Brač’s proximity to the main port of Split is not the only reason it’s so popular with holidaymakers and day-trippers. On the North shore, right where the ferry docks, Supetar is a lively town, its harbour lined with bars and restaurants, and there’s a nearby beach. On the South shore, Bol contains the most famous beach in Croatia, the sandy Zlatni Rat, frequented by windsurfers. In both, churches and residential housing have been carved from renowned Brač stone, also used in the construction of Diocletian’s Palace in Split.
Off the Istrian coast, near Pula, Brijuni was the offshore domain of post-war Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito. Here he invited world leaders and global celebrities and established a safari park with the exotic animals he was presented with. Today, the main island Veliki Brijuni is a national park. An excursion here also also reveals dinosaur footprints, Roman ruins and a botanical garden in the Habsburg era.
Everybody wants to come to Hvar. Linked with Croatia’s high-end tourist boom during the last decade, Hvar is where royals, millionaires and Hollywood stars hang out. Five-star hotels and fine dining come with the territory, and the harbour around Hvar Town is lined with cocktail bars and seafood restaurants. But Hvar hasn’t lost its untamed edge of yesteryear–you can still find that buzzy beach bar or isolated tavern. Underrated Stari Grad, colonised by the ancient Greeks, has historic treasures, too, including Tvrdalj Castle, which was built by Renaissance poet Petar Hektorović.
Korčula hides its many treasures behind the medieval walls built to protect its namesake main town. Within, you’ll find St Mark’s Cathedral, one of the finest examples of Gothic-Renaissance architecture in Dalmatia. The church contains medieval weaponry and works by famous painter Tintoretto. You’ll also find the house where famed explorer Marco Polo was allegedly born. Although no one can confirm its authenticity, historical records indicate that he hailed from this part of the world. If you’re looking for an easy escape, there are plenty, most notably Badija, a secluded island favoured by deer and nudists.
Relatively untouched for centuries, this archipelago in northern Dalmatia, is part of a national park best visited by an organised boat excursion. Eighty-nine islands comprise this unique attraction, a bizarre and silent world often frequented by fishermen, seagulls and the occasional scuba diver. You might also find the odd floating restaurant in high season.
Kornati, Murter, Croatia, +385 22 435 740
Beyond Mljet, lesser-known nature park Lastovo plays up the lack of modern development. The island slogan, “Island of Bright Stars,” is justified, as the lack of light pollution makes gazing at the heavens here a truly memorable experience. However, Lastovo is not bare or inaccessible. After catching the afternoon ferry or catamaran from Split, it’s easy to find simple but comfortable accommodations and a handful of traditional taverns. Lobster is a local staple, along with lashings of strong, clear, homemade spirits.
Don’t be put off by the regular traffic of crowded taxi boats that set off for Lokrum from the Old Port in Dubrovnik. This verdant island, where Richard the Lionhearted is thought to have been shipwrecked in 1192, has plenty of space to find peaceful seclusion. There aren’t any hotels or guesthouses on the island, partially due to the legend of a long ago curse cast by Benedictine monks, but Lokrum welcomes day-trippers with a ruined fort, exotic botanical garden and a colony of peacocks. Beaches also dot the island, as well as a lake in the south-west corner.
Its name derived from the Greek word for honey, the island of Mljet has been a tranquil getaway since at least 600 BC. Later populated by monks who built a monastery on an islet in the large seawater lake of Veliko Jezero, Mljet is one-third national park and two-thirds pine forest. A single road runs to the far eastern end, where the sandy beaches of Saplunara are surrounded by affordable accommodations. Hiking and cycling tours can be arranged, and don’t be surprised to see the odd mongoose, imported a century ago to rid Mljet of snakes.
It was Rab that reigning monarch Edward VIII and his American lover Wallis Simpson chose as their holiday getaway during the height of their scandalous affair in 1936 and solidified the island’s reputation as a haven for naturists. The island remains a sought-after destination for sun-seekers of all sorts. Lopar, the main resort, is on the north coast, and the better hotels, restaurants and cocktail bars are all found in Rab Town.
Those seeking a more authentic Croatian experience go the extra (often choppy) miles to Vis. Closed off to foreigners until the early 1990s due to its post-war role as a military base, Vis retains a certain cachet. Lack of industry and mass tourism means even clearer waters for divers. A few hotels and restaurants cluster around the two main communities of Vis Town and Komiža on the west and east coasts. If the local speciality of lobster is beyond the holiday budget, Vis also has a surfeit of sardines.