Lošinj & Cres Islands
Separated by only an 11m-wide canal and joined by a bridge, 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. Nature lovers will be in heaven here.
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, culture, good nightlife, intriguing festivals and Croatia’s most colourful carnival.
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.
Rab (Arbe in Italian) has some of the most diverse landscapes in the Kvarner region, leading to its declaration as a Geopark in 2008. The more densely populated southwest coast has pine forests and beaches, 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 toll 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. It’s not the lushest or most beautiful island, though its landscape is quiet varied, ranging from forests in the west to sunburnt ridges in the east.
Walled 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, where there are ancient churches and dramatic lookout points.
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 harbour.
At the northern tip of the island, the beach town of Lopar is still semirural around the edges, with garden plots and roses growing in front gardens. Even in early June it's a sleepy place, but in the school holidays Central European families flock here, as the sea is very shallow and perfect for small children.
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 tiny walled town of Osor is one of the most peaceful places you could imagine, despite its grand and troubled past. The village sits on the narrow channel dividing Cres and Lošinj, which is thought to have been dug by the Romans. Because of it, Osor was able to control a key navigational route.