Islands and Cities | Croatia Unbound

Islands and Cities

Rovinj

ROVINJ (ROVIGNO)

Rovinj’s distinct Italian flair makes it one of Istria’s most beloved towns. Modish piazzas, pastel-colored houses, and Venetian houses flank Rovinj’s streets. Topping Rovinj’s Italiante flavor, literally, is the St Euphemia Cathedral—which hits the skyline as Istria’s highest church tower.

Rovinj used to be an island, but the channel separating Rovinj from the mainland was filled in in 1763. The narrow, cobbled streets and closely packed houses reflect Rovinj’s past as a bursting island, and the active fishing port retains its true Mediterranean authenticity. With its swanky yachts and well-loved fishing boats sailing to port with a backdrop of Italian elegance, Rovinj hits a spot you might not have known was missing on your Croatian vacation.

Cres and Lošinj

CRES & LOŠINJ ISLANDS

Cres and Lošinj Islands are a hop, skip, and a jump away from one another. Separated by a 11m-wide channel created by the Romans and connected by a bridge, Cres and Lošinj are often thought of conjointly. Together, the islands make up the westernmost part of the Kvarner archipelago.

Lošinj (pronounced “losheen,” or Lussino in Italian) offers lushly wooded landscapes and fields of aromatic herbs—an ingrained therapy that has the island baptized as the “island of wellness and vitality.” Though people and tourist attractions pop up in Lošinj, particularly in the historic town of Mali Lošinj, it still offers plenty of natural attractions for those hoping for some idyllic respite.

Cres (pronounced “tsress,” or Cherso in Italian) flags the transition point between the Adriatic’s sparse karst landscapes and northern Croatia’s more riotous vegetation. While deciduous forests blanket northern Cres, southern Cress becomes increasingly barren. Fewer tourist trappings can be found on Cres, Lošinj’s wilder and greener cousin.

Both Cres and Lošinj are the only known resident of the Adriatic’s resident dolphin populations, and the Lošinj Dolphin Reserve protects the ocean off the eastern coastlines.

FUN FACT:

As the story goes, Jason and the Argonauts vamoosed to Cres and Lošinj with the Golden Fleece when the islands were still known as the Absyrtides. The islands’ Greek roots go further, as Medea apparently murdered her brother Absyrtus in this location; according to legend, she tossed his remains into the sea, and his limbs formed Cres and Lošinj.  

Elaphite Islands

ELAPHITE (ELAFITI) ISLANDS

An easy ferry ride northwest from Dubrovnik, the Elaphite archipelago offers plenty of opportunity for outdoors exploration and adventure. The archipelago consists of six islands, with the three inhabited ones being Koločep, Lopud, and Šipan. With Kolocep and Lopud both being car-free, it’s easy to downshift away from the modern hustle and bustle and simply enjoy nature.

Lopud, the most popular of the Elafiti Islands, gathers small crowds to its famed strip of beach as well as to its 15th century Franciscan monastery. Koločep offers olive groves and pine trees, pre-romanesque churches and basilica ruins. Šipan, the largest of the the Elaphite Islands, offers a rustic peace with its grove covered hills and quiet communities.  

FUN FACT:

Pliny the Elder (the Roman, not the elusive and delicious Russian River Brewing Co. beer), a 1st-century-AD geographer, named the Elaphite Islands.

Hvar Town

HVAR TOWN 

Hvar Town has a lot to live up to, and it always succeeds. The small bay is packed with partiers, pedestrians, and people hoping to hop into their swimming suits for some beach time. Hvar Town is not only Hvar Island’s central hub, but the closest thing Croatia has to Côte d’Azur.  With its 13-century walls, pedestrianized marble streets, Gothic palaces, and seaside promenade, Hvar Town is pleasant to simply stroll through and relax in.  

If you’re hoping for more than seaside cafés, boisterous bars, and shady coves, however, here are some of Hvar Town’s top sites:

  • The 16th century St Stephen’s Cathedral, a luxurious cathedral which merges baroque and Renaissance styles known for its lofty, rectangular bell tower.
  • The 16th century Fortica (Spanjola) looks over Hvar Town form a hill, a fortress sporting bastions, parapets, a dungeon and tower.
  • The Renaissance Theatre of Hvar, Europe’s first public theater constructed in 1612.  
  • The Franciscan Monastery and Museum, another 16th century masterpiece, which has a 300-year-old cypress tree growing in its garden.

Explore Hvar for yourself on our Croatian Island Explorer tour.

 

Lokrum Island

LOKRUM ISLAND 

Lokrum Island, just a 15-minute ferry ride from Dubrovnik’s Old Town, remains a veritable treasure island with its subtropical vegetation, pine forests, olive groves, and secluded swimming holes. A protected Nature Reserve, Special Forest Vegetation Reserve, and home to a Botanical Garden, Lokrum’s the perfect getaway for those hoping to lose themselves in nature. No cars and no sleepovers are allowed on Lokrum, so the peacocks are the only permanent inhabitants you’ll come across.

According to legend, Benedictines cursed the island when the French forced them to leave Lokrum. The curse claimed that whosoever claimed Lokrum for personal use would be damned—and with good results. The first three aristocratic owners all met tragically fatal ends. Captain Tomasević went bankrupt and another Hungarian officer shipwrecked. Most famously Duke Maximilian, Austrian Archduke and Emperor of Mexico who transformed the Benedictine monastery into his lavish summer palace, was assassinated by insurrectionists while his wife was murdered and his son committed suicide. The curse served as a good argument to only allow visitors during daylight hours.

 

Lokrum has more to offer than rocky beaches and holm oaks, however. Visitors can stop by other interesting sites, natural and cultural.

Lokrum Sites

  • Dead Sea (Mrtvo More): a small saltwater lake that’s a popular swimming spot.

  • Benedictine Monastery: the remains of a Romanesque-Gothic basilica constructed in the 12th or 13th century as well as the 15th century Gothic-Renaissance monastery.

  • Fort Royal: a fort perched on the island’s tallest point, built in in 1806 by Napoleon’s French forces. Though it’s a steep climb, the views are worth it!  

Lokrum Factoids

  • Richard the Lionheart was reputedly shipwrecked on Lokrum on his return from the third crusade.

  • The monastery doubled as the Kingdom of Qarth in the HBO series Game of Thrones, and you can even put on your best King Joffrey impression and sit on the Iron Throne the show donated.

Pakleni (Paklinski) Islands

PAKLENI (PAKLINSKI) ISLANDS 

According to legend, the Pakleni Islands were born from the secret love affair between Poseidon and a nymph. Though the alluring beauty of the wooded isles off Hvar Town might testify to this legend, the Croatian name directly translates to “Hell’s Islands.” It’s a less befitting epithet for islands many liken rather to the “divine.”

The islands offer secluded lagoons, limpid waters, and relaxed pebbled beaches—a perfectly packaged escape to paradise for those hoping to get away from Hvar’s more exuberant spirit.

Sveti Klement, the largest of the Pakleni Islands, bears three villages including Palmižana village with its restaurants, lodging, and marina. For those hoping for a more au naturale experience, check out Jerolim, the island closest to Hvar.

FUN FACT: CNN named Jerolim as the number one naturist beach in the world.

Stari Grad

STARI GRAD

When the Greeks founded Stari Grad on Hvar in 384BC, they named it Pharos. Stari Grad, meaning “Old Town,” seems more apropos, however, as the city is the oldest city on Hvar. Stari Grad is the more muted, atmospheric neighbor to the rowdy Hvar Town, and it’s a pleasant stop for those hoping to take in fields and Stari Grad’s quiet inlet.

FUN FACT: The fields to the west and south of Stari Grad are on the UNESCO World Heritage list as they are one of the few remaining places in Europe where the Greek’s ancient system of field division has been preserved.

Varaždin

VARAŽDIN

Croatians embrace Varaždin as their “Little Vienna,” and it’s apropos with Varaždin’s cafés, sumptuous castle, array of Baroque buildings, and museums lodged in Rococo mansions. Varaždin, over 80km north of Zagreb, can be overlooked by those hoping to hop over to Hungary, but the city deserves a stopover as a significant—and beautiful—cultural center. With its very own Stari Grad, or “old town,” boasting a whitewashed, red-capped medieval castle, it is a great place to enjoy a glass of wine on a street-side café and dream of your own castle aspirations.

The windfall of Baroque architecture came from Varaždin’s station as Croatia’s capital from 1756-1776, a brief period during which Varaždin saw an incredible influx of artists and architects. The city now hosts an annual fair known as the Varaždin Baroque Evenings, where performers gather from around the world to indulge in a Baroque fete.

Vis Island

VIS ISLAND 

Formerly known as Yugoslavia’s “forbidden island,” Vis Island retains its mysterious aura even today. Vis lies farther than any of Croatia’s other Dalmatian islands, and though it was inhabited for hundreds of years leading up to WWII, it was taken over by the Yugoslavian leader Tito who established military fortifications throughout the island. As a military base, Vis was closed to visitors from the early 1950s to 1989.

There’s some positives to Vis’ relative isolation and history of underdevelopment—it’s a Mediterranean haven of authenticity, tranquility, great wine and seafood. Vis’ white varietal grape vugava makes for some tasty wine. Visitors with a historical bent also come to the shores of sleepy Vis to see the abandoned Cold War-era installations and artifacts that still litter the island.

Šćedro Island

ŠĆEDRO ISLAND

South of Hvar lies another small island: Šćedro Island. Šćedro lies off the tourist track, and one of the island’s best perks (besides idyllic seascapes) is its uncrowded tranquility. As a protected natural park, Šćedro offers lush pine woodlands and swathes of heather alongside its welcoming coves and coastlines.

If you’re more interested in ruins than landscapes, Šćedro still won’t disappoint. An abandoned 15th century Dominican monastery sits at Mostir Cove alongside St. Mary of Charity and fishermen’s hospice, a 13th century church. The remains of a small village, relics of a Roman villa, and Illyrian tumuli also scatter the island. Artifacts discovered over the years have also led some historians to hypothesize that Šćedro was formerly known as Tauris—and therefore the site of an epic maritime battle between Caesar and Pompey’s fleets in 47 BC.

 

Visit Croatia's magnificent islands on a Croatian custom tour. Contact us at (800) 214-0579 or info@unbound.travel.