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On Croatia’s coast, stunning pools and a Mediterranean mood

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    The wow-worthy swimming pool at Hotel Lemongarden is in a sleepy fishing village on Brac island that has contributed to the recent tourism surge that has elevated Croatia to the top rungs of European beach destinations.

Before a tourism surge elevated Croatia to the top rungs of European beach destinations, hotels along the Dalmatian coast had lingering whiffs of socialism in their dusty design and no-frills vibes. Now, two boutique waterfront properties showcase wow-worthy swimming pools: the chic Brown Beach House Croatia in a repurposed tobacco warehouse in the ancient town of Trogir and the stunning Hotel Lemongarden in a sleepy fishing village on Brac Island.

HOTEL LEMONGARDEN

>> Rates: From 300 euros (high season), about $370.

IF YOU GO: CROATIA HOTELS

>> Hotel Lemongarden: Perica Kala 1, Sutivan
>> Brown Beach House Croatia: Put Gradine 66, Trogir

Basics: When the hotel’s Austrian owners visited Sutivan 15 years ago, they swooned over this tranquil fishing village on Brac Island. Ilic Dvor, a Renaissance mansion from 1505, was the first building they bought and renovated. Over the years, they restored two nearby buildings that also had long histories, the seafront-facing Vesna and the tucked-away Definis with its stone terraces and passageways. What steals the show is the swimming pool lined with tall palm trees and fragrant gardens with roses, bougainvillea and hibiscus. The 23 suites and 12 rooms, many with private terraces overlooking the garden or the sea, showcase wood furniture by island craftsmen and floors made of renowned Brac marble. Designer finishes like Murano chandeliers and silk fabrics and carpets by Missoni and Paul Smith, together with bold flashes of color inspired by local herbs, give the decor a decidedly Mediterranean mood.

>> Location: The hotel is on the car-free waterfront of Sutivan on the northwest coast of Brac, a short ferry ride from Split.

>> The Room: I booked a maisonette but got upgraded to a duplex suite, with a coral and sea theme reflected in the color of the carpets and furniture. The marble-floored living room had two windows facing the Adriatic Sea. The seafront-facing bedroom had an armchair, a king-size bed and a walk-in closet stocked with beach towels. A cozy attic bedroom had its own walk-in closet and a bathroom.

>> The Bathroom: Both bathrooms were clad in wood and marble. The downstairs one had a roomy shower with a Naturals hair and body wash dispenser, a bidet and, surprisingly, a urinal. The upstairs bathroom: a tub, a shower and two-sink counter.

>> Amenities: In the living room, a minibar was stocked with snacks and drinks. Wi-Fi was free but spotty. The hotel’s private pine-shaded beach was a 10-minute bike or golf cart ride away.

>> Dining: Rates included breakfast and dinner, served at the seafront restaurant and a few tables on the edge of the sea. Breakfast was made to order; freshly baked croissants hold you over until the main course arrives. The four-course dinner showcased Mediterranean classics with a contemporary twist. Vegetables come from the hotel’s organic farm above Sutivan, and the seafood picked from the fishermen’s morning catch.

>> The Bottom Line: An island standout etched into the fabric of a Dalmatian fishing village, this ancient compound blends heritage with luxury but with a slight bend toward kitsch.

BROWN BEACH HOUSE CROATIA

>> Rates: From 250 euros (high season), about $308.

>> Basics: Riding the wave of small boutique hotel openings on the Dalmatian coast, Brown Hotels opened Brown Beach House Croatia in 2016, the group’s first venture outside Israel. Chic and playful, it features 42 rooms and suites on three floors of a former tobacco warehouse inside a white-stone building with green shutters.

Though the beach across the road is a pretty fab affair (with a full bar, sun chairs and a DJ setup) — and there’s a spa for unwinding — what steals the show is the gorgeous black-and-white-tiled swimming pool.

With bespoke furniture and potted palms, pines and olive trees, the airy ground-floor library gives off a decidedly Mediterranean vibe, which extends to the rooms showcasing interior design by the Amsterdam-­based Saar Zafrir, who created a swank and retro aesthetic.

>> Location: The hotel sits along a seafront road a 15-minute walk or a quick bike ride from the ancient harbor of Trogir town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Split airport is 3 miles away.

>> The Room: My top-floor room, a twin double with a seaside view, was sleek, though the trio of windows seemed slightly too small and ceilings too low. I had hoped for expansive Adriatic vistas, but the room looked over the narrow channel onto the mainland. As I walked onto the gleaming Indonesian mahogany floors, it was the bed that took center stage, its crisp Egyptian cotton sheets draped casually by wool pillows and throws. Below a flat-screen TV was a walnut wood and faux marble cabinet.

>> The Bathroom: Inside the long narrow bathroom clad in marble tiles, the black lacquered wood cabinet beneath the elongated sink had two slim drawers and a dearth of counter space.

>> Amenities: The room had espresso maker with Illy capsules and a kettle for Eilles tea, a minibar with drinks and snacks. Wi-Fi was free and reliable, with two networks and no password required.

>> Dining: A generous breakfast is included. The buffet spread was modest but the staff brought a small feast to my table: a bread basket, a tray with cold cuts, cheese and tomato in olive oil, and another with butter, soft cheese and Nutella. À la carte options included egg shakshuka and spinach and feta pastry.

The all-day restaurant, Cartina, serves lunch and dinner at outdoor tables.

>> The Bottom Line: Harking back to glamorous 1950s Italian resorts, Brown Beach House Croatia delivers contemporary Mediterranean chic with a touch of nostalgia.

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