While Dubrovnik and Split have become well-known tourism commodities, other pearls of Croatia's beautiful Dalmatian Coast remain off all but the most-intrepid travellers' radars. One such secret is Sibenik, despite the small town having a CV capable of dazzling any travel agent: a Unesco-protected cathedral, Game of Thrones locations, a tree-lined corniche, quaint red roofs, Renaissance architecture, excellent food and impressive shopping.
It gets ample sun – the average temperature in May is 18°C, for instance – and also scores for convenience, being just 45 minutes’ drive from Split Airport. Nearby is the Solaris Beach Resort, home to afour-kilometre-long sandy strip, while the Krka National Park caters to walkers and wild swimmers (those who prefer to swim in natural surroundings) alike.
Until recently, however, Sibenik lacked a high-quality hotel to match these high-quality attractions. It has one now: run by Turkish conglomerate Dogus, the D-Resort opened outside town late last summer, accompanied by a superyacht marina.
A comfortable bed
Starkly white, the D-Resort (www.dresortsibenik.com) contains three villas and 69 rooms; even the smallest are spacious, with floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies facing across an inlet to Sibenik or overlooking that new marina. Decoration-wise, think supple modernism: coquettish modern-art paintings and curving lines. There's a spa with four treatment rooms, a large infinity pool and a grassy rooftop for joggers. Seaview double rooms cost from 1,873 Croatian kuna (Dh1,037), including breakfast.
Prefer to stay right in town? Try the Hotel Life Palace (www.hotel-lifepalace.hr). Along with classical elegance afforded by a 15th-century royal residence, the perks include a small wellness centre. Doubles cost from 671 kuna (Dh372).
Find your feet
Also dating from the 15th century is Sibenik’s heartbeat and icon – the entirely stone-built, Gothic Renaissance-style Cathedral of St James. Considered the masterpiece of this coast’s chief architect, Juraj Dalmatinac, its standouts includes an unusual frieze of 71 then-locals and a silvery domed roof.
From the surrounding plaza, the cobbled Kralja Tomislava meanders away to the modern town’s own focal point: the broad square Poljana. Look out for the dashingly contemporary library, all glass and steel, and a statue of the city’s protector, the demon-slaying archangel Michael.
Talking of protection, looming above is one of four fortresses guarding Sibenik's perimeter. Used 25 years ago by locals during the Croatian War of Independence, St Michael's now hosts a terraced, Dh6.4-million concert venue. Another castle, Barone, farther east, has audiovisual displays of 17th-century life, and St John's boasts a Game of Thrones Season 5 credit. All three are worth a visit for their views alone, but also leave time to explore the enchanting old town, past stony stairwells, clumps of wild rosemary, green-shuttered houses and sassy kittens.
Meet the locals
Thirty kilometres inland, the Krka National Park contains a series of 17 successive waterfalls, named Skradinski Buk. The section is truly beautiful, and the locals know it. They gather there en masse on weekends, swimming in a placid basin at the cascades’ foot and clinking glasses. Hotels such as the D-Resort can arrange transfers to join the party.
Book a table
About 20 metres from the cathedral, Pelegrini (www.pelegrini.hr) is one of Croatia's finest restaurants. Skilfully staffed and occupying old wine cellars, it specialises in reinvented versions of Dalmatian classics. Have octopus salad for the starter, cuttlefish gnocchi as primi and a main course of truffle pappardelle. Mains cost about 145 kuna (Dh80).
Try Giro Espresso (www.facebook.com/giro-espresso-115506988614787) for a coffee break in a cafeteria with baristas who have earned international acclaim.
One of the storied Croatian fashion designer Loredana Bahoric' s flagship Charlie stores (www.charlie-design.hr) is in the mazy old town. Expect monochrome and seriously avant-garde creations.
Koke Design (www.kokedesign.com) offers more-traditional garments, while Deni Design (www.facebook.com/denidesign) specialises in imaginative handmade jewellery crafted from Adriatic corals and pearl shells.
The fourth and farthest-flung of Sibenik’s fortresses is St Nicholas, a sea castle erected by then-ruling Venetians to defend a strategic Adriatic channel. Elevated above the Adriatic, skipping around islands, an exciting path now leads there, allowing visitors to admire the lonely gun platform and impressive views. Join it outside the small fishing village Zablace.
What to avoid
As so often happens in historic settlements, Sibenik’s new town is less attractive: apartment blocks and factories. Concentrate on the treasures ahead while driving through, or stay at the D-Resort, and use boat transfers to the old town to miss it out entirely.
Air Serbia (www.airserbia.com) flies from Abu Dhabi to Split via Belgrade, departing Sundays and returning Fridays, from Dh3,102 return, including taxes.