#SETRAVELS: Island Hopping Along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast
Everyone has something that makes them tick. For some people it’s yoga, for other’s it’s their job, for me it’s travel. There’s something about walking on foreign soil that makes my heart beat faster – and when it comes to adventure, nothing beats a good island escape. Earlier this month, I decided to explore a few islands on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast with their picturesque coastlines and crystal clear waters. Croatia has become one of Europe’s hottest destinations, and no wonder, they offer great weather, stunning architecture and beautiful beaches.
Croatia boasts over a thousand islands, however less than a hundred are inhabited. We started the adventure off in Split, the second largest city in Croatia, situated along the Dalmatian Coast and then went south to the islands: Mljet, Korčula, Hvar and finally Brač before making our way back to Split. This fantastical coastline is one dreams are made of.
As the oldest cultural city in Croatia, you’ll find a wealth of history and easy transport to the neighbouring islands. The true heart of Split is their Old Town, which was once home to Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace, one of the world’s most impressive Roman monuments. Within Old Town, you can wander the narrow streets overflowing with cafes, restaurants and shops, not to mention cathedrals, towers and buildings steeped in history. You can easily spend hours walking through the winding streets and get marvellously lost or just relax in the Peristyle of Diocletian’s Palace where you can park yourself on a cushion and enjoy the evening’s entertainment with a drink in hand. When it was time for us to get some R&R, we snuck back to our hotel, Hotel Luxe, a four star property just a stone’s throw away from Old Town.
Mljet is the southernmost of the larger islands (closer to Dubrovnik than Split). It is also one of the greenest islands and a large part of the island is a national park. Mljet is a quiet island complete with small seaside villages and a peaceful atmosphere. This island is a nature lover’s dream. We rented bikes for a day and toured the national park and cycled around their two major attractions Malo Jezero and Veliko Jezero, two inland salt water blue lakes ideal for swimming and kayaking around.
I can’t say I have ever experienced a place so stunning and serene. I even took a dip in the warm blue waters and fell in love with calmness of the island. If you’re looking for something lively, this isn’t the island for you. For that, you might want to swing by the other islands, so keep reading on…
Korčula is truly one of the most romantic islands of Croatia. Here you’ll find vineyards, olive groves and Old Town, a historic fortified town located on the edge of the sea. Old Town is a medieval walled city with streets aligned in a herringbone pattern. Within these walls, there are a lot of steep and narrow streets influenced by the Venetian Renaissance. During the day, we climbed bell towers to get panoramic views of the island, in the evening we wandered Old Town where you’ll find shops, cafes, restaurants and bars at every corner. Unfortunately, we were only on Korčula for two days, otherwise I would have loved to explore more of what the island had to offer.
If you’re looking for someplace energetic, this it it! Hvar is one of the busiest islands and offers everything from a rich history to bustling nightlife to its own archipelago of islands. We spent most of our time in Hvar Town, where you can spot century old walls, a fortress overlooking the city and eat fresh seafood along the waterfront. The first thing we did when we arrived in Hvar was visit all of the historical monuments (I’m a nerd like that). First stop, the Fortica Španjola (Spanish Fortress), a citadel built in the mid 16th century on the site of a medieval castle overlooking Hvar Town. Here you can capture unobstructed views of the Hvar Town and its surrounding islands. From there, we meandered down to St. Stephen’s Square, home of Hvar’s cathedral, the cathedral is dedicated to St. Stephen, the Pope and martyr, patron of dioceses and city of Hvar. Just across the square, you’ll spot Hvar’s theatre, where the interior architectonics is from the 19th century and the exterior is mostly preserved in its original form.
Once our legs grew heavy, we realized it was dinner-time. We made our way to one of the most highly recommended restaurants in Hvar Town (and the #1 rated according to TripAdvisor), and dined at Dalmatino Restaurant. From the second we sat down, we knew this would be a treat. Some of the most popular seafood dishes along the coast are fresh shells (clams and mussels), fish, squid and octopus. I decided to go for the latter. When I think octopus, I think tentacles, but they prepared it in a thin carpaccio style which was both light, tasty and refreshing. For my main I ordered ahi tuna and a traditional white fish with swiss chard mashed potatoes and it was everything to satisfy my tastebuds. Croatian seafood really is fresh and delightful and shouldn’t be missed.
To add to Hvar’s seduction and charm, across from Hvar town are the Pakleni Islands, a chain of islands with hidden beaches, deserted lagoons and pristine waters. We hopped on a quick water taxi to the calm bays of Zdrilca and Mlini, where the beaches are plentiful but the tourists are not. There isn’t much on these islands aside from a limited number of restaurants but the real draw are the beaches. This is the ideal place to get away from it all.
Brač is the largest of the central Dalmatian Islands and also one of the highest. With its near proximity to Split, we knew we had to make a pit-stop. We spent one night in Supetar, situated along the northern coast and also the biggest town on the island (albeit a quiet one). We spent a day exploring the island before relaxing at the beach. Brač is famous for two things: its radiant white stone, from which Diocletian’s Palace in Split and the White House in Washington, DC are made, and Zlatni Rat, the long pebbly beach at Bol that sticks out lasciviously into the Adriatic Sea. We also decided to make our way to the highest point among all of the Adriatic island, Vidova Gora, which sits 778m above sea level. Along the way, we passed vineyards and olive groves (we even sampled some fresh olive oil!). Once we reached the summit, we were surrounded by breathtaking panoramic views of the neighbouring islands and the Adriatic Sea.
Croatia truly is an unspoilt paradise. There are so many Croatian islands, both big and small and the best way to travel is to do some research, go at your own pace and explore what the cities have to offer. With delicious cuisine, a breadth of history and sparkling waters, the appeal of the beautiful Dalmatian Coast is obvious, and alluring. The next time you plan a European vacation, make sure you consider Croatia.
– Chenessa Lam