Sunday, March 26, 2006

GETTING THERE: There are no direct flights to Croatia from the United States. I flew US Airways from Washington Dulles to the Croatian capital of Zagreb, connecting in Munich with Lufthansa, then flew Croatia Airlines to Dubrovnik. Orbitz is quoting a round-trip price of $1,194 on British Airways and Lufthansa, with stops in London and Frankfurt, for travel in June, with restrictions. Croatia Travel Agency ( ) has a similar flight, with only one connection, for $947; it also offers air-hotel packages.

GETTING AROUND: Croatia Airlines ( ) flies from Zagreb to Dubrovnik for about $35 one way. Once you're on the coast, you can take passenger ferries to Korcula, Hvar, Split and other Dalmatian islands and cities; schedules and fares (Dubrovnik to Korcula, 3 1/2 hours, $20; Korcula to Split, four hours, $20) are posted at .

WHERE TO STAY: The hotel infrastructure in Croatia hasn't yet caught up with the increased tourism, with overpriced behemoths dominating the scene in most major cities. In Zagreb, a welcome exception is the two-star Hotel Ilica (102 Ilica, ), with doubles for $118, including a continental breakfast. The elegant Hotel Dubrovnik (1 Gajeva, 011-385-48- 63-555, ) has doubles starting at about $170 per night (including breakfast) in June.

In Dubrovnik, there's just one affordable hotel within the city walls: the stylish Hotel Stari Grad (4 Od Sigurate, 011-385-20- 322-244, ), in an elegant townhouse with just eight rooms (reserve early!) and a rooftop terrace overlooking the city. Doubles start at $190 in June, including breakfast. Options just outside the Old Town include the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik (2 Marijana Blazica, 011-385-20-320320, , doubles from $340) and the Hotel Excelsior (12 Frana Supila, 011-385-20- 353-353, ; doubles from $229).

Or consider renting a room in a private house. Residents carrying "Sobe" ("Rooms") signs congregate at the docks at ferry arrival times, or you can arrange a rental through one of the travel agencies clustered around the docks. In Dubrovnik, Atlas Travel Agency (just outside Pile Gate, 011-385-20-44-22-22, ) booked me into a double room overlooking the Adriatic on a side street just minutes from the Old Town for $50 a night. In Korcula, a pleasant fourth-floor bayfront room on the main coast road was $46 a night. In Split, a spacious apartment with kitchen, dining room, bedroom and bath, a few minutes' walk from the dock, was $60.

WHERE TO EAT: Fresh seafood, prepared Mediterranean-style with herbs, lemon and olive oil, is everywhere. In Dubrovnik, Lokanda Peskarija (Na Ponti, on the Old Town harbor) is popular with locals for its generous portions and low prices; a grilled shrimp dinner for one runs about $15. At Orhan (1 Tabakarije), on the harbor at the edge of the Old Town, servers wheel out a tray with the day's catch; a dinner of octopus appetizer, grilled sea bass and wine was about $45. In Korcula, the nautical- themed Marinero (13 Marka Andrijica) is a good bet for lunch, with excellent grilled octopus salad; lunch was about $15. Gajeta (11a Kraljeviceva), overlooking the water, offers everything from eel to sea bream; dinner ran about $25. In Split, Sperun (3 Sperun) specializes in freshly prepared Dalmatian cuisine; a dinner of roasted whole fish and grilled vegetables runs about $25.

INFORMATION: Croatia National Tourist Board , 800-829-4416, .

-- K.C. Summers

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