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Good Holiday Ideas | August 19, 2022

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All this beauty and mountains too

All this beauty and mountains too
Paula Hill

From Sally Ann Voak in sun-kissed Croatia.

Quite an impasse till we found a tiny, easily-accessible Croatian island called Kolocep in the Adriatic, off the coast of Dubrovnik. With just 125 inhabitants, it has a regular boat service to and from this fairytale haven.

There is one, adults only, hotel with three restaurants, a gym, sauna, plenty of local walks, evening music, a small but sandy beach and water sports.

I wanted action for our off-peak short break – long walks, preferably in a mountain environment, lots of swimming, yoga if possible, dancing, and adventure.

Husband Pat fancied just sitting quietly on a sun-kissed balcony, sampling good food, eyeing up gorgeous girls, and (occasionally!) dipping his toe in the sea.

However we both enjoy jazz, exploring cities, hate long flights or self-catering (we’ve had enough of that, thanks!), screaming kids, boiling hot weather.

Pat enjoying the view

The journey was easy: a 2-hour plus flight Gatwick to Dubrovnik, short coach ride to the harbour, 25 minute boat trip to bliss! The hotel was simple but charming with a small private sandy beach, pool, sauna, games rooms, three restaurants. Good-looking (Pat’s verdict!) Croatian staff offered hot towels and cocktails, the sun was shining and it was warm but not sweltering. The balcony of our ground floor room in the raised gardens provided a great view across the bay to the fishing harbour and the large double bed was even long enough for my 6ft 1in tall bloke. I signed on for 10am beach yoga and booked a Thai massage.

Our first experience of all-inclusive catering was a shock. How can people put away so much grub and booze? We learned that it was best to eat late at the help-yourself restaurant. The fabulous local dishes: salads, fish, fruit were piled high, so there was plenty left at 9pm. The bar had free cocktails including superb Bloody Marys and local wines, some a bit rough! The à la carte section stocked French and Italian wines and the delightful small Italian restaurant, a short walk away in the leafy grounds, had classic dishes, and a romantic setting.

I loved my yoga class, danced every evening, swam and walked through the village of Donje Celo with its terracotta-roofed villas and 15th Century church, across the island to the tiny harbour of Gornje Celo on the other side.

Pat enjoyed the peace and watching the pirate ship sailing in and out of the port, sometimes packed with tourists and, on two occasions, with locals: black-clad mourners attending a funeral then, a few days later, a jolly crowd of guests and musicians on their way to a wedding. A rugby match on the hotel telly was perfect male entertainment (while I worked out in the gym!). The Croatian class offered enough of the lingo to start a conversation and we found residents and staff dignified and charming. Their strength shines through, as does their determination to build a strong economy. After a couple of days, we felt that magical Kolocep was our very own island.

On three out of the seven days, (including Pat’s birthday), we took the boat into Dubrovnik harbour then boarded a local bus to the Pile Gate, alighting at Stradun, the main thoroughfare. The two-hour walk around the city walls was off-limits as we wanted to save our time and energy for exploring. Our favourite sites: the Franciscan Monastery (with an enchanting, cool courtyard and old pharmacy, established in 1391!), the Baroque Church of St Blaise and the Museum of the Croatian War of Independence, a moving tribute to the bravery of citizens during the 1991-95 war.

After a meal by the port (£10 a head with wine), we took in some great jazz in a secluded square, picked up a cab to the port, boarded the midnight boat and sailed back to our romantic island. On departure day, the sunny early autumn weather gave way to high winds and torrential rain so the voyage back to the mainland was a bit tricky. “It’s just a light swell,” said my cool-headed husband. “Anyway, you wanted adventure!”

• We booked through Thomas Cook and travelled with Thomson Holidays. One week’s stay at the all-inclusive, adults-only, Sensimar Kalamota Island Resort costs from £570 pp, including flights.

High life

The views from our hotel towards the mountains beyond Dubrovik was spectacular, as ranges of high peaks stretch from the Alps, and cover most of the country. Indeed there is a host of touristy things to do and lots of mountain action, which we noted for a return visit – next time to the mountains.

Even the walks across the island were hilly and challenging, but I thought about my ski-lazy legs, and plodded on! Reward? Wonderful views towards the island bays, and beyond to Dubrovnik’s spectacular bridge and port and I toned up calves and thighs!

We enjoyed a long, but fabulous one-day trip to Mostar, in Bosnia, via some of the most beautiful mountain scenery. By boat and coach, it was relaxing as we soaked up the views. The sight of the stunning Stari Most, the Old Bridge, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in the Balkans recent war, made the journey worthwhile.