Where to go on a Croatia small ship cruise
If counting sheep doesn’t help you drop off, then look at the map of Croatia’s coastline and start to count the islands. You are unlikely to find them all before slipping into the dreamiest of sleeps. And they are seriously dreamy – all 1,200 of them. Divided into different groups, such as the Northern Islands, including Krk, Croatia’s largest, up near the Istrian Peninsula. Or the Zadar archipelago, home to low lying islands like Olib and Molat. The Central Dalmatian archipelago has Brac, with the highest peak of all the islands, and Hvar, with the highest disposable income per visitor as this has long been land of the posh and plenty. And then there is the island of Vis, which is a microcosm of all the islands… and aptly rhyming with bliss.
Brac is the largest island in the Dalmatian archipelago and has the highest peak in the Adriatic, Mount St. Vid (780m). Hiking here is a treat, heading through villages dating back to Roman times. You can get a stunning view of the island’s biggest attraction, too – the white limestone pebbled peninsular beach at Zlatni Rat. The small fishing town of Bol is also great.
One of the most exciting ways to see this magnificent medieval city is from the water, as far away as possible from the obscenely large cruise liners that take over the port. Our specialists can also organise a stay at the top or tail of your trip, so you can explore Dubrovnik's marbled streets and the cable car up to Mount Srd at your own pace.
As well as being the longest island in the Adriatic, Hvar has the largest collection of wallets, having been the sought after vacation island for the uber wealthy for many years. Go beyond the main town for natural, ‘unworked’ beauty: tiny fishing towns like Stari Grad or Vrboska. Hire a bike to explore, or enjoy the historic highlights of its Renaissance cathedral and 17th-century community theatre.
Part of the Central Dalmatian archipelago, and just off the Peljesac peninsula, Korcula Town not only has a fortified center, ancient tiny streets and traditional houses but also a Gothic-Renaissance cathedral bang in the middle of it. It is said to be the birthplace of Marco Polo and, inspired by him, you should explore away from the busy center and go out to the pine forests, secret coves and vineyards.
Adjoined to the mainland by a bridge, Krk has a strong north-south divide, as the north is pretty barren, laid waste by the ‘bura’ wind, and the south is green and grapevine-filled. With rich woodland, there is also a plethora of pathways for taking a walk that leads you to an idyllic waterfront. Or just enjoy the island’s tavernas where the local Vrbnicka Zlahtina white wine is always flowing.
It sounds like a lozenge and it feels like a tonic too. With healing powers that include the prolific pine trees, extraordinary clear waters and, everyone’s favourite form of therapy, bottlenose dolphins, Losinj is a place to lose yourself. There are also over 1,000 wild herbs growing here, which you can sample at the Aromatic Garden. Hard to get to without a boat, Losinj gets less crowded than other islands.
Mljet has been settled by everyone from the Romans and Byzantines to the Austrians over the centuries. It is now almost wholly protected by national park status, thanks to its eco eclectic landscapes, including two seawater lakes in its interior, created by monks who lived on an islet in the lake and built a tunnel out to the sea. Visit this former monastery at Melita – a perfect lunch spot.
Rab Island is famous for having been the skinny dipping shores of romantic runaways King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, and it is still a naturist heaven, with 22 beaches in all (not all nudies, so don’t worry). It is all round heavenly, a green and pine tree laden idyll in Kvarner Bay between the Istrian Peninsula and the mainland. Rab Town is another stunning medieval walled town, with boutique and café filled alleys.
The largest of the Elaphiti Islands, Sipan was much favoured by Dubrovnik’s great and good of the 14th century who built stunning villas among its fecund hills bedecked with olives, figs, vines, oranges and almond trees. A wonderful island for walking, follow the route between the island’s two villages of Sudjuradj and Sipanska Luka, looking out for ancient churches along the way. And a few of those old villas too.
Split might be a start and end point for many Dalmatian small ship cruises, but it is definitely worth taking time to explore the second largest city in Croatia. Ancient marvels remain, such as Emperor Diocletian's Palace, now a hive of café and consumer activity. But there are also quieter areas such as Getski vrtal Park, the traditional fishermen’s area Varos, and Marjan Hill that overlooks the city.
Vis was closed to visitors for years as it was an important naval harbour, and therefore maintained its traditions and unspoilt rural landscapes. Vineyards still thrive (the local red is Plavac) and ancient ‘villae rusticae’ still thrill. Roman remains such as the thermal palace are worth visiting, but the best thing to do here, apart from savouring the swimming bliss, is to eat. The slow food scene is exemplary.
Only 20 of these hundreds of islands are inhabited, with stupendously tranquil spots such as Molat Island perfect for hiking through maquis and pine forests. Or the Kornati Islands National Park, where karst limestone islands and islets are sparse in terms of people. The mainland town of Zadar is Croatia’s oldest, with a Roman forum and pre-Romanesque St. Donat’s church.
Photo credits: [Map intro: Patty Ho] [Brac: Szabolcs Emich ] [Dubrovnik: Martin Hendrikx] [Hvar: A_Peach] [Korcula Island: tsaiproject] [Krk Island: Mario Fajt at www.sobrecroacia.com] [Losinj Island: Mario Fajt at www.sobrecroacia.com] [Mljet Island: Jaganjac] [Rab Island: Mario Fajt at www.sobrecroacia.com] [Sipan Island: snailo86] [Split: Adam Baker] [Vis Island: Chadica] [Zadar archipelago: Selmer van Alten] [Helpdesk: Darios]