Croatia's Secret Islands

more than a year ago
Despite the popularity of Croatia’s coast with tourists there are still plenty of places which have remained sheltered from the tides of tourists. Here is a selection of island hideaways where you can find your own personal paradise.


Tiny Susak makes up for it slack of size with personality. The local dialect is a curious mix of archaic Croatian blended with vocabulary from Italian, French and German. Not even visitors from other parts of Croatia can decipher it.

In 1912 an Austrian doctor deemed Susak ideal for convalescing children. A hotel was designed by a Viennese architect and built in the Bok bay, but with the First World War tourism halted and never really picked up again. Which means that the island remains utterly unspoilt.

Susak is unusual among Croatian islands in being covered with sand which is held firmly in place by reeds planted by farmers to prevent erosion. There are no roads, only sandy paths - you can pretty much go barefoot! The island is surprisingly fertile and was once well known for its wine, an industry which is slowly being revived. With no cars and those shallow sandy bays it's a paradise for families with small children. There are no hotels, but you can rent a room or private apartment. Come summer you’ll find yourself joined by a host of Americans, returning emigrants and their offspring. Pensioners returning to live out their days on the island are lending a curious Transatlantic touch to the architecture. Other visitors include women who come to bury themselves in the sand at Bok and Spiaza bays, reputed to restore fertility.

Susak island culture includes possibly the only folk costume to feature a colourful mini ra-ra skirt. Definitely one of the more intriguing Croatian islands!


With no cars and just one settlement, Silba is enjoyed by escapists whoneed a little culture along with their days of relaxation. Silba features six lovely churches and chapels,and romantic villas built by wealthy sea captains and ship owners. Since the island was vulnerable to pirate attacks you’ll find a 16th century castle, while a hexagonal watchtower, the Toreta, a slender edifice with a spiral staircase tracing round the outside, testifies to the enduring love of a roving sailor for his love back home.

Since the hedonistic 1970s Silba has had a loyal base of visitors from Croatia’s alternative cultural scene, so you'll happen across cute boutiques and low-key performances. There’s a gallery of sculpture by Marija Ujević-Galetović, a contemporary artist who does fantastic things with the human form.

Silba's pristine beaches recall the island's silvery name with shimmering shingle beaches and shallow coves ideal for children. The waters are an unusually vivid turquoise colour set off by the dark green vegetation.


Prvić is perfectly placed for exploring Šibenik, the Kornati National Park, neighbouring islands such as Zlarin and Kaprije and the Krka and Plitvice National Parks inland.

Prvić is small and perfectly formed, with two settlements and no cars. Prvić Luka’spretty waterfront features a striking onion-domed church. There are lovely bathing spots with views over the surrounding islands and the mountains on the coast.

Among the children who have been lucky to spend their summers here was Faust Vrančić, known as the Croatian Leonardo da Vinci. A linguist, historian, mathematician and physicist, he was the inventor of the parachute and creator of the first Croatian dictionary. You can see models of his inventions in the local museum.


Just opposite the port of Split, Šolta is super easy to get to, but for some unfathomable reason it has been almost completely overlooked by tourists. All the better for people looking for an authentic Dalmatian refuge from the passage of time.

Legend has it that Illyrian Queen Teuta built her palace on the hillside at Senjska cove on the south side of the island. Roman Emperor Diocletian of Split chose Nečujam to build fish farms. More recently, oligarchs and millionaires have been seeking refuge in a 16 th century waterside castle at Maslinica that has been transformed into a breathtakingly beautiful hotel, the Martinis Marchi, with its own beautiful little marina.

Wine lovers should try Šolta's local variety Dobričić, thought to be a forebear of Zinfandel and rated highly by experts. Don't neglect to visit the villages in the interior - the narrow stone streets basking in the sun are full of atmosphere. In Grohote you'll find a gallery with a permanent exhibition of work by famous artists that were born in Šolta.


The Elafiti islands are a short boat trip away from Dubrovnik, meaning you can easily enjoy the delights of island life and hop over to the city when you fancy. Each island is a little treasure. Wealthy Dubrovnik families of times past had their summer homes here, lending the islands echoes of the Renaissance.


The ferry’s first port of call is a popular spot for day trippers from Dubrovnik and as such is rather busier than its neighbours. Two hamlets, Gornje Čelo and Donje Čelo each have sandy beaches. The island is very green, with abundant olives, oranges and figs. Lazing on the beaches in Porat and Saplun in the evening you hava a free ticket to open air concerts in Dubrovnik just over the water!


For a tiny island Lopud has a wealth of churches, monasteries and villas. A lovely spot to linger is Mayneri park right on the waterfront, somewhat unkempt but boasting fine views, planting and statuary. Nearby you’ll find the Thyssen-Bornemisza art pavilion where the installation Your Black Horizon by Olafur Eliasson and David Adjaye is housed. Architecture buffs might like to explore (with caution) the disused modernist Grand Hotel.

Lopud has one of the best sandy beaches in Croatia at Sunj bay. A handful of lovely stone villas have been turned into small hotels with excellent accommodation and good restaurants.


The most distant of the three populated Elafiti Islands, you can wander Šipan’s shoreline and hardly meet a soul. Šipan boasts 36 churches and chapels and 42 historic summer villas. With two settlements this island has a bus service! Suđurađ is where the ferry arrives, while Šipanska Luka (Port of Šipan), in a pleasing twist, has no ferry service.

Apart from stumbling over fascinating old buildings, the pleasures of an island walk include taking in olive and fig, carob and vine…The island has a scattering of pleasant smaller hotels and decent restaurants.

One of the pleasures of Croatia is natural, tasty food. So what better gift for those back home

1. Ground Wild Fennel
The rocky plains of Dalmatia are covered in the grey stems and yellow blooms of wild fennel. Mrs Marica Marasović from the island of Vis sells dried and ground fennel for flavouring soups, salads, stews and dressings. Contact (+385) 91 588 84 09, marica.marasovic@gmail.com.

2. Grisini
A tasty twist on Italian grissini, these ones from the island of Silba are enriched with pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, with chilli, caraway, truffle or anchovy. Perfect with a nice cold beer or cocktail. Pick them up in Zadar from Ivan Motušić, tel. (+385) 99 771 69 98.

3. Olive Leaf Tea
Olive leaf tea is believed to be rich in antioxidants, thus supporting a healthy heart and immune system. It's a traditional drink from the Croatian islands which you can pick up in Paška sirana cheese shops around the country or on the island of Pag in Vrtovi Lunjskih maslina, Lunj. Open Mon - Fri 08:00 - 15:00.

4. Koludrica Cake from Rab
“Rapska torta” or Rab Cake is a concoction of marzipan wrapped in delicate pastry traditionally reserved for feasts such as weddings. The version made by the Benedictine numbs at St Andrew's Convent in Rab was first made for the visit of Pope Alexander III in 1177 and features
their own Rosolio liqueur. Call in to the convent at Ivana Rabljana 6, Rab Mon - Sun 09:00 - 12:30, tel. (+385-51) 72 42 32.

5. The Captain's Cookies
Unique almond cookies have been made for centuries on the Peljesac peninsula, baked to see off sea captains on their voyages. You can pick up a gift-wrapped package at the Croccantino cake shop at Obala pomoraca 30, Orebić (Open 07:00 - 24:00), and in local Antunović bakeries.Contact: mantunovic87@gmail.com, tel. (+385-) 98 165 07 77 Marija Antunović.

6. Pag and Brač Island Cheese
Pag island is synonymous with good cheese in Croatia, with two factories supplying great cheese to the whole country. Look out for the Paška sirarna and Gligora brands.

Brač island cheese is exclusively sold locally. It's not easy to get hold of a round of cheese as it’s a natural seasonal product made in small quantities. But it is well worth the effort. Try the Kuzmanić family, Put Varoša 18, Supetar, Brač, aktiva.brac@gmail.com, tel. (+385-21) 63 04 98, (+385-) 91 594 52 79.

7. Lumblija
Lumblija is a sweet from Korčula island made from wine must, olive oil, almonds, dried fruit and spices. It was apparently the recipe of a French soldier who presented a cake to his island beloved on his departure with the words “n'oubliez” (“don't forget!”). This was Croatianised as
“lumblija”, and the recipe has lived on ever since. You can order a cake from Mrs Vlašić, Obala 2, Vela Luka, Korčula, iskravlasich@gmail.com, tel. (+385-) 98 182 84 07.

8. Krk Island Pršut
To make great cured ham you need a brisk north wind laced with plenty of salt and herbs, which is why generations of Krk islanders have prepared their own pršut. This is a product that varies depending on the environment and the recipe, so it's different wherever you go. Try Krk pršut at the Žužić butcher's shop, Zagrebačka bb, Krk, tel. (+385-51) 22 21 38 (Open Jun/Sep 07:00 - 20:00, Jul-Aug 07:00 - 21:00) or at Kuća krčkog pršuta at Bok od Brozića 40, Vrh, Krk, tel. (+385-51) 68 60 98 (Open Jun/Sep 12:00 - 22:00, Jul-Aug 12:00 - 23:00).

9. Salt Petals
Real foodies, these days choose from a selection of salts as they cook. A new one to try is cvijet soli (fleur de sel) from Nin's Roman salt pans. Fleur de sel is made of soft, moist flakes harvested, gently from the water's surface. Delicious sprinkled on fine foods, the crystals are rich in minerals and created in an ecologically pristine environment. Pick up a box in at the Solane Nin museum shop, Ilirska cesta 7, Nin, tel. (+385-23) 26 40 21 (Open 07:00 - 20:00) or selected shops nationwide. www.solananin.hr

10. Macaroni Needles
One of the best comfort foods from the Croatian island cuisine is goulash served with homemade pasta such as makaruni na iglu, pasta wrapped around a skewer to produce an slender tube. Pick up some in the Mahulja bakery, Gundulićeva 4, Novalja, Pag Island (Open 06:00 - 12:00),tel. (+385-53) 66 36 57, or during the summer at mobile bakeries in Novalja, Mandra and Stara Novalja (Open 07:00 - 19:00).


1. Wool Slippers from Cres Island
Natural felted wool slippers make a practical and tasteful gift from Cres, where the bleating of sheep hangs in the herb-scented air. Each pair of slippers crafted by the Ruta Society is unique: muted or zanily colourful, the choice is yours. Your purchase helps promote local crafts and environmental protection. Contact Udruga Ruta, Zazid 4a, Cres, tel. (+385-) 098 31 30 29, cres.ruta@gmail.com, www.ruta-cres.hr.

2. Pag and Lepoglava Lace
The islands of Pag and Hvar and the inland town of Lepoglava north of Zagreb each have their own tradition of lacemaking. Pag lace is made with needles alone. A certain visual austerity and geometricism lends an unexpected modernity – a framed piece of lace makes an authentic yet chic decoration. Lepoglava and Hvar lace is made on bobbins, Hvar lace from thread derived from local agave plants.

Pick up Pag lace at the Pag Lace Gallery, Trg Petra Krešimira IV, Pag, tel. (+385-23) 60 08 30, grad-pag@zd.t-com.hr, www.pag.hr. Open: Until June 20th 09:30 - 12:00 and by request. June 20th - September 20th Open 09:30 - 12:00, 20:00 - 22:30. For Lepoglava lace contact the Lepoglava Lace Cooperative at Hrvatskih pavlina 7, Lepoglava, tel. (+385-042 ) 77 04 27, zadruga.cipke@lepoglava.hr, www.lepoglavska-cipka.hr. Open 09:00 - 15:00, Sat 10:00 - 14:00 and by request.

3. Lipa Rugs
A sustainable souvenir with a provenance is a rug made using traditional island techniques from remnants of fabric from manufacturing folk costumes. These rugs can be used to protect your table or can be scattered on the floor. Contact the Lipa folk costume workshop on Prvić island at Ulica IX – 3, Prvić Šepurine, tel. (+385-) 098 964 65 84, lipa1@windowslive.com. Alternatively, if you're in Šibenik visit the Croatian Island Products Shop at Medulićev trg, or the souvenir shop at the Barone fortress.

4. Stone Pestle and Mortar
Cool, white and reassuringly heavy in your hand, there's a timeless elegance to Brač stone. What better choice for a piece to take home than a pestle and mortar? They look good, and they're handy for crushing herbs and grinding spices. You can find them in the Dražen Jakšić's L&D workshop at Put varoša 3, Supetar, Brač, tel. (+385-) 098 907 04 68, drazenjaksic40@gmail.com, also in Split in the basement of Diocletian's palace or at a stall in the centre of Korčula town.

5. Kunjska spara
A kunjska spara is a decorative circular cushion with a hole in the middle. Intriguing, you might say. Indeed! They were used to cushion the loads that women used to (and still do) carry on their heads on their return home from the fields. You can find them on Pašman island, contact Marija Grdaš, Put studenca 27 Tkon, tel. (+385-23) 28 53 45, marija.grdas@zd.htnet.hr.


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