Croatia's coast is made up of 1200 islands — some are glamorous and hotelled, some are grand rocks enveloped by gulls. Some are for naturists, some are for fishermen, some have lagoons so blue they appear photoshopped. The most sensible and affordable way to travel between these islands is by ferry and, next year, the journeys will become more sensible still. Croatian national ferry company Jadrolinija is going electric. Designed to transport up to 1000 passengers and 156 cars each, the new ferries will operate between Split and its nearby islands. And as well as emitting fewer harmful gases, they promise to cut down journey times by up to half an hour. It’s time to start planning your trip.
I started in Split, for a week of island hopping. My family and I had a day to kill there before our afternoon ferry — we immediately cursed ourselves for not adding another two or three. We walked through the Old Town’s white limestone streets, and took a tour of Diocletian’s Palace, a Unesco World Heritage site dating back to AD295 (and a recent film location for Game of Thrones). With more than 200 buildings within a 3.25ha enclosed space, the "palace" is a mini-city of its own, a fabulous tangle of streets and bars and homes which lean drunkenly against ancient walls.
Too soon, we took the ferry to Hvar town, and drove inland from the harbour, with its glamorous wide white piazza, through green hillsides ridged by olive groves, vineyards and lavender fields, until we reached the island’s highest point. Leaning over to see the sea, a light wind made me nervous. Lunch was at Konoba Kokot in Dol, at a table in the back garden of a family home, lamb cooked all morning in a pot covered with ashes, and as much grappa as we could politely drink. Later, a speedboat took us towards the tiny, carless, Pakleni islands.
On Sveti Klement, one of Dalmatia’s most famous restaurants is expanding to offer a small collection of luxurious rooms for those who just don’t want to go home. We were the first guests at Zori Timeless, in our own tiny house the colour of clay, with our own tiny pool the colour of the sky. Peacocks squawked, and we ate grilled fish at sunset. This little archipelago is sometimes badly translated as "Hell’s Islands", despite feeling very much like paradise.
The Adriatic sea, even in what locals groaned was the grimmest weather they’d seen in years, was deep blue and sparkling. Very quickly we entered a serious love affair with the boats. The speedboats were the best, arriving on one island seemingly before we’d even left the last. But the ferries were glamorous too, with their open-air seating and chic little bars, and ice cream. Elderly couples held hands on the top deck, my children caused havoc below.
The next evening we took another ferry to Brac, then drove across the island in the moonlight to a town called Bol. We checked into a self-catering flat called Azzurra, on a steep hill which led down to the sea. The Bol promenade takes you along the seashore to Zlatni Rat beach, which is described as the most beautiful in Croatia. We were here offseason, the beach empty, the cats hungry, the sunset obscene.
From Bol to Supetar, and a car ferry back to Split, where we settled in for dinner at Konoba Varos, an old restaurant with wooden booths and huge platters of seafood, then spent the night at Cornaro hotel in the Old Town. We took a final dash through the square to say goodbye to the sea. As a ferry departing for Korcula pulled out of the harbour a family waved wildly from the deck, and we, departing for London, waved wildly back.
Three more islands for hiking, biking and mongoose spotting.
The gorgeous Vis is the furthest Croatian island from the coast, and was cut off from foreign visitors until 1989. Its serenity and lack of development quickly became its main attraction as a tourist destination. Visitors flocked to its famous Blue Cave, with its unearthly blue light.
The little island of Solta is perfect for hiking and biking, with narrow paths winding through the woods. There are olive groves, vineyards and a selection of unspoiled beaches, as well as busier beaches at Roga, the main ferry port for the frequent (and affordable) services from Split.
Nicknamed the Green Island, due to a rich forest of Aleppo pine — its perfume fills the air. Mljet national park makes up most of the island, but there are also several villages, two saltwater lakes, and a Benedictine monastery. Mongooses roam free here after being brought in to rid the island of snakes.
— Guardian News and Media