Beyond the shores of Croatia’s ruggedly beautiful coastline lie over a thousand islands, each with their own distinct Adriatic flavour. Most of these islands can easily be reached via ferry services from Split and Dubrovnik, making an island-hopping detour particularly attractive for travellers. From the glitz and glamour of Hvar to the deeply historical Korcula, here are six Croatian island destinations worth setting sail for.
Despite being probably the most well-known island in Croatia, Hvar offers a well-rounded experience with its storied history, pastoral countryside, quiet bays and striking fields of lavender. Come sundown, you’ll experience a different side to the island as its elegant waterfront restaurants begin dinner service and upscale bars start to fill up. But it’s not all about the party crowd – visitors to the island’s oldest town, Stari Grad can wander the time-worn halls of Tvrdalj Castle or go on a scenic hike to the top of Glavica Hill.
If Hvar seems just a little too frenetic, set your sights on Mljet – a lush forested island that will stun with its untamed Adriatic beauty and minimal infrastructure. Hikers and seclusion-seekers will feel right at home here, wandering the trails that wind through the national park that occupies the western coast of the island. The more sedate traveller can frolic on the sandy beaches near the town of Saplunara, on the island’s eastern tip.
One of the largest Adriatic islands, Brac’s landscape is dominated by rolling hills, fig trees and emerald forests. One of its most popular attractions is Zlatni Rat, a pebble beach that extends along a spit on the island’s southern coast. Brac’s largest town, Bol lies a short walk from the beach and is home to Blaca Hermitage – a 16th-century monastery founded within a cave and built outwards along the hillside. If you prefer to stay close to nature, hike Vidova Gora mountain and you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the island.
Though better known for its lively party scene centred around Zrce Beach and the glitzy beachfront clubs that line Novalja’s shores, visitors to Pag might be surprised to discover the island’s rich culinary heritage. A must-try Pag speciality is roast lamb. Though a simple, rustic dish, lamb on Pag is richly flavoured – supposedly from a diet of wild sage, rosemary and lavender. The island’s most famed fare is undeniably its distinctively flavoured sheep milk cheese that’s known for its sharp, salty taste.
Steeped in history, Korcula’s claim to fame goes beyond being the alleged birthplace of Marco Polo. The island’s eponymous town is built on a walled promontory and centred around the Cathedral of Saint Mark, a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral that was constructed throughout the 13th and 18th centuries. Beyond the city’s gates, the island’s calm waters are also particularly enticing thanks to the island’s perennially warm weather. You can rent a kayak and snorkelling equipment from around town and paddle your way to the smaller islets that dot Korcula to explore hidden beaches and snorkel the shallow waters. Come sundown, park yourself at one of the town’s many waterfront bars and unwind with a glass of the local speciality – a dry white wine made from the regional posip grape.
While you’re likely to find fantastic beaches on most Croatian islands, Vis is home to a particularly charming one that’s made its way onto European Best Destinations’ list of top beaches in 2016. Hidden down an unpaved path in the south of the island lies Stiniva Bay – a tiny stretch of pebbled beach that will strike a chord with those seeking a tranquil beach experience. The island’s main town, also named Vis, is easily explored on foot. Should you desire to explore the other outlying towns, bicycles and mopeds are an excellent way to get around.