Travel

Lauren Simmonds: Five lesser known Croatian islands to put on your bucket list

Summer is here, and with it – the crowds. Here in Croatia, the summer season only means one thing – that the population temporarily explodes and the infrastructure buckles under the weight of suitcases, feet and cars. There are ways to visit this glorious country in summer and still escape the crowds, however, and one such way is to travel to some of the more than 1,200 Croatian islands.

And no, I’m not referring to Hvar.

Here are just five such islands:

Lastovo

Lastovo, the largest island in the Lastovo archipelago, is one of the most incredible locations in the entire Adriatic Sea. With its steep, rugged coastline, it is one of the most remote permanently inhabited islands and is situated in southern Dalmatia.

This island is the most forested in all of Croatia and nature lovers adore it. It boasts a deep sea, beautiful bays like Skrivena Luka (Hidden harbour) which offer natural protection from Croatia’s pesky Bura wind, and a hilly, karst landscape.

If you’re into getting out into nature, you might want to tackle some of Lastovo’s highest points.

Sozanj provides all those who are up for the challenge with breathtaking views, and Plešivo Brdo and Hum both tower over the sea at more than 400 meters.

If caves are your thing, you won’t be disappointed when on Lastovo. There are five known caves of note on this Croatian island: Pozalica, Puzavica, Medvidina, Grapčeva and Rača, which is the biggest of them all.

Šipan

Šipan is one of the three Elaphite islands which lie just north of Dubrovnik, making it a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the Pearl of the Adriatic. The remains of mansions built as summer residences by the former Dubrovnik Republic’s noble families in the 15th and 16th centuries can still be seen there.

This island has even entered the Guinness Book of World Records for boasting the highest number of olive trees per square metre – there are around one million olive trees in the highly fertile interior of the island.

Šipan offers a slow pace, very few cars, and fantastic local restaurants serving fresh fish. This Croatian island’s beaches are underrated compared to those on some other nearby islands, with Šipanska Luka being the most well known, but there are many secluded coves and bays to enjoy here. Šipan is truly a place to visit if you want to see a part of Croatia that is very close to Dubrovnik but feels as if modern civilization just hasn’t quite reached it yet.

Cres

There’s no stress on Cres, goes the saying.

Unlike many slogans, this couldn’t be more true for this absolutely gorgeous island in the northern part of the Adriatic. Cres is one of Kvarner Islands, it’s also one of the largest and least developed of all. It is one of the last remaining refuges for the Griffon Vulture, and this island’s population of endangered birds numbers about 80 pairs.

The northern and southern parts of Cres differ quite significantly due to their slightly different climates, and the heavily wooded northern part is fantastic for hiking and cycling, while the southern part is adorned with olive trees, jaw-dropping scenery and alluring beaches. Known for its 16th century Venetian Tower and the Cres Museum (within the Arsan Palace), this Croatian island – inhabited since the Stone Age – on which time has more or less stood still definitely won’t leave you disappointed.

Zlarin

If Zlarin is known for anything internationally, then it’s coral. But that isn’t all. With its name allegedly deriving from the Latin word for the island of gold, many refer to it as the Golden Island.

Basking in 2,700 hours of sunlight per year and full of local tradition and unspoiled nature, Zlarin is easily reached from the ancient Dalmatian city of Šibenik by all those seeking zen, beautiful beaches and balm for the soul.

The tradition of making jewelry from the red coral which lives in the waters surrounding this island dates back to antiquity. It was given to babies throughout the centuries, with the locals believing it to protect them from witchcraft. Red coral jewelry continues to be made by Zlarin’s locals, and can be purchased in many shops there to this day.

Car free and plastic free after a ban on single-use plastics, Zlarin is also perfect for all those who want to do their bit for the environment.

Susak

If you’ve spent any time on Croatia’s coast, you’ll have noticed that sandy beaches are few and far between. They do naturally occur here, however, you just need to know where to look.

Susak, in the northern Adriatic, is nicknamed “the sandy island” precisely because of this. This island is unique in Croatia as it is covered by thick layers of fine but fertile sand, making for some perfect beaches.

The most secluded bays in the northern part of the island are the Punta Valica, Bok, and Baldarka bays, while in the south, the Porat and Potarnak bays (which can be visited by boat only), Zali Bok and Obis ensure a sense of paradise on earth.

Nasuzanski Bay is the one to head for if you really need your fix of fine, soft sand. With its name derived from the Greek word Sansegus, referring to the abundance of Oregano which grows here, Susak is another island ideal for nature lovers, and hiking is abundant.

From flat meadows to lighthouses and abandoned military outposts, Susak offers excellent trails. I’ll admit, actually getting to Susak is no easy feat and your best bet is to sail there.

Its awkward location has turned off most travel agencies, which is an additional lure for all those who are determined to visit it as crowds simply don’t occur.

Lauren Simmonds

Lauren Simmonds is the editor of Total Croatia News, the largest English language portal in Croatia. She lives in Zagreb, Croatia, and is a translator, content writer, interpreter and the co-author of "Croatia - A Survival Kit for Foreigners," which was published in 2022.

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