Despite its rising popularity, Dalmatia can still be an ideal place in which to get away from it all. And in an age when people are in serious need of a relaxing change of scene, the southern reaches of the Croatian Adriatic have a huge amount to offer. An astounding range of unspoiled landscapes are coupled with a take-it-easy pace of life and a distinct lack of holiday hustle: people are not crowding into bucket-list museums, socializing is done at café tables rather than stooped around a bar, and the scenery is sufficiently magnificent to ease away all those accumulated stresses. While there are enough off-the-radar spots in Dalmatia to soak up a host of tranquility-seeking tourists, here are just a few of our own favourites.
The Quiet Side of Hvar
The island of Hvar has come to represent the glamour side of Croatian tourism, the place that attracts the swishest yachts and the most beautiful party people. This is an image largely based on the island capital Hvar Town. In fact there is a lot more to the island, and people seeking a mixture of natural beauty and relaxing contentment will find that there’s a lot more to explore. The south side of the island in particular is a world apart; an isolated realm of steeply sloping vineyards and enchanting, under-commercialized beaches. The south coast is approached through a narrow road tunnel whose jagged rock-hewn appearance is enough to scare off many a recreational driver. Waiting on the other side are family-friendly pebble beaches at Ivan Dolac and Zavala, a lot of isolated coves, and plenty of apartment accommodation for people who want a share of paradise but without the crowds and the loud music. This part of the island also produces the richest grapes and the best Plavac wine, something to remember when visiting the modest scattering of quaint restaurants and bars.
A spiny finger of land topped by a mountain ridge, the 65km-long Pelješac peninsula stretches northeastwards into the Adriatic from the famous oyster-farming town of Ston. The peninsula is not exactly unknown to tourists but it is far from being over-exploited, offering a plethora of niche locations and little-traveled corners. The main town is Orebić, a beach resort of some popularity on account of its expansive pebble strands. However Orebić remains a family-centred resort rather than a raucous hotspot, and the beaches are big enough to accommodate everyone without too much of a crush. Viganj, west of Orebić, is popular with the windsurfing crowd on account of its channeled breezes, but most of them stay in campsites, there is no line of hotels dominating the shore. Beach connoisseurs will love the fine crescents of shingle tucked away in hidden places like Trstenik, Žuljana and Divna. Above all Pelješac is famous for its wine, with the peninsula’s steep south-facing slopes yielding some of the best reds in the country.
Situated on a karst plateau well to the east of the Adriatic coast, Imotski is a historic market town full of stone-built houses and tranquil alleys. It is famous for an astounding pair of natural beauty spots right on the outskirts of town, the Blue Lake (Modro Jezero) and Red Lake (Crveno Jezero). Both are situated in deep limestone depressions which fill with water during rainy periods and drain almost dry in especially hot summers. The Blue Lake is a designated nature park, with well-kept paths spiraling down to the shore and the possibility of taking a swim in the turquoise waters at the bottom. There is a lot of apartment accommodation in the area, and if the stark beauty of the Dalmatian interior appeals, this is the ideal place to enjoy it.
Covered in dense forests of Black Oak and Aleppo Pine, Mljet is one of the greenest islands in the Adriatic. Situated at the western end of the island, Mljet’s famed National Park gets bags of day-trippers from Dubrovnik, while the rest of the island remains amazingly calm and uncrowded in comparison. Eastern Mljet, with its stone-built villages and sandy beaches, seems worlds away from the bustle of the modern Mediterranean. Quaint cove-hugging villages like Prožurska Luka and Okuklje offer the ideal opportunity for a blissfully relaxing holiday. Also attracting in-the-know lotus-eaters are Mljet’s cult beaches; cute pebbly Sutmiholjska on the south side of the island, and famously sandy Saplunara at the island’s very eastern tip.
One of the furthest of Croatia’s inhabited islands from the mainland and the most time-consuming to get to by ferry, Lastovo is perfect for those who prefer their holiday destination to come with an end-of-the-world feel. Lastovo was for a long time off-limits to tourists due to its military importance, and retains the atmosphere of a place where tourism is still a relatively new phenomenon. Lastovo Town itself is a unique and characterful place, its houses arranged on sloping terraces above a verdant plain. Lastovo’s coast features quaint hamlets hiding in coves, where dainty rock and pebble beaches are washed by some of the cleanest seas in Europe. The shallow pebbly-sandy bay at Skrivena Luka is perfect for paddling. The whole island is covered in forest and scrub and is criss-crossed by trails, making it one of the best destinations in the Adriatic for hiking in blissfully unspoiled nature. And when the sun goes down, the lack of light pollution ensures that Lastovo is a wonderful place to watch the stars.
The Baćina Lakes
Travellers venturing down the coastal highway south of the Makarska Riviera tend to press on to Dubrovnik without stopping, which might indeed be the biggest mistake of their holiday. Dazzling motorists as they descend towards Ploče are the greeny-blue waters of the Baćina Lakes (Baćinska jezera), a group of seven little-explored watery expanses that sit on a karst plateau surrounded by attractively knobbly hills. Snuggled up behind meadows and rushes, these crystal-clear freshwater lakes make refreshing spots for a swim and a stroll. Linking the seven lakes is a network of foot- and bike-paths. Other activities include boat trips in traditional lađe (the shallow wooden boats specific to the Neretva region), or taking to the waters aboard kayak or paddle board. That such an attractive and compact lakeland area can exist so close to the coast comes as a big surprise to many; so big indeed that they don’t bother to stop, leaving the area for true lovers of Mediterranean tranquility.