Got heaps of time on your hands this summer but not so much money? Get thyself a tent, dear friend, and indulge in the joys of camping! There’s 1000km of coast at your disposal in Croatia, and almost as many islands. There are forests and meadows, rivers and mountains, all waiting to be explored on foot, by bike, on horseback or even on your trusty four wheels.
Croatia’s campsites grew up during the 20th century to cater for everyone from inter-railing students to well-off families in motor homes that are better-equipped than many peoples’ apartments. People love the freedom that camping offers. You can head off on a great road trip, stopping where you fancy. And there’s something special about crawling into your very own nylon and fiberglass home or lying back in a deckchair while steaks sizzle on the barbecue and cicadas chirrup all around.
Don't Ligt My Fire
Don’t even think about it. Long, hot summers turn the vegetation in Dalmatia into one huge tinderbox. Wildfires caused by a moment’s thoughtlessness spread rapidly with tragic consequences for people, wildlife and property, so penalties for culprits are stiff.
Here are a few tips to help you avoid hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons:
Litter: We’re sure you have the good sense and good manners not to leave your litter strewn around the countryside, but be especially aware that discarded glass and plastic can act as a magnifying glass for the sun’s rays and be a cause of fire.
Cigarettes: A tin with a lid or a screwtop container makes a great portable ashtray so you can dispose of your cigarette ends properly in a rubbish bin. If you must dispose of your cigarette end in the countryside, be especially careful to extinguish it properly, and definitely don’t throw burning butts from the car window.
Fires and barbecues: Flying sparks can set overhead trees alight and fires will race over grass and scrub. Look for designated areas in camp sites and nature parks with properly enclosed barbecues. Be sure to have water to hand in case of mishaps, and be sure your fire is properly out before you leave it.
- Food and drink
- Creature comforts
- Fresh air and exercise
- The big campsites
- Naturist camping
- Things to do
- Northern and central Dalmatia
- Southern Dalmatia
- Desert island camping
- Eco-friendly campsites
- Mobile homes
- Small and family-run campsites
Food and drinkCamping is a great way to get to know a country. When it comes to mealtimes, you get to choose between sampling local restaurants or exploring shops and markets for local produce. Campsites usually have inexpensive eateries onsite or nearby, and in our experience they’ve always been fine, serving stuff like grilled mackerel, fried sardines, squid, risottos, grilled meats and salads. And when it’s time for a light snack, is there any better taste than freshly-baked bread and ripe tomatoes drizzled with home-produced olive oil, eaten in the shade?
Creature comfortsThe best news is that in recent years the standard of facilities in campsites has improved considerably. Whether you’re heading for the quietest outpost on the remotest island or the biggest resorts on the tourist itinerary, these days your shower block is mostly modern and clean, while washing machines, fridges and barbecues will probably be at your disposal. An increasing number of sites offer facilities for dog owners such as designated beaches and dog showers. Some campsites offer beautifully-appointed mobile homes or bungalows, others have communal areas that look like trendy lounge bars, and an increasing number are open all year and have heated facilities. Many campsites have also have tents and trailers for rent so you can camp even if you don’t have kit of your own.
Fresh air and exerciseSince folks who enjoy camping tend to enjoy the great outdoors, it’s a happy coincidence that many campsites are located slap-bang next to (or even within) the country’s national parks and other beauty spots. Most camping facilities are on (or near) the coast, but inland Croatia is finally getting its moment in the sun, with increasing numbers of guests opting for a change from the usual sea and sun combination.
Wherever you are there are usually plenty of sports and outdoor activities laid on, from hiking and biking to climbing and diving, to name just a few. On the coast, campsites tend to have the cleanest beaches. On the islands, which offer perhaps the best combination of peace, attractive surroundings and interesting stuff to do, a whopping 98% of Blue Flag beaches are those attached to campsites.
The big campsitesIf you’re looking for activities and entertainment the big campsites have most to offer. On the beaches you’ll find pedaloes, water slides, bananas, jet skis and more. There are tennis courts, volleyball courts, five-a-side football pitches and table tennis tables. You can rent bikes, mopeds and small boats. And for families with small children, there are usually beaches suitable for kids, as well as hosts and hostesses who will keep the little ones entertained while you take a well-earned break.
The following are among the top campsites in Croatia when it comes to facilities and family-friendly entertainment: Zaton near Zadar (winner of an ADAC “Best Family Campsite” award), Soline near Biograd, San Marino at Lopar (Rab island), Solaris near Šibenik, Straško near Novalja (Pag island), the camping park at Umag, Poljana on Mali Lošinj island, Kovačine at Cres town (Cres island), the campsite at Krk town (Krk island), and Zelena Laguna at Poreč.
San Marino on Rab island
The San Marino holiday complex in Lopar on Rab island is named after the saint who also gave his name to the tiny republic of San Marino, just across the Adriatic. Legend has it that San Marino (or Saint Marinus) was born in Lopar in the 4th century AD.
Naturist campingThe Croatian coast has for decades been a top destination for fans of naturist (clothing-free) holidays. German advocates of the Freikörperkultur (“Free Body Culture”, or “FKK”) philosophy of healthy living helped establish naturist facilities here in the early 20th century. Where you see the FKK sign, that means you’re about to enter a naturist zone.
Nowadays, although you’ll find naturist beaches at almost every resort along the coast, there are some spots which are particularly well-known for catering for naturists. Examples are Rab island where the first naturist beach was established; the Istrian island of Koversada, one of the largest naturist resorts in Europe; the islet of Jerolim just offshore from Hvar town (Hvar island), and the Valalta complex near Rovinj in Istria.
You can choose between fully naturist campsites, clothing-optional campsites and regular campsites with naturist bathing onsite. If you’re off the beaten track, you’re sure to find a secluded spot where it’s perfectly well-tolerated for naturists to sunbathe and swim.
Croatia is one of the three countries in Europe with the most naturist camping facilities. Most of them are on the northern part of the coast (Istria and Kvarner). Here are our suggestions: Sovinje (Zadar), Bunculuka (Baška, otok Krk), Nudist (Split), Konobe (Krk), Koversada (Vrsar), Ulika (Poreč), Kamp Baldarin (Mali Lošinj).
A word of warning
Several readers told us that despite having confirmed reservations and paid deposits, they have been turned away from some campsites due to overbooking. Unfortunately we can’t assist directly in these matters, but if this happens to you do let us know about and we’ll remove the culprits from our guide. We also suggest you leave your comments on Trip Advisor and similar sites to warn others.
Things to doApart from activities organised by campsites, we recommend the following things to do during your stay.
IstriaIn Istria, head for Beram, a hamlet of 200 souls where the Church of St Mary on Škriljinah has an amazing fresco of the Danse Macabre dating from 1747. At Bale, a picturesque little inland town that Casanova is said to have visited, in the Ulika gallery you can see dinosaur remains that were found nearby.
Pazin in the heart of Istria is noted for its karst cave where the Pazin river plunges underground. The cave is said to have inspired Jules Verne for his fantastic stories.
Take a peek into the shipwreck of the Baron Gautsch, an Austrian passenger ship which sank in 1914. It lies 40m below the surface 6 nm southwest of the island and lighthouse named Sveti Ivan na Pučini. The ship is a protected site so diving is only permitted through registered diving centres. It is incredibly well preserved, still displaying its belle époque beauty. And speaking of boats, visit the misleadingly-named Eko muzej Batana at Rovinj, which has nothing to do with organic vegetables but is all about a traditional type of boat, the batana.
KvarnerIf you’re in Kvarner, don’t miss the old smithy at Dražice (just inland from Rijeka) where you can see how blacksmiths ply their trade. Close by is Gašparov mlin, a well-preserved watermill, one of several at Grobnik. For a tour, contact the Jelenje Tourist Association on 051 297 152.
For a great hike, head for Mali Lošinj island and climb the peak of Osoršćica (588m). You’ll be rewarded by a 360-degree view of Pag and Silba islands, the Istrian peninsula, the mountains of Gorski kotar and the Velebit range. Trails start at Nerezine or Osor (just across the causeway on Cres island). Be sure to take plenty of water and in hot weather start early in the morning. There’s a mountain lodge open during the summer every day except Mondays.
On a cultural note, in Mali Lošinj town, in the museum in the Fritzy palace you can see the Mihičić Collection of contemporary Croatian painting, sculpture and medallions, and the Piperata Collection – 27 works by Italian masters of the 17th and 18th century. Take a step back in time in Rab town on 25-27 July when the Knight’s Tournament and the Rapska fjera take place. This is the town’s annual fiesta held in honour of its patron Saint Christopher and King Ljudevit the Great which began 1346.
Northern and central DalmatiaIf Dalmatia is your destination, apart from the sights we describe in our Zadar county pages (pp.55) we suggest the following. If you’re travelling from the Zagreb direction, turn off the motorway at Gospić to visit the Nikola Tesla Memorial Centre. Tesla, a massive genius and charming eccentric, was born right here.
Ease away your aches and pains at Zablaće, just 9km from the Solaris camp near Šibenik. The medicinal mud here has been proven to be effective in relieving rheumatism.
Or, for a little more action, sign up for the military-style adventures on the islet of Mrčara, close to Lastovo island. Here they offer team building, fitness boot camps and military-themed games.
Not so far away on Vis island, be sure to visit the pleasing park in Vis town. Keen botanists might spot an unusual Mazari palm, not often spotted outside Asia and the Middle East.
Likewise, on Hvar island nature lovers will have ample chances to see agaves in flower. Agaves flower only after the plant has been growing for 100 years, and after flowering has finished the plant dies. That makes the flower worth seeing in our book. Agaves are among the iconic images of the beautiful green coast of Dalmatia.