We listen to progressive house emanating from speakers in trees. We drink Havana club and lime. A disco ball rotates on a threadbare length of fisherman’s rope strung between tarpaulins. We pay by the drink and by the chair. Everybody speaks in Eastern European dialects, never tripping over their mouthfuls of consonants, appearing always suave and in charge. The bodies are 90% gorgeous, reflecting the island’s own persona – pretty and fun. People drink beer on the beach. Everyone smokes. Anybody in more than a bikini and a layer of sand is overdressed.
I’m on the island of Lopud, my favourite of the Elaphite archipelago. Photo opportunities abound – both spectacular landscape and quirky macro. Jon bon jovi’s boat floats 200m offshore – or so Cap’n Jack tells us, but we have learned to take the statements of joyful Croatians with a grain of Dalmatian salt. Who cares? We don’t need a rock star to make this place special. It’s one of the best places on the Adriatic to hit a sandy beach. In fact, one of the ONLY places.
Half an hour before happy hour, we were idling on the back beach with a thousand other participants in our special secret. Rustic cabanas lined the perimeter between sand and flora, strung together in c-grade fashion, appearing like the thump of the pumping base might just make them topple. We parked on the sun-lounges, where we had to pay for the seat, the changing room and the drinks, but hey, when you have your personal pool boy to bring you smoothies on tap, I’m not complaining.
We caught a golf cart there and back – there are two sides to the island and a whopping great hill in the middle, and only the initiated know that the back beach is the better place to swim. The rogues took our twenty Kuna each, but we were happy for the loss as we climbed higher and higher, further and further on, with the pitiful walkers becoming more sweaty and crumpled as the 35°C day beat on them and their two kilometer hilly path. Our driver on the return dropped us 100m out of town, charging us full price, but offering a smile and a pat on the bum for the inconvenience of taking an unlicenced vehicle.
Soon we return to the boat. A timber vessel furnished simply with shade and flagons of wine. The Captain is partying on the cruiser next-door, drinking beer with girls in bikinis and smoking cigarillos. He takes his time returning, and even when he does, he captains the boat with one hand on the tiller and another around a plastic mug of ‘Vrisko Vino’, vile stuff that we also consume. But despite the taste of the awful wine, we smile like we are drinking ambrosia, sing along with the Beatles soundtrack he has chosen, and enjoy the view over the bluest water in the world. Seriously one of the best days ever.
Cap’n Jack took us on a tour of the three main islands in the Elaphite group, so named due to it’s deer shape (no, Elaphite does not translate as elephant, funnily enough.) Lopud (Low-pud) was by far my favourite, but the others – Koločep (kol-oh-chep) and Šipan (Ship-an) – were also stunning. Tours of this group of islands are very easily available from Dubrovnik and surrounding ports such as Mlini, Cavtat and Zaton (our port), and can be booked through the tourist offices. We paid 300 Kuna per adult (about $55) and that included a lunch of grilled fish and salad along with the unforgettable wine. Rate for a sun lounger and umbrella is around 15 kuna, but this varies from beach to beach. The bar we ended up at charged 35, but the drinks were cheap, the view incredible, and the music inspiring.
Another island that cannot be missed is Korčula (Kor-choo-la), Croatia’s rival to up-market Capri. It’s a short ferry ride from Orebić (Or-air-bits), which is a crystal clear stony beach on the Peljesac Peninsula about half-way between Dubrovnik and Split (we did a day trip from Zaton, near Dubrovnik). The old town is carefully preserved, and the chalky-white limestone of the turrets and four-story homes is cooling and enchanting. There is a strip of restaurants on the east side of the old town that catch the breeze under thick and shady pines – a welcome retreat from the heat – and after lunch one can step straight down to the swimming platforms below. In the centre of town there is a market on most days, and ambling around the narrow streets is easy – there are so many beautiful things to catch the eye. It is rumoured this is the birthplace of Marco Polo, although the footprint his Venetian republic have left in this town is more evident than proof of this fact. The island is quite large, so if you wanted to see more than the old town, it would be recommended to get the car ferry – from Orebić, or one of many other places (link).
Next time I come to Croatia, I’m basing myself on a boat. More photos below to tempt you to do the same…