Say “Croatia” to most people, and they’ll tell you to visit Dubrovnik. In the summer months, the city gets crowded – and some say overcrowded – with tourists, but what they don’t realize is that just outside of Dubrovnik is the real reason to go. You just need to hop on a boat.
Lea Hutchins investigates three islands that are just a boat ride away from Dubrovnik.
Just northwest of Dubrovnik lies an archipelago of islands, making a perfect escape from the city crowds.
In one day trip, you can explore beautiful villages, castles, botanical gardens and sandy beaches as you visit the three largest of the Elaphite Islands: Koločep, Lopud and Šipan.
Named after the deer found there by the historian Pliny the Elder, the Elaphite islands have always been popular with the Dubrovnik aristocracy. They are close enough to the city to afford you time to explore each stop, but far enough to feel worlds away from the hustle and congestion, and enjoy a day of peaceful sunbathing and strolling quiet streets.
Several tour companies offer day trips that cover the Elaphite Islands, including Amico Tours, Vamos Travel, and Atlas. After boarding a boat in the Dubrovnik marina, this approximately eight-hour tour begins by sailing to the nearest island, Koločep; a summer retreat for the city dwellers since the 16th century. Because most of the island is covered in pine, Koločep is inhabited by a mere 150 people.
Here, visitors can explore olive groves, pine forests, sea caves, and several beaches. Try not to miss the pre-Romanesque churches of St. Anthony and St. Nicholas, or the 15th century Parish Church. As you explore, don’t forget to take a deep breath and take in the aroma of the orange and lemon orchards.
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After working up an appetite exploring Koločep, board the boat to travel to the island of Šipan.
As you sail and gaze upon the passing scenery of rocky cliffs reflected in the sapphire-blue water of the Adriatic Sea, feast on an amazing meal of fresh grilled fish cooked directly on the boat, tomato and cucumber salad, bread, and local wines.
The next arrival is in the town of Šipanska Luka in the northwest of the island of Šipan. The largest of the Elaphite Islands (approximately 6 square miles), here, you will discover the remains of a Roman villa, 15th-century Gothic duke’s palace, the pre-Romanesque church of St. Michael, and the remains of an old Benedictine monastery.
And finally, sailing back towards Dubrovnik, disembark on the island of Lopud. Most of the island inhabitants live in Lopud village, where visitors are greeted with beautiful stone houses, the ruins of two forts dating from the 16th century, and a Franciscan monastery from 1483.
However, do not miss the chance to put your toes in the sand on Šunj beach, an escape from the rocks and pebbles that greet you in most other places in the country. As no cars are allowed on the island, here you will have the opportunity to relax in peace and avoid the distractions that noisy vehicles can bring. When you have had enough of the sun, there are a number of restaurants, cafes, and shops lining the beach.
End the day with one final sail back into the Dubrovnik marina, just in time for dinner. This trip through the Elaphite Islands is only a glimpse of the hundreds of islands that dot the Croatian Dalmatian coast, but it will give you a taste as to the beauty and history of this amazing country.
By Lea Hutchins for PeterGreenberg.com.
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