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Wedding bells in Croatia – Dubrovnik to Hvar in style

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‘If we get married in Croatia, do you think anyone will come?’. That was the question posed to me by one of my oldest, and best friends Andy, after he and wife to be Vicky had painstakingly de

liberated a range of options from Ibiza, to Thailand, to a private registrar in sunny (joke) old England. It took me all of 30 seconds to respond after I had stopped laughing… ‘Are you mad, of course they will, count us in!’

I got in touch with my two wing men, Colin and Tom, and we decided early on we were going to do Dalmatia the Le Bon Lifestyle way, with no expense spared.

With dates confirmed I set to the task with vigour. We would fly into Dubrovnik on the Tuesday for two nights, before cruising up to Hvar by motor yacht on Thursday, arriving in plenty of time for the wedding on Saturday.
Dubrovnik
Being one of the best preserved and most photogenic cities in Europe, Dubrovnik has been high on my list for quite some time. Designated a Unesco world heritage site, the old town is encircled by a magnificent 16th century wall and overlooks the calm, azure waters of the Adriatic.
More recently the city has been used as the primary filming location for King’s Landing, the fictional capital of The Seven Kingdoms in hit TV show Game of Thrones.

Where to Stay
There are a handful of 5 star hotels in Dubrovnik, and after careful research, we plumped for the Grand Villa Argentina, located just outside the city walls.
We booked a suite and the view from our balcony was magnificent. To the right we had an uninterrupted view of the old walled city of Dubrovnik, and to the front and left, panoramic views of the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic and the island of Lokrum.
A Suite with Balcony and Sea View at the Grand Villa Argentina will set you back around 500 Euro per night. I highly recommend requesting room 721.

There are a couple of decent dining options onsite. The beach restaurant and bar is casual and although the menu is somewhat limited the food is fresh and tasty. Croatian food closely resembles that of its Adriatic neighbour Italy, and the Black Squid Ink Risotto I had for lunch was as good as any I’ve had on the Amalfi.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the Piano bar and restaurant, which has a large outdoor terrace taking in those sumptuous views – best enjoyed with a pre-dinner cocktail where you can see the sun setting behind the old city. Breakfast is good with a nice selection of hot and cold buffet choices. Our Rose infused lunch of Turbot was also very pleasant.

The hotel’s saltwater pool is located at sea level and has the feel of an infinity pool. But why swim in the pool when you can dive into the shimmering Adriatic instead? I took an exhilarating 5 metre jump from one of the stepped platforms, instantly unleashing my inner child.

Things to do
After a leisurely breakfast on your private balcony, take a stroll into the old town and get lost in the maze of ancient alleyways with their artisan shops and restaurants.
I recommend taking the cable car high above the city to marvel at the magnificent views of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic coast in panorama. Reserve a table at Panorama restaurant if you want to wet your pallet over a spot of lunch while taking in the beautiful vista.

After the cable car, we had a wander among the tourists and street performers in the bustling Gundulic Square, where it’s all happening. Noon was approaching, and the sun was depleting our energy, so we had a quick stroll along the 16th century wall before our thirst got the better of us and we headed to Buza Bar for some liquid refreshment.
Buza Bar is carved into the rock face directly beneath the outer wall, overlooking the sparkling Adriatic. We made it just before ‘Rosé o’clock’ and quickly recharged our batteries with a couple of glasses of the good stuff, before heading back to the Grand Villa Argentina for an afternoon on the sun lounger with a Kindle and some cocktails.

Where to Eat
There are a number of good dining options in the old town of Dubrovnik, just a leisurely 10 minute stroll from the Grand Villa Argentina.
On the first night, we dined at Proto Fish Restaurant, located down a side alley just off the main square.
I couldn’t decide between the Gratinated Oysters or Escargot to start, so I decided to order both! Why not? You are on holiday. Both were superb. The Oysters were served on a small slice of French toast, with a melted parmesan topping resulting in a creamy and moreish feast on the pallet. The escargots came with a garlicky gravy resembling a beef bourguignon, which just had to be mopped up with rustic hunks of bread.

The star of the show for main was the Salt Baked Seabass. I can never resist this dish if it’s on the menu and we were not left disappointed. The fish was cooked perfectly, à la pointe, and the salty Bass was complimented superbly by the olive oil sautéed potatoes and succulent slices of aubergine.
The meal was accompanied by a hearty Croatian red, which I was pleasantly surprised by and we left, bellies full, wallets a little lighter and spirits high.

Our second evening took us to Nautika restaurant, lauded as the best restaurant in Dubrovnik, Nautika directly overlooks the Adriatic and is located close to the Pile Gate entrance of the old city.
Make sure you book well ahead (months) and request a table outside. We managed to reserve a table on the upper terrace which makes for a very romantic setting overlooking the moonlit sea.

The truffle infused, Adriatic Scallops to start were delicate and fresh, and my main of Tuna was pleasant enough, but unfortunately, I had a monumental bout of food envy when Gemma allowed me to taste a morsel of her Charolais Beef. I could have eaten for a starter, main and desert – I’m not exaggerating to say it had to be one of the best pieces of steak I have eaten. More’s the pity I only got a bite!
After another very satisfying meal, we rolled out merrily into the night, chatting excitedly about what lay ahead tomorrow, when we would be regretfully departing the beautiful city of Dubrovnik and heading by motor yacht to the hedonistic island of Hvar…
Cruising from Dubrovnik to Hvar
Our mini van arrived promptly at 9:30 to take us to the harbour, where we would meet our skipper, Luka, to board our motor yacht for the trip up to Hvar. We booked our trip via the excellent Dubrovnik Boats who arranged everything.
I must admit to being a little nervous as we approached the harbour. I had booked the boat online, and although the photos looked good, they only ever tell half the story. I needn’t have worried as my anxiety turned to relief when I laid eyes on the sleek 30 foot Jeanneau Leader 8.

Our best intentions to wait until lunchtime for our first drink were blown out of the water within 5 minutes, as Luka cracked out the beers and Prosecco. 10 am is an early start but it’s lunchtime somewhere in the world, right?
Our joy swiftly turned to anguish as we realised there was no ice on board for our Grey Goose, Soda and Lime’s…queue Luka, or ‘fit boat man’, as the girls referred to him, to come to the rescue and stop off at the next island to get some – now that’s what I call service!
House tunes blaring and alcohol flowing, we danced and sang our way merrily on to our half way stop at the island of Korčula. We docked in the marina of the picturesque little enclave, and Luka explained that he had booked us in for lunch at his friend’s restaurant.
Alarm bells rang immediately, as past experience told me that ‘mates restaurants’ usefully meant a backhander and average food.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Luka’s friend was the proprietor of Lešić Dimitri, who’s head chef Marko Gajski honed his skills in two Michelin star restaurants in London and Barcelona no less.
We were seated outside, under the shade of a pine tree, overlooking the crystal blue sea, where the bubbly owner Drazen suggested that we go off piste and allow chef to create us a tasting menu using a selection of the best local ingredients, paired with wines chosen by Drazen. Immediately disarmed by the scenery and Drazen’s infective enthusiasm, we agreed to leave ourselves in his hands.

Dish after dish arrived, each delivering its own flavour sensation. Delicate carpaccio of fish, hand dived prawns that melted on the tongue, homemade truffle infused macaroni, and succulent lamb washed down with a selection of fine Croatian wines that could hold their own against any of their French counterparts.
The final blow was delivered by the quenelle of chocolate with caramel and sea salt. Chef was presented to the table to a round of applause, and we said our farewells with promises that we would be back for a rematch soon.

Collective appetites satisfied we re-boarded the party boat and asked Luka to make haste to Hvar…
Villa Mario – Hvar
On arrival in Hvar, we said an emotional farewell to Luca, who had been a superstar all day, and jumped into a taxi to Villa Mario.
Set on a hill, five minutes from Hvar town, Villa Mario’s panoramic sea views took our breath away straight away. We instantly knew that we would be more than happy in this Croatian Crib for the next five nights.

The villa has four bedrooms set over two floors and a large open plan kitchen, diner, lounge that opens up through bi-folding doors to the infinity pool and garden. There was an outside dining area with pizza oven and bar that would get good use over the coming days and nights.
With sunset rapidly approaching, we took quick showers to sober ourselves up (fat chance) and headed down to Hula Hula Beach Bar to meet the wedding party.
It was fantastic to see Andy and Vicky, and we partied long into the night with family and friends in a blur of vodka, champagne and sparklers, watching the sunset gloriously from Hula Hula and dancing on the tables in Carpe Diem.

Next morning was like something from the movie ‘The Hangover’, minus Mike Tyson and the tiger.
I had pre-planned for this turn of events by ordering in villa dining for brunch. The service was provided by two brothers, Vlado and Drago, who run their own restaurant in Hvar and were billed as something akin to Jamie Oliver by villa owner Mario.

It turns out that Mario wasn’t exaggerating. Drago turned up and cooked us an excellent breakfast of sausages, potatoes, bacon and eggs, mopped up with rustic bread and washed down with coffee and juice – enough to fix any hangover.
Breakfast was delicious that we asked Drago to come back for dinner which he duly obliged. We had a few hours to kill until then so we hooked up Spotify to the Denon sound system and settled down for a lazy afternoon of sunbathing, interrupted by the occasional dip in the pool.

Drago arrived back at around four o’clock in the afternoon with a feast of Veal and Lamb chops slowly cooked in red wine with roast potatoes, and vegetables marinated in olive oil. This boy can cook! The meal was accompanied by Drago’s own homemade wine, which contrary to every other home brew attempt I have experienced didn’t taste like diesel and was more than drinkable.
As the sun set behind the silhouetted islands, Mario, who was the perfect host throughout, turned up to check everything was ok and lit a fire in the chill out cubby by the pool. Here, we spent the rest of the evening with our friend Jimbob, who arrived earlier that day, chatting under the stars, recounting old stories and excitedly discussing the wedding ahead. All in the intoxicating glow of Drago’s organic wine.

Wedding bells in Hvar
Saturday came, and the villa was buzzing with wedding preparations. The girl’s makeup artist arrived at noon and Tom and I had decided to pop into town beforehand to buy a bottle of bubbly to get into the mood pre-match.

Sending the both us to buy food and drink is akin to sending George Best out to the nearest off license with the instruction to go easy and buy one bottle of something nice…we returned with a Magnum of Rosé Prosecco, 30 slices of cured ham, a large slice of cheese and a large black truffle – we had been up sold spectacularly by another wonderfully disarming local who, as it turns out, would be providing some of the catering for the wedding!

Carriages arrived at three, and we were ferried to the venue by speedboat. The setting was spectacular, with the villa carved into a cliff, over four levels, situated in its own private cove.
The ceremony was presided over by Vicky’s dad, who had been previously ordained, and the happy couple looked radiant and resplendent as they were married besides the shimmering Adriatic as the sun beat down.
Little Oscar, Andy and Vicky’s six-month-old son, looked every bit the part in his wedding outfit and it certainly brought a tear to the eye seeing two of our closest friends tying the knot in such beautiful surroundings with so many special people.

Confetti thrown and noses blown, we headed upstairs for cocktails in preparation for the wedding dinner and best man’s speech.

Richard didn’t let anybody down and smashed it out of the proverbial park. He delivered an amusing and heartfelt speech that didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

Speeches out of the way and dinner consumed, it was time to hit the dance floor and throw some shapes. The DJ, from Zagreb, was sensational, pumping out a set that wouldn’t have gone amiss in Ibiza. We partied hard into the early hours and headed back to Villa Mario by boat in the murky darkness, knowing we had been to one of the weddings of a lifetime.
Au Revoir Hvar, Not Goodbye
Villa Mario was a sleepy retreat the following day as everybody recharged their batteries from the night before.
We headed down to Hula Hula in the afternoon to meet the gang and recount stories from the previous day’s events. I went from never wanting another drink in my life again to ‘fun time Bobby’ in no time at all, funny how a couple of glasses of Dom Perignon can perk you up!

The evening rapidly escalated with every drink, as it often does in good company. We took a pitstop in Black Pepper, a lovely restaurant in the old town, recommended by Andy and Vicky. As with all our meals in Croatia it didn’t let us down.
The evening ended fittingly, where it all started in Hvar, dancing the night away in Carpe Diem like it would never end.

On Monday morning we said a sad farewell to Villa buddies Tom and Andrea and spent our last day in Villa Mario lounging by the pool and relaxing with remaining Villerites Colin and Gemma.
We decided to get Drago back in to cook a BBQ for our last supper and invited Jimbob round with best man Richard and his girlfriend Tatian.

Drago arrived in the afternoon with more food than the entire wedding party could have eaten. It was a feast to end all feasts. Seabream with garlic and pesto sauce, sausages, veal, lamb, chicken, salad – he must have cleaned out an entire supermarket!
We gorged ourselves on Drago’s super supper and guzzled down more of his wine, retreating again to the cubby and fire, wishing it would never end.

Sadly, all things do.
As Tuesday came, it all seemed to have gone so quickly. In seven days we had eaten like kings, drank like fish and partied like Rolling Stones.
Thank you, Andy and Vicky
Thank you, Croatia
See you soon.

I am Rob, the editor of Le Bon Lifestyle. I am married to Gemma and love the finer things in life. My passions are food and travel.

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