DALMATIAN ISLANDS

THE CROWN OF DALMATIA
Distance view over dalmatian islands and Adriatic sea

Dalmatia has around 940 islands, among these are 79 bigger islands with each having a story that unfolds from its rocky karst peaks covered by green pastures and ever-green trees towering over singularly stunning beaches.

Coves and bays conceal an immaculate refuge, a heaven of tranquility where one can truly rest his body and soul immersed in a marvelous variety of flora and fauna coupled with a sea of an unforgettable turquoise color where the sun ricochets playfully.

Apart from the natural wonders of this area, there is a myriad of towns bursting with historical significance having an irresistible charm that draws you in and captivates you instantly. 

DEFINITION & LOCATION

Dalmatian islands form an essential part of Dalmatia and can be seen through the lens of their sheer beauty and variety.

The majority of all the Croatian islands are located within the four major counties that make up the region of Dalmatia from the north with islands of the Zadar County, then through middle Dalmatia with islands falling under the Split-Dalmatia County and ultimately down south towards Dubrovnik and its belonging islands.

These are called Dalmatian islands.

GEOGRAPHY

The islands essentially follow the coastline in a length of about 400 kilometers.

This so-called Dalmatian type of coast is very specific because of its coastal indentation with islands being parallel to the coast.

This term entered the world scientific terminology and is characterized by the singular structure and relief of the coast and the islands whereby the islands were created by the submergence of parts of the land due to the rise of the sea level. There are canals between the island chains and between the coast and the islands.

NORTHERN DALMATIAN ISLANDS

Northern Dalmatian islands are considered those around the regional center of this part of Dalmatia the city of Zadar.

This region boasts some amazing islands that are worth visiting like the 7th largest island in northern Dalmatia Dugi Otok (translated into English as Long Island) with a length of about 45 kilometers and a width between a mere 1 and 4 kilometers, be sure to check out the Nature Park of Telašćica and a stunning sandy beach Sakarun if you ever find yourself on this beautiful island.

 Sailing around we get to the island of Silba, known as the island of love where cars are forbidden considered one of the greenest islands in Croatia and known for its swimming marathon the Toreta Open Water.

The island of Ugljan is next on our list, known as the island of hidden treasures with monuments dating back to ancient times coupled with breathtaking coves and a rich culinary tradition.

Last but not least the island of Pašman is famous for its flora and fauna, its numerous caves, and its Robinson type houses immersed in nature far from the hustle and bustle of modern living.

Driving further south we come to the town of Šibenik which also boasts several islands in its vicinity with each exuding a special kind of charm that needs to be uncovered.

The island of Vir was the home of the Illryric tribe Liburni considered the most skilled tribe in terms of maritime warfare as they dominated much of northern Dalmatia.

In the vicinity of Vir, we arrive at the island of Murter or „Villa Magna“ as it was called in Roman times which can be translated as the great village. It used to be an agricultural and fisherman's village that now strongly invests in tourism and lives off its natural beauty.

The last island of the Šibenik archipelago that we wish to touch on briefly is Zlarin known for its beaches and its incredible coral structures boasting more than 2700 hours of sun yearly.

CENTRAL DALMATIAN ISLANDS

Central Dalmatian islands or the archipelago closest to the largest city in the whole of Dalmatia, the city of Split, is certainly the focal point and the highlight of the trip for many tourists that visit Croatia. These islands are some of the biggest ones in the Adriatic with each overflowing with historical significance and natural beauty.

ŠOLTA

We will start with the island of Šolta located at a distance of a mere 9 nautical miles from Split so it can practically be considered a suburb of Split with numerous ferry lines sailing towards it daily.

Šolta is known for its tranquility and it is a truly perfect location to wind down and visit any of the famous local farms to learn how to make olive oil, wine, or honey.

The oldest and the biggest village in Šolta is called Grohote located in the inland part of the island. Other notable locations on the island are Stomorska, Nečujam, Rogač, and Maslinica.

BRAČ

 The island of Brač is the biggest in central Dalmatia with a total square area of around 395 square kilometers, separated from Šolta by way of the „Gate of Split“.

The island has the highest peak of all Dalmatian islands called Vidova Gora perched at an altitude of 778 meters above sea level. Brač has numerous towns and villages famous for a variety of elements.

The village of Pučišća on the northern side of the island is famous for its querries with limestone used to build the famous Diocletian Palace and the White House in Washington.

The old administrative center Nerežišće was replaced with Supetar as the main town on the island with numerous ferry lines connecting it directly to Split.

The town of Bol is known for its incredible beach Golden Horn, a sandy beach that changes shape following the blowing of the wind.

The Dragon's Cave in Murvica is also worth seeing as well as the Pustinja Blaca but more will be said about that in subsequent chapters.

HVAR

The island of Hvar is located between the islands of Brač , Vis and Korčula and is around 68 kilometers long. Hvar is known for having a large fertile coastal plain with freshwater springs. Its hillsides are covered in pine forests, with vineyards, olive groves, fruit orchards, and lavender fields in the agricultural areas.

View over Hvar town bay and Pakleni islands from Fortica fortress at the top of town.

The island was inhabited in prehistoric times and the ancient Greeks from the town of Syrakuza in Siciliy founded a settlement called Pharos here in the 4th century BC.

 Among the most notable locations in the city is certainly the town of Hvar famous for the oldest theater in Europe founded in 1612 and the famous Fortica fortress. It is a popular jet set destination as well. Stari Grad is the home of the first permanent settlement on the Adriatic islands.

Other notable towns are Jelsa, Sućuraj, and the „little Venice“ or Vrboska. Some spectacular beaches can be found in Zavala.

VIS

The island of Vis is the farthest inhabited island of the Croatian mainland.

 The island where cricket was invented with a history that dates back to ancient Greek times with a Greek colony Issa being founded here in the 4th century BC.

 The main locations on the island are the towns of Vis and Komiža.

The island used to primarily focus on fishing and agriculture, mainly on the production of wine while today it relies heavily on tourism with a massive increase of available accommodation units that can accommodate the ever-increasing number of visitors.

SOUTHERN DALMATIAN ISLANDS

Further south towards Dubrovnik we will put an emphasis on three more islands.

KORČULA

The island of Korčula is the sixth biggest island in the Adriatic with a square area of around 279 square kilometers.

The island was inhabited in prehistoric times supported by discoveries of caves like the Vela Špilja. An old Greek colony of Korkyra Melanie was located on the island as well.

 The absolute highlight of the island is the biggest town bearing the same name as the island. The birthplace of Marco Polo the town of Korčula is truly a sight to behold. The famous Moreška and the Korčula Baroque festival are two events worth mentioning.

Other notable locations on the island are Blato, Vela Luka the birthplace of one of the most famous Croatian singers of all times Oliver Dragojević, and the Dominće port.

MLJET

The island of Mljet is known as the green island, secluded and untouched, the island of mysticism, olive trees, vines, and rich forests represents an ideal location for exploring the rich flora and fauna amidst immaculate nature.

It is mentioned as far back as the fourth century BC in Greek writings, and numerous findings of Greek amphorae and sunken ships along the shores of Mljet testify that Greek sailors stayed on the shores of Mljet during the journey. The mystical Odyssey's cave is located on the island as well along with two impressive salt lakes.

LASTOVO

The island of Lastovo is located in the heart of the homonymous archipelago in the very midst of the Adriatic Sea.

The island of Lastovo is known for its carnival with a tradition that is over 500 years long. As with many of the islands in the whole of Dalmatia, it was inhabited by the Greeks and by the Romans in the course of history.

View over a small island village on the island of Lastovo.

The island produces high-quality wines and olive oils and is unique in the fact that it did not fall victim to the massive construction projects which in turn kept the nature in its preserved and intact form with a stunning richness of flora and fauna on full display on the island.

Apart from the town of Lastovo other notable villages are Zaklopatica and Ubli.

 CULTURAL HERITAGE

Dalmatian islands have a rich cultural and historical heritage with fascinating traditions cherished through centuries coupled with historical edifices built for different purposes on many of the major islands.

The town of Korčula follows a unique herringbone pattern that allows a free circulation of air but protects against strong winds. Apart from the fascinating layout the town is known for its spectacular walls and towers amid which the church of Saint Mark can be visited. Korčula is also famous for Moreška which is essentially a battle dance with swords.

Historical town of Korcula with houses, church and towers made of stone.

Today the Moreška represents a typical fight for a girl through the clash of two armies. Moreška was once performed all over the Mediterranean, but today it has been preserved only in the town of Korčula, where it has been passed down from generation to generation for more than 400 years.

Pustinja Blaca (Blaca Desert) is a location on the island of Brač located between the towns of Bol and Milna. The name may derive from the word „blato“ or mud which would accumulate in great quantities after heavy rainfalls. It is famous for being a location that the Glagolitic hermit monks used as they escaped from the Ottomans in the 16th century from what was known as the Poljicka Republic. The same monks built a monastery and a church in the same century thus building this fascinating complex.

Another fascinating part of the cultural heritage is the famous Tvrdalj in Stari Grad on the island of Hvar which is a castle that belonged to the famous poet Petar Hektorović. The house was built in Renaissance style with fortifications carried out to prevent a possible Ottoman invasion.

On the same island in the town of Hvar, an impressive Fortica fortress completed in the 16th century looms above the city located on the site of an ancient Illyric settlement. Apart from the fortress Hvar is proud to have within its town confines the oldest theater in Europe the popular Arsenal built in 1612.

On the island of Vis, the archeological site Issa is truly remarkable built by the Greeks that came here led by Dionisysus from Syrakuza. Apart from this the island of Vis was also the central headquarters of the Partisan movement in the second world war and is famous for multiple naval battles that took place around it in the 19th century.

The cultural and historical heritage is not the only thing worth emphasizing, apart from the breathtaking beauty of each island there is a long tradition connected to the production of different foods among which we wish to point out the famous „paški sir“ the delicious cheese produced on the island of Pag.

Many islands cherish long traditions in fishing, viticulture and olive growing with numerous Dalmatian wines and olive oil brands of the highest quality possible.

UNESCO HERITAGE

n this short chapter, we will mention two elements that fall under the protection of UNESCO.

The first ist Stari Grad Plain or the famous „Starigradsko polje“referring to an agricultural plain organized by the ancient Greek colonists in the 4th century BC. It is considered the largest agricultural area on any Adriatic island. The site is a part of UNESCO since 2008.

The second tradition deserving of introduction within UNESCO is the procession „Za Križem „ or Following the Cross“. The procession takes place on Maundy Thursday starting at 22:00 hours. The procession passes through numerous towns and villages and it lasts 8 hours whereby everyone walks about 25 kilometers. This is a centuries-long tradition classified as an intangible cultural heritage.

NATURAL HERITAGE

NATIONAL PARKS

The National Park Kornati is a true stone labyrinth composed of eighty-nine islands, islets, and rocks in the sea. There is no better way to describe Kornati than to use a quote from the famous George Bernard Shaw who wrote: “On the last day of Creation God desired to crown His work, and thus created the Kornati islands out of tears, stars, and breath.”

The islands are especially impressive when observed from a certain altitude. There are around 300 houses in total on the islands and the population is engaged in sheep farming with sheep still present on the islands.

The Mljet National Park is the oldest marine protected area in the Mediterranean and it has astounded many of its visitors with vibrant colors and the smell of untouched natural beauty brooding with flora and fauna.

View over Mljet island and the bay at the time of sunset.

The Park was founded on 11 November 1960 and it stretches over almost 5300 hectares, including a marine area of 500 meters. Two deep bays filled with seawater, known as Malo Jezero and Veliko Jezero (Small Lake and Great Lake) are the most famous locations of this area and an important geological and oceanographical phenomenon. The park is truly unique with unforgettable natural beauty and certainly deserves a visit.

NATURE PARKS

The nature park Lastovo Archipelago (Lastovsko otočje) is the second youngest nature park in Croatia composed of 46 islands covering around 53 kilometers of land surface and around 143 square meters of the surface of the sea and is one of the richest and most preserved treasures of biodiversity in the Mediterranean with more than 800 plant species and 330 marine invertebrates species being recorded on the island of Lastovo alone, and most of them are protected.

The nature park Telašćica is located in the southeastern part of the island of Dugi Otok. The cliffs of Dugi Otok rise to 161 m above sea level and drop down to a depth of 90 m and paint an unforgettably picturesque image encircling the bay of Telašćica composed of three smaller bays with the stunning lake Mir as the sort of crown of this amazing nature park. The park itself offers impressive biodiversity. The area of Telašćica was inhabited from the earliest of times with the Grapšćak fortress serving as a testament to it.

CONCLUSION

Dalmatian islands are a true marvel of nature

Each island is special in its own right and exploring them is the only way to truly get to know a region that represents the nucleus of the Dalmatian culture and is intrinsically connected to the inception of our identity and mentality. Even though nature itself is a wonder to behold it comes second to the way of life and the cordiality of the people inhabiting many of the islands mentioned in the text. 

Born and raised surrounded by the crystal clear sea amidst a rugged terrain the inhabitants of Dalmatian lived off the land and the sea. This was their way of life until recently when the advent of tourism opened the door of many of the Croatian islands to visitors from all around the world. The traditions of the people incorporated themselves magnificently into the new and emerging sector creating a unique combination of tradition, cultural heritage, and natural beauty representing the proverbial icing on the cake of this fabulous region.