Advocates of New Zealand often boast that the country is like Britain was in the 1950s. This is all well and good if 1950s Britain is where you want to go on holiday, but it’s not for everyone. In fact, some might argue the main purpose of the past half-century has been to make Britain less like Britain was in the 1950s. What, then, are the options for those who would rather go on holiday to the Italian Riviera of the 1950s?
The answer, it turns out, is Croatia, which has pleasant weather late into the autumn, idyllic coastlines and a laidback glamour that seems like a distant memory on the French coast, with its terror worries and burkini bans. The most recent addition to the EU has not featured much in any post-referendum discussions, partly because its most identifiable export is that Henman-slaying smoothie, Goran Ivanisevic. But as a destination it makes a good case for continued-freedom of movement.
We began in Dubrovnik, as sumptuous a walled city as you will find. Like much of the Dalmatian coast, its-architecture has a Venetian flavour — a legacy of being ruled by the old Republic during the 13th and 14th centuries. Dubrovnik is hardly a well-kept secret even among conservative holidaymakers, but in recent years it has enjoyed an unexpected boon as the setting for King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms in Game of Thrones. Guides give Game of Thrones tours in-dozens of languages, and selfies are taken against the backdrop of key scenes.
Even with this celluloid pedigree, however, Dubrovnik seems almost soulless compared to the islands off its coast. They comprise an archipelago to rival any in Greece, with more reliable ferries. It’s a mystery that they are not better known — or some of them, at least. Hvar is the most famous: a favourite of film stars, Prince Harry and, increasingly, 20-year-old Brits.
You can hardly blame them, though: cars are banned, so almost everyone arrives by boat, stepping off on to quays lined by appealing-looking bars. In Hvar town, the Hotel Adriana has views across the harbour and a terrace for breakfast — which, among other delights, offered something in the region of eight different butters. You really don’t realise just how important a butter bar is until it’s in front of you. For the most part we were content to lounge at Bonj les Bains, an art-deco beach club round the corner from the harbour. Again, I was suspicious of the beach club as a concept until I arrived.
From Hvar we went on to Korcula, which feels like Hvar’s more worldly but less flashy big brother. We stayed in the Lesic Dimitri, an 18th-century bishop’s palace-meticulously restored by Michael Unsworth, a British former banker, and his Croatian wife Masa. It sits on a stretch of tree-shaded waterfront, where restaurants jostle for space. Aside from the Wi-Fi, there’s almost nothing that wouldn’t have been the same in 1955. We read, walked, looked at the buildings, sipped cocktails. Michael told me that the season has been starting later in recent years, and shared his plan to use food and the arts to maintain the island’s sophisticated positioning. It would be a shame if he was too successful.
From the seaplane back to Split (hairy, but recommended) we spotted dozens of tiny islands, begging to be explored: Rab, Susak, Silba, Murter. Next time, I thought, I’ll choose a sailing boat: the old-fashioned way to enjoy old-fashioned glamour.