"I was a Bond girl, but this was the most Bond moment of my life." Actor Gemma Arterton heads to Croatia
First stop was Dubrovnik, once a rival to Venice. We were staying only one night, in the swanky Hotel Excelsior, so headed straight to the old town in search of that famed spaghetti. After two glasses of very good local wine in a charming bar, we forgot all about the pasta mission. Instead, we had some ice-cream from a stall and lost ourselves within the city walls. This city is used as a backdrop in many a film requiring medieval architecture, and we couldn't help feeling a bit guilty that our husbands weren't with us – it is one of the most romantic places I've been.
Next morning, we set off for the island of Hvar. You can fly, but we opted for a drive along the coast and a ferry. This was the most memorable and beautiful part of the trip: the crystal-clear Adriatic, the rocky, meandering landscape. Occasionally, we'd see a couple soaking up the sun on a beach, but for the most part the coastline was rugged and untouched. After three hours, we arrived at Split, and the ferry to Hvar. The boat was packed, with a lot of Italians and, surprisingly, Americans. It seems we Brits are a little slow on the uptake when it comes to Croatia's treats.
We disembarked at Stari Grad, its harbour crammed full of huge yachts, to be greeted by a woman who announced: "Welcome to the party island!" Pippa and I shared a worried look, our attempt at sobriety looking ever more doubtful.
The old town of Hvar is charming. St Stephen's Square is a portside hub of activity, surrounded by bars and restaurants, and narrow, winding streets lead away from the seafront; further back from the shore, the hills are lined with medieval walls built to protect the inhabitants from pirates (how exciting!). Pippa and I knew that our search for lobster spaghetti was on, so we checked into our hotel, the Adriana, and ventured into town.
Having been to Ibiza, I was expecting this "party island" to be a similar scene of madness, but Hvar is much more civilised. We even managed our promised early night. Early the next morning we took a yoga class by the beach, and spent the rest of the day reading by the sea. I was due to appear in Ibsen's The Master Builder in a few weeks and was desperately trying to work out what it all meant – the tranquillity helped.
That evening we had the best lobster spaghetti of the trip, served by a lovely waiter who insisted on Pippa wearing a bib. No matter how beautiful a place may be, it is always the locals who make it, and Mr Bib had me won over. We spent the next few days relaxing, reading and swimming, but on the final day we went island-hopping – Bobby had told me the best way to holiday in Croatia is to hire a boat and sail around the hundreds of islands, stopping where you please. He was right. The hotel organised a small boat, and we were met at the harbour by a rock'n'roll pirate, complete with bandanna, hooped earrings and Aerosmith blaring from the boat's speakers. He asked what music we liked. "Rock'n'roll!" Pippa and I chimed, which he happily played loudly as we tore through the waves to an unknown destination. I once played a Bond Girl in an actual Bond film, but this was the most Bond moment of my life: lying bikini-clad at the front of a boat with the wind in my hair, and feeling very bad-ass to boot.
We arrived at a small island with a tiny, family-owned restaurant on it and a few sailors who'd had the same idea as us. Away from the buzz of Hvar, we could have been anywhere in the world. It was paradise. I could have stayed for a few days at least, but we had a pirate eager to take us onwards.
On the way back to Hvar, to a soundtrack of AC/DC and Guns N' Roses, we passed some naked middle-aged men on their boats, conjuring both shock and admiration. You can be naked here and no one cares. Freeeeeedom!
Over dinner that night, we discussed coming back in summer, avec a boat and husbands, to continue our exploration of these lovely islands. And next morning, up early to catch our ferry, I bumped into my first ever boyfriend – very odd! – who told me of a fantastic jazz bar he'd found. Next time…
On the ferry back to Split, we encountered the other side of the party island: a hungover, or perhaps still-drunk, Australian man without clothes (don't worry, he had underwear on) and sporting a large gash on his head. It was his birthday, and his friends had abandoned him in a stupor without a passport or any worldly goods. Even though we were on a party island, we had managed to avoid the party. Bliss – and highly recommended.