Croatia’s Kvarner Islands

In May, This Can Be All  Yours:

Mali Losinj

Mali Losinj

If you were thinking about going to Spain this spring to stomp on the grounds of Picasso and Miro but were put off by the possibility of an all-out strike by airports across Spain, there’s something else you should try. Croatia. Yes, you heard me right, Croatia. And in particular, the Kvarner Islands.

The Los Angeles Times calls these islands the (European) Continent’s Tahiti because the water is so incredibly clean, so blue and pure it rivals the South Pacific in its purity. It’s almost unbelievable until you see through it with your own eyes.

most beautiful water in europe

most beautiful water in europe

The Kvarner Islands (pronounced var-nair) hang off northwestern Croatia like drops of water. Their history is long and great. Julius Caesar camped here, Mussolini took them over and then there were the communists who held them in tight perfection for so long that there is a timeless quality to them that tourists will fall in love with. The harbors are medieval, alleys that crisscross in cobbled circles, boats bob in the water, and there is literally no crime. Except for one: The price.

Here you can literally travel from the capital of Zagreb through the four islands and back in a modern,  air-conditioned bus for as little as $160. Whole meals cost $11. People will even invite you to their homes for a home cooked meal if prompted.

Getting there:

From New York there are great flights to Croatia for as little as $1,050. Two buses leave daily from Zagreb to Krk and Rab islands.

Where to begin:

Mali Losinj (mahlee low-sheen) is the biggest town of the Northern Croatian Kvarner islands. The emperor of Austria, Franz Josef built a home here and planted 50,000 trees, which is why it’s so green. The nearby town of Veli Losinj is as perfect as a renaissance painting with its bright red and yellow buildings, its palms and clear water. This is a place where you dock your boat right in front of your favorite seafood restaurant where they serve you the freshest catch of the day grilled to perfection.

veli losinj

veli losinj

Here deep green pine forests are sprinkled with red tiled roofs. Houses of all colors paint an ancient-like scene. You will encounter modern youth mixed with the elderly who through their passionate chat and simple clothes resemble characters from some Hemingway novel.

The bus from Zagreb to the Losinj island is new, air-conditioned and because the islands are all connected by bridges, you do not have to get off. The only place you’ll have to take a ferry is from Rab island to Cres. The short ride across the bay offers spectacular views of the surrounding islands that dot the horizon.

If you plan to arrive in May, you can take advantage of a huge variety of cheap accommodation since this period is still off season. During the summer months Croatia, well-known to Europeans, looks like the South of France or Italy and Spain. It is quite packed with tourists, which in a way is great if you enjoy people watching while sipping coffee or beer at your local promenade. But in May, it looks like it always did, underpopulated, kind, clean and all yours. You can book ahead, or you can browse and have your pick. If you’re really trying to save, this is a good place to do it. Here many people rent rooms for anywhere from $50 and up (for two persons). And it’s so safe here, so removed from the rest of the world, you never have to worry about crime or trouble as you would elsewhere.

If you like Krk there are great accommodations at 4-star hotels like the Hotel Drazica for about $90 a night (BB for two persons). Here most everyone speaks English, and even the television has many English channels.  To tell you the truth, my favorite getaway is hotel Aurora on the island of Losinj. Set in a pine tree forest and overlooking an emerald bay this fine 4 star hotel offers its own beach, swimming pool, spa, amazing tennis courts and miles and miles of tree shaded walking paths right on the coastline. Here you can be active with sports or do absolutely nothing, the latter being a welcome escape from reality sometimes. If you need to take care of business while away most hotels offer wireless Internet at about $10/day (some offer the service for free).

storybook setting

storybook setting

Another option which is wonderful, particularly in the summer months is renting a small boat, or a large yacht! The Croatian islands have long been a stomping ground for royalty and celebrities from all over the world. Prices can range anywhere from $100o a week and up, check out www.marinea-yachting.com/yachting-destinations/croatia/kvarner.php for more details. You’ll definitely get great deals in the spring, but the water is too cold to swim. But fishing is great.

Eating here is a delight. The olive oil is made locally, the fish are from the cleanest sea and the vegetables are grown locally. It’s an idyllic setting, complete with town squares from the 16th century, clock towers from Venetian rule 200 years earlier.  On Rab Island, where the Venetians used to give plague refugees new lives back in the 15th century, you can lean back and stare up at a 2,000 year-old Roman wall.

I am one of those people who miss the good old days when people actually stopped to talk to each other, when people took time to cook and digest their meal, when the air was pure and fresh, and where the open sea brings back hope of endless opportunity. It takes real peace and serenity to get there. Croatia in May is the place – give it a try and give yourself a chance for something new, yet so familiar.


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