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Car-free islands in Croatia

Isabel Putinja

Contributor

A car-free island is the ultimate getaway for city folk looking for a breath of fresh sea air away from the urban bustle. Croatia has over 1200 islands and islets scattered in the Adriatic Sea with only 48 that are inhabited – and a few of these happen to be car-free. If you want to get far away from the city frenzy, here are five Croatian islands to escape to:

Silba: Sandy beaches and secluded coves

The only motorised vehicle you'll see on Silba is the motorcycle used by the island's postman. You won't even see a bicycle during the summer months as these are banned during the tourist season when the island's population of 292 increases exponentially. This small island of only 15 square km is a popular summer getaway thanks to its sandy beaches and secluded coves. Silba is also the name of the only settlement here, where you can shop for essentials, sample Dalmatian delicacies at one of the few restaurants, or soak in the relaxed Mediterranean vibe at a café. It's only a ten-minute walk from town to the beautiful sandy beach at Sotorišće and its see-straight-to-the-bottom clear waters.

How to get there: Silba is part of the archipelago of islands just off the coastal city of Zadar from where there are regular ferry services. There are ferries from Zadar and Pula on the mainland, or the islands of Lošinj, Ist, Olib, Premuda, Unije, Susak and Ilovik. Yachts can moor in the ports of Mul or Žalić.

Zlarin: For a low carbon holiday

Since March 2019, the island of Zlarin is not only traffic-free but also plastic-free thanks to a ban on single-use plastics. Cyclists and hikers will be happy to note that there are plenty of marked trails criss-crossing this island with an area of only eight square km and 19 km of coastline. Kayaking is a popular way to explore the island's quiet coves and the best way to discover its wild beaches. At 169 metres, Klepac is the island's highest peak, from where there are panoramic views of nearby islands and the Velebit mountain chain on the mainland. Visit the coral museum to learn about the red coral the island is known for and used to adorn traditional jewellery. While there's only one hotel on the island, there are plenty of private villas available for a laid-back seaside holiday.

How to get there: Take the ferry from Šibenik on the mainland.

Susak: Vineyards and bamboo groves

It's hard to imagine that 70 years ago, the population of this tiny island of only 3.8 square km was 1600 while today there are only 151 people who make the island their home. Residents speak their own unique dialect and Susak's natural hilly landscape is also out of the ordinary: instead of tree cover you'll find swaying bamboo groves and long shoots of reeds growing here. Wine is produced here, so you'll also see neat rows of vineyards separated by dry stone walls. Popular with families, Spiaza beach is a wide sandy beach with shallow waters in lower Susak – the island's only town with the same name, while the island's original houses and buildings encircle the church perched further up the hill. There's another beach of fine sand at Bok beach that also attracts sun worshippers.

How to get there: Passenger ferries make the trip to and from the port cities of Pula, Rijeka and Zadar on the mainland via the islands of Unije, Cres, Ilovik, Vele Srakane and Lošinj.

Unije: Olive groves and pebble beaches

For an island with an area of only 17 square km, Unije's topography is incredibly diverse. Its eastern edge is covered with gentle rocky slopes, while the 'great cliffs' (Vele Stijene) rise on the western coast. The interior landscape is one of lush valleys, olive groves, and shrubland of Mediterranean macchia trees, while the coastline is lined with pebble beaches. There are only about 85 permanent islanders making their home here but numbers rise to several hundred during the tourist season. Visitors come to explore the meandering hiking paths crossing the island, or to dive and snorkel in the turquoise depths of the Adriatic. Though 'Piesak Plaža' means 'sandy beach', this popular swimming spot is covered in pebbles – but wade into the waters and you'll discover that the sea floor is covered in fine sand.

How to get there: Ferry services connect Unije to the mainland cities of Rijeka, Pula and Zadar via the islands of Cres, Vele Srakane, Ist, Olib, Premuda, Susak and Ilovik. The island also has its own airport with private and commercial flights operating to nearby Lošinj island.

Brijuni: Roman ruins and lush parkland

This archipelago of 14 islands just off the south-western coast of Istria was inaccessible during the times of former Yugoslav President Tito when the largest island, Veliki Brijun, served as his summer residence. But today this is one of Croatia's eight national parks and is completely car-free. With 33.9 square km of lush parkland, there is quite a bit of ground to cover here, but visitors can zip around on bicycles or golf carts, both of which are available for rent, or via the tourist train that makes regular rounds.

The wild beaches, Roman ruins, ancient trees and exotic plants draw many day trippers, while children love the safari park of zebras, sheep, llamas, and ostriches, and looking out for the dinosaur footprints visible on four rocky beaches. The island also attracts a fair share of overnight visitors who can choose from two on-site hotels and three seaside villas. The entrance ticket clearly states that swimming is not allowed, but this rule does not seem to be enforced and many visitors can't resist the temptation of having a beach to themselves.

How to get there: There's a regular ferry service to Veliki Brijun from Fažana. The park entry ticket doubles as a ferry ticket and can be bought at the park's office next to the pier.

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