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Welcome to the exceptional at The Grand Hotel Brioni – a gem in Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula.

Entering the luxurious lobby of the Grand Hotel Brioni – all marble finishes, sumptuous seating areas laden with curated books and artwork and a brigade of perfectly presented staff ready to welcome – the tone of your stay is set – elegant, refined and luxurious minus any pretension or stuffiness. As check in is completed and luggage ushered to rooms, I found it hard to focus on the welcome speech as eyes on stalks kept drifting to the expanse of the sapphire blue Adriatic that lay just beyond…

There are two types of people in this world – those that are desperate to get to their hotel room, unpack, explore the nooks and crannies of what the room has to offer, a jump on a bed here, a flick of the coffee machine there. And there are those that grab their key, throw their hand luggage on the bed, grab the swimwear that was packed in said hand luggage for easy access and run to the pool / sea as soon as possible. I am the latter. Hurrying down to the terrace that I had spent so long pawing over via instagram posts, nothing quite prepared me for the sheer majesty of the vista bestowed upon me. An infinity pool that tumbles into the clearest, blue water, cabanas and loungers sitting atop expertly carved rocks in a way that makes them look as if they are part of the natural landscape and a breathtaking view of the neighbouring Brijuni islands peppered the horizon. The location of this hotel is pure drama – as you would expect for a place that once hosted the Hollywood elite.

Taking in the expanse of water and craggy coastline, I could feel any stresses in both my body and mind ebb away – a feeling that would continue to establish throughout my stay thanks to the hotel’s clever design choices. The Grand Hotel Brioni has recently undergone a £30 million renovation. Taking inspiration from the natural surroundings and with a focus on local artists, the design of the hotel far surpasses that of just aesthetics (although it has that in spades) but the cleverly curated colour palette is one that restores the soul. It is hard to imagine that the use of blue throughout the hotel is just a coincidence when the colour is known for its calming effect and benefits on mental health. The way the external natural world melts into the modern, almost brutalist in design hotel through colour is a stroke (no pun intended) of genius. The bright blue Croatian sky disappearing into the azure depths of the Adriatic which gently laps up the contrastingly stark white cliffs. The turquoise infinity pool, perching on top of them, over looked by rooms and restaurants alike. Carpets, furniture and even glassware are drenched in blue tones as if world outside has seeped in, bringing with it a sense of still and serenity. Trickling through to the bedrooms, accents of blue head boards and even the complimentary blue flip flops and Acqua Di Parma toiletries (reason enough to go), it is near impossible to escape the feeling of balance these design choices invoke yet it is done with such subtlety you don’t realise you are tumbling through this dreamlike state until you leave the hotel and are expelled back in to the stark reality.

Drift away…

The hotel offers 227 rooms and suites but due to careful mapping and a plethora of open areas, it nevers feels busy or crowded. Cabanas hidden amongst rocky outcrops and lavender bushes, cosy corners within bars and winding paths carved into the cliffs further cement the feeling of intimacy and exclusivity.

Staying in one of the ‘Collection Rooms’, a balcony was forgone for additional square meterage but with french windows offering a Juliette balcony and views over both the garden and ocean, it didn’t feel like a compromise as the feeling of outdoor living and swathes of natural light streaming in were plentiful. A king size bed that felt like a cloud and came with a pillow menu ensured the deepest of sleeps and a marble laden bathroom complete with rainfall shower sets guests up for the day.

Well thought out touches such as specially designed espresso cups to accompany the Illy coffee machine and the ‘Butler’s Corner’, a room on each floor that provides an alternative to a mini bar, where guests can go and choose their goods and swipe their key card – helping combat wastage whilst furthering enforcing the feeling on individuality and the bespoke.

Hotel eats…

The hotel boasts four restaurants offering a wide variety of food meaning even the most discerning of diners are catered for but all with a key focus on local produce whether that be a specially curated wine list featuring some of Croatia’s finest wines (I didn’t know this was a thing either until I got there and was pleasantly surprised), exceptional olive oil (might I dare to say, better than Greek) or fish landed from nearby waters.

The Brioni Forum (taking its name from the Forum Square in Pula) is the epicenter of the hotel’s eateries, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner with a buffet style format and a whopping 280 covers at any one time. Given the reputation of a Radisson Collection property, I was expecting slightly higher things but then reminded myself, “this is a buffet for 280 people and I am yet to go to a hotel that does it well”. The choice is extensive but it all lacked the ‘wow’ factor and for a hotel that boasts the tagline ‘Welcome to the Exceptional’, everything needs to be well… exceptional.

Sophia is the fancy pants eatery where both hotel guests and non residents don their finest and flock. Specially imported marble topped tables, parquet flooring, light fixtures that double up as works of art and a terrace offering sunset views set the scene. An open kitchen centered around a Josper oven plays stage to a brigade of chefs all armed with tweezers and sauce spoons, opposite a wall heaving with fine wines and Champagnes – it is opulent, it is heady, it is everything a luxurious grill restaurant should be.

We were treated to chef’s choice which included focaccia, whipped butter and gin & whisky infused salt followed by one of the best steak tartare I’ve ever had, accompanied by heady truffle butter and nasturtium. Of course the main was a variety of cuts of steak to showcase what the restaurant had to offer and included cuts from both America and France and sides of proper chips, potato mille-feuille and a plethora of steak sauces. Call me crazy but I am still to get my head around why a European restaurant would ship in a cow all the way from America when they have perfectly adequate bovine in nearby fields – personal preference of meat locality aside, the steak was cooked well and washed down with the incredible Medea Punta Greca, a Croatian Merlot, I was content. The meal was finished with a creme brulee, minus the brulee – more a dusting where there should have been a crust, but the addition of crumbly butter biscuits to the thick, unctuous custard worked well.

The gastronomic highlight for me was the unassuming Brioni Lungo Mare. A laid back outdoor restaurant overlooking the ocean offering fresh fish and light lunches. The decor giving nods to the European holidays we all know and love, tables painted with designs of lemons and florals and white metal chairs perched under parasols. A light lunch of pan fried sea bass with crisp skin, sitting atop a zingy lemon risotto with freshly shaved asparagus complimented by a light and fresh Croatian rose is what ocean side dining is all about. I greedily watched other plates come out of the kitchen all looking wonderful – giant prawns and heavily doused caesar salads making me wish I had a second (and third stomach).

The main lobby bar is a sophisticated affair and perfect for sundowners and nightcaps alike. The cocktail list is as extensive as it is innovative and definitely worth a work through.

The Bioni Giardini bar sits just behind the infinity pool and offers relaxed plates as well as an incredibly well stocked ice cream bar which is well worth a visit or five.

Spa time…

The self titled and completely just jewel in the Brioni crown is the Gemma Di Brioni spa. Literally – it boasts treatments utilising local gemstones to promote wellness and clarity. Spanning 1300 square meters across two floors and offering indoor pool, cold water whirlpool, three saunas, steam room, rain showers, relaxation lounge complete with salt wall and a menu of revolutionary treatments said to draw on the minerals available from the surrounding natural world including the aforementioned gemstones and algae, it is truly magnificent and somewhere you could happily spend a day. To the point that this sun worshiper was almost praying for grey skies so she could enjoy it without compromising baking time.

Looking beyond the hotel…

A mere twenty minute drive away is Pula town, a must for history buffs and culture vultures. With one of the six best preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world and winding streets to get lost in and watch the world go by, it is the ideal place to spend a day exploring and steeping yourself in ancient history. Restaurants and cafes line streets and market squares, be sure to try local dishes of ox and of course, the seafood on offer. A short drive from here is both the Chiavalon Olive Oil farm which offers tastings and tours and the Medea Winery where you can try a variety of wines paired with delicious local charcuterie and cheeses – an absolute must.

Flights to Pula are less than two hours from UK airports (we flew from Stanstead) making this relatively unsung but glorious destination the perfect spot for a quick get away, although be warned, you will want to spend more than a couple of days absorbing everything it has to offer.

Prices for the Grand Hotel Brioni start from €290 per room per night based on a B&B stay in a Collection Room with Garden View.

Find out more about Grand Hotel Brioni here