Dvorišta. That’s the Croatian word for courtyard, hundreds of which dot the capital city Zagreb, a few hours inland.
Zagreb took top spot in Lonely Planet’s Best in Europe 2017 list and its glossy new airport and burgeoning restaurant scene are now served by direct Monarch flights from Manchester and Gatwick.
Each block in the city contains at least one of these often-unnamed courtyards: an inner world briefly, tantalisingly, glimpsed along narrow alleys. Where once worked artisans are now cool cafés and bars.
Here’s our pick of the best new spots.
Off Zagreb’s main dining street sits Nikole Tesle Street, where you will find a just-opened joint at the far end of a rectangular courtyard. Though there are juices and Japanese teas, plus beers after dark, most come for coffee.
Quahwa is also an arabica roaster, and its macchiatos and cappuccinos (from £1.70) are top-notch. Make for the suntrap terrace and watch residents water ferns on the balconies of dilapidated studios and cats draped over dusty Vespas. Then go and browse neighbouring boutique Hysteria, which stocks clothing and jewellery by cool Croatian labels. Nikole Tesle 9/1, quahwa.net/pro
Not only is Mali Bar secreted up a narrow alley, you must then climb a staircase, turning left at the first floor, ignoring the rival pizzeria ahead. Run by ex-TV chef and cookbook writer Ana Ugarkovic, this bistro’s offerings include salads of goat’s cheese and quail egg (£9) or smoked tuna prosciutto with saffron sauce (£10). The best seats are on Mali’s shaded terrace, with views over Zagreb’s tiled skyline. Tables tend to require advance reservation. Vlaska 63, facebook.com/ malibarzagreb
Zrno Bio Bistro
Meduliceva is a broad street in the slightly hipper area just west of central Zagreb. Dive down one alley and, in a very small quadrangle, you’ll find this vegan caff. Most of the food is grown on Zrno’s organic farm, 35 miles away.
The café has two rooms: a main space where sweet-potato fries (£3.50), freshly made sourdoughs (£1) and yogi teas (£2.40) are served buffet-style, and a quieter terrace shared with neighbouring bar Kota (kotabar.hr). Just across the small space, the terrace is best: here groups of friends chat and first-daters flirt under a vine-covered pergola. Meduliceva 20, zrnobiobistro.hr
Zagreb’s Upper Town, where you’ll find the Museum of Broken Relationships, is accessed either via twisting stairways or a steep funicular. At the top of the latter are magnificent views and this new bistro, just along a cobbled alley, which continues into a leafy, classical enclave of apartments.
Vještica is hopelessly romantic, courtesy of little red lanterns and wooden beams, and unexpectedly cool in serving beers by The Garden — a brewery from Croatia’s eponymous music festival. Food-wise, there are rich, old-fashioned Croatian classics, like turkey breasts with dry plums in red-wine sauce (£8.50). Vranyczanyeva 6, vjestica.eu
Sherry’s Wine & Bites
Found halfway along one of the biggest dvorišta in town, Sherry’s is a popular after-work haunt. Some sit on the obligatory broad terrace sipping the large selection of Croatian tipples like Trapan and Korta (from £15 a bottle) and enjoying the day’s last rays. Others come for food by chef Gregorio Manucci, poached from Zagreb’s esteemed Apetit restaurant. Offerings include burgers, beef bruschetta and cheese tapas plates. Ilica 73, sherrys.eu
■ Monarch has return flights from London Gatwick and Birmingham from £77, monarch.co.uk
■ Drink it all in
Between July 14 and 23, you can enter the private courtyards of Zagreb and learn more via storytelling while enjoying a glass of wine and live music. dvorista.in