Adventure

You’ve Been Doing Croatian Beaches Wrong. Here’s How To Fix That

The Croatian coast is among the best in the world. And the secret’s out — statistics show that half your friends are there right now, and they’re not showing restraint with the holiday snaps.

As an Australian-Croatian who has been going to the country’s famous Adriatic Coast since I was small enough to need floaties for survival not just #flamingoparty selfies, I’m thrilled. But I’m also a little bit surprised. Not because the place isn’t worth the admiration, but because you all love it so much when you’re missing the greatest bits.

Here’s how to unlock the magic of Croatian beaches and have a holiday that’s a cut above.

Ignore best beaches lists

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Any beach that’s big enough to make it onto a list of best Croatian beaches is, by definition, too big. Croatia hogs something like six countries’ worth of coastline. It has 1,800 kilometres of shoreline — 4,000 kilometres if you count the contribution of 1000+ islands. It’s the most indented coastline in the Mediterranean.

What all this means is that — even now the country attracts staggering tourist numbers — it’s still possible to find a scrap of seaside that’s almost entirely, blissfully yours. Name-checked beaches like Zlatni Rat (above) and Stiniva are beautiful, sure, but how much do you think you’ll appreciate their charm when you’re five rows of sunburnt Brits back from the sea? 

It’s not hard to find something a little less populous. Have you come to a main beach and see a coastal track winding into the distance? Go for a walk or cycle until you find a secluded spot where the sea beckons you and only you with a shade of turquoise you have to touch before you’ll believe. Alternatively, ask your Airbnb host or other locals you meet where they themselves swim — odds are, it’s somewhere different to where they usually direct tourists.

Another day, charter a boat or join a tour and ask the skipper to stop at his favourite undiscovered swimming spots. Some of the most stunning beaches are inaccessible in any other way.

Skip the sand

Croatia has few sand beaches, and the ones it has are forgettable. But travellers expect sand beaches, so tourism operators recommend sand beaches, so travellers go to sand beaches, so tourism oper— it’s a vicious cycle. In reality, pebble beaches are the most common in this part of the world, and they’re not only fine, they’re BETTER. Sand just clouds what should be crystal-clear water. Rocks keep themselves to themselves.

The official order of desired surfaces on Croatian beaches should be:

  1. Smooth pebbles. Heavenly. Like a massage for your feet. Like walking on a giant Maseur sandal the earth has lovingly polished for you over thousands of years.
  2. Combination rock and concrete platforms. Sounds heinous, I know. But they’re everywhere, favoured by locals and just like a giant swimming pool — complete with ladders to make exiting the water easy. Bring a mat if you want something cushioned to lie on.
  3. Any old rock you can jump off.
  4. Small jagged rocks. Cruel but rare.

As a general rule of thumb, you’ll find the clearest seas around central and south Dalmatia, particularly at islets and beaches facing away from the mainland.

Crash a hotel

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Most visitors don’t realise it, but there’s no such thing as a private beach in Croatia. There are plenty of homes, hotels and bars near the water’s edge, but the strip where you actually get into the sea — that’s public property. Put it down to the country’s 47 years of socialism.

With that in mind, don’t hesitate to charge through a hotel lobby and plonk yourself down on its patch of seemingly proprietary pebbles. In a place like Dubrovnik — where the city beach is crowded with garbage, people and garbage people — heading somewhere like the Hotel Bellevue is a solid move. Similarly, if you go to a beach with a bar on it, don’t feel obliged to buy a drink or hire a sunlounger. Just spread your towel down and enjoy what’s rightfully yours.

Having said all that, this summer, for the first time, I noticed a few sections of beach that were closed to the public or had an entry fee. Under the law, operators CAN levy fees where access to the beach requires using infrastructure that they themselves have built. Hopefully the practice doesn’t take off.

Be safe

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Remember, the more remote your chosen swim spot, the less it will have been tamed by others. Keep your wits about you. It might not seem like much to a people raised on sharks and bluebottles, but your major threats here are sea urchins and sharp rocks. To protect yourself from both, wear aquashoes – basically, wetsuit booties with rubber soles. If that’s unbearable, opt for goggles so you can properly scope out your path in and out of the water.

(Lead image: Britta van Elk / Pixabay)