Croatia’s Enchanted Islands

The Romans may have had this view from the Island of Kornat.

The Romans may have had this view from the Island of Kornat.

To fully appreciate Croatia’s natural beauty, one needs to visit some of the 1,000+ islands that make up the Dalmatian Archipelago.  Seagoing vacationers have long enjoyed the quiet coves, sandy beaches, hiking and biking paths and boutique hotels tucked comfortably in their secluded venues.  However, a charter boat or water taxi can open this private world to any interested traveler.

Fortunately, Croatia has seen fit to preserve some of their island treasures as national parks.  I explored two of these island national parks, and each could not be more different from the other.

Rock cliffs tower over our boat like giant sea monsters.

Rock cliffs tower over our boat like giant sea monsters.

Kornati National Park

Kornati National Park is about 30 miles up the coast from Šibenik (SHE beh nik).  The park includes the island of Kornat, largest of the 89 islands in the park.  Our charter boat took us around several islets with high cliffs that plunge 200 feet vertically down into the depths of the clear, turquoise sea. 

Other than scattered shrubs and trees, the islands seem largely barren.  On the main island, Kornat, we climbed to a promontory ruin believed to have Roman origins.  It is hard to tell, as we were informed by our captain, Emil, that a film company had rebuilt some of the ruins for a film set some years ago.  Even so, it was not difficult to imagine that the Romans had used this site as a lookout vantage point.

Some ancient ruins were probably part of a movie set.

Some ancient ruins were probably part of a movie set.

The magic of Kornati National Park becomes apparent below the water’s surface where you will find a diver’s paradise.  These protected waters feature 352 confirmed species of algae, 22 corals, 177 mollusks, 160 fishes, 55 crab species, plus indigenous sea grasses and countless organisms that have yet to be identified.  In addition, large numbers of bottlenose dolphins and loggerhead turtles make this habitat their home.  If you are a diver or snorkeler, you must discover Kornati National Park for yourself.

The saltwater lakes are connected by manmade canals.

The saltwater lakes are connected by manmade canals.

Mljet National Park

The western part of Mljet (mul YET) Island was declared a national park in 1960.  In brilliant contrast to the stark islands of Kornati National Park, Mljet features inland lakes.  They are not really lakes, but rather natural depressions that were flooded by the rising sea after the last ice age.  These are actually saltwater lakes connected by a small channel to the sea.  Because they are shallow and landlocked, the lakes are several degrees warmer than the sea and make for excellent swimming for nine months out of the year.  Visitors often rent bicycles to casually peddle around the forested shores of these lakes in shaded comfort. 

The monastery is accessible only by boat.

The monastery is accessible only by boat.

If you get too warm, there are lakefront café bars called konobas where you can stop to refresh yourself.  If you are seeking refreshment, you should remember these two words – Ožujsko and Karlovačko, the Croatian equivalent of Budweiser and Miller.  Every konoba will have one or the other.  I occasionally enjoyed a variety called lemon Radler, made by both Ožujsko and Karlovačko, which is only 2% alcohol and tastes a lot like San Pellegrino limonata – very refreshing!  It is also sold in grapefruit and orange flavors at the supermarkets.  If you are stopping for lunch, let me caution you to allow at least 1½ hours for eating.  Dining in Croatia is not a hit-and-run activity. 

Ruins of St. Paul's Church built on Mljet Island in the 4th century.

Ruins of St. Paul’s Church built on Mljet Island in the 4th century. I think they had a very small congregation.

Mljet Island has something for everyone – sandy beaches, Roman ruins, a 4th century church and the Santa Maria Benedictine monastery that is being refurbished and is open for visitors.  Even the Greek poet, Homer, wrote about the island in The Odyssey.  Some believe this is the island upon which Odysseus was shipwrecked.  There is a sea cave that could match the description in Homer’s story.  Mljet is also a great island getaway with lovely resorts and hotels suitable for families or for a romantic holiday for couples.

One thing is certain.  If you are interested in a special vacation of a lifetime, then you owe it to yourself to consider the islands of Croatia.  Once you go, you will be like me – looking forward to the day when you can return. 

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21 comments on “Croatia’s Enchanted Islands

  1. Gorgeous! Just gorgeous… I love the pictures, history and descriptions. Croatia looks fabulous!

  2. Thanks Mike, this is good info. We only spent a week in Croatia, and all of that was in Dubrovnik. For us, most countries fall in one of two categories: we’re glad we visited, but don’t need to go back, and we’re glad we visited, and would definitely go back. Croatia falls in the would go back category. It would be nice to string together a series of 4-5 day stops so we’d have a base for day trips. Whenever we get around to this, your series on Croatia will definitely be helpful. ~ James

    • Mike Lince says:

      I agree with your two categories of ‘don’t need to go back’ and ‘would definitely go back.’ And I understand the appeal of Dubrovnik. For my part, anyone interested in seeing a classic medieval town without the crowds, I would recommend Korčula on the island of the same name. You can climb the bell tower of the church to get a great view and you can walk the entire town in a couple of leisurely hours, which I would take over the lines lining the walls of Dubrovnik. Like you said, I’m glad I saw Dubrovnik, but I don’t need to go back…unless I were to take the boat to Mljet. I would go back for that! :) – Mike

  3. DebbieT says:

    Now subscribing to your blog….. excellent descriptions, and you’re brilliant for adding in some of the pronunciations of the difficult words – helpful and thoughtful. Croatia is on our list of “must see” locations….. thanks for the info!

    • Mike Lince says:

      I appreciate the feedback, Debbie – very helpful. My favorite part of your comments is ‘now subscribing’. Thank you for following. I shall endeavor to continue meeting your expectations. And I do hope you make it to Croatia. It has been under the travelers’ radar for some time, but that cannot last. Dubrovnik is a classic example. They now get 1,000 cruise ships per year. Can you imagine? It is still worth seeing, but I would not venture there during the height of the cruise season. – Mike

  4. The more you share, the more I want to go!! Won’t be for a while, however. Next year we’re vacationing in Mexico and the year after that we’re going to Italy!! Celeste :)

  5. reocochran says:

    I am enchanted and in awe of the wide variety of the creatures under the sea! I also enjoyed the way you described the sights. The scenery is stark but it holds some interest due to its being unique and the stone formations are intriguing, too. I like the humor in the movie set comment, Mike, with you standing under the arch! Excellent post!

    • Mike Lince says:

      Thank you, Robin. My challenge was to select the most meaningful sights and events from field trips which took almost a whole day for each. I occasionally feel like I have cheated readers by giving only narrow glimpses of what were constantly changing panoramas, many so dramatic that whatever adjectives I can think of hardly seem to do them justice. I hope people realize the best way to appreciate Croatia is one day see it for themselves. Then they will see I have barely scratched the surface. – Mike

  6. restlessjo says:

    Desperately jealous, Mike :) I’ve been planning to return to Croatia since visiting Dubrovnik nearly 30 years ago. I always had a yen for the islands since seeing photos of Korcula and Hvar, and Rovinj and Plitvice too. One day, maybe. :)
    I followed you here from Gallivance (I have a Polish Dad with quite a saga), having seen your remarks on Poland there. Hope you don’t mind.

    • Mike Lince says:

      Any friend of James and Terri Vance is a friend of mine! Welcome and thank you for sharing your comments. We will return to Croatia sometime in the next year, and I am sure to have much more to write about. – Mike

  7. Loca Gringa says:

    Wao! Croatia is stunning! You are blessed to be a traveler!

  8. […] the quiet coves, sandy beaches, bike paths and boutique hotels on the 1,000 plus islands of the Dalmatian Archipelago, however; this beach girl was […]

  9. […] main streets.  It was hardly enough to make an impression.  I spent a whole day on a boat tour to Kornati National Park, a chain of islands twenty miles up the coast from Šibenik.   Florence stayed in town with our […]

  10. […] was our skipper back in September for our island boat excursion to Kornati National Park.  Summer is when he takes scuba divers to the islands for amazing underwater exploration.  […]

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