Inside the TUI hotel in Croatia with an amazing buffet restaurant and free classes
Sinking my toes into the board, I pull myself up, teetering as I begin pushing my paddle through the rippling water.
I can barely make out our destination – a small pebble cove sheltered by rocky terrain.
But the mountain peaks of the surrounding islands were obscured by an early morning mist.
It’s only my second time on a paddle board and trying to keep my balance while I’m gliding through the open sea has been made even more difficult thanks to intense basic training the day before.
I stayed at Tui Blue Jadran on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. A new wellness menu on the Tui Blue app, designed with TV presenter and fitness fanatic Davina McCall, lets visitors create a personalized itinerary of gym classes, bike trails and seaside excursions .
By the time our boards reach the hidden beach, the sun has broken through the mist and is piercing water as clear as the tropics.
We are completely isolated on this cove, which is flanked by chalky gray cliffs too high to climb. This means that the only way to reach our mini paradise is by boat (or paddleboard).
It will take us an hour to get back to the station. But what keeps us going is knowing that a 5-hour spa awaits with treatments tailored to clients with inevitably sore muscles, including firm, soothing sports massages.
The hotel is beachfront in the town of Tucepi and offers more than just a spa for downtime.
There are tranquil terraces spread over three levels and an infinity pool overlooking a small beach and the island of Hvar in the distance.
Classes and wellness excursions can be booked on the hotel app and are free for all guests.
In addition to paddle boarding, personal trainers lead the fitness classes you’d expect to find at a high-end gym, from Pilates and yoga practiced under the shade of palm trees to HIIT and circuit training. functional ones that had us squatting, dashing, and swinging battle ropes.
Away from the hotel, guests can mountain bike to the surrounding hilltops or take guided runs through the pretty town.
It’s not all about exercise, however. Those wishing to immerse themselves in the culture (or just have a happy little aperitif) can book in for a wine tasting in the hotel’s own cellar, where connoisseurs will tell you about Croatian reds and whites while you sample generous samples.
This is where we learn all about the history of the tipple in this country. But it’s the food pairing that fascinates us the most – chunks of rich Parmesan to accompany crisp apricot sparkling wine and savory hams to accompany a robust Syrah red.
You can take that knowledge straight to the seaside barbecue, where fresh fish, meat and vegetables are cooked on a grill then served with salads, sauces and, of course, wine.
Try cocktails such as the Old Fashioned, made the traditional way but served on a miniature tree stump hidden by smoke in a glass dome. There’s also a buffet restaurant with a bakery and live cooking stations, where you can design your own pasta dishes, stir-fries and choose your fish fillet, including local curiosities such as the poisonous scorpion fish à la fiery red skin (with thorns removed, of course).
With so much in the hotel it would be easy to stay in the resort for a full week. But just over an hour’s drive away is Split, a port city with Roman architecture and chalky-white buildings that made it a Game Of Thrones filming location.
If you’re not ready to roam the ancient structures and basements of Diocletian’s Palace – which Thrones fans will recognize as where Daenerys kept her dragons – then here’s the perfect place to book a boat tour for an island hopping adventure.
Flying over the waves, we stop at secluded beaches on the island of Brac, dive straight into the sea to snorkel and enjoy panoramic views from a hilltop fortress in Hvar, ending the day with lunch in the picturesque port of Milna.
The small village at the western end of Brac seems so empty that it’s as if we had the whole island to ourselves.
That is, apart from a lone dog paddling among the colorful rowboats moored in the bay. Drop by Omo restaurant while you are here. Facing the waterfront, the traditional place serves grilled calamari and homemade kebabs cooked over a crackling fire with some of the best fried potatoes I have ever eaten.
If you’re looking for something special, however, the Olive Tree, a five-minute taxi ride from the Tui Blue Jadran, is fine dining without the price tag.
We tasted spaghetti with almonds and pistachios and monkfish with caviar served with shavings of fresh truffle.
In fact, you won’t struggle to find great food anywhere you go, because the focus here is on local produce at all the popular restaurants nearby.
Ask the knowledgeable hotel staff for some recommendations.
But here’s the best part – with exercise classes and a host of watersports close at hand, if we got too carried away there were plenty of ways to catch up.
GO: TUCEPI, CROATIA
GETTING THERE / STAY: Seven-night half-board at 5H Tui Blue Jadran is from £535 pp, including flights from Gatwick Airport on October 3. See tui.co.uk.
OUTSIDE & SURROUNDINGS: A speedboat tour of Hvar and Bol town with Tui costs from £69 and can be booked online in advance at tui.co.uk.