Luxury Brands Warm Up to Croatia

With the opening of Le Méridien Lav, Split on December 11, Starwood Hotels and Resorts last week became the first well-known international brand to open a property near Split, Croatia, the largest city on the Adriatic coast. After about $106 million in renovations, the 381-room property—formerly the Hotel Lav—boasts a five-star rating and hotel rooms with views of the city and the surrounding islands. Fast Facts

Situated on the water, the hotel sits on the beach front, with gardens landscaped by the award-winning designer Jim Nicolay of Hawaii. Perhaps the hotel's most unique outdoor feature is its private marina, large enough for 60 yachts, making the property the perfect destination for boating enthusiasts. Guests with a propensity for seasickness, fear not, as the Marina Promenade features shops, restaurants, bars and cafés. The property itself has a watersports center and indoor and outdoor pool, as well as four tennis courts, rock climbing and a children's club.

Italian designer Lorenzo Bellini created the hotel's décor, which flows with the region's warm Mediterranean climate. Beds are draped in a rich, bright red and the light wood-paneled bathrooms seem inspired by an Italian outdoor villa, complete with fresh flowers. Amenities may include a plasma or LCD TV, separate bath and shower and a balcony. Seventeen suites, including the 394-square foot Presidential Suite, overlook Split and the surrounding islands.

One of Le Méridien's standard rooms, designed by Lorenzo Bellini

"The views are absolutely spectacular." notes John G.C. Wood, the hotel's general manager. He recommends the Adriatic Suite and Diplomatic Suites for their beautiful views and comfortable lounge areas.

The hotel is in Podstrana, about five miles from downtown Split, one of the sunniest places in Europe due to its Mediterranean climate. With the region's hot and dry summers and warm and wet winters, Le Méridien Lav is open year-round. "Split has many sites to offer, such as the old city center with the DiocletianPalace, a heritage site, and the ancient cities of Solin and Trogir," Wood says.

An aerial view of the Le Meridien Lav property, just before its December 11 opening

Split's high season is July and August, and in April, May, September and October, hotel prices can be reduced by as much as 50 percent, according to Visit Croatia data. For its opening, Le Méridien Lav is offering a special rate of €97 (about $129) for a single room and €115 for a double room (including breakfast and tax).

Though the weather certainly inspires outdoor activity, Le Méridien Lav made sure it wasn't short on entertainment options for guests within its own walls. Christophe Herbert of Principal Concepts designed the casino, which features a casual gaming experience with 140 slot machines and 20 gaming tables. There's also a nightclub and seven restaurants and bars, including fine dining, a brasserie and a champagne lounge. Wood advises agents to book in advance. The hotel also houses a sun-drenched three-story Diocletian Spa, based on Roman baths and featuring saunas, steam baths and whirlpools.

Though Le Méridien Lav is the only luxury hotel brand currently in Split region, that may change in three years when Regent Hotels and Resorts is expected to unveil its 120-room luxury hotel in Dubrovnik, about three hours from Split. Expected to open in early 2009, the Regent Dubrovnik's plans call for similar features, such as a spa and wellness facility, restaurants and bars.

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