hosts gladiators, but in summer there’s a film festival, an opera season and other events, including dance music festival Dimensions, at the end of August. Jet2holidays offers a self catering apartment at Splendid Resort sleeping five for seven nights over the festival from £359, including flights.

For real seclusion, Anatolian Sky recommends the Brijuni Islands, a designated National Park that abounds in natural beauty and is usually only visited for a day.

Formerly a private retreat of Yugoslavian ruler Marshal Josip Tito, (the Queen was a guest), the operator offers stays in Neptun-Istra Hotel, one of only two on the island, and in a previous life Tito’s guesthouse. Seven nights with breakfast in May starts from £845, including flights and transfers.

Just to the south of the Istrian peninsula, the Kvarner Riviera has hosted tourists since the late 19th century. Opatija welcomed European royalty, and is still considered a rather upmarket grand dame.

The town is new to Balkan Holidays’ programme this year, along with nearby Lovran, another pretty historic town with two city beaches. Lead-in rates from the operator begin at £508 for a week in Opatija’s modest Hotel Belvedere, but there are five-star options on offer too.

The islands here tend to be less busy than those off the Dalmatian coast, and Selective Travel Abroad offers week-long small-ship cruises on vessels with fewer than 20 cabins around the Kvarner Islands.

Krk may be busy, but Rab has quiet corners outside its old town, and Molat and Olib are both peaceful. Cruises start from £491 half-board in June, excluding flights.

KEEP MOVING




Booking a tour will keep clients ahead of the crowds and get them to some quiet corners of the country. Sure, some stops will be busy, but choose an option like Insight Vacations’ 14-day Country Roads of Croatia and there’ll be peace on offer too.

The itinerary starts in capital Zagreb, pops into Slovenia to see the stalactites and stalagmites of the Postojna caves, and explores Istria before heading for the rural splendour of Plitvice National Park.

Stays in Split and Dubrovnik, visits to the islands of Brac and Korcula, and an excursion to Montenegro are also part of the package, which starts from £2,799 including flights, transfers, breakfast and some other meals. Selective Travel Abroad offers a shorter nine-day option visiting Zagreb, Istria, Plitvice, Split and Dubrovnik, from £965 excluding flights.

Even Croatia’s most popular areas can be seen more peacefully if you choose the right means of transport. Let clients take control with a self-drive holiday and they can explore at leisure, stopping in quiet corners that take their fancy.

Anatolian Sky tailor-makes multi-centre trips – a seven-night itinerary staying in Split, Zadar, Plitvice, Zagreb and Dubrovnik starts from £849 including accommodation with breakfast, car hire and flights.

New for this year, Explore has a seven-night Cycle the Dalmatian Coast tour that explores the most popular section between Split and Dubrovnik on two wheels.

Cycling the countryside of Hvar, Korcula, and the Konvale Valley, clients will find the crowds melt away. The tour leads in at £1,220 including flights, accommodation with breakfast, a guide and bike hire.

Croatia

LET’S SPLIT




Split is hardly unheard of – it’s Croatia’s second-largest city – but if clients are looking for an alternative city break to better-known Dubrovnik, it’s a good place to start.

The pint-size historic centre offers a similarly appetising combination of seaside lifestyle and historic beauty – think butter coloured medieval buildings with terracotta roofs, cultural sights on every corner and plenty of pavement cafes.

Cosmos flies three times a week to Split from Birmingham, and offers both city stays and longer beach breaks in the surrounding area. The island of Brac is an hour’s ferry journey from Split, has plenty of family-friendly hotel product and is home to Croatia’s famous ‘Golden Horn’ beach.

Though one of Croatia’s more popular islands, it is also the largest, and so quiet corners can be found. Seven nights’ half-board at the Waterman Resort, including flights and transfers, starts from £490 per adult with Cosmos.

For a more upmarket option, suggest the neighbouring island of Hvar. Hvar Town itself may throng with the glamorous yachting set, but clients who choose Transun’s Villa in Sviracina Bay can find tranquillity a few minutes’ drive away.

Sleeping 12, the property has a terrace overlooking the sea, where guests can swim, fish or just laze about. A seven-night stay with flights, transfers and car hire starts from £785 per person, at the villa’s maximum occupancy.