Uninhabited Badija lies off the coast of Korčula, where Bosnian monks built a monastery in the 1400s. Undisturbed for 500 years, this secluded community was broken up after World War II and in recent years the island was repopulated with deer. The creatures mingle among the pine forests and venture down to the pebble beaches, where naturists relax in tranquil surroundings. Badija is accessible by regular taxi boat from the smaller of Korčula’s harbours.
The Kvarner littoral is usually ignored by today’s foreign visitors, who prefer the island of Krk immediately opposite. Popular with the Habsburgs a century ago, the former Roman settlement of Crikvenica is a case in point. Lined with Blue-Flag beaches, the largest resort on the Vinodol coast offers surfing, diving and sailing, cycling trails and hiking paths. What it doesn’t have is crowds, only day-trippers from Zagreb and returning holidaymakers from the Kvarner region.
High above the deep Gulf of Kvarner that separates Istria from the rest of Croatia, the little-known mountainous region of Gorski kotar is the most thickly forested in the country. Signposted footpaths lead to the Risnjak National Park, named after the lynx that was successfully reintroduced into its boundaries, and home to wolves, bears and chamois. Botanists comb the slopes in search of Alpine snowbells, black vanilla orchids and edelweiss.
Beyond Mljet and Korčula, the island of Lastovo would be left to its few natives were it not for the afternoon ferry and catamaran from Split that trek all the way down here. Offering a taste of unspoiled Dalmatia – the whole island was declared a nature park in 2006 – Lastovo appeals to those looking to get away from it all. Light pollution is minimal, hence the recently adopted motto by the Lastovo tourist board, ‘Island of Bright Stars’.
Even Croatia has few settings as dramatic as the Limski kanal. A deep estuary ten kilometres (six miles) long that cuts into the west coast of Istria just north of Rovinj, the Limski kanal looks for all the world like a Norwegian fjord. Renowned British cinematographer Jack Cardiff chose to film his Viking drama ‘The Long Ships’ there in 1964. Today tourist boats, booked in Rovinj, glide along its green waters and locals sell fresh oysters, for which Limski is famous, near the shore.
There’s remote and then there’s remote. Far closer to Italy than Croatia, the island of Palagruža is most frequently visited by the fishermen who trawl its deep waters for the sardines who spawn there. Towering high above, Palagruža lighthouse is the most unique of the 50 or so converted to accommodate tourists the length and breadth of Croatia. Visitors are boated over from Korčula with enough food and water for the week, then left alone to discover Palagruža’s sandy beach, jagged slopes and black lizards.
Raša is a historical anomaly and a treat for fans of pre-war Italian architecture. Originally a mining community where striking workers protested against their Italian overlords in 1921, Raša was chosen by Mussolini as a model of 1930s urban planning. Il Duce had architect Gustavo Pulitzer-Finali create a functionalist new town of arcades and symbolic buildings. Even the church was fashioned in the shaped of an upturned coal wagon. Today Raša lies almost empty, the mines long closed and Mussolini long gone. You’ll find it four kilometres (2.5 miles) west of Labin on Istria’s east coast.
On Sundays, Croatia’s capital Zagreb empties and locals head out of town. Many make for Samobor, a picture-postcard community close to the Slovenian border, well versed in providing visitors with traditional dishes of veal, game and trout. Samobor is synonymous with cream cake, the celebrated samoborska kremšnita, served in coffeehouses little changed since poets gathered here in the Habsburg days. Today, hikers convene before and after bracing ascents of the nearby wooded slopes.
Idyllic Mljet, Dalmatia’s most southerly island, has long been a tourist favourite. One-third of Mljet is national park and nearly all of its forest has been long settled by mongooses that scatter across the solitary road running the island’s length. At its far eastern tip is Saplunara, where visitors rarely venture. Those who do find three sandy beaches will discover it is a rarity in Croatia. Naturists prefer the most secluded one, Blace.
Though served by five ferries a day in high season from Split, Šolta is often overlooked for neighbouring Brač. Both are attractive island destinations an hour from Dalmatia’s main transport hub. One is crowded, the other blissfully free of holidaymakers. The choice of unspoiled beaches starts at Rogač where the ferries come in, with a reasonable choice of restaurants and apartments. The rest of the island is given over to the cultivation of wine and olives, with a boutique hotel located on the far western tip at Maslinica.
Višnjan is a typically depopulated hilltop Istrian village of a few hundred souls whose attractions would be extremely modest were it not for its renowned observatory. More than 100 minor planets, two comets and 1,400-plus asteroids have been discovered here. On Saturday evenings from May to September, the public can take part in Astro Nights, two hours of observations, children’s workshops and a tour. Explanations in English are provided.