Dugi otok (Hrvoje Serdar/CNTB)
This unheralded Adriatic gem is a real life treasure island set adrift in peaceful isolation south of Korčula. You delve behind the curtain of an island that was once shut off as a military base and closed to foreign visitors. It’s charmingly underdeveloped and it’s easy to slow down here. Enjoy the simple pleasures of exploring on two feet, or two wheels cycling the web of trails. Known as the ‘Island of Bright Stars’, you gaze up at the heavens with little light pollution to get in the way. There are dive centres too to help immerse yourself in a world of shimmering fish, amphora and shipwrecks. Or just relax with a boat trip for a seafood lunch on a quiet beach. Lastovo Town hugs the hillside, a dramatic setting for dinner brimming with local produce. The island is only one part of the Lastovo Archipelago Nature Park, a wildlife-rich oasis you can explore on your trip off the beaten track.
Big sister Brač is a brilliant Island, but savvy travellers break away to its lesser known little sister, Šolta. The residents of the city of Split across the water know Šolta well too – it’s a favourite weekend getaway. And no wonder: its thick forests giving way to a necklace of pebble beaches and aquarium-clear seas. There are plenty of ways to get active in the water with sailing, sea kayaking, snorkelling and scuba diving. The island's hinterland also tempts, an oasis where fresh organic produce is the norm rather than something you buy in a posh deli. They offer superb olive oil, honey and red wine here so treat yourself straight from the producer – there’s nothing quite like savouring wine on the vineyard where it was cultivated. Get active inland on a network of hiking and cycling trails. Afterwards relax in the picture postcard settlements of Maslinica and Stomorska.
3. Dugi Otok
Dugi Otok (Zoran Jelaca/CNTB)
The ‘Long Island’ is the sort of escape you half expect to find Robinson Crusoe wandering around on. The Romans, Turks and Illyrians were all fans too. Dugi Otok packs serious diversity into its almost 50km length, with the vineyards, orchards and wild herbs of the north giving way to rugged cliffs as it turns wilder further east. There are breathtaking beaches, hidden coves and mysterious caves in an island with something unexpected around every corner. Explore on foot or a bike, on a yacht, or with scuba gear. Dugi Otok is an island for nature lovers; Telašćica Bay is a highlight. This vast natural harbour is a wonderland studded with five islands that looks like a TV advert, an advert you can step into and forget all about the world. The Telašćica Nature Park is an elemental world of starched white cliffs and blue skies, and an island you won’t want to leave once you’ve discovered the secret.
It may sport a decent-sized population, with a string of seven villages strung out along the north-east of the island, but this little-known outcrop is also hailed as ‘Zadar’s Garden’. All villages on Ugljan weave into the island’s rich cultural and historical heritage, whilst also celebrating the nature around them. Ugljan is the largest of the settlements, made of nine hamlets and spread around several scenic bays. Wander around, or break off further afield checking out a network of hiking and cycling trails. One minute you’ll be wandering around a Franciscan Monastery, the next rambling over historic ruins and then on to dining al fresco. You’ll eat well as the island offers a rich foodie haul with viniculture, olive production (the island is home to more than 200,000 olive trees), fruit growing, and an active fishing fleet. Ugljan itself, as the largest village, is home to authentic local restaurants.
Rab (Ivo Biocina/CNTB)
This under the radar island on the cusp of the Gulf of Kvarner and Dalmatia is such a natural star it’s been named a Geopark. It’s easy to see why this isle, bathed in pine and oak trees, was dubbed ‘The Happy Island’ by the Romans too. Rab Town is one of the finest urban jewels in the Adriatic crown, its quartet of church spires peering over the old town peninsula’s stone streets and red roof tiles. Swim beneath the town gazing up at the grandeur and you really won’t want to be anywhere else. Rab may be pleasantly bijou, but it packs a serious punch on the gastronomic front with its rugged interior dishing up quality olive oil and fresh vegetables, with a rich bounty of seafood. The Lopar Peninsula is the place to unfurl your towel on the sand, with other beaches just a boat ride away – in total Rab boasts 30 sandy beaches.
Cres (Goran Razic/CNTB)
Cres may be joined at the hip with Lošinj – part of the Cres- Lošinj island group – but has a distinct identity of its own. And distinct wildlife, too as Cres is home to and a breeding ground for the mighty Griffon Vulture which has been protected here since 1986. You’ll also find the increasingly rare tramuntana sheep here. You can get out amidst the great outdoors hiking and cycling on routes across the island. Cres is cloaked in natural charm, with pristine EU Blue Flag beaches to recline on and remote campsites to hide away at. Ease through the centuries at the island’s sprinkling of medieval villages. A highlight is Cres Town: it’s awash with an old Venetian tower, loggia and the city walls. Recline by grand Venetian mansions on the waterfront savouring local wine and boat-fresh seafood, followed by homemade sheep’s cheese.
Lošinj (Ivo Biocina/CNTB)
Lošinj is a clean, green oasis in the Adriatic alive with nature. The tang of sea salt and wild herbs fills the air on a less explored island where you escape the modern world and bathe in the wild. Even the settlements here are sleepy and beguiling. Mali is a picture postcard jewel, wrapped around a boat-studded harbour. Veli Lošinj meanwhile is even more laidback, its pastel-hued houses making it feel like a painting. Wherever you are on Lošinj look out for the famous bottlenose dolphins who thrive in the protected reserve here – a boat trip is the best way to meet them. If you really love dolphins head to Lošinj for the annual ‘Dolphin Day’ in July, with entertainment, arts and sports events swirling around the celebration of this remarkable cetacean. Lošinj also stages cycling and culinary festival; it’s an island that really celebrates life.
For more information and inspiration about this incredible country, head over to the official Croatia website.