Croatia Road-trip – Our New Resorts
Pine forests, glimpses of sparkling sea, attractive towns and stunning resorts – follow us on our Croatian road-trip!
As my flight started its descent into Pula, I thought back to my first trip to Croatia, way back when it was part of Yugoslavia. It has been transformed and is now one of the most sought after and rewarding destinations for holiday makers from the UK and Ireland.
Croatia’s stunning coastline is just as timeless and its towns as historic as ever, but it is a thoroughly modern country and a holiday destination with some of the best accommodation and facilities we’ve seen. Anywhere. I got a real taste of the modern Croatia on a road trip between Firefly Holidays’ 3 brand new resorts Croatian resorts for 2019.
First things first though, and on arrival in Pula I needed to pick up my hire car. I’d reserved a car with Alamo, via Firefly Holidays, so needed to collect it from the Enterprise Car Hire desk at Pula, Alamo’s sister company. The staff were really helpful and friendly, but I could be confident without the expensive extra insurances I was offered, as I’d also pre-booked car hire excess insurance. The car was virtually new as well, though I made sure to check for any damage before driving off. I didn’t see a petrol station at the airport, but there’s are services on the motorway or a fuel station at the first roundabout towards Pula, both within 10 minutes.
Also before setting off, I remembered to get some cash. Croatia is in the EU but uses the Croatian Kuna, rather than the Euro. Confusingly, many prices are shown in Euros, but you’ll pay in Kuna. Generally it’s better to get most of your cash when you arrive, as the exchange rate for Kuna seems better in Croatia than at home. You should get around 8 Kuna to the pound or 7 Kuna to the Euro. Debit and credit cards are widely accepted, again charged in Kuna. Take care to choose the option to pay in Kuna, rather than any Sterling equivalent, which will have a poorer exchange rate than your bank’s. For small purchases, such as ice creams and beers, cash is generally preferred.
My first stop – Lanterna Premium Camping Resort just north of the historic port of Porec – is an easy hour’s drive from Pula airport, mostly on motorway. Lanterna Resort enjoys a spectacular position on a peninsula with 3km of shoreline and plenty of trees to protect you from the Croatian sun! It’s spotless too – with a large team, constantly keeping everything tidy and well-maintained … helped or perhaps hindered by the equally busy local red squirrels!
Lanterna may be big but divided into smaller ‘villages’ and with facilities spread around, you can find the particular character you want. The standard of accommodation throughout is fantastic, and the homes, suites and safari tents in the Premium Villages are probably the best we’ve ever seen. (Despite the modern and very high standard, Croatian holiday accommodation typically has microwave rather than conventional ovens, small hobs and are without dishwashers.) Want to be near the main pool complex? – then choose the ‘Istrian Village’. Close to the sea? – go for the shore-side Marbello Premium Village. Have younger children? – the ‘Maro Premium Village’ is perfect – a gated access, car-free area with its own playgrounds and splash pools. There’s even a dedicated ‘Happy Dog’ village, with fences and facilities to suit. They really have thought of everything!
Filling the days at Lanterna certainly isn’t a problem! There’s 3km of lovely Adriatic shoreline, with a fine sand beach as well as the typical rock and pebble Croatian beaches, so hiring a sun-lounger is worthwhile. There are plenty of water activities, with an inflatable play park, watersports and parasailing. There are two main pool areas to choose from; the full-on ‘Aquamar’ pool complex with waterslides and pirate ship or the more classic ‘Romana’ pool right next to the beach. There are kids clubs for all ages, and the teens have their own well-equipped ‘hangout’ zone. You may want to hire bikes to get around, but there is also a regular mini-train service or of course you can simply walk (or jog!) along the coastal footpath.
Lanterna has some great bars and restaurants spread throughout the resort. The Italian food at ‘Trattoria La Pentola’ was excellent, accompanied by lovely sea views and really good local wine. The focal point for eating, drinking and shopping is the central Plaza where you can enjoy an ice cream, sip cocktails and watch the evening entertainment.
This is also a great base to explore from, by bike, your own car or on an excursion (you can book all-sorts at the Info Point on the Plaza). The lovely port and historic buildings of Porec are just a few kilometres away. Pula is also well worth a trip as well, with buildings from Roman to modern and a bustling port. You can also visit Venice for a (long) day-trip by boat from Porec.
Krk Premium Camping Resort is a 2 hour drive, the other side of Pula, with good roads taking you south and east through spectacular scenery. (It’s worth looking for any flights to Rijeka airport, which is actually on Krk island and mega-convenient. Ryanair were flying here from Stansted but seem to have paused the route just now.) Krk is a picture-postcard island, joined to the Croatian mainland by a 35 Kuna toll bridge. 25 minutes onto the island you’ll get an amazing first impression as you arrive at the resort, positioned on a hillside with stunning views over the Adriatic to the Island of Cres. Wow! Again, spotlessly clean, with well-tended flowers and plants, it’s no surprise this is Croatia’s first 5-star standard camping resort. It has seen huge investment in the last 2 years, with care for the environment and customer comfort seen as equally important.
Krk is a much smaller resort than Lanterna, with appeal to families or couples looking for a holiday with a gentler pace. Relaxing comes easy – snoozing on your own comfortable terrace, looking out across the bay from the infinity pools or having a massage on the Blue Flag beach. But don’t be fooled there’s nothing to do. The pebble beach is right on your doorstep, with warm and crystal-clear water – so inviting! The resort has a range of daily sports and activities; from jogging and aqua aerobics to Yoga and Pilates. And the kids don’t miss out either with the daily ‘Maro’ clubs providing fun for ages up to 12 as well as the teen ‘hangout’ zone.
And what of the accommodation here? Parts of the resort are still popular with traditional campers and tourers, which makes for a really nice atmosphere, but our accommodation is in the self-contained Bella Vista Premium Village, at the top of the hill with its own pool and stunning sea views. The modern camping homes are brilliantly designed, with large covered terraces, giving protection from the sun. Some of homes even have a rooftop terrace – perfect places to watch the sun set over the sea. And if you don’t feel like cooking, or strolling to the resort or town’s restaurant, the on-site takeaway has a delivery service!
The island has more than 300km of marked walking trails to explore, but if that sounds a bit much, the 2km stroll through the woods into the town of Krk should be about right and is well worth it. The town is over 2000 years old and its ancient walls are still intact, containing a warren of narrow streets, with shops, bars and restaurants. The bustling quayside offers boat trips to other islands (you can book in the resort) and waterside cafés.
From Krk it was a good 4-hour drive to Zaton Holiday Resort, with stunning views out across the islands and through spectacular mountain scenery inland. But most visitors get to Zaton from Zadar airport, just 30 minutes away, or from Split, about 90 minutes’ drive.
Zaton resort sits in a pine forest on a shallow lagoon on the Dalmatian coast, with literally hundreds of islands dotted in the sea offshore. The landscape around it is flat, which makes exploring by bike easy – with the attractive village of Nin just a short ride away and Zadar also within reach (though the local buses may be a better option). The lagoon also gives Zaton wonderfully safe swimming and more sandy beaches than Croatia’s norm. A great location for probably the most fully-featured and fun family resort in Croatia!
Zaton has a range of high-quality accommodation and facilities beyond any other resort in Croatia. Spacious modern apartments, luxurious new camping homes and stylish fully-plumbed safari tents are all on offer. Although the resort is large, it’s really well-designed, with the accommodation neatly zoned and positioned to be in reach of all the facilities but away from away from the evening entertainment, for quieter nights. As with Lanterna and Krk, the accommodation is some of the best anywhere in Europe and the whole resort is spotless and constantly being kept tidy and well-maintained.
But it’s the facilities here which grab the headlines, or would certainly make an impressive front-page picture. The beachside pool complex is just stunning! An amazing waterpark with almost countless pools, slides, water-play and jacuzzis, looking over the beach to the sparkling sea and islands beyond. And from the beach, the sea offers not only a welcoming warm dip but also and inflatable action course, boat hire, kayaking, paddle-boarding, wake-boarding, parascending, diving and more! Activities on dry land are just as good, with excellent sports facilities, a tennis school, horse riding centre and fantastic mini-golf courses which hosted the 2018 World Mini-golf championships! There are also excellent kids clubs and activities, including regularly organised tournaments and parties open to all.
Running from reception, at the centre of the resort, down to the beach, Zaton has shops, bars and boutiques selling everything from souvenirs to fresh veg, patisserie and ice creams. Closer to the Blue Flag beach you’ll find a great choice of restaurants. There’s the all-important pizzeria, but traditional Dalmatian cuisine on offer as well as plenty of fish, as you’d expect. This is also where evening entertainment can be found, as well as bigger shows at the amphitheatre around the bay and Zaton’s own disco, open 3 nights a week, and positioned well away from the main accommodation area.
If you do manage to drag yourself away from the resort itself, as well as nearby Nin and Zadar, the resort can help you book all sorts of other activities and excursions. If I had been here longer, I would certainly have taken a trip to some of the nearby islands.
The journey to Split to catch my flight home was another pleasant drive, with more wonderful inland scenery dropping down from the motorway towards the airport. Split airport is larger than Zadar or Pula and has been undergoing major re-development in recent years, so you may want to allow a little extra time to drop your car off and get to check-in here. There are a number of petrol stations within 10 minutes of the airport, mainly on the main road just inland from the airport.
I was really impressed with everything Croatia had to offer – the scenery, the towns and the welcome in general. English is widely spoken, though the majority of visitors are not British. Holiday living costs are cheaper than the UK, France or Italy but probably a little higher than Spain. The resorts at Lanterna, Krk and Zaton all provide fantastic quality accommodation, facilities and service. Lanterna and Zaton are both fully-featured up-scale resorts (Zaton probably wins out for full-on family fun), while Krk is a real Croatian island gem. I’ll certainly be back for more.