Croatia, with its more than 1,200 islands and gloriously sparkling coastline, is one of the few European countries on the UK’s green travel list right now - and frankly, the joy and freedom of island hopping has never sounded so enticing.
We should add that Croatia has tightened entry rules for Brits, meaning visitors from the UK will need to show a negative Covid-19 test result before they arrive from July 26 (regardless of vaccination status). Still, anyone who has spent a day in a speedboat exploring the pristine waters and secluded bays of the Dalmatian coast will know it’s well worth the hassle.
There really is an island for every kind of traveller. Whether you’re looking for beach parties, a wellness sanctuary or one of the most gorgeous beaches in Europe, we’ve rounded up a selection of our favourites below.
Master the art of “fjaka,” the Dalmatian term for doing nothing, at one of these idyllic spots.
USP: The jewel in BraÄ’s crown is Zlatni Rat beach, known as the “golden horn” or “golden cape,” near the port town of Bol. The fine pebble beach lined by pine trees, with its impossibly turquoise waters, is easily Croatia’s most beautiful. A favourite among kite surfers, the tip of the tongue constantly changes shape depending on the wind and sea currents. PuÄišÄa, meanwhile, a charming town in the north of the island, is known for its pretty stone masonry and the production of olive oil and figs (like the rest of the island).
Get there: Take the 50-minute ferry from Split to Supetar (on BraÄ) or the 55-minute catamaran from Split to Bol.
Stay: For a slice of luxury, Hotel Lemongarden (lemongardenhotel.com) is a stunning adults-only property with a pool and private beach set in the sleepy town of Sutivan, which is 15 minutes from Supetar.
USP: Hvar Town is where the It crowd jet off to to party the night away. The buzzing harbour lined with fancy yachts is an atmospheric people-watching spot with a chic restaurant scene, as the medieval fort looms above. Aside from its thriving nightlife, there’s plenty more to explore on Hvar. Take a boat trip to the nearby Pakleni Archipelago to discover secret secluded bays or hire a car or scooter and head for the lavender fields and picturesque vineyards inland.
Get there: Take the ferry from Split to the port of Stari Grad on Hvar island (approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes).
Stay: Should you not own your own yacht, you’re not short of smart stays on Hvar. Treat yourself to a couple of nights at Palmizana Hotel (palmizana.com), located on one of the small Pakleni islands, just off the coast of Hvar Town, for a Bohemian feel and lush botanical gardens.
USP: Located just off the Dalmatian coast, the rugged and unspoiled island of Vis - largely due to the fact is was a Yugoslav military base until 1989 - is where the Mamma Mia sequel was filmed in 2017. The tiny island is home to just 3,600 people and boasts picturesque fishing villages, pretty beaches and traditional tavernas serving up fresh seafood and Adriatic fish dishes. The majority of filming for Mamma Mia 2 took place in KomiÅ¾a, a sleepy fishing village with narrow streets and 17th century stone houses, which was transformed into a “Greek” paradise for the film.
Get there: You can get to Vis via a two and a half hour ferry from Split, or, do as the Mamma Mia cast, and fly in by helicopter (no guessing what the cheaper option is).
Stay: Hotel San Giorgio is a charming family-run boutique hotel in the historical centre of the city of Vis (hotelsangiorgiovis.com).
USP: Pag, also known as the moon island due to its barren landscape, is another of Croatia’s party islands, mostly thanks to the resort of Novalja in the north of the island, where nearby Zrce Beach is a party strip that’s home to four open-air clubs and hosts countless festivals in the summer months. But venture to Pag Town, near the centre of the island, and you’ll find some quaint island traditions like the the art of lace-making. Be sure to sample the famous local Pag cheese which is made from sheep’s milk and is exclusive to the island.
Get there: Pag is connected to the mainland by a bridge so you can just catch the bus from nearby Zadar or Rijeka.
Stay: A relatively new addition to the island, Hotel In Excelsis in Novalja has a large pool and spa and is just 750 yards from Babe Beach and a perfect spot for sun-worshippers (inexcelsishotel.com).
USP: Obonjan, a privately-owned island around 5km from the mainland, near the Kornati Islands National Park, is proudly Croatia’s wellness flagship destination - and, naturally, it draws the cool crowd. There are over 250 luxury glamping-style accommodations which are surrounded by pine trees and offer glistening sea views. There’s also a pool area with sun loungers, zen-inducing mindfulness and meditation classes offered on the decking, bars and restaurants serving up Mediterranean and vegan dishes, and an amphitheatre for live acts and DJs that play long into the night. This is where you come to detox then retox.
Get there: Catch the Obonjan boat from Šibenik, and be sure to factor in a visit to its Unesco-listed 15th century cathedral while you’re there.
Stay: Obonjan Island has a selection of bell tents, lodges and bungalows (island-of-obonjan.com).
USP: Nature lovers should head to the Brijuni Archipelago, a group of islands off the Istria Peninsular, which collectively make up one of Croatia’s eight national parks. Veliki Brijun is the largest and most visited of the Brijuni islands, and also has accommodation options, along with ancient Roman archaeological remains and a safari park with zebras, llamas and elephants - all of which can be visited via the “tourist train”.
Get there: A popular day trip from Pula, from where there are regular boat services to Veliki Brijun (the journey takes around 20 minutes).
Stay: The three-storey Istra Hotel offers 32 spacious double rooms and is conveniently located on the seafront in the main port of Veliki Brijun (booking.com).