Travel magazines of all varieties are absolutely in love with Dalmatia. Croatia’s southernmost region, Dalmatia is a paper-thin slice of mainland breaking into hundreds upon hundreds of islands jaggedly rising from the spectacularly blue Adriatic Sea. Dalmatian coasts, islands, and towns have been photographed countlessly and featured in National Geographic Traveler, Travel and Leisure, Conde Nast, and more. A decade after the balkanization of Yugoslavia, Croatia has blossomed as a go-to travel destination for the rich and famous: the islands are home to posh hotels, villas, and spas while luxury yachts and timelessly elegant sailboats cruise the ultramarine waters and dock in the harbors of storybook towns.
Dalmatia’s crown jewel is Dubrovnik, one of the region’s largest towns. Along with its impressive stone walls, once fortifying the city during the 12th century, the town was named a UNESCO site in 1979. Deep orange roofs top stone buildings (most of which are original) spill down the coast to the town’s glistening harbor, which attracts watercraft from small fishing boats to massive cruise ships (Croatian cities are now meccas for cruise passengers). Cobblestone streets lined with cafes, shops, or sometimes absolutely nothing at all wind through the buildings. Simply put, Dubrovnik is overflowing with charm and heritage- and exhibits much of its colorful history through its culture. Here you’ll find music and dance festivals, showcasing traditional tunes and jigs alongside modern beats, that take advantage of Dubrovnik’s incredible location. Accommodations are most flexible here- ranging from hostels to the Grand Villa Argentina, a 131-room cliffside haven caressed by Adriatic breezes.
Once you’ve had enough of Dubrovnik’s timeless charm, hop on board a luxury yacht or a ferry and sail from island to island- soaking up the sun, sand, and sea that is quintessentially Mediterranean. Pine-clad bluffs give way to minuscule towns that tumble over cliffs and onto deserted beaches. Granted, most of the beaches are rocky and not suitable for sandcastle-building, but that castaway feeling is something that you can only find in a few places in the world. Korcula, the most heavily forested Croatian island, is not far from Dubrovnik and is said to hold more monuments and legends than any other island in the world. Further north, a sailing trip won’t bypass the famous Dugi Otok and town of Hvar- both home to ultra-luxury accommodations that have hosted royalty and the world’s celebrities. No matter where they go, Dalmatia always makes its visitors feel like royalty.
It’s not terribly difficult to get to Croatia- cruise stops in major cities like Split, Zadar, and Dubrovnik have provided easy access to Croatia’s treasures. But a place that treats you like you’re rich and famous won’t come without a resulting price tag.
If a combination of charm, tranquility, and sheer natural beauty is what you look for in a destination, head up to the Niagara Falls region. Straddling both the US and Canada, Niagara Falls might be a surprising contender to the Dalmatian Coast. Known for its tackiness during recent years, Niagara is starting to embrace its cultural and natural settings. The Canadians are setting up battle reenactments for the War of 1812’s bicentennial later this year, and planning a host of daredevil activities like zip lining and rappelling. You can also take an exhilarating jet boat ride into the tumultuous Niagara Whirlpool. And of course there’s the classic Maid of the Mist tours to bring you right up to the falls, as does Journey Behind the Falls, which is exactly what the name suggests.
While the Canadian side is still attracting tourists with its plethora of attractions, the much less developed American side makes things a little simpler. The area immediately surrounding the falls is a state park, which makes it look a lot greener than the Canadian side. The multiple islands on the Niagara River give an interesting perspective to the falls themselves. On Goat Island, separating Horseshoe Falls with Bridal Veil Falls, a new restaurant and spectacular viewing platforms really showcase the area while not detracting from its natural state.
Head to Lake Ontario on the American side and you’ll find Fort Niagara, a great lakefront historical site. Just across the river from the Fort, in Canada, is Niagara-on-the-Lake. An unbelievably quaint, charming town, it just feels calming when you walk along the main drag- lined with coffee shops, boutiques, and restaurants (most of which are locally sourced). There seem to be more trees here than there are buildings, and it makes for a no-fuss, serene visit.
Both Dalmatia and Niagara Falls are exemplars of what happens when beauty, heritage, and appeal are blended together to make a fantastic travel destination. Maybe that combination isn’t just for the world’s rich and famous.