Lošinj & Cres Islands
Separated by an 11m-wide canal, these two sparsely populated and highly scenic islands in the Kvarner archipelago are often treated as a single entity. Although their topography is different, the islands’ identities are blurred by a shared history. On Lošinj the pretty ports of Mali Lošinj and Veli Lošinj attract plenty of tourists in summer.
Rijeka, Croatia’s third-largest city, is an intriguing blend of gritty port and Habsburg grandeur. Most people rush through en route to the islands or Dalmatia, but those who pause will discover charm and culture. Blend in with the coffee-sipping locals on the bustling Korzo pedestrian strip, take in the city museums and visit the imposing hilltop fortress of Trsat.
Rab (Arbe in Italian) is the most enticing island in Kvarner when it comes to landscape diversity. The more densely populated southwest is replete with pine forests, beaches and coves, while the northeast coast is a windswept region with few settlements, high cliffs and a barren look.
Croatia’s largest island, connected to the mainland by a bridge, Krk (Veglia in Italian) is also one of the busiest – in summer, Germans and Austrians stream over to its holiday houses, campsites and hotels.
The more populated and touristy of the twin islands, 31km-long Lošinj also has a more indented coastline than Cres, especially in the south where there are some stunning deserted bays. It’s a heavily wooded island: the historic towns of Mali Lošinj and Veli Lošinj are ringed by pine forests.
Medieval Rab Town is among the northern Adriatic’s most spectacular sights. Crowded onto a narrow peninsula, its four instantly recognisable bell towers rise like exclamation points from a red-roofed huddle of stone buildings. A maze of streets leads to the upper town, from where there are ancient churches and dramatic lookout points.
Cres has a wild, natural allure that’s intoxicating and inspiring. Sparsely populated, it’s covered in dense primeval forests, and boasts a craggy coastline of soaring cliffs, hidden coves and ancient hilltop towns.
On the island’s southwestern coast, Krk Town clusters around a medieval walled centre and, spreading out into the surrounding coves and hills, a modern development that includes a port, beaches, camping grounds and hotels.
Mali Lošinj is a stunner. It sits at the foot of a protected V-shaped harbour on the southeast coast of Lošinj island, with a string of imposing 19th-century sea captains’ houses lining the seafront of the pretty old town. Even with the summer tourist commotion, this ancient quarter still retains charm and atmosphere.
Just 15km west of Rijeka, Opatija is a genteel resort in a spectacular setting. The breathtaking location and the agreeable year-round climate made Opatija the most fashionable seaside resort for the Viennese elite during the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Pastel-coloured terrace houses and Venetian mansions hug the medieval harbour of Cres Town, a beautiful sheltered bay that’s encircled by vivid green hills of pine trees and Adriatic scrubs.
Despite the name (in Croatian, veli means big and mali means small), Veli Lošinj is much smaller, more languid and somewhat less crowded than Mali Lošinj, only 4km to the northwest. It’s an exceptionally scenic place, really nothing more than a huddle of pastel-coloured houses, cafes, hotels and stores around a tiny inlet.
The tourist development on Lopar Peninsula occupying the northern tip of Rab Island has little charm, but there is a compelling reason to come – 22 sandy beaches bordered by shady pine groves. Central European families flock here in the summer months, as the sea is very shallow and perfect for small children.
The drive to the southern end of Krk Island is stunning, passing through a fertile valley that’s bordered by eroded mountains. Eventually the road peters out at Baška, one of Krk’s main resorts where there’s a fine crescent beach set below barren hills. And with the dramatic peaks of the mainland directly opposite you’re effectively enveloped by soaring highlands.
Volosko, 2km east of Opatija, is one of the prettiest places on this coastline, a fishing village that has also become something of a restaurant mecca in recent years. It’s very scenic indeed – men repair fishing nets in the tiny harbour, while stone houses with flower-laden balconies rise up from the coast via a warren of narrow alleyways.
The pretty seaside hamlet of Valun, 14km southwest of Cres Town, is buried at the foot of cliffs and surrounded by shingle beaches. Park and go down steep steps to the old town and cove. Valun bay and its restaurants are rarely crowded, and there’s a refreshing lack of souvenir stalls or touristy tack.