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Island hopping in Croatia: a road trip to the 9 most beautiful sights

A trip to the Adriatic coast of Croatia is in some way an all-inclusive holiday: nearly everything you’d want is there to enjoy, no matter your interests. A patchwork of hundreds of islands awaits you, all with their own character. Trot Op! picked out four of the prettiest with Rab, Krk, Cres and Lošinj, and put together a road trip to explore them to the last hidden corner.

Road Trip in Kroatië - Rab Town

Croatia is the EU’s newest addition, and has been for ten years now – a blessing we should all be pretty happy about. Last year it joined the Schengen zone, so now you can drive in and out freely. Moreover, it combines a lot of unique assets you normally have to drive all over Europe for in an area barely twice the size of Belgium. In terms of natural beauty for example, Croatia has everything from dark forests to wide sandy beaches, and from snow-capped peaks to lakes like mirrors. Culturally Croatia is surprisingly diverse as well. Just about anyone had a stayover throughout the ages: from the Romans and the Byzantines to the Venetians and the Habsburgs – even Napoleon passed through.

“Croatia joined the Schengen zone in 2023, which means you can now drive in and out of it freely as a European. Moreover, it combines a lot of unique assets you normally have to drive all over Europe for in an area barely twice the size of Belgium.”

All these different cultures left lasting marks you can still discover today. Add some nice wines and a whole bunch of southern sun to the mix and you get an incredibly varied top destination barely an hour or two away from Brussels by plane. The most beautiful part of Croatia is perhaps its Adriatic coast, and this is exactly where I was headed a while back. In Autumn nonetheless. The high season had finished a few weeks ago and most tourists had already sodded off back home. What was left were some surprisingly peaceful islands to explore, with the sun still shining heartily. Excellent indeed.


Island hopping in Croatia: a road trip to the 9 most beautiful sights

It was almost mid-October when I drove out of Zagreb Airport in a rented Renault Clio. On quietish roads and through a wide array of tunnels, I drove through the mountains towards the Kvarner Gulf. This is a bay in the north of the country – near Rijeka and the Italian border – full of beautiful islands. One would think island hopping by car is a bit of a daft plan – cars don’t float – but it’s actually quite the breeze. Krk – pronounce “cork” like a Scotsman and then drop the o – can be entered by bridge. The other islands are reached by taking the efficient ferry service connecting all the local ports. You can buy your ticket online or (especially in the low season) directly on the spot. Just drive your car onto the boat and you’re good to go. Driving on the islands is quite pleasant this time of year. Sometimes I didn’t see any other cars for miles. Elbow out the window, Still D.R.E. blasting through the speakers and leisurely cruising towards the setting sun it would be. To these 9 fantastic hotspots for example.


1. Get a tan on the countless beaches of Rab

Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Lopar
Road Trip in Kroatië - Rab
Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Lopar

Rab is an interesting island. Its landscape is hugely diverse, with dense pine forests and beaches in the south and barren, wind-whipped cliffs in the north. Large parts of the island are protected, since they’ve been recognized as a nature reserve for years now. On the Lopar peninsula  –  close to the ferry service – there are more than twenty beaches in all shapes and sizes waiting for you. The most famous of these is the vast sandy stretch called Paradise Beach. In July everyone lies towel to towel here, like fat sardines in a barrel. When I took a walk on the same beach around noon in October though, I was literally the only person there. Want a little more privacy in the high season as well? Take a map from the local tourism office and find all sorts of hidden bays and lagoons. Some of them are nudist-only beaches. Rab was one of the first places in the Mediterranean where in some areas, you could take off your pants without impunity. This is because a hundred years ago, some visiting British Royals thought it a bit too hot and spontaneously started setting the example. I don’t see Charles and Camilla doing it any time soon (and I’m actually quite happy about that). The water by the way, stays pleasantly warm from early May to late October.


2. Rab Town: wander through centuries-old alleys

Road Trip in Kroatië - Rab Town
Road Trip in Kroatië - Rab Town
Road Trip in Kroatië - Rab Town

Rab is home to – in my opinion – the most beautiful little city on the four islands I visited. This is the historic but not very creatively named Rab Town: a perfectly restored walled medieval town overlooking the sea from towering cliffs. Four church towers rise from the narrow cobbled streets – an iconic skyline on a micro level. The sun-drenched squares around the churches in the higher parts of town grant a view of the sea and are bathed in an almost colonial Caribbean atmosphere. The lower alleys – hidden from the sun – are stuffed with nice cafes and restaurants – perfect for getting lost in for a while. Starting from the city wall or the Komrčar park, you can descend all the way to the long stony promenade next to the sea. There you’ll find Banova Villa Beach Bar: an almost tropical cocktail bar looking out over the waterside. Pleasant place to watch the sunset with a Piña Colada at your side. If I lived in the area, I’d -be there every day.


3. Discover the charm of Krk Town

Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Krk Town
Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Krk Town
Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Krk Town

Krk is not only the island with the fewest vowels on the planet, it’s also by far the most popular in the entire Kvarner Bay – mainly because you can drive directly to it by car. The capital is Krk Town, and this was about the only stop on my road trip where there were still more than a handful of other foreigners walking about in October. Krk is a quite a touristy but cozy place, with an old centre bursting with souvenir shops and restaurants. In a few hours you will have seen most of it: the beautiful little cathedral, the medieval fortress on the waterside and the monastery quarter are the main sights. This means it’s now the exact right time to visit one of the many beaches around, or to wander to the quayside and sit down with an ice cream while the locals stroll by. People spotting is a genuine hobby.


4. Visit a gorgeous cemetery in Baška

Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Krk Baska
Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Krk Baska
Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Krk Baska

There’s much more to see on Krk than its main city. Baška, for example, is a coastal town in the far south of the island where many resorts are located. When you visit the pebble beach here (again: almost deserted at the time) you’ll see the water almost completely surrounded by a chain of quite imposing mountains. It almost feels like you’re on the shore of some Alpine lake instead of the Adriatic Sea. Strange experience. The prettiest place in Baška is not in the city itself but lies high up on the ridge just outside it. Here you’ll find a walled cemetery with a tiny church overlooking the deep blue sea. Very special place. If I were to drop dead here by accident, they could have put me into the ground right then and there and I’d be at peace with it. A number of well-marked forest walks start from the cemetery gates by the way. They skirt the hills around town and offer some fabulous vantage points.


5. Wine and dine in Vinotel Gospoja

Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Vinotel Gospoja

On Krk – just like on the three other islands – a lot of tiny hamlets are lying about. Most of them are fun to explore, but just a little less handy to navigate by car at night. I was driving to Vrbnik after sunset, another place photogenically built against a sea cliff. The extremely narrow alleys made my GPS go crazy, which cost me some scratches on the side mirrors trying back out of the wrong street. Eventually I made it to my destination, which was Wine Hotel Gospoja. This is a family business with an extensive spa and a restaurant where almost everything on every plate as well as the wines that pair them, was grown on their own soil. Not the most complicated dishes, but probably the best dinner I had in Croatia.


6. Take in the dramatic views on Cres

Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Lubenice Cres
Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Cres Town
Road Trip in Kroatië - Cres Town

Cres is a wild and unspoiled island, and with 3,000 inhabitants it’s the least populated of the four I visited. The coast is a succession of jagged cliffs and the interior is densely forested in many places. Those cliffs are the main breeding ground for the largest population of griffon vultures in Croatia, and the island is one of the only places in the country where you have a realistic chance to see one fly. They have an almost ten foot wingspan by the way: no need for binoculars. Cres Town (again very inventively named) is where most people live and is a nice town full of Venetian facades around a harbour. Lubenice however, is even more photogenic. This is mainly because it’s a tiny and completely authentic medieval hamlet – resident population: four – built in dramatic fashion against a three-hundred-metre-high cliff next to the sea. The view is fantastic – the photo above was taken from the rocks next to the small car park – and even the drive there is pleasant. You climb the hills on winding little roads shaded by trees and demarcated by stones, and can immediately enjoy yourself by letting the annoying cyclists you pass eat some well-deserved dust. A nice burnout in some gravel usually gets the best reactions (I’m kidding: don’t do this please).


7. Discover the Belgian link on Lošinj

Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Veli Losinj-2
Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Losinj
Eilandhoppen in Kroatië - Losinj

If you want to drive from Cres to Lošinj,  you don’t have to take a ferry. You can simply cross a surprisingly short bridge. Lošinj is a long, narrow island that lies a little further out to sea. I stayed in a 200 room hotel, of which about 10 were still occupied in October. A week or two after my departure, the whole place would close down until spring. It was also somewhat quiet in nearby Mali Lošinj – which is draped over a few hills around yet another cute little harbour. As in the previous towns, the centre is a maze of stairs and alleys. On the waterfront is the Museum of Apoxyomenos: a modest but very interesting museum about the history of the region, with a big Greek statue of a young athlete pulled out of the water as the highlight. It was discovered by accident in the nineties at a depth of 45 metres by Belgian diver René Wouters, and later hauled out and restored. The result is a life-size and virtually intact statue from the 2nd century BC. Very unique find. They even found a two thousand year old nest of some small rodent in it during the restoration process. A few miles from Mali Lošinj lies Veli Lošinj: a similar but smaller place with the same colourful facades. There are also fewer tourists here during the high season.


8. Trek through the mountains in Northern Velebit National Park

Road Trip in Kroatië - Northern Velebit National Park
Road Trip in Kroatië - Northern Velebit National Park
Road Trip in Kroatië - Northern Velebit National Park

From the islands you can easily get back to the mainland by ferry. There’s a whole mountain range to explore behind the coastline. Part of it is the Northern Velebit National Park, and I decided to pay it a visit. Because the night before I was still outside drinking cocktails in a T-shirt, I thought this would be a breeze. After an hour of uphill driving however, I saw the first snow, which started looking thicker after every turn. Not the perfect conditions for a drive next to a ravine on summer tires. When I finally arrived in the park (enter “Zavizan Mountain Hut” in your GPS for a nice point to start hikes) the wind almost blew me off the mountain. In ten minutes time I felt frozen to the core, while at the same time I could still see the see glistening in the distance. The landscape on the other hand, was stunning: wild, snow-topped mountains as far as the eye could see. If I’d been dressed for it, I would have taken quite the walk indeed.


9. Visit the bear orphanage in Kuterevo

Road Trip in Kroatie - Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary

Later in the afternoon, when I visited the Velebit House – an interesting and interactive museum about nature in the park, I discovered there were about 200 wild bears roaming around in the place I almost froze my nuts off that morning. I was the only living soul in the area and was wearing a honey-coloured hoodie with a drawing of a bee on it (not a joke unfortunately: don’t ask). Some warning in advance would have been nice. If you want to see bears without running the risk of becoming an afternoon snack, you can visit the bear orphanage in Kuterevo a little further down the road. This is a colourful sanctuary full of hippies and international volunteers, where a few dozen rescued bears are taken care of. They enjoy their second life in separated age groups and in spacious and naturally planted accommodations. I still left that sweater in the car though.


Practical information and hotels in Croatia

With Croatia Airlines, you can fly directly from Brussels to Zagreb in about two hours.

I rented my car with Nova. They have an office in the airport. From Zagreb it is about a two and a half hour drive to Krk without traffic jams.

For more information about Croatia as a destination, visit

I stayed at the following hotels while island hopping

Hotel Bellevue, Mali Losinj:

Vinotel Gospoja, Krk:

Hotel Maritim, Krl:

Valamar Hotel Padova, Rab:


For more European adventures, read my articles on Vilnius, Riga, Porto, Warsaw, Malta, Crete and the Black Forest.

This trip was first made into a report in VAB Magazine.


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