Travel is one of Elizabeth and Peter Shanahan’s great passions, and when it comes time to visit a new locale, they love to do extensive research to find the best hotels, restaurants, activities and towns to explore. Croatia and Montenegro had both been on their travel wish list for a while, so when the countries reopened to tourists in the summer of 2021, the couple was quick to plan a trip.

“We spend as much of our summers as possible in Europe, and we always plan our trips in the ‘Route du Bonheur’ style, which translates to ‘Road of Happiness,’” Elizabeth says. “Each trip is planned as a long road trip, allowing us to stop and experience lesser-known destinations off the beaten path. It’s the best of what it means to travel — discovery, experiences, joie de vivre.”

The couple spent two weeks in June exploring the coastal towns along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast and Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor. Set against the backdrop of the Adriatic Sea’s aquamarine waters, Croatia has become a popular tourist destination in recent years, attracting 21 million visitors in 2019. But with COVID-19 travel restrictions only recently lifted, this scenic destination has been quieter than normal, allowing tourists to explore more freely without the crowds, especially in summer.

“The rugged beauty and unique topography of both countries is unparalleled,” Elizabeth says. “Croatia’s pristine Dalmatian coast on the Adriatic Sea was stunningly beautiful. Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor was fjord-like, with lush mountains rising straight from the sea. While the beauty was unforgettable, the people of Croatia and Montenegro will always be our favorite part. Everyone we met was filled with warmth, kindness and a deep appreciation for their country and culture. We learned so much from every single person we met and have made lasting friendships with many of these inspiring people.”

If you’re planning to add Croatia and/or Montenegro to your next European itinerary, be sure to check out Elizabeth and Peter’s recommendations for an unforgettable experience.

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Where to Stay

Villa Korta Katarina

Our favorite property of our trip was undoubtedly Villa Korta Katarina, located on the Pelješac Peninsula of Croatia in the seaside village of Orebic. It is a haven for wine connoisseurs, gastronomes and adventure seekers. The villa has only eight rooms, but at the time, we were fortunate enough to have the villa to ourselves. You are cocooned in a complete six-star level of service from the time you walk in the doors. The fine dining is like a three-star Michelin experience, with emphasis on Croatian cuisine and local ingredients, many of which were caught and harvested within hours of plating. Villa Korta Katarina offers everything you could dream of in the most luxurious hotel in the world, with one of the finest wineries in Croatia. We were in heaven. kortakatarina.com

One&Only Portonovi

While in Montenegro, we stayed at the One&Only Portonovi, which had opened just a couple of weeks before we arrived. The One&Only Portonovi, the luxury group's first property in Europe, was spectacular, featuring the most incredible spa, as well as fantastic views of the Bay of Kotor. The hotel also featured a slew of fabulous restaurants, the most impressive of which was Sabia by Giorgio Locatelli, offering Michelin-starred Italian fare. We loved spending our evenings at Tapasake, a poolside club within One&Only, which featured delicious sushi, a sake bar and a DJ. The vibes of Tapasake, coupled with the stunning sunsets over the Bay of Kotor, made this an unforgettable experience. oneandonlyresorts.com/portonovi

Where to Eat

BOWA

BOWA, which stands for “Best of What’s Around,” is located on Sipan, an island not too far from Dubrovnik. It is only accessible by boat and consists of several seaside cabanas and a fabulous outdoor kitchen and bar. The scent of olive, fig and cyprus trees perfume the air, and all cuisine is caught in the pristine Adriatic waters surrounding BOWA that morning. We opted for the tasting menu, which featured the most beautiful Adriatic bluefin tuna sashimi, ruby red in color and the most delicate texture. It was indescribable! Also on the menu were Mali Ston oysters, freshly cracked uni and the most delicious lobster tagliatelle we've ever eaten. bowa-dubrovnik.com

What to Do

Korta Katarina Winery

Villa Korta Katarina offers one of Croatia’s finest wineries on property, producing unique Croatian wines, such as the robust and earthy Plavac Mali and the delicate Pošip. We make a point to visit wineries wherever we are, and given the more obscure nature of Croatian wines, this provided an opportunity to learn about new varietals. We would highly recommend visiting Korta Katarina Winery for their tasting experience. We are honored to now feature these wines in our wine cellar, and we look forward to collecting future vintages of these standout wines. kortakatarinawinery.com

Mali Ston

Mali Ston, a small village at the beginning of the Pelješac Peninsula, has the unique reputation of producing the world’s finest oysters. If you love oysters, you must venture to Mali Ston and experience Bota Šare’s immersive oyster farm experience. Bota Šare, a legendary gastronomic oasis in Croatia, is housed in a 15th-century salt warehouse edging a pristine bay filled with Ostrea edulis oysters. Bota Šare takes you out via boat to a floating oyster bar, where you can taste these prized oysters fresh from the sea and learn about their ancient cultivation methods. bota-sare.hr/en/mali-ston

Gospa od Škrpjela

In Montenegro, it is imperative to visit the iconic Gospa od Škrpjela, otherwise known as Our Lady of the Rocks. This tiny church on an even smaller man-made island dates back to 1452, when two fishermen discovered an image of Virgin Mary there. The church and [the] island itself are beautiful, with the fjords of the Bay of Kotor surrounding this special site.

Travel Advice

Research off-the-beaten-path destinations, not just the typical touristy landmarks. It is our belief that you learn most about a country in places that are off the beaten path and in the countryside, rather than big cities.