A stylish new playground for international beachcombers and scenesters is taking shape along the sun-kissed coasts of Croatia, Montenegro, and Turkey
[FOR THE FEATURE, SEE PAGE 60]
New hotels, perennial sunshine, and a crystalline sea are drawing a new breed of traveler to this emerging stretch of the east Mediterranean coastbut getting around is far from seamless. It's easy enough to beach hop in Turkey, but reaching the strands of Croatia or Montenegro requires connecting through some combination of Vienna, Rome, Zagreb, or Belgrade.
In Turkey, if you're traveling with an entourage, the best option is to charter a gulet (a traditional wooden sailboat with multiple cabins and a crew) and hug the bays along the coast, especially during the July and August peak. Omer Karacan, a well-connected Istanbulian, runs Private Class, which can organize your nautical social scene .
On land, poorly marked winding roads and eccentric local drivers can make driving difficult, but taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced. For longer distances, hire a driver through your hotel.
Conversely, Croatia and Montenegro are easily navigated, with well-paved highways and plenty of rental car offices and English-speakers. Just watch for speed traps and potential delays at border crossings. Ferries and water taxis service all the major islands.
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The country code for Croatia is 385, Montenegro is 382, and Turkey is 90. Prices quoted are for March 2009.
Hilly, vineyard-dotted Hvar is the first island on the Dalmatian coast to get a luxury makeover. The Riva, a converted 19th-century stone villa on the Hvar Town harbor promenade, has cosmopolitan rooms (21-750-100; doubles, $207$285). For retro movie star glamour, plunk down in a sea foamcolored cabana at the refurbished Bonj les Bains beach club, a 1930s stone colonnade perched near Hvar Town (21-750-300; cabanas, $42 a day). Late at night, the party rages at Carpe Diem 's nightclub on the harbor, where the yachties drain vodka tonics and dance (21-742-369).
Bohemians favor Stari Grad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with art galleries and airy cafA[c]s. In the evening, the long wooden benches are full at Antika, a funky cafA[c] that spills out of two medieval town houses into a courtyard (Donja Kola; 21-765-479; entrA[c]es, $7$14).
On this island off the coast of Dubrovnik, art collector and patron Baroness Francesca von Habsburg is giving contemporary art makeovers to an imposing 15th-century monastery and fortress. Sleep in the center of town at Habsburg's La Villa, an elegant six-room guesthouse with French windows, a grapevine-covered courtyard, and a lobby filled with art books (91-322-0126; doubles, $98$190). The island is so small that you can walk most of it, or hop a shuttle to Sunj Beach, a long sandy crescent with a shaded cafA[c].
A 20-minute water taxi ride from Hvar Town ($2.50), the Pakleni Islands include St. Klement, which has dozens of coves for swimming. For lunch, take a dirt path inland to Konoba Dionis, a rustic vineyard restaurant that serves local wine and Croatian staples like aubergine pie and cuttlefish risotto (981-761-016; entrA[c]es, $14$21).
Montenegro is on the way to becoming an eastern Monte Carlo, with mega-yacht marinas and posh hotels. A few luxury properties have already opened in the medieval town of Kotor. The 13-suite Villa Duomo is in an old baronial villa with exposed stone walls and hand-carved antiques (82-323-111; suites, $155$340). Farther down the coast in Budva, the Hotel Splendid is an over-the-top Russian-owned resort that resembles a massive cruise ship (86-773-777; doubles, $236$272). For a more local experience, Cesarica is a friendly, family-run konoba (restaurant) in Kotor. The black cuttlefish risotto is sumptuous (375 Stari Grad; 82-336-093; entrA[c]es, $7$20).
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Since downtown Bodrum is now overrun with T-shirt shops and nightclubs, sophisticates have migrated to less developed parts of the peninsula. The MaAs.akizi, on a hillside in the village of TA1/4rkbA1/4kA1/4, about nine miles from Bodrum, is a family-run hotel with untamed bougainvillea and minimalist bamboo-shaded cabanasa contrast to the slick designer scene on the pier below (252-377-6272; doubles, $360$390). Perched conspicuously atop its own hill overlooking the bay, the palatial Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay has a private beach, a sprawling infinity pool, and four restaurants. Crafts and kilims keep it soulful (252-311-0303; doubles, $340$472).
An oasis of elegance and excellence within Bodrum, Kocadon serves Aegean cuisine on long candlelit tables. Standouts include the sole with sautA[c]ed turnip and the artichoke salad dressed with pomegranate (1 Saray Sokak; 252-316-3705; entrA[c]es, $13$25). If you burn out on Bodrum's hectic social pace, head west past rocky cow pastures and old farmhouses to the town of GA1/4mA1/4slA1/4k for dinner at Mimoza, a traditional fish restaurant. It's at the end of a beach lit by candles floating in the sea and by lights atop anchored sailboats. Order the mussels fried with rice and herbs and the fresh local snapper (44 Yali Mevkii; 252-394-3139; entrA[c]es, $14$17).
It's well worth chartering a boat for the day and zooming over to the Greek island of Marathi, a tiny rock formation near Patmos with another excellent restaurant, the family-run Pantelis. Eat lunch under a thick canopy of grape vinestry the soft goat cheese and Aegean lobster cooked with local herbs (30-22470-32609; entrA[c]es, $38$70).
The DatAs.a Peninsula is like Bodrum 50 years ago: tall forests, deserted coves, and scattered settlements. The grandest of the few hotels, the Mehmet Ali Aga Mansion is a converted Ottoman konak outside town. Try to reserve one of the four rooms in the main house, which have restored inlaid ceilings and kilim rugs. There's also a stately hammam and a stone courtyard (252-712-9257; doubles, $268$565). You have to take a dirt path or a boat to get to Sabrinas Haus, a small 14-room hotel on the coast just outside the village of Bozburun (252-456-2045; doubles, $290$500). The coast has a fine seafood restaurant: Orfoz, in the village of Side (58 Liman; 242-753-1362; entrA[c]es, $15$30).
To understand how mosques coexist with booze cruises in Turkey, pick up Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey, by Andrew Mango (Overlook TP, $25). Hotels have The Guide Bodrum, the best local magazine about the coast. For the more remote coastal villages, The Bay Express: Turkish Coast is a nautical crib sheet with detailed maps of all the tiny island restaurants, ancient ruins, and swimming coves. Pick it up at any major marina or at bayexpress.info ($4).
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The Adriatic coast is changing at the speed of light; stay in the loop with Time Out Croatia, a thick, glossy guide ($6). Montenegro is only two years old, so most guidebooks are scrambling to catch up.
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