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Island hopping off Croatia's Dalmatian Coast

By George Webster for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Compared to its glam neighbors along the Cote d'Azur, Croatia's coast still a hidden gem
  • Medieval landmarks, bustling piazzas and rolling hills make region a vibrant attraction
  • Mainsail provides an at-a-glance itinerary for those planning to travel this autumn
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(CNN) -- Stretching along Croatia's south-westerly rim, the Dalmatian coast has established a reputation for being the French Riviera of the east.

Hollywood stars Sean Connery, Gywneth Paltrow and Pierce Brosnan have all professed their love for the region, while Clint Eastwood and Sharon Stone are said to have sought their own private islands there.

Famed for its pristine stone and red-roofed towns dating back to Medieval times, Croatia's Roman ruins, picturesque ports and crystal clear waters attract a bevy of superyachts to its shoreline during the summer months -- as well as a growing number of international tourists.

For visitors looking for a quieter time, Fall, after the summer crowds have left and the weather remains warm, is when the Dalmatian coast really comes into its own.

From historically beguiling Split and fashionable Hvar, to the picturesque island of Korcula and the inimitable walled city of Dubrovnik, here is Mainsail's five-day itinerary for an autumnal cruise along the Dalmatian coast.

Day 1: Split

The journey begins in the port town of Split, central Dalmatia's cultural and economic hub -- as well as Croatia's second largest city. Here, the region's medieval past nestles alongside its bustling present, with chic shops, cafes and art galleries occupying a labyrinth of narrow streets, paved in ancient white flagstone.

Bursting at the seams with Roman and Renaissance-era monuments, the city also plays host to an array of modern cultural events. Currently in its 15th year, the Split Film Festival is well worth a visit and runs throughout mid-September.

Don't miss: Diocletian's palace. Built in 295 AD by Roman emperor Diocletian, the palace is known for its rare mix of architectural influences, blending both classical antiquity and early Christian styles.

Day 2: Hvar

From Split head south to the jet-set haven of Hvar. Remarkably verdant and rich with the scent of heather and pines, the island is famous for its purple hills cloaked in fields of Lavender.

Fawning endorsements from Hollywood stars Brad Pitt, Sharon Stone and Steven Spielberg, have all helped put this picturesque little island on the map over recent years, and earned it a reputation as Croatia's answer to Saint-Tropez.

Don't miss: Carpe Diem club. Despite its meditative landscape, Hvar enjoys a buzzing nightlife -- with a host of bars and clubs lining the waterfront. Top of the pile is Carpe Diem, a fixture for passing celebrities and European socialites.

Day 3: Korcula

One stop 30 miles southwest of Hvar is Korcula, an intriguing island said to be the birthplace of 14th century adventurer Marco Polo.

Set magnificently on its own peninsula, the island's main town is a miniature fortress surrounded by honey-colored stone walls. One of the main attractions is the Bishop's Treasury of Korcula, which houses a remarkable collection of fine and sacral art by Renaissance artists from both Croatia and Italy, including sketches by Raphael.

Don't miss: The Moreska dance -- an ornate display involving two groups of dancers engaged in a mock battle over the fate of a young veiled woman. Originally performed on special occasions, the Moreska is now put on as a weekly spectacle for visiting tourists.

Day 4: Mljet

About 25 miles further south takes you to the peaceful oasis of Miljet. Venture to the west of the island to discover the tiny hideaway of Pomena -- a farming and fishing village with just 50 or so inhabitants.

The bay here is a very safe place for anchorage, being sheltered by the mini-island of Pomestak (which, for the more adventurous, functions as a local naturist beach). Though small, the village offers bicycles, canoes and surfboards to rent, as well as sailing and diving courses.

Don't miss: Miljet National Park. Encompassing the western part of the island, the National Park is awash with clear lakes, quiet beaches and colorful cycling paths. Saint Mary Island, on Elliot Lake, boasts a 12th century Benedictine monastery.

Day 5: Dubrovnik

Finally returning to the mainland on Croatia's southern tip, the journey ends at the walled city of Dubrovnik.

With its baroque churches, ornate palaces and winding cobbled streets, this UNESCO World Heritage site is considered to be one of the most exquisite historical cities in Europe -- earning it the nickname "Pearl of the Adriatic."

As Croatia's most visited destination, Dubrovnik can become very crowded during the summer months. In September, when the flocks have dwindled, the city's distinctive charm is easier to take in. This is also a good chance to catch the Julian Rachlin and Friends music festival or Le Petit Festival de Theatre.

Don't miss: A walk along the top of the city walls. This 2-kilometer stroll is the best way to get a feel for the city. The monumental walls, dotted with towers and overlooking the sea, grant unparalleled vistas of the old town. Gaze across the patchwork of colors formed by the traditional terracotta rooftops and church spires.

 
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