Croatia, where water park meets World Heritage Site

Our comfortable accommodations, one of two apartments in the bottom floor of a home, were across the street from the sea. A quick walk down the craggy white rocks that rim the island and a dive into the water satisfied our never-ending quest for liquid immersion.

We were not alone — no matter where we wandered on the island, by car or foot, people were in the water, some of them swimming far from any beach or jumping-off point. Where's there's water, there's a way, so it seemed.

When we ventured farther afield, our gracious hosts, who lived in the upper apartment, provided us with great recommendations. We took leisurely walks into Hvar Town to purchase cheese, bread and the tastiest tomatoes I've ever had to enjoy on our patio.

A morning trek to the fortress, its commanding location above Hvar Town, offered unparalleled views of the harbor and the small Pakleni Islands beyond. Inside the stone walls, our daughter wondered about the tiny, water-view windows in the half-dozen or so claustrophobic jail cells — did they make life bearable for the prisoners or drive them insane with the desire to escape?

On our last evening, we had a seafood feast at the rooftop restaurant Luna in town, then gathered with locals and other visitors to listen to an orchestra playing classical music in St. Stephen's Square. If the beautiful people had overtaken the town, we didn't notice.

The northern town of Opatija was our last stop. After an early-morning return to the mainland from Hvar, we left the Dalmatian Coast and began the four-hour drive to the northeastern corner of the Istrian Peninsula. We wondered how Opatija would stack up against the southern points we had visited.

Our Hvar hostess had lived here years ago and told us to expect an atmosphere more reminiscent of Croatia's communist past, when the country was still part of Yugoslavia. She assured us, though, that the setting was another example of Croatia's coastal riches.

We quickly checked into our hotel, donned swimsuits and dashed to the water, where we swam with other families and zipped down a giant slide resting beside a cove.

That evening we strolled along the Lungomare, the ribbon-like promenade fronting the Adriatic, stealing a little more time to enjoy the soft summer air and pleasant hum of activity.

And our hostess' take on Opatija? Some of the architecture, including our austere, block-like hotel, definitely recalled a certain 20th century communist style; in contrast, though, were pastel Victorian homes dotting steep green hillsides and grand seaside hotels with vistas stretching across the Kvarner Gulf, the enchanting scene straight out of a fairy tale.

Earlier in the trip, on the stone patio of a restaurant where the setting sun cast firelight over the water, I wondered how this scene would compare with my former boyfriend's recollection. So I asked him.

"It's just as I remember it," my husband said, lifting his wine glass in a toast, all of us ready to dine on fish straight from the sea.

travel@latimes.com