Photo by Kristin Vuković
Courtesy of Istria Tourist Board/Julien Duval
Croatia’s Istrian peninsula is well-known for its coastal retreats, but the less-visited interior of Green Istria is also captivating—and relatively crowd free.
With a sweeping coastline and Adriatic islands galore, Croatia travel is booming. Here’s where to enjoy a sun-soaked trip, minus the crowds.
With its stunning 3,625-mile-long Adriatic coastline and one thousand-plus islands to explore, Croatia has firmly commanded a place at the top of many a traveler’s list. Destinations like Dubrovnik have morphed into major tourist magnets, further bolstered in popularity since serving as backdrops for such popular TV and film productions as Game of Thrones and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
So, when it comes time to beat the summer heat, it can be difficult to find an area that feels less discovered, especially along the coast. However, places with thinner crowds do exist: From the lush interior of the Istrian peninsula to rugged islands, here are five under-the-radar destinations to visit in Croatia to soak up the summer sun—sans the crowds.
Croatia’s northwestern Istrian peninsula is known as the land of the green and the blue—and while many summer tourists favor the coastal hot spots of Blue Istria (including Pula, Rovinj, and Poreč), the less-trammeled gems of Green Istria are nestled within the interior. (In the region, “Blue Istria” is a colloquialism referring to the coastal areas, while “Green Istria” refers to inland areas.) Situated in the south-central part of Istria and surrounded by woods, pastures, and vineyards, the medieval town of Svetvinčenat is home to the Morosini-Grimani Castle, one of the region’s best-preserved examples of Venetian architecture (and host to the Medieval Nights at the Castle, featuring a knights’ tournament, on Wednesdays through summer).
The medieval hilltop towns of Motovun and Grožnjan—artist havens that are known for selling regionally sourced truffles—are an hour’s drive from Svetvinčenat. Plus, for outdoor enthusiasts, biking and hiking options abound throughout the Istrian interior. Opt to stay in charming country houses, villas, apartments, or boutique hotels—you won’t find large hotel chains in the heart of Green Istria, which adds to the sense of a real escape.
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Croatia’s fifth largest island, Pag, has a dramatic moon-like landscape and hidden coves. It also contrasts partying with the pastoral. Here, younger visitors can hit up Zrće, a club-lined beach on the northern part of Pag, while gourmands can indulge in Paški sir, a locally produced sheep’s-milk cheese. Head to Pag Town to sample the island’s famed cheese alongside seasonal specialties at the charming Na Katine restaurant. Or sync up your visit to coincide with unique island cultural events like the summer carnival, featuring local dances and folklore, during the last weekend of July. To explore further afield, set out on a daylong excursion by boat to the fishing village Metajna and Zaglava Beach for some peace and quiet by the sea, or stop by the village of Vlašići, home to one of Pag’s most beautiful bay beaches.
Located in Kvarner Bay, this northern Adriatic paradise is known for its striking bay beaches and lush vegetation. For a unique introduction to the 29-square-mile island, visit the Garden of Fine Scents in the town of Mali Lošinj, where you can sample homemade myrtle liqueur and take in Lošinj’s natural aromatherapy, derived from the more than 1,000 plants that grow on the island.
The Museum of Apoxyomenos in Mali Lošinj, which opened in spring of 2016, features a well-preserved ancient bronze statue depicting an athlete; it was retrieved in 1996 from the sea near Lošinj, where it spent nearly two millennia. Locals seek out a handful of pebbled beaches (some of which are exclusively accessible by sea), including Plieski, Zabodarski, or Uvala Engleza (the latter is located on the islet of Koludarac); sandy beach fans should instead head to Meli Beach in Punta Križa.
Visitors exploring the southern Dalmatian Coast often head to the more popular Elafiti Islands, but venturing further out into the Adriatic Sea is worth it to relish this true nature paradise. Like Vis, tiny Lastovo is one of the most remote and undeveloped islands in Croatia, and it was likewise closed to foreigners during its stint as a Yugoslavian military base—preserving its craggy splendor. For beach time, in-the-know locals head to Kručica or Kujenčeva Ropa, near the nautical center Porto Rosso, with its traditional Dalmatian restaurant.
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Rent a boat and take a 30-minute excursion from the port at Zaklopatica to the island of Mladine to indulge in a fish-centric picnic on sandy Saplun Beach. Skewered sardines is an authentic Lastovo dish that you can try at the island’s many fine konobas (taverns), including Bačvara in the tourist center at Lastovo Town. For a unique lodging experience, stay in one of four apartments in the Struga lighthouse on the southern side of the island, near the entrance to the bay of Skrivena Luka.
The remote 35-square-mile island of Vis claims an unusual history: As one of the most important naval bases for the former Yugoslavia (which Croatia was once part of), it was closed to foreigners until 1989. Remnants of that period remain via a network of underground military tunnels and warehouses, which visitors today can explore on various guided tours. Or, for a twist, try winetasting in a tunnel-turned-wine-cellar by the Lipanović family, who have been making their namesake wine on the island for 150 years.
Secluded Stiniva Beach, situated between the main tourist hubs at Vis Town and the fishing village of Komiža, is near the village of Žužec; hike down a steep and narrow rocky path (or hire a taxi boat to gain access from the nearby village of Rukavac) to visit what’s been lauded as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Or take a boat excursion to the mesmerizing Blue Cave, known for its unusual “glow,” on the nearby island of Biševo. You can even hop aboard a private water taxi to a neighboring island, like Hvar. Located along the scenic route from Vis Town to Komiža, the Konoba Golub eatery in the village of Podselje is worth seeking out for fresh seafood and traditional local cuisine paired with a wine list featuring selections from all over Croatia—plus sweeping views of the vineyards and olive groves below.
This article originally appeared online in May 2018; it was updated on May 10, 2019, to include current information.
>> Plan Your Trip with AFAR’s Guide to Croatia
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