Tell friends that you are planning to spend a couple of weeks ‘island hopping’, and the first thing they’d expect you to talk about are the many beautiful islands off mainland Greece. However, overlook Croatia, and you are missing out on something truly special. You can ‘backpack and hostel’ it, or ‘suitcase and hotel’ it, that’s the beauty – either will work. With ferry and catamaran conections between the major towns and islands on the Adriatic coast, all you need is your gear and a really good plan. One option, the island hop between Dubrovnik and Split, is not only really easy to do, but each island has a unique character that makes for a richly varied and diverse trip. There’s plenty to do on each island too and you’ll really struggle to do them all justice in a few weeks break. You’ve just got to pick the ones that ‘float your boat’ so to speak and start hopping.
Mljet – Let’s start by leaving Dubrovnik….the first Island you can get to as you ‘hop’ up to Split is Mljet. One of the most beautiful and unspoilt of the Croatian islands (and the home of Mljet National Park), it’s mainly covered in forest with vineyards and small villages dotted around. At the north end of the Island are two large saltwater lakes, connected to the sea by a narrow channel. In the larger lake there’s a small islet where you’ll find a 12th century Benedictine Monastery, connected by boat from Mali Most. Entry is included with the park entry ticket. Alternatively hire a bike, grab a picnic and immerse yourself in a very scenic and tranquil part of island life in Croatia. Connect onwards to Korcula.
Korcula – Our first main stop was the laid back island of Korcula. The highlight is the really atmospheric Korcula Old Town with its lovely waterfront promenade lined with restaurants, ice cream parlours and bars. The old town is set out in a fish bone grid of old narrow streets with cafes, galleries, medieval squares and churches. It really is a beautiful part of Croatia, often referred to as ‘Little Dubrovnik’. Korcula though is more than that. For a start it’s the perfect place to hire a bike and cycle the coastal roads, stopping at beautiful coves and secluded bays. Further inland, trips and tours are available to celebrated vineyards, with wine tasting and sampling of traditional snacks. Depending on the time of year you are going, this part of the journey may have to be taken by coach. This departs from the Dubrovnik coach station which is a few kms from Old Town towards the cruise port. The bus uses a car ferry for the final stages onto Korcula, but will take you onwards to the coach station in Korcula Old Town. The passenger catamarans dock to the west side of Old Town (just a few minutes walk into the centre), whilst the car ferries dock to the south of town, and requires a local bus or taxi into town (it’s about 30 mins walk). Journey time by catamaran is around 2 – 2 1/2 hours. Connect onwards to Hvar, Brac and Split.
Hvar – If Korcula is the laid back island, Hvar is the wide awake one! Depending on the time of year you visit, this Island has a lively nightlife. Once again it has a picturesque old town with a maze of narrow streets around the port area, a hilltop castle (Fortica) with stunning views, a huge central square and church (St Stephens) and plenty of bars and restaurants. There are top class hotels with rooms overlooking the bay and lots of private apartments as a great “budget” alternative. Oh and there’s a lot of money here, especially in the height of summer. Expensive yachts pull up in the bay and big name DJs host night long parties during July and August. Hvar town is not a huge place but somehow it manages to squeeze a lot of people in. Outside of the main summer season, the town has an air of anticipation, and the crowds are not large enough to spoil things – sound advice is to to avoid the main summer months and you’ll see the island and town at its best. The catamaran between Dubrovnik and Split stops right in the centre of Hvar town, as do other ferries from nearby Islands. Ferries also connect Split to Stari Grad on the north side of the island. Connect onwards to Brac and Split or Vis.
Brac – We skipped this Island due to time, but it’s definitely on our list to go back to. It’s less touristy, much more authentic and also the home of Zlatni Rat, the beautiful spit of land that boasts possibly the most famous beach in all of Croatia. There’s a lot less glitz on this island, but it means you’ll get a more original Croatian experience. Apart from the beach, there’s wine tours, bike hire, watersports and plenty of cultural sites to see. The catamaran from Dubrovnik goes into Milna on the west coast of the Island, car ferries run from Split to Supetar on the north and further passenger ferries run from Split to Bol on the south. Connect onwards to Split and Vis.
Vis – With connections from Hvar and Split, this is the furthest of the main Dalmatian Islands from the coast. Tourists come here for great wine from the island’s vineyards, the freshest seafood around and for a little bit of down time! The lack of development here is a real draw, in fact it was off-limits for foreign visitors until 1989, and so still retains a mysterious air that enchants visitors that make it this far.
Split – Islands all done, Split makes the perfect location to finish off your trip to Croatia. A wonderful city that mixes old and modern, buzzing Split is Croatia’s second largest city. Inside the walls of the Diocletian’s palace that surround much of the old part of the city, you’ll find bars, restaurants and shops, all seemingly at one with the original Roman monument – as if they have been part of this city forever. With the coast on one side and dramatic mountains on the other, this really is a stunning city. Keep an eye on our website for our future blog on Split www.myplaceintheworld.com
Some tips :
- Timetables – for a full list of ferry timetables go to Croatia ferries website. Another great source of info is the visit Croatia website. Planning your movement between the islands takes time and a little knowledge. Know which Islands you really want to do and which direction you are doing it in before you book flights. May sound obvious again but ferries do not necessarily run every day. Also the routes do not run all year, so depending on the month you are going, this may affect your plans.
- Tickets – try to pre book as many of them as possible, gives you more time and flexibility on each island.
- Ferry ports – check out where on each Island the ferry/catamaran departs from /arrives into . Again may sound daft but some of the towns have multiple ports.
- Travel light – just makes it a little easier when trying to get on and off the ferry ramps, this can be a bit of a scrum!!
And finally, for some great tips on all things Croatian, including Island hopping, food, places to stay etc. go to www.chasingthedonkey.com