The Dalmatian coast is rich and varied enough to cater for all types of holidaymakers. Depending on your taste you can enjoy scuba diving in the Blue Grotto on the island of Bisevo, chilling out on Zlatni Rat beach on the island of Brac, or culture vulturing in the towns of Hvar and Korcula. This itinerary takes in all these activities and takes you down the coast in stages, finishing with a memorable visit to the city of Dubrovnik.
The ferry from Split takes three hours to carry you to Vis, including a stop at Hvar. Vis is an ancient colony founded in the fourth century BC by Denys, tyrant of Syracuse. In ancient Greek times, it was the largest Greek city-state of the Adriatic. A former Yugoslav navy base, the island was out of bounds to the public until 1989 and is only just beginning to open up to tourism. Its few inhabitants still live from fishing and agriculture.
The two main villages - Vis and Komiza - are situated on the east and west coast of the island respectively, so it is a good idea to hire a scooter or an all-terrain bike for the day to travel from one to the other, cruising along the coast road, with its magnificent panoramas.
Four miles off the coast of Komiza, the small island of Bisevo is the setting of the famous Blue Grotto. Between 11am and noon, the suns' rays cross an undersea opening and bathe the interior of the grotto in an extraordinary blue light. To reach this site, boat trips are organised daily by the travel agencies at Vis and Komiza.
Brac, the Mediterranean beauty
One hour from Split, the 25 mile / 40km long by 7 mile / 11km wide island of Brac is Dalmatia's largest (its name means "the Big One"). With its drystone walls, cypress forests and goats cheeses, it is also probably the most Mediterranean of the Croatian islands.
When you arrive at Supetar, make sure you head for the town's tourist office. They will tell you which of the island's treasures to visit first by bus, car or on a scooter. Perhaps its oldest village, called Skrip, where you will find the island's museum, located just 5 miles/8km away. Perhaps Lozisca, with its extraordinary Baroque church tower, or Milna, the island's largest marina (an idyllic place if you are travelling by boat) or perhaps the summit of Vidova Gora (2,528 ft) offering a superb panorama over the sea and the island of Hvar! Supetar's most beautiful site is the marine cemetery situated on Cape Saint Nicholas, a splendid place to stroll at sunset.
Brac has been known since ancient Greek times for its famous white stone, which was used in building Diocletian's palace in Split, and is also to be found in the major buildings of Vienna - not to mention the White House in Washington. If you are interested in learning more about stone quarrying, visit the village of Pucisca.
And then of course there is the Adriatic's finest beach, Zlatni Rat, an immense triangle of tiny white gravel extending some 1,500 feet back from the sea. Zlatni Rat is Croatia's most highly visited tourist attraction in summer. A promenade connects the beach to the charming village of Bol where you can catch the boat to travel to the island of Hvar.
Hvar, the Adriatic's Saint Tropez
Classified by the American magazine Traveler as being among the world's most beautiful islands, Hvar has recently been attracting the yachts of the jet set, from Spielberg to Sharon Stone. While the small ports of Jelsa, Stari Grad and Vrboska are not lacking in charm, the jewel of the island is clearly Hvar. Situated at the western extremity, in a bay protected from storms by the small Pakleni islands, this town - laid out by the Venetians - looks just like an opera backdrop!
The central square, entirely paved with marble, is the largest in Dalmatia (48,000 square feet). In its centre, you'll see the town's well (dating from 1529) towards which narrow, stepped streets lined by lemon trees descend. Opposite the sea, the dockyard built in 1611, and used in years past to repair war vessels, is the first thing you see on arriving by boat. Its northern part houses a pretty theatre, inaugurated in 1612 - the first in Europe accessible to ordinary people.
Walking along the port towards the south, you will come to one of the most beautiful places in the town, a fifteenth-century Franciscan monastery. Its garden overlooks the sea and boasts a three-hundred-year-old cypress, while the monks refectory houses an immense 26 foot by 8 f00t Last Supper, painted by Matteo Ingoli, the Venetian master.
Korcula, last stopover before Dubrovnik
After the sparkling light and charm of Hvar, Korcula may seem slightly more austere (its thick woods earned it its Greek name of Korkyra Melaina, meaning Korcula the Black). More rural (the island has many vineyards and olive groves), and more Slavonic in atmosphere than the other islands, Korcula is 29 miles long and is separated from the peninsula of Peljesac by a narrow channel. Dubrovnik is three hours away by car and one hour by boat. The catamaran from Hvar moors at Vela Luka at the western extremity of the island, so to reach the town of Korcula, to the northeast, you will have to travel inland by bus or taxi, crossing the island lengthways.
Korcula is said to be Marco Polo's birthplace. Whether this true or not true or not, it remains a marvel of town planning! Nestling at the foot of hills, the medieval town overlooks a small headland surrounded by sea. The town plan, as you'll see, has been laid out exactly like a fish skeleton with a backbone and parallel streets on each side. On the western side, straight streets receive the gentle wind called the maestral, whereas on the eastern side slightly curved streets slow down the icy northern wind, the bura. All together, it makes a perfectly harmonious ensemble.
Moreover the town is pedestrianised and can be visited on foot in less than half an hour. Wherever you are, you can cross it from side to side by climbing up pretty stairways made of the island's beautiful smooth stone. In the centre are located St Mark's cathedral and the abbot's residence of the same name, which houses a magnificent fifteenth-century Dalmatian polyptych and works from the Italian Renaissance by Leonardo da Vinci, Titian and Veronese). Korcula, like Croatia as a whole, is very religious and still remembers the Battle of Lepanto (1571) during which the Christian fleet of the Holy League (Spain, Venice and the Holy See) defeated the Turkish fleet under Ali Pacha.
Vis Tourist Office
Supetar Tourist Office
Bol Tourist Office
Hvar Tourist Office
Korcula Tourist Office