Pag is one of the most unusual Adriatic islands. Parts of it are extremely rocky and devoid of vegetation, and look like the moon. Other parts are reminiscent of Spaghetti Westerns, with desert-like scenery and the odd spiky cactus. It's not what you'd normally expect from the Mediterranean. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
There are many other weird and wonderful things about Pag. It’s oddly squid-like in shape, with the “tentacles” forming lagoons. The sea is very calm here and the water has an exceptionally high salt content. There have been saltpans here for centuries: you can still buy Pag salt normally in any supermarket. It’s completely natural and has a high mineral content. The salty winds mean that on many parts of the island, rather little vegetation survives except scrub and herbs, so sheep farming is the main agricultural activity. These salty herbs lend a special flavour to the animals' meat and milk, which makes great cheese. Pag cheese is highly valued – it’s one of Croatia’s most famous export products. A good Pag cheese is mature, strong tasting and hard, a little like Parmesan. The real Pag cheese is expensive, so don’t be surprised if cheaper offerings disappoint. We recommend being adventurous and trying to get hold of some home made stuff on the island itself. Ask your hosts to recommend someone, or look out for signs saying “Paški sir”. Pag island lamb is also regarded as a delicacy – do try it if you have the chance.
The island’s other renowned cottage industry is lace making. Since, once upon a time, there was nothing better for the women of Pag to do than keep an eye on a few sheep, watch salt dry and wait for hubby to come home with the day’s catch, they kept idle thumbs at bay by lace-making. Over the centuries they evolved a style so ethereal that it is considered one of Croatia’s most highly prized products. Hours of work goes into a tiny piece, so it is quite expensive – expect to pay from 200kn for a small piece direct from the maker, or around 400kn for a mounted example from a Zadar gallery (try the Lik gallery, see “Shopping”). But it is a beautiful memento of your holiday, and your purchase supports a vital cottage industry.
In the mid 15th century, the Venetians commissioned Juraj Dalmatinac, Dalmatia's most famous architect, to design the island capital, Pag town. It has a planned symmetrical layout, with a modest, drowsy feel. Walking through the streets, you intimately feel the life that goes on inside the little cottages, The town’s most striking church, St Mary's, was also designed by Dalmatinac. He combined a Romanesque Dalmatian spirit with Renaissance and Gothic elements to create a striking edifice. The town has a few other interesting churches and palaces, wonderfully clean pebble beaches and several good restaurants.
In the last few years, Pag has also built the reputation as Croatia’s party island, and the place where it all happens is the town of Novalja. Novalja, though not the capital, is the island’s most populous settlement, and has most of its facilities such as clinics and schools. A couple of kilometres from town is an excellent Blue Flag beach, Zrće, where a number of bars and clubs, including coastal versions of some of Zagreb’s most famous names, have opened to create Croatia’s answer to Ibiza. There are restaurants, ice cream parlours, pools and more. It’s wildly popular. Because of that, some might find it a bit too noisy and commercialised in high season. But never fear, Pag has the longest coastline of all Croatian islands (270km), and there are many places where you can escape the crowds. Expect lunar landscapes, white pebbles, crystal clear water and, on the north side of the island, spectacular views over the Velebit peaks on the mainland. One of our favourites is the Ručica beach near Metajna – turn left at the wooden sign before the village, and follow the road to the end. You'll need to walk the last bit. It's wonderful to watch the sun go down, turning the rocks pink as you sit on pristine white pebbles by the crystalline, lagoon-calm sea.