Dubrovnik restaurant Nautika
Dubrovnik is a spot that’s made it’s way into my stream of consciousness over and over for several years now. I knew it was supposed to be cool and because of that I was excited to check it out – but I didn’t come close to realizing just how cool. I really think Dubrovnik (and Croatia in general – check out my post on stunning coastal Hvar here) is one of the most incredible, beautiful, and unique places I’ve ever traveled to. The pristine natural beauty of the mountains and water mixed with the perfectly preserved medieval old city was breathtaking. I loved the juxtaposition of the 13th century buildings mixed with ultra modern restaurants, hotels, and spas. The only downside was that I was on crutches, which halted some of the wandering I would have loved to have done. Dubrovnik is built on the side of a mountain and I dare you to find a city with more stairs… so beware if you have a stroller or need handicap access, but that’s a big part of what makes the city so cool and unique! Interesting fact: Game of Thrones is filmed here, so if you’re a fan you’ll recognize the landmarks.

Stairs. Everywhere.

Stairs. Everywhere.

The Food:
Marco Polo (nice but casual) – This quaint restaurant is tucked into old town and offered us amazing hospitality and service on our first night there. Great local wine and cuisine in a cozy setting. Loved this spot.

Croatian Cheese + Wine is bae

Croatian Cheese + Wine is bae

Villa Dubrovnik (fancy) – This might have been my favorite meal of the trip. Not only was the food incredible – everything from single entrees to a tasting menu of all types of fresh seafood and native cuisine – but the views were magnificent and right on the water. We dined at sunset and our waiter was probably (deservedly) annoyed at how many photos/snapchats we were taking.

These Croatian dinner views can't be beat!

These Croatian dinner views can’t be beat!

Villa Dubrovnik Restaurant

Restoran Dubrovnik – Another incredible restaurant in the heart of old town. We dined upstairs where they have a retractable roof so you can take in all of the beautiful 13th century buildings. The staff here was beyond accommodating and I would love to transport this chic spot to Nashville and dine there on the regular.Restauran Dubrovnik

Lady Pipi – Recommended to us by multiple people (including one of my favorite sources for travel suggestions Luna Guide to Travel – thanks Ash!) this casual spot is 100% patio and covered by grape vines complete with dangling bunches of grapes. (The restaurant is closed with any bad weather.) The food is cooked on an outdoor grill and apparently there is usually a long line, but we arrived for a late lunch and got seated right away. The food was beyond fresh and delicious. If we had had an opening in our schedule to go back, Whitney and I both would have sprinted back (Ok, I would have hobbled quickly…). My chicken salad (although that sounds boring it was. not.) was so fresh and delicious and Whitney said her tuna was the very best she’s ever had. Be sure to take notice of the highly inappropriate statue that sits out front… or not. hahaBeyond obsessed with the grape vines that cover the entire restaurant. #PatioGoals

The Drinks:
Nautika – Ok, where do I even begin? This place is something special – located right on the water and decorated like the cover of an Elle Decor. They brought my drink on a bed of rose petals and inside a birdcage and Whitney’s included a spritz of blood orange essence out of a vintage perfume bottle upon arrival prompting us to obnoxiously state things like, “from now on, if my drink doesn’t come in a birdcage, I won’t drink it!” We also noshed on beautiful fruit and homemade chocolate which is some of the best I’ve ever had. (Why doesn’t all chocolate come with orange peel and cranberries in it?!) We also enjoyed chatting with the general manager who was so knowledgable about the area and such a nice guy – a very Croatian way to be we found out.

And the award for most beautiful and light refreshing cocktail goes to...

And the award for most beautiful and light refreshing cocktail goes to…

If you follow me on Snapchat (@BrennaMader) you probably caught my video of Whitney repeatedly saying, "hmmm I think I need just a BIT more blood orange Chanel #5!" and then dramatically spritzing more into her cocktail. hahaha

If you follow me on Snapchat (@BrennaMader) you probably caught my video of Whitney repeatedly saying, “hmmm I think I need just a BIT more blood orange Chanel #5!” and then dramatically spritzing more into her cocktail. hahaha

Banje Beach – This day club is definitely quite the party experience, almost reminiscent of a Las Vegas pool. Rent a day bed right on the beach and get champagne and burgers delivered to you all day… because that’s what everyone does, right?! Great people watching – I have to say, the European motto on swimsuits is the smaller the better… and everyone looks amazing. #MoreEuroGoals I also took numerous dips in the Adriatic Sea to cool off and let me just say for the 900th time how amazing that water is.

Popping bottles on the Adriatic - I'd like to do that again!

Popping bottles on the Adriatic – I’d like to do that again!

Buza Bar – While this place is a pretty basic bar, they make up for it with their literal hanging off a cliffside ocean views. Getting a table is hard, but worth the elbowing. Don’t expect fancy drinks – your standard mixed drinks or cheap wine, but wow those views. Wow.

More stunning Croatian views - from literally off the side of a cliff.

More stunning Croatian views – from literally off the side of a cliff.

The Fun:
Villa Dubrovnik Spa – After having two full 24 hour days of travel, I went for a 2 hour spa treatment/massage and it did not disappoint. I was scrubbed, oiled, massaged, etc. into a state of deep relaxation.

Cable Car – For I think $8 the cable car will take you up to a stunning view of all of Dubrovnik and the water. Whitney and I had breakfast and read at Restaurant Panorama and every time i go back and look at my photos I’m in awe of this stunning place. A very unique view and experience.

Not your average breakfast view!

Not your average breakfast view!

City Center Dance Party – Somehow Whitney and I accidentally wandered into a dance party in the streets walking home from dinner one night complete with lights, a dj, and an accordion player playing along to Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” We danced until we were sweaty in the mix of young and old (me using my crutches as a dramatic prop, of course!). So glad we happened upon that – you never know what you’re going to find in Durbovnik!img_0409

Hvar Croatia bella luna boutique
I recently returned home from a dream trip of 23 days abroad – Zambia, Africa, Hvar and Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Reims and Paris, France. I’m excited to start sharing some of my adventures and suggestions here.

The trip was conceptualized in January when I was writing down my new year’s resolutions. I wrote that I wanted to live abroad for a month and low and behold it pretty much happened! (There’s something to writing your goals down, I have to say.) I also wrote that I wanted to go on a mission trip – who would have thought that I would be combining both into such a grand adventure?! I started in Zambia on a mission trip with Every Orphan’s Hope (I’m working on a post about that trip, but it’s turning into a novel, so more to come on that later!) and my plan was to meet up with my friend Whitney of Blonde Atlas in Istanbul, Turkey. It was going to be a relatively short and cheap flight from Zambia and we had the most fab itinerary planned including luxury accommodations, turkish baths, etc. etc. etc. Everything was booked and paid for… and then attacks and an attempted coup happened… No refunds from any of our flights (grrrr) but we decided the risk wasn’t worth it so we hurriedly tried to make a plan B. Our second spot was already going to be Dubrovnik, so we decided to start in Hvar which is within ferrying distance to Dubrovnik. Located in the Dalmation Islands, Hvar is the epitome of relaxation, glamour, and pristine natural sights. We were also so pleased about how safe Croatia is, how nice the people there were (and gorgeous… I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many beautiful people!), not to mention that almost everyone there speaks perfect English, making everything extra easy. Oh, and once you’re there, Croatia is relatively inexpensive in general. Score -I always love ballin’ on a budget!Hvar Croatia

The Digs: Pharos Hvar Bayhill Hotel
This hotel is the perfect mix of reasonably priced while still being fashionable, young, and fun. The staff were so wonderful and helped us book all of our transfers to and from our ferry rides – even going out of their way to drive me extra distances and get me to the front of lines because I was on crutches. There is an included breakfast that puts any US continental breakfast I’ve ever seen to shame – made to order omelets, gourmet coffees, a huge spread of fruit, pastries, meats, cheeses, yogurt, granola, etc. Most rooms will also have a beautiful view of the water and it is within walking distance of almost anything you could want to do in Hvar. There is also air conditioning in the rooms which can be a luxury in Europe in the summer!

Enjoying a poolside cocktail at the great bar that's at Pharos. Outfit details here!

Enjoying a poolside cocktail at the great bar that’s at Pharos. Outfit details here!

I lugged this beauty all around Africa and Europe and it came home looking better than when I started. I love a great leather bag! She loved posing in the Pharos lobby. ;)

I lugged this beauty all around Africa and Europe and it came home looking better than when I started. I love a great leather bag! She loved posing in the Pharos lobby. 😉 Get your own here! 

The Food:
DiVino Restaurant (fancy) – amazing food and great service with even better views. Truly one of the most beautiful views I have ever ever ever ever ever had at a restaurant. Watch the yachts sail in and out of the harbor and take in the castle at the top of the mountain… I love you Hvar.Divino Hvar Croatia

San Marco Restaurant at the Palace Hvar (nice but more casual) – incredible Mediterranean cuisine very reminiscent of some of the most wonderful meals I’ve eaten in Italy, which is saying a lot. The patio here also has beautiful views of the ocean/harbor.Hvar Croatia

Street Markets/Ice Cream – Walking around the main square you’ll see no shortage of beautiful local produce and an assortment of ice cream shops. You can’t go wrong with any of them. I would be embarrassed to reveal to you just how many times Whitney and I had ice cream or gelato…

The Fun:
Hvar Tours Half Day Wine Tour – As we were researching places we could go/things we could do, I must admit I was surprised to read that lots of Croatian wine and olive oil were highly rated. We decided our trip wouldn’t be complete without tasting some of it and I’m so glad we did! Whitney and I both thought the wine was so tasty while also being unique and interesting. The Croatians take so much pride in using only their own grapes and recreating ancient varieties. We so enjoyed this day that also included a beautiful drive over the mountain in the middle of the island. Our guide was so knowledgable and so much fun. Anyone who knows me knows that obviously I bought some of both because no international trip I’ve ever taken would be complete without numerous breakable, heavy, glass items figure out how to pack in my suitcase.img_0375

Hvar Tours Vis Day Tour – This was actually one of my favorite activities of the entire 23 days abroad. The water in Croatia is the most clean and beautiful water I have ever seen in my entire life. It’s aqua colored and you can see all the way to the bottom – even in the harbor where water is usually pretty disgusting. My enthusiasm for this day doesn’t lack – even with some of the day being rained out. What we got to see was so beautiful it outweighed any bad weather we experienced. I cannot recommend this tour enough. If When I go back to Hvar, I would actually consider doing boat tours multiple days – seeing as many of these beautiful little islands as possible is a must.Hvar Croatia img_0382
The Culture:
As I stated above, Croatians could not be more friendly or accommodating. We chatted with so many nice and interesting people. This is also a place where you will feel completely safe which was a nice and unexpected feeling, especially given all of the travel warnings right now in Europe. Hvar is known as a party island for Europe’s glitterati and we were told about several events/parties/clubs that sounded fun (including a private island nearby!) but alas I was exhausted from Africa and Whitney was exhausted from her prior 13 days in Italy (#1stworldprobs) and we went to bed each night earlier than any Grandma on the island which goes to show that this island is also great for relaxation. Looking around I noticed a lot of young people in addition to families and older people. Hvar can offer anything you’re looking for – nightlife, family time, relaxation, outdoor activities, etc.

I’m so glad our itinerary worked out the way it did – it was nice to feel completely safe and this little Croatian island had big impact. This is a spot I’ll be looking forward to going back to.img_0380 img_0377

Well… I’m only 17 days behind, BUT HERE IS YOUR AUGUST 2016 PLAYLIST! It’s been kind of a crazy month – I’m currently in the middle of something Taryn dubbed “Adult Internship” which essentially means living abroad for 23 days. I just finished up the first leg of my trip in Zambia, Africa with an incredible organization called Every Orphan’s Hope. (I’m currently working on a post about that as I sit in Munich, Germany on an 8 hour layover on my way to Hvar, Croatia!) I think I’m still processing everything I saw and felt there, but it was one of the most meaningful weeks of my entire life. I’m enroute now for some relaxation and adventure in Croatia and France with my dear friend Whitney of Blonde Atlas. (Follow along in realtime on Snapchat and Instagram @BrennaMader! Did anyone see any of my Zambia adventures?)

But ok, let’s talk about music for a second. I think my favorite discovery in the past month is Grace who also happens to be the sister of Conrad Sewell. I have two of her tracks on this playlist and she’s kind filling the hole in my heart that Amy Winehouse left. Soulful voice, upbeat poppy/motown feel… that combo gets me every time. Also, I can’t believe I’m about to admit this, but I’m really feeling the new Shawn Mendes track… he kind of sounds like the lovechild of John Mayer and Allen Stone. Enjoy – and as always, comment what you’re listening to!
spotify:user:blmader:playlist:0dLwK2ak6WOBKM41YsscoX

I’m loving the mix on this month’s playlist which features some of my favorite vocalists like David Nail and Harry Connick Jr. (Did you see my Instagram post of him singing my favorite hymn at the Ryman?) I also heard him sing, “One Fine Thing” for the first time and I’m obsessed. Add it to the list of some of my favorite love songs.

I also love Betty Who’s fresh take on “I Love You Always Forever.” This playlist also features a lot of up and coming Nashville artists – Drake White, Old Dominion, Maren Morris, Clare Dunn, and Kelleigh Bannen. Such good stuff!

Speaking of Kelleigh Bannen, scroll down to check out some of these stunning images of her (and some fun BTS) Cameron Powell shot just last week! Wardrobe by one of my favorites Taylor Colson Horton, hair and makeup by moi. My two favorite tracks from her new project “Landlocked” are in the playlist below, but let’s be honest, the entire EP has been on repeat on my patio.

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Like... not sure what's happening here, but it's funny. haha

Like… not sure what’s happening here, but it’s funny. haha

All 3 looks from the day (Are you following me on snapchat @BrennaMader?)

All 3 looks from the day (I had all the behind the scenes action on snapchat that day – are you following me @BrennaMader?)

Favorite shot... I mean wow.

Favorite shot… I mean wow.

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