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Hot or Chill

Find the destinations of your dreams with these picks from fellow Fairfielders

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Coastal: Croatia

Nick and Tracy Kolarich

Before Croatia’s coastline was consistently getting top billing on lists of the world’s hottest beaches, Nick Kolarich was the local expert on its sunny charms. A first-generation Croatian-American, Nick has spent countless summers vacationing in his parents’ ancestral homeland and is a one-man insider’s guide on what to see and do there. “I love suggesting Croatia to my [non-Croatian] friends because they give it the best possible compliment—they always want to return,” says Nick. “There are other places in Europe that may still get more buzz, like Ibiza, but Croatia’s beaches are less crowded, and I may sound biased, but really more beautiful.” His suggested itinerary–one he has enjoyed with his young family—begins with flying into the capital of Zagreb for a day of exploring historical sites. Next, head south for Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which beckons international tourists for its stunning waterfalls, crystal clear, shallow lakes and majestic hiking. “It shouldn’t be missed,” he says. Then make way for the sizzling southern beaches. Which one? “The options are limitless,” says Nick.

History buffs may want to pair a beach getaway with a land base in the southern coastal city of Dubrovnik. Nick’s wife, Tracy, notes that fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones will revel in the ancient city that is backdrop for the fictional King’s Landing. Try lunch at Restotran Nautika for its panoramic coastal view.

Dubrovnik is also one of several southern gateways to Croatia’s incredible islands—literally scores and scores of them—that dot the coastline. Big islands, such as posh Hvar, have become a mecca for celebrities (think Brad Pitt, David Beckham and Bill Gates) because of their laid-back beauty. Nick’s tip: Book the exquisite Amfora Grand Beach Resort if luxury (and celebrity spotting) is on your island-hopping agenda.

“Because there are so many islands, Croatia is a boaters’ paradise. If you love to sail, this is the place to rent a boat to sail yourself or charter with a crew,” says Nick. The Kolarich clan has been lucky enough to explore from the deck of the Fortuna (Fortuna-sail-Croatia.com), a luxury yacht that features one of the most experienced crews in Southern Dalmatia. “One thing a lot of European tourists love to do is just have a boat drop them off somewhere for the day. You can literally have your own island.”  

The best part of any Croatian travel experience is communing with the tiny country’s convivial people, who seem to live by a credo that helping guests enjoy their stay is “Nema Problema,” or “No problem.” Tracy says, “They are so warm, so generous and will do anything to make you feel welcome.”

If You Go: Indulge in Croatian wines, plum brandy, grilled lobster and chopped octopus salads. Tracy says the organic vegetables, cheeses and yeasty dough yield “some of the best pizza I’ve ever had, and I’m Italian!”

Polar Bear Migration, Churchill: Manitoba

Jennifer Kelly

The polar bear migration season is precariously short; a few scant weeks in October and November that mark the critical period when these majestic creatures lumber toward the seal-rich waters of Canada’s Hudson Bay to nourish themselves for the long winter. The perfect place to see this natural spectacle is in Churchill, Manitoba, just 500 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

Jennifer Kelly, a Fairfielder, had the amazingly rare chance to venture to that distant locale to witness the environmentally threatened creatures in their natural habitat with Norwalk-based Tauck Tours’ Polar Bear Adventure. She describes the “once in a lifetime trip” as “something I could never replicate on my own.”

The six-day tour was led by Tauck’s expert guides and involved special vehicles, which transport tourists through the Arctic tundra safari-style. The vans feature large, open-air platforms (in addition to warm and comfy interiors) that allow expedition participants to get dramatically (but safely) close to the sometimes curious bears.

“If people stay super quiet and the engine is turned off, the bears will sometimes come close and even put their paws on the vehicle to get a closer look at their visitors,” Jennifer explains. “It’s not something that happens all the time, but when it does, it’s thrilling.” (And what a photo opportunity.)

Of course, guests aren’t allowed to leave the vehicle because of the potential dangers, but Jennifer says one thrill of her adventure was spying protective mama bears hovering over their cubs as they lured them to the water for a meal. A moment not to be missed, so pack binoculars. Note, the Manitoba polar bear trip is part of Earth Journeys, Tauck’s just-announced collaboration with the nature documentary filmmakers at BBC Earth.  

Beyond several remarkable days spent watching the bears, Jennifer also got to try exhilarating dog sledding (“My first time!”) and meet with First Nation people who regaled her and her tour companions with stories of the significance of the polar bears in their lives and those of their ancestors.

While it can get bitterly cold spoo close to the Arctic Circle, Jennifer’s accommodations were anything but chilly. Tauck’s travelers check into the family-owned Lazy Bear Lodge, a cozy log-cabin-style inn Jennifer describes as “rustic but perfectly ideal given the surroundings.” The lodge is noteworthy for an accommodating, knowledgeable staff that Jennifer says “made us feel like family the moment we walked in the door.”

Jennifer says the trip would be a remarkable educational experience for environmentally minded kids whose parents don’t mind them missing school (the migration doesn’t coincide with traditional school vacations).

But what’s the harm when nature’s incredible classroom is right outside their log cabin door?

If You Go: Prepare for an even more enlightening adventure. Tauck Tours recently announced the Polar Bear Adventure is one of several trips it will now host in collaboration with the knowledgeable team at BBC Earth.

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