In the past decade Croatia has gone from being the quieter, affordable alternative to Italy to a top summer beach destination for the super-yacht set.
Some of the largely undiscovered islands are:
Lastovo Island: Croatia’s second most distant island, Lastovo, remains at the edge of the world. Beyond Ubli, where car ferries dock daily from Split (five hours, via Korcula), modernity seems a rumour. Wifi? Even the phone signal is sketchy. Yet LASTOVO is ideal for a person in need of a digital detox. Washed by the cleanest seas in the Med, it offers good diving and walks on a wild island wholly designated a nature park. From Lastovo Town, actually a lovely tumbledown village of stone houses and sleepy cats, you can climb to island highpoint Hum or cross to swim in the mirror-calm of Skrivena Luka bay. Walk to Zaklpatica and you stop for lunch at Triton. Hotel Solitudo is the only hotel on this island.
Lopud Island: Recently rediscovered, and highlighted as the Croatian aristocracy’s favourite this is the ideal place to play at Robinson Crusoe while keeping close enough to the city for cultural daytrips. Car-free, certainly carefree, this tiny island – less than five kilometres square and just 200 residents – ticks every box for Brits seeking the simple life: there’s just a villagey harbour the colour of old ivory, faded aristos’ mansions among the cyprus and palm trees, and little to do except read in the warm autumn sun or explore dusty paths, plucking handfuls of wild figs as you go. Walk two kilometres to the other side of the island and you reach Sunj, a pine-edged cove with a horseshoe of sand fine enough for castles. Ferry timetables show you’re only half an hour from Dubrovnik. It feels more like a century. La villa is the ideal place to stay.
Rising out of the sea in a crown of peaks, Vis island has all the allure of a Bond-villain hideout. Yet Croatia’s most distant island, washed by the cleanest seas in the Med, is easier to find – 90 minutes by catamaran from Split, Dalmatia’s sassiest city – and far more accommodating, thanks to a brace of fine restaurants: try Villa Kaliopa (32 Vladimira Nazora; 00 385 21 711 755) or Doručak kod Tihane (5 Obala Sv Jurja; 00 385 21 718472) in the village of Kut, and Jastožera in Komiža. Elsewhere, locals’ pop-up restaurants provide a feast using whatever’s freshest, all washed down with local wine; book via local agencies.
A blend of Greek and Roman mosaics are in the undergrowth as well as a museum in Kut; Venetian houses make Komiža postcard-pretty; and forts built by the Austrians and the British crumble among the pines. And, like Capri, only without all the tourists, it has a wild interior, rising to Mount Huma, a playground for activities and adventures (find out more at www.alternatura.hr), and the coast is scalloped by tiny bays. Stiniva in the south of Vis island is one of the loveliest in the Med: chock-full in summer, all yours in October.
Opatija Riviera: Optaija was poised to blossom into a Croat Côte d’Azur before the First World War nipped the playground of Viennese aristocracy in the bud. So, while the French Riviera today is flashy and cynical, Opatija (pronounced ‘Op-a-tie-a’) remains a gentle Belle Epoque resort ambered in faded glory. Actually, this is a coast on the up. Once the haunt of pensioner coach tours, Opatija has recently emerged as a destination for stylish weekend breaks. People come for epicurian pleasures: for good food (Bevanda (www.bevanda.hr) and Plavi podrum (www.plavipodrum.com) ranked among Croatia’s top five restuarants in 2015), spas (try those in the Grand Hotel Adriatic and Hotel Ambassador Opatija), possibly to party at pop-up beachbars, and above all to walk the Lungo mare promenade; in Opatija one promenades not walks. Sweeping seascapes and grandees’ villas aside, the rewards of this coastal path are at either end: village-resort Lovran and Volosko village, stacked above its harbour like an Italian operetta set. The ideal place to stay is Navis. This one is for the luxurious.
Rab Island: This one is for the romantics, without the crowd. The beaches are beautiful too: secluded bays on the Kalifront peninsula (Cifnata is our favourite) and, in the island’s north, long scimitars of sand like Rajska,Livačina and quieter, nudist Sahara. So idyllic is Kandarola’s pine-draped cove that King Edward removed the royal trunks. So scandalised was the British Press it self-censored his visit. Which is why Rab today is popular with Italians but virtually unknown to Brits. Don’t let on.The ideal place to stay is Arbania.
Inland Istria: With the coast close at hand, this is known for the rural romance and countryside cuisine. It is the new Tuscany. You’ll find places like Motovun, the region’s medieval pin-up, or nearby Groznjan, an improbably pretty village given over to artists. You’ll discover medieval frescos the colour of red-wine stains in the village churches of Beram and Draguc, and more gutsy good food than seems probable as harvest festivals get into swing and fresh local truffles appear on every menu; Toklarija, a gourmet restaurant in the wine-growing hamlet of Sovinjsko Polje (11 Sovinjsko Polje; 00 385 52 663031) and lovelyKonoba Mondo (1 Barbacan; 00 385 52 681 791) in Motovun have two of the best. There’s a chance you’ll get lost at times, of course. Then again, maybe that’s half the point. There is a chic spa hotel to stay at San Rocco.
Pag: This is the surprise element of the Croatian islands. The sense of being somewhere utterly unique is palpable as soon as you drive into its bare, pale-pink hills, a landscape as silent and magical as any desert. In October, however, both are quiet and islanders turn their attentions back to the good stuff of Pag: delicious lamb grazed on wild rosemary, a tangy, Parmesan-like cheese, and wine. Boskinac hotel is the destination for all three. Days are spent flitting between a dining table and the beach (visit hidden Rucica bay at sunset), and easy daytrips lie on the mainland: Zadarfor relaxed city style, or Paklenica and the Velebit national parks for mountain hikes on cool days.Hotel Boskinac is the place to stay.
Visit Croatia and discover some of its best kept secrets!!!