Croatia is a country full of spectacular maritime landscapes, and the Kornati Islands represent one of the most bewitching of the lot. An archipelago comprising roughly 150 islands, the largely uninhabited Kornati are famous for exuding a barren, bleak mystique. Most of the islands are arid affairs, with a thin covering of tawny-brown grass punctuated by limestone outcrops and spiky shrubs. Many of the islands on the western side of the archipelago feature spectacular cliffs, rising some 80 metres above sea level in the case of those on the island of Klobučar, while man-made features include the dry-stone walls that streak across age-old pasturelands. Lapped by clear seas, the islands constitute an area of extraordinary natural beauty, and 89 of them fall under the protection of the Kornati National Park, founded in 1980.
Eighty percent of the Kornati are privately owned by families from Murter, who use the islands to graze sheep, plant olives or harvest honey. The islands have no permanent population, although parts of the archipelago are seasonally inhabited by Murter shepherds, marina staff serving the summer influx of yachting folk, or tourists seeking complete seclusion. The church of our Lady of Tarac on the island of Kornat is still the focus of an annual pilgrimage on the first Sunday of July, when the population of Murter heads for the island in a festive flotilla of boats.
Boat tours of the Kornati islands are available throughout the summer, most departing at around 09:00 and returning towards 18:00. Most of the tourist agencies from Zadar to Primošten offer these trips - expect to pay 250-300kn per person, including lunch on the boat or one of the islands and maybe the odd glass of wine on the journey back. These day trips provide a general idea of the Kornati landscape, but to appreciate them to the full you most definitely need your own boat – and a couple of days to spare. For yachtsmen, ACI marinas exist on the island of Piškera, inside the boundaries of the Park, and on Žut, just outside it. Yachtsmen will have to buy an entrance ticket to the national park, sold by the Kornati National Park office in Murter, marinas in the islands themselves, in some charter companies, travel agencies from Zadar to Primošten. Or from the receptionist in the "mobile" receptions who are patrolling the Kornati waters by speedboats.