Mini guide to Croatia’s islands
The fishing town of Komiža stands along the western coast of Vis at sunset. (Mark Read)
Croatia’s coast is speckled with a multitude of islands, each with its own special appeal. Sit with locals in quaint harbourside restaurants, explore uninhabited national parks or join an all-night beach party.
Comprising 147 mostly uninhabited islands, some of which are designated a national park, the Kornati Islands have no source of freshwater and so are mostly barren. The white rock formations are stark against the blue Adriatic. There is no public ferry, so to visit book a tour from the mainland – you can take a daytrip from Zadar for £35.
Dugi Otok (long island) is 26 miles long and in parts less than a mile across. At the southern end, Telašćica Bay is dotted with islands and is one of the largest, most beautiful natural harbours in the Adriatic. The saltwater Lake Mir (peace), sandy Sakarun Beach and panoramic drive along the rocky coast are also real delights. The tourist office can connect you with some great out-of-the-way accommodation, including a house on its own island.
Pag is dry and rocky, with vast empty landscapes stretching across the horizon. Although not so much of an island now it’s connected to the mainland by a bridge, it still feels independent in terms of culture and produce. Tough sheep graze on herbs and salty grasses, lending their milk a unique flavour and producing the famous paški sir (the olive oil-soaked Pag cheese), which can be found at the daily fruit and veg market in Pag town.
Off the main trail and off-limits to foreigners for about four decades (it served as a base for the Yugoslav army), Vis’s lack of development is its appeal. It also produces some of Croatia’s best-known wines: vugava (white) and plavac mali (red). Visit Roki’s restaurant in the village of Plisko Polje – owned by a local winemaker – to try it and they’ll pick you up and drop you off at your hotel too.
The third-largest of the Adriatic islands, Brač sports one of Croatia’s most famous beaches, the alluring Zlatni Rat (golden horn), near the pretty town of Bol. This is also the windsurfing capital of Croatia, since the sea channel between Brač and neighbouring Hvar provides ideal conditions: gentle in the morning for beginners, lively for adrenaline junkies later on. Big Blue Sport rents boards and runs classes. Make time to explore the island’s sleepy stone villages too.
Hvar gets the most sun of any of the islands – and the most tourists thanks to Hvar town where, come high summer, there’s no better place to party. Well-dressed people descend from their yachts in droves for après-beach soirées and full-moon beach parties. Hvar is also famed for the lavender fields that dot its interior, which is largely unexplored by those who visit. Book the Hvar Offroad Tour run by Secret Hvar to discover the island’s hidden beauties (£70).
Legend has it that Odysseus was marooned on Mljet for seven years, and it’s easy to see why he’d take his time leaving. The western section is a national park, where you’ll find cobalt lakes, an island monastery and the sleepy port of Pomena. In the east is one of Dalmatia’s top restaurants, Stermasi, which has an awesome view (wild boar with homemade gnocchi £45 for two).
Korčula is rich in vineyards, olive groves and small villages, while its main settlement, Korčula town, is a coastal citadel of marble streets and Renaissance and Gothic architecture. Age-old folk music and dances are still performed on the island, which is a favourite with families. One of the most colourful is the Moreška sword dance – you can see it in the Old Town every Monday and Thursday evening in high summer.
Lokrum, a Unesco-protected reserve, is a forested isle of holm oaks, black ash, pines and olive trees, and is an ideal escape from urban Dubrovnik, a 15-minute boat trip away. It has a fine botanical garden with giant agaves and palms native to Brazil and South Africa. No-one is allowed to stay overnight, so be sure to catch the last boat back (about 6pm, timetable at Dubrovnik Old City Harbour).