Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Getting to know Croatia's Islands

Croatia's islands are a diverse bunch with fascinating individual nuances and personalities. Like any family, there is contrast aplenty to be found here. From energetic Brac to isolated Lopud, you're in for an absolute treat. You're going to enjoy getting to know this extensive family if you come back more than once, or visit more than just the one island during your stay.

And what a family to behold! There are 1,244 landmasses if you count every little rock and islet, however only around 50 of these are permanently inhabited. Depending on what you want for your holiday, it may well be best to examine what the islands below have to offer before making your choice.

Hvar


If we're continuing the family metaphor, Hvar has always been the unofficial favourite of the holiday crowd. With good reason - it's family orientated and has plenty of activities for the kids, while its major city Hvar Town encompasses a mix of historical fascination and party atmosphere that is rarely found anywhere else. While Stari Grad - the main port - offers a modern setting with plenty of bars and places to chill out after a long day on the beach, the Jelsa and Vrboska neighbourhoods boast a different feel entirely, with their old stone houses and unhurried village atmospheres. Natural beauty is also abound here.


The charismatic coastline is lined with jagged inlets with pebbly coves worn gradually away by the sea, while much of the land is of vibrant colours - emerald, purple, crimson - thanks to the vineyards, lavender plantations and wild flowers that are grown here. Hvar is a treat for everyone and you won't want to leave. Bolshy and outgoing yet simultaneously traditional and historic, it's no wonder she is the unofficial favourite of the Balkan islands.

Brac


If Hvar is the perfect princess of the Croatian Island family, Brac is definitely the wild and excitable little brother. The longest landmass of the bunch, he rarely attracts the glittering crowds that cluster around Hvar. You won't see celebrities sailing into the harbours here. But you will see one notable collection of people: water sports enthusiasts. They come in their droves - the windsurfers, kite surfers, kayakers, scuba divers and snorkelers. Unmistakable in their skimpy Speedos and invariably carrying a board or paddle, these guys and girls relish the reliable winds and excellent sailing conditions provided by Brac's unique island climate. 


Places to check out include Zlatni Rat beach, which is Croatia's most photographed stretch of coastline with its pristine shingly sand edging away into the azure waters, encroached by a triangular mass of emerald trees. It's also a top windsurfing spot.

Mljet


Southern Dalmatia is home to Mljet, an unspoilt paradise that has plenty to offer intrepid travellers. The quiet cousin of the Croatian island family, she often goes completely unnoticed by the press and hordes of tourists. But this is by no means a bad thing. More than 72 per cent of Mljet is made up of wild pine forest, which is why it holds the title of National Park. Where its history is concerned, nothing much has ever happened here, and the main attraction is the island's natural assets. Well worth visiting are the interconnected emerald-green saltwater lakes, which, when coupled with the sharp smell of the encroaching pine forest, delivers the perfect backdrop for any holiday. Mljet’s monastery on the big lake is a must see and provides the perfect day out for those looking to get in touch with nature.


Also, don't forget to check out the beautiful beach of Saplunara - a gentle curve of beach that contrasts well against the green of the forest. Finally, for some jaw-dropping natural architecture, take a 20 minute walk along Babino Polje until you stumble upon Odysseus Cave. Witness what Mother Nature gets up to in her wildest moments, pulling shapes in this egg-shaped shelter that you would not have thought possible. All in all, Mljet may be the quiet cousin of the family, but if you make the effort, she's happy to get to know you.

Lopud


In the Croatian island family metaphor, Lopud is the bookish father shut away in his study all the time. Rarely visited by tourists in comparison to the others, you'll find an altogether more isolated atmosphere here. But it's well worth exploring Lopud's lush environment and charming towns. Not only is there natural beauty in abundance - sweeping forests, spectacular sandy beaches and soaring mountains - but you'll also find a number of historical gems. Archaeological findings date back to ancient times, with many fascinating places to uncover and explore during your time here such as the Franciscan Monastery. 


Since Lopud is a mere stone's throw away from Dubrovnik, it's also worth taking a ferry and exploring the famed walled city of Croatia during your time here. But let's not detract from Lopud's own assets - this is a spectacular island with much to offer and the bay of Sunj is particularly worth taking the time to explore.

Korcula


Finally, we come to Korcula, which is the equivalent of the cheerful elderly grandmother who is more than happy to carry on traditions that everyone else has long abandoned. She's an energetic old soul, though, and the many festivals and age-old religious ceremonies carried out here will likely be the highlight of your trip. Folk music and dances are also very popular - Granny hasn't given into arthritis just yet. Natural harbours and coves pepper the coastline, meaning you can always find a quiet spot, and gastronomically speaking, the many vineyards will please wine lovers. She likes a drop of wine, Granny Korcula does.


All in all, no matter what you're seeking in a holiday, you are sure to find it here. Whether you're looking for an island retreat where you can snuggle down amid spectacular landscape, a good knees-up or a water sports experience, the Croatian Islands provide a wonderful backdrop to any kind of break. They will be as happy to meet you as you are them. Book your holiday to Croatia today with the UK's number one tour operator to Croatia, Balkan Holidays.