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The Best of Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian Coast

With its seductive natural beauty, Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia have become Europe’s hottest summer destination. Imagine sapphire seas, powdery beaches and ancient cities, where buzzy nightclubs and of-the-moment restaurants coexist alongside medieval palaces and churches. Here, your essential guide to the coast.

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The southernmost city on the Dalmatian coast, Dubrovnik steals the show with its walled old town (which doubled as King’s Landing in HBO’s Game of Thrones) and Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches. Kickstart your visit with a one-hour ramble on the remarkably preserved medieval ramparts. The view below reveals terracotta rooftops, domes and church spires of the old town, bordered by the pristinely blue Adriatic Sea. After the trek, stop for a lunch of mussels à la buzara (a regional specialty) or succulent oysters from the nearby Ston bay at the down-home Buffet Kamenice on the Gundulić square. A short walk away, Dubrovnik’s main pedestrian promenade, the limestone-paved Stradun, is lined with sidewalk cafés and stately townhouses. After an amble along the thoroughfare, head to the 15th century Rector’s Palace, a Gothic-Renaissance building that was once the seat of the government and now houses an informative museum highlighting Dubrovnik’s history. Come evening, go for sundowners at the iconic Buža café-bar, which teeters off the rocks below the ramparts, with stretching sea vistas and swimming ops.

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With endless sunshine, an eye-catching harbor, and the scent of lavender filling the air, it’s easy to see why Hvar island has become the vaca spot of choice for the world’s jet set. At historic Hvar Town, a swish and swanky getaway on the southwest coast, you’re likely to sip your cocktail next to an A-list celeb who just rolled in on their yacht. Most of the action happens on the seaside promenade, where a set of Venetian stone houses rise up along the hillsides toward the 16th-century citadel. Clamber along the city walls to this fortress for swoon-worthy views of the town, the harbor and Pakleni islands offshore. The town’s main square, presided over by the 17th-century St Stephen’s cathedral, opens up onto the harbor lined with restaurants, shops, galleries and cafes. (We love the tasty _rafioli _pastries at Nonica.) For dinner, the romantic Divino looks out onto the water and serves standout lamb crepinette and tuna tataki, paired with an expertly curated wine list. JS Tip: If you're looking for a quiet escape, hop a taxi boat to one of the uninhabited Pakleni islands.

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Dalmatia’s capital, Split is a thriving Mediterranean city – Croatia’s second largest – with jaw-dropping architecture and an ancient labyrinth of back streets. The center of it all is Diocletian Palace, an Roman-era complex that has survived as a living city quarter since the Middle Ages, with its maze of piazzas, columns, alleys, gates, temples and chambers. ( For a stroke of luck, make sure to touch the giant left toe of Grgur Ninski, a bronze statue of a medieval bishop that sits right outside the Golden Gate.) When you need a break from sightseeing, do some people watching on the palm-fringed Riva promenade. Then walk through the picturesque Varoš quarter and climb to the top of Marjan peninsula just west of the center. This pretty nature reserve overflows with pines, oak, cypress and sweet-scented Mediterranean shrubbery. You can't go wrong with dinner at Villa Spiza for a real-deal local spot tucked away in an alleyway that serves deliciously fresh seafood mainstays like maneštra and brudet.

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This island's biggest draws are its landscape of vineyards, olive groves and forests, along with a gorgeous old town, where four centuries of Venetian rule have left their architectural mark. Korčula town has a fishbone layout, filled with lion statues and imposing palazzos, with intricate stonework. Climb to the terrace of the Big Revelin Tower for knockout views of the Pelješac strait and surrounding islands. From there, take a 10-minute taxi ride to Bire Winery in Lumbarda, the island’s first organic producer (sample local wines like the white Bire Grk and red Plavac. Don’t miss a long, leisurely lunch on the seafront terrace of Filippi, which specializes in both traditional dishes like the žrnovski makaruli pasta and contemporary plates like tuna steak with ginger shavings on flavored bulgur. Skip desert and instead head to Cukarin for sweet treats like klaštuni (walnut-filled dough) and amareti (almond cookies with lemon and orange).

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Of all the main Dalmatian islands, Vis is the most remote and least developed. This is partly because it served as a base for the Yugoslav National army and remained inaccessible to outside visitors until 1989. Today, in-the-know Croatians come to enjoy the slow pace and hidden beaches far from the crowds of neighboring islands. Stay in the ancient Vis Town on a horseshoe-shaped bay on the island’s northeast coast, and dine at Pojoda restaurant, with its verdant courtyard and a menu of crustaceans, fresh fish and local dishes like orbiko (an orzo risotto with shrimp and peas). Two island must-dos: a visit to the gorgeous Stiniva beach, in a pebble cove flanked by tall rocks, and a boat jaunt out to the Blue Grotto on tiny Biševo island nearby.

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