For adrenaline-fuelled adventures, eclectic cuisine and a vibrant beach nightlife, look no further than island hopping through Croatia in the Adriatic Sea.
Drenched in more sunshine each year than Sydney, Australia, Croatia’s myriad islands and islets, scattered off the Dalmatian Coast, have become an adventure playground for sailors, sightseers and seafood enthusiasts. Whether you choose to skipper your own catamaran or hop on and off ferry boats, the Land of a Thousand Islands is a dream destination for a summer of island hopping.
Pristine bays, secluded beaches and clear, calm, impossibly-blue waters – skippering a yacht down the Dalmatian Coast has got to be one of summer’s most sought-after activities. However, many of Croatia’s islands are also accessible by ferry and popular routes offer frequent services during the summer months, making it easy to island-hop as a foot passenger and hire bicycles or scooters to get around.
There are various points from which to launch your island-hopping adventure. Travel from Split if the islands of Brač and Hvar are your first choices, or from Zadar for ferries to Dugi Otok and Lošinj. If exploring the Kornati Islands National Park is top priority, your best bet is to travel from Šibenik. With 150 or so islands, islets and rocks, the Kornati archipelago is one the most popular regions to sail around. It is largely uninhabited, bar the day trippers and adventure seekers who come to scale the jagged sea cliffs, dive its abundant waters or kayak to secret beaches that can only be reached by water.
At 46km (28mi) long, Žut is the second-largest island in the archipelago and although it has no permanent residents, it draws a loyal foodie crowd each summer thanks to its acclaimed seafood restaurant, Fešta, which is set in a century-old olive grove. If you want to learn more about the Kornati Islands National Park, head to Ravni Žakan, another uninhabited island that is home to one of the park’s two visitor centres. Also home to an assortment of great restaurants, make some time to lunch on brudet, a traditional tomato seafood stew or crni rižot, black risotto with cuttlefish or squid, and wash it all down with a chilled glass of local Pošip wine.
On the southeastern tip of Dugi Otok, bordering the Kornati Islands National Park, Telašćica Nature Park is another big draw to the region. Spread over 70sqkm (27sqmi), it features sea cliffs, a natural salt lake and more than 25 beaches. It is a popular destination for kayakers, snorkellers and hikers, who climb up to Fort Grpašćak in search of some of the best views on the island.
Hvar is one of Croatia’s most popular beach and diving destinations, thanks to its sweeping white-pebble beaches, secluded rocky coves and aquamarine waters. But don’t miss a hike through the pine forests and scented lavender fields, which are unusually green and lush thanks to the island’s freshwater springs. From here it’s an easy hop over to the Paklinski Islands, which daisy-chain off Hvar’s southwest coast, and which legend suggests were the result of a love affair between Poseidon and a nymph. The less modest can venture over to Jerolim, a tiny wooded island with a popular clothing-optional beach. However, most visitors choose to hop on a speedboat over to the small island of Stipanska and visit the Carpe Diem Beach, where you can sip cocktails under pine trees and dance to international DJs until sunrise (don’t worry, there’s a free taxi boat between the island and Hvar).
Šolta is one of Croatia’s lesser-known islands, a hop and skip (or an hour by ferry) from Split, and a popular stop-off on the nautical map. Moor up in Martinis Marchi Marina and wander into the village of Maslinica for a long, lazy lunch. Or hire a kayak in Stomorska, a small fishing village with a charming waterfront, and paddle out to Šolta’s secluded coves. If you’d rather keep your toes dry, hire a bike from the village and tour the island’s family-run farms where you can taste freshly harvested honey, olive oil and locally-produced wine.
As the sun sets, head over to the island of Brač and make your way to Zlatni Rat, one of Croatia’s top beaches, near the small town of Bol. Also called the Golden Horn, this extensive smooth pebble beach changes shape with the wind and waves throughout the day, often curling around to form a perfect lagoon. During the day it’s busy with windsurfers and snorkellers, but come late afternoon you’ll see more and more locals slink over with bottles of chilled wine from Brač’s Stina winery and the beach slowly becomes a heavenly spot for a sundowner or two.
Croatia is ready to welcome you for the trip of a lifetime. Get planning at croatia.hr