Croatia is blessed with a lovely Mediterranean coastline with hundreds of nearby islands. As destinations these islands offer a variety of pleasures. Some have excellent beaches or rocky coves, perfect for swimming and snorkelling, others are more rugged with specialist agriculture. There are many charming towns, often with fascinating, historic centres. With names resembling planets in a Star Wars episode, here are ten of the best islands to visit:
Hvar (from the Greek Pharos – lighthouse) was on the main trading route along the Mediterranean coast. The fertile inland area was perfect for growing grapes and herbs. Even now, the centre of the island abounds in the smells of lavender and rosemary. The coastline is sprinkled with hidden coves and beaches to enjoy Croatia’s warmest spot. The main towns are Hvar, a busy popular party town with lovely stone streets and elegant mansions and Stari Grad, the port of arrival from the mainland, site of many ancient cultural sights and the quieter of the two. Excursions depart frequently for the gorgeous Pakleni Islands.
Brač is a large island off the coast from Split. It is renowned for the quality of its white limestone, used to construct Diocletian’s Palace in Split and the White House in Washington DC. The bright stone is evident throughout the island in piles collected by the women of Brač, as they cleared the fields for orchards. Zlatni Rat is a popular pebble beach peninsula extending out to sea near the town of Bol, which is the more pleasant of the island’s two major towns. Stone villages are dotted throughout the island and are the highlight of a drive through the area.
The island is renowned for its vineyards and excellent white wines. Korčula is the sixth-largest Adriatic island, stretching nearly 47 kms in length. The island has many olive groves and small villages. The fortified town of Korčula is the main attraction with its well-preserved old town area. The southern coast offers quiet coves and sandy beaches, whilst the northern shore is flatter with longer beaches of pebbles.
Rab has particularly varied landscapes, leading to its declaration as a national park in 2008. The more densely populated southwest coast has pine forests and beaches, while the northeast coast is a windswept region with few settlements. In the interior, the land is protected from cold winds by mountains, allowing the growing of grapes, olives and vegetables. The cultural and historical highlight of the island is enchanting Rab Town, recognised by four elegant bell towers rising from the ancient stone streets. The best sandy beaches are on the Lopar Peninsula.
Mljet is the southernmost of the larger Adriatic islands of the Dalmatia region of Croatia. The island is well known for its white and red wine, olives and goat's cheese. Much of the island is covered by forests and the rest is dotted with fields, vineyards and small villages. The western tip contains Mljet National Park, where the lush vegetation, pine forests and spectacular saltwater lakes are particularly scenic. It is an oasis of tranquillity that, according to legend, captivated Odysseus for seven years. The island has a regular ferry connection with Dubrovnik and the Pelješac Peninsula.
Cres and Lošinj
As these two islands are separated only by a small canal, they are often treated as one island, although they both have their own unique characters. Cres is the wilder, more verdant island with lovely beaches and a few old stone-built villages. Lošinj in the south has more visitors to its secluded bays and picturesque port towns surrounded by pine forests. There is more agriculture on Lošinj including lemons and bananas. The coastal wildlife is protected here by the Lošinj Dolphin Reserve.
Vis is the furthest from the Croatian mainland, and from 1950 until 1989 it served as the Yugoslav National Army’s base, out of bounds to foreign visitors. So, it still has the air of an unspoilt paradise, and visitors are seduced by its rudimental beauty. Two towns – the northeast Vis Town and Komiža, in the southwest – vie for tourist attention, and you’ll find several beachy enclaves in crevices along the rough coastline. The main attraction is the blue cave of Biševo that lies off its shores.
Pag is barren and rocky, with large empty countryside. Today the Island is connected to the mainland by a bridge – but in terms of culture it’s very independent and distinct. Islanders farm the miserly soil and produce some excellent wine. Tough local sheep graze on herbs and salty grasses, lending their meat and milk a distinctive flavour and producing paški sir (Pag cheese). The island is also famous for Intricate Pag lace. Pag is now an unlikely clubbing mecca with Zrće Beach a summer nightlife hot spot.
Dugi Otok is an island located close to Zadar on the mainland and is the largest among the islands located in this part of Dalmatia. Its name literally means ‘long island’ –it is 45km long – and is known for its vineyards and orchards, Saharun beach in the north, and Telascica Nature Park that covers the southern part of the island. With a population of just 1,500 people on Dugi Otok, the main villages are Bozava and Sali. Even in the summer months this island provides travellers with peace and quiet. Ferries and a catamaran connect Zadar with the island.
The largest island is Croatia, Krk is connected to the mainland by a mile-long toll bridge. It is not the most beautiful or the greenest island, but it’s a very popular place to visit. The main resorts on the island are Malinska, Omisalj, Vrbnik, Punat and Krk Town, as well as Baska – popular because of its sandy beach. Krk offers culture, thousand years old towns, small rural villages, well equipped city beaches, secluded swimming bays, lively bars and clubs and small and quiet restaurants and cafe bars. Rijeka Airport is at the northernmost tip of the island.
Sipan and Lopud
The Elaphiti islands are an archipelago connected to Dubrovnik by ferries taking between 30 and 50 minutes. The islands are an ideal escape from the bustle of Dubrovnik and can be visited on day trips or as a quiet base away from the city. Sipan Island boasts lush unspoilt landscapes and one of Croatia’s rare sandy beaches. Traffic free Lopud Island holds some of Croatia’s best beaches including Sunj Bay.
So you have counted at least eleven! Well, to be honest, Croatia will always offer much more than you expect. Come and see.