Unique Lodging in Croatia
Over the last decade, Croatia has become more and more popular as a destination, able to meet the needs of any traveler, from foodies to history nerds, from culture mavens to outdoor sports fanatics, from budget backpackers to lovers of luxury. As more and more people visit the country, a variety of accommodations have risen up to meet them. This often means hotels, inns, and guest houses, from the most modest private homes to chic boutique hotels and extravagant resorts.
But there are a few places that defy convention and don’t fit into any category. These are very often historic homes, or reconstituted structures – like lighthouses and trains – that weren’t built to be slept in at all, but now welcome a flurry of excited guests every week. If you wish to spend the night at one of these, it may take some pre-planning; they are few and far between, and often book out far in advance. If you consider it not just an afterthought, but the high point of your trip to catch some shut-eye on a boat or take a snooze high up in the treetops, you should be prepared to adjust your travel plans to stay in one of these unique lodging options.
Tour, Taste, and Sleep in a Vineyard
If your idea of a perfect vacation is being able to try unique local wines directly in view of the vineyards where they were cultivated–or even just being able to drink freely a few steps from where you’ll sleep–why not try booking a few nights at one of the Croatia’s many vineyards that double as hotels?
Croatian wines are as wide-ranging and multi-varied as those in better-known wine countries like Italy and France, and its vineyards stretch from the mountains north of Zagreb (perfect for Sauvignon Blancs and German Rieslings) to Istria or Dalmatian Islands like Korcula and Hvar, where lesser-known varietals like Malvasia, Vugava, and Plavac tickle the palate. A bonus: vineyards hotels are often historic buildings in and of themselves, surrounded by some of the most picturesque scenery in the area, and many offer high-end cuisine that pairs perfectly with the wines. After a few sips, you may never want to leave.
For particularly memorable vineyard stays, check out the new Roxanich Heritage Wine Hotel in Motovun in central Istria, which boats 5 floors of underground wine storage, or Hotel Boskinac, a boutique hotel with a pool on the northern Dalmatian island of Pag, famed for its cheese.
Eat Well on a Real Farm
The rural bed-and-breakfast concept known as the agriturismo that has become a huge hit in Italy also exists in Croatia. The agroturizam is a privately owned farm that offers travelers a bed and a meal for a reasonable price, and in Croatia they aren’t widely publicized but are worth every kuna. Check regional tourism websites to find out what’s available, or if you happen to be renting a car, simply look for signs that point the way down picturesque, often unpaved country roads.
What you’ll find at the end of those roads can run the gamut from a farmer who needs a bit of help around the property and is willing to take it in exchange for a place to rest your head, to charming inns and cottages with their own dining rooms, where you’ll be fed on memorable farm-to-table meals you can’t get anywhere else, often accompanied by local wines. You’ll be able to take advantage of another bonus: By living with locals, you’ll be able to get the lay of the land from those in the know. Ask for farmers’ recommendations on where to go, what to see, and perhaps mostly importantly, what to eat during your stay.
Play Lookout in a Lighthouse
If you (or your kids) have always dreamed about gazing out over the vast expanse of the sea from a high, barren perch, then you’re in luck: Croatia boasts a few lighthouses-turned-inns where you can sleep for the night. One of these, on the island of Vir just north of Zadar, is an 1880s lighthouse left over from the Austro-Hungarian empire, renovated for guests and rechristened the Villa Lanterna. It includes a wellness area with a whirlpool, sauna, sundeck, and fitness equipment, and of course, it's only a short walk from the beach.
The tiny islet of Prisnjak, off the island of Murter just south of Zadar, is also home to a lighthouse—though the charming white structure looks more like an English summer home. Nevertheless, it was built on this barren stretch of land in 1886 to watch over nearby ships at sea, and it's the perfect place to get truly off the grid: a trip to Murter and the islands beyond can only be done by boat, and there are no grocers or provisions on Prisnjak. This might place it out of reach of some, including families with children, but its stark, remote beauty will be a lure to romantic couples or friends looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Drift off to Sleep on a Boat
If you’ve always wanted to go on a cruise ship, this isn’t that—but it comes pretty close. Fulfill your ship’s cabin dreams at a number of price points, include dorm rooms for budget travelers and private rooms for couples or families, all on a quaint boat hotel (or botel) moored in the harbor in the Istrian city of Rijeka (with a gangway to connect it to land, of course).
The industrial-chic rooms and common spaces are decked out in bright colors, with portholes for lookout and air-conditioning (lest you think sleeping on a boat has to mean roughing it). What’s more, Botel Marina Rijeka includes a bar and restaurant serving a buffet breakfast and light Mediterranean cuisine all day, so you don’t even need to step on dry land to eat your fill of salads, charcuterie plates, and pasta with a view of Rijeka’s majestic waterside buildings.
Spend the Night on a Train
There’s something very old-world glamorous about overnight train travel: everyone has visions of what it must be like from old Hollywood movies, sleeping in a compact yet perfectly designed cabin as a railway car rolls through the night, carrying you to the next exciting destination. Well, there aren’t so many of them left nowadays, but luckily for you, the ones in Croatia are increasingly being turned into hostels.
No concrete dormitories and messy common areas here: this train car parked just outside Zagreb’s main train station has been redone by AdriaticTrainHostels to be a model of comfort and simplicity. Single, double, and triple compartments have wash basins, WiFi, laptop chargers, and air-conditioning, with full bathrooms and living room areas in every car. What’s more, since the station is only a few minutes’ walk from most of the city’s biggest attractions, you’ll feel like you’re getting away with something: a central location at a shockingly low price.
Dream Away Up in the Trees
Anyone who grew up reading adventure books will get a kick out of spending the night high in the treetops (just check with everyone in your traveling group beforehand to make sure no one suffers from vertigo). A new form of extreme vertical camping, these canopy abodes offer a closer experience with nature, and a sense of peace and calm you won’t be able to find in a city or town.
Croatia has a few of them, including a tricked out treehouse that’s part of the Cadmos Village adventure park, which offers an excellent onsite restaurant using local ingredients and traditional cooking methods, plus activities like archery, biking, and zip-lining to wake up to every morning of your stay.
For a treehouse experience that looks a bit like something out of Star Wars, check out the impressively designed tree pods at Grabovac. The five sleek wooden marvels in the Plitvice Holiday Resort seem to float just below the treeline, with a kitchen, a terrace, WiFi, and huge windows to let in the dappled light. A wooden walkway winds around ponds and burbling brooks, neatly alluding to the design of the nearby Plitvice Lakes National Park. And for those who want to stick closer to the ground, several wooden cabins and wigwam-style tents are also available.