Everyone has different criteria when it comes to hunting down a beautiful bolthole. Some seek a luxurious space stuffed with super-slinky amenities; others crave a stripped-back set-up with a fierce attitude. Truth be told, if you'd asked us a few months back to name a property that artfully fuses the two, we'd have struggled to give a solid answer. But that was before we'd had the pleasure of resting our heads at Zadar's Almayer Art & Heritage Hotel - a place where discreet luxury blends seamlessly with a deep respect for Croatia's rich cultural heritage.
The country's oldest inhabited city, Zadar is home to a thriving and famously hospitable community, with proud locals happy to share time-honoured traditions and stories with discerning visitors. Case in point? The Almayer's husband-and-wife owners, Irina Bakija and Vjekoslav Bobić.
Back in 2013, the couple found themselves drawn to a deserted 19th-century building - a former military hospital - in the old town, just a short stroll from the sparkling Adriatic. Fast forward to the summer of 2017, and, following a major reconstruction project, they have made their dream a reality, throwing open the doors to a contemporary boutique hotel whose goal is to serve savvy travellers a slice of true Mediterranean spirit.
A deluxe mezzanine suite, left, and the hotel entrance.
In the main building there are nine rooms, comprising four doubles and five deluxe mezzanine suites. Across the park, you'll find the newly constructed Almayer Dépendance Rooms, containing seven sleek doubles. We stayed in one of the mezzanine suites in the single-storey main building.
The reception area is incredibly intimate. After clambering a handful of stone steps, you reach a lengthy, light-filled corridor, where matte-black bedroom doors reveal nothing of the playful and vibrant palette found behind them. Step inside to discover a double-level arrangement that feels more like a house than a temporary crash pad. On the lower level, a spacious marble bathroom comes complete with a shower, fluffy towels and organic Bramley toiletries, plus underfloor heating and a heated towel rail for the ultimate level of relaxation. Also downstairs, an enormous sofa (which opens into a bed) and a wooden desk area built beneath the split staircase make for a cosy and practical living space. Upstairs, a queen-sized bed sits beneath skylight windows and a wooden beamed ceiling. While we love the sea-facing views, our favourite thing about the guest rooms is that the walls are clad with local artworks available to purchase - a beautiful touch that supports the creative community.
The hotel courtyard, right, and the second floor of a deluxe mezzanine suite.
What's for breakfast?
Served in the ground-floor Corte Restaurant, a buffet-style spread includes cold meats, cheeses, crumbly pastries and dispensers spilling with flavours of granola we didn't even know existed. Still hungry? Cooked-to-order options are available on request.
How about lunch and dinner?
It's not often that a restaurant setting is just as delightful as its menu, but the all-day Corte Restaurant, housed in a light-flooded orangery, nails both. Think floor-to-ceiling Croatian wines, rattan chairs and flower-strewn tables. The adjacent courtyard - somewhat reminiscent of Frances Hodgson's The Secret Garden - is peppered with parasols and sofas scattered with colourful cushions. In the kitchen, head chefs Josip Vrsaljko and Tomislav Karamarko work with seasonal and locally sourced produce to create traditional classics with a modern twist.
Is there a bar?
While there's no obvious bar area, there are plenty of snug corners in which to enjoy a glass or three.
Most boutique hotels are keen to squeeze in all the extra trimmings possible, but the beauty of Almayer is that it sways to its own beat. Sure, there's no first-class gym space or rooftop pool, but you will have the attention of a brilliant team, all of whom will go above and beyond to cater to your every need. Press general manager Elena Rusnjak on just about anything and she's sure to be able to answer.
How about their green credentials?
Everything you'd expect, plus a few pretty novel initiatives. Dedicated to reducing waste, co-owner Irina Bakija takes worn and torn bed linens and transforms them into smart tote bags.
What about accessibility?
This property isn't suitable for those with mobility issues.
What's the crowd like?
You know when you spot a dashingly beautiful human on the tube and, although you're never going to see them again, you allow yourself to fall in love for a few minutes? It's a bit like that. Plus, with the hotel being adults-only, there's a blissfully quiet vibe throughout.
Things I should know
We've heard whispers of a state-of-the-art spa being in the works, but best keep that one a secret for now.
Within a short walk I can find…
Hop down to the harbour for 7pm to enjoy a breathtaking sunset while listening to the symphony of the Sea Organ installation, an experimental musical instrument that creates sound by harnessing the power of the waves.