Forget the Amalfi Coast, this summer's dreamiest destination is the Adriatic Coast. Curving up from the eastern coast of Italy to meet Albania, via Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro, it’s a ribbon of staggeringly pretty towns perched along endless shorelines of postcard perfection. The sea is dazzlingly blue, the beaches are sun-soaked and there are plenty of hidden gems to uncover...
Escape to the Adriatic
You don’t need us to tell you about Venice, arguably the Adriatic’s most famous stop-off and described by Truman Capote as “like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go”. But go off-piste and make a beeline for Trani – a surprisingly elegant fishing port, where the pace is set to ‘stroll’.
Or Lecce, possibly the most ornate town you’ll ever visit: the place drips with Baroque architecture. (Comment that it’s ‘the Florence of the South’ and namedrop the Basilica di Santa Croce as the pinnacle of Baroque mastery).
The best beaches are to be found in Italy’s sun-soaked heel around Puglia (famous for it’s white-walled trulli) - hire a boat as the best beaches are accessible only by sea.
Slovenia takes up only a tiny sliver of the Adriatic, but Piran is one of its highlights. Many tourists hop over on the ferry from Venice, spend a few hours before heading back to Italy.
But to rush is to miss the point of this fishing town, with its winding streets, red-roofed, Venetian-inspired houses clambering up the hillside above the sunny central plaza (Tartini Square), around which all life revolves. Take a seat at sunset and watch the whole city turn golden – and then dine on fresh fish from the sea.
Less of a show-off than Italy, more like an insouciant cousin who knows how cool it is so doesn’t feel the need to shout about it. The walled city of Dubrovnik is charm incarnated (enter our competition for an escape for two here!) – all cobbled streets, palaces, tiny cafes tucked around corners and quite possibly some Game of Thrones extras (the Old Town has served as a location for the hit series).
But head to exuberant, atmospheric Split to see Dalmation life as it’s really lived (less fairytale fantasy, more enviable reality), or try Rovinj for something more laid-back, with an arty, cultural vibe (and a commendable emphasis on bars and boutiques). Or try Istria: it has the tagline ‘the new Tuscany’ but this enchanting seaside town has a charm all its own.
The coolest kids know that Croatia is the place to island-hop. Hvar is probably the best known, with its glowing, glamorous Hvar Town – the St Tropez of the Adriatic. It’s all Gothic architecture and marble streets (yes, really. The streets are paved with marble). Further afield, it’s lush with lavender fields, pine forests and vineyards.
For something more low-key try Optaija, a Belle Epoque resort with fabulous food (the restaurant Plavi Podrum is much-lauded) and a seaside promenade to swoon over. Rab Island is madly romantic, with its idyllic beaches, pine-fringed coves and a town of golden brick that seems to shimmer in the light.
There’s something very hip about saying you’re off to Montenegro. It’s less beaten-track, somehow. The graceful medieval town of Budva is like a mini-Dubrovnik – there’s glitz, history and dancing under the stars. Just down the coast is Sveti Stefan – magazine-cover perfect (which is why it is a frequent cover star). You have to be a guest of Aman resort to hop over the causeway to this fortified island village, an enchanting melee of stone villas and pink-sand beach. But you can stand on the coast and ogle/photograph it for free – or book a table at the Nobu restaurant on the island to gain insider access.
Kotor is dazzling – and dazzlingly confusing, a city to get lost in. It’s narrow, winding, steep streets and beautiful buildings were deliberately designed to confuse would-be invaders. Dine at the waterfront (try Galion restaurant) on the freshest fish and then head to Oblatno beach and leap off the wooden walkway – or stop off at Herceg Novi and Zanjic beach, which is lined by olive groves. Don’t miss the island churches, which seem to bob off the coast of nearby Perast (another ridiculously picturesque marvel). Are we getting bored yet of all the prettiness?!
Finish your grand tour in Ulcinj so close to the border of Albania that it has its distinct flavour, with its higgledy-piggledy Old Town and the minarets of the mosques rising into the sky above the beach.