Exploring the Dalmatian Islands.
It must've been about 2012 when I was sitting at the tearoom at work, when I spied a cover of a travel magazine with the caption, 'Cycling the Dalmatian Islands'. I opened the magazine and the most amazing colours popped out of the pages, grey rocky outcrops, turquoise blue water, white pebble beaches, terracotta rooftops, lavender fields, and ancient walled towns. This looked stunning and incredibly inviting.
With those visions in my mind I was determined to get over there and explore these beautiful islands. It took me five years to get there...but the wait was well worth it.
Getting around the Dalmatian Islands was easy.
I was in Croatia in May, when the ferries had just started again after winter. There were plenty of people on the boats but they weren't crowded.
Booking my Krilo ferries was done before I left New Zealand, and was a super easy process. These modern, fast ferries covered a well-worn path from Dubrovnik - Mljet - Korcula - Hvar - Brac - Split in the afternoon and the return trip in the mornings.
So I left from Dubrovnik in the afternoon and went to the furthest point I wanted to get to, which was Hvar. I spent three nights on Hvar and then caught a morning ferry to Korcula. I had three nights in Korcula, which included a daytrip to Mljet (going there on the morning ferry and catching the afternoon ferry back to Korcula later that afternoon.) And I caught my last ferry from Korcula to Dubrovnik on the morning ferry.
The excitement of nearly reaching the Dalmatian Islands was palpable!
I arrived in Hvar just as it was getting dark. The town was very deserted and I was met off the ferry by my Airbnb host. His English was limited but in the short walk from the port to my accommodation he managed to orientate me to the town. Although he was abit perplexed about my lack of luggage, "Katarina, where are your bags?"
So, remembering that I was there in May, this is Hvar at it's quietest! Known as the party island, this quietness would suit me fine!
Everyone says how pretty Hvar is, and it's so true. Cream coloured stone houses, cobblestone streets, lovely gardens, stunning turquoise water and white stone beaches. The spring flowers were on full display and were stunning.
Exploring Hvar on an e-bike.
The best way for me to get around was an e-bike. Car hire was possible, as was a normal bike or motorbike/scooter. I'm pleased I chose the e-bike option. I covered a lot of ground and with some very steep hills I was grateful for the extra boost the bike provided.
I explored beach after beach after beach! All as rugged and pretty as each other. How was I ever to choose the best!!
I did make one mistake where I took the bike down a stony path to a beautiful remote beach cove. One must always remember 'what goes down also goes up!' The push back up was tortuous. Stones and rocks I never recalled on the way down now seemed mammoth in size. After about 15 minutes I was exhausted and near tears.
Despite seeing no one else at this beach, striding up from behind me were two German travellers. Their offer to help was quickly taken up, and between them they lifted the bike up the track with me running behind to keep up. I don't think I've been that thankful for help for a long time.
Still smiling after cycling 40km on my e-bike in Hvar.
Daytrips from Hvar.
There are a lot of options for daytrips from Hvar, with the Pakleni Islands, Brac and Vis all good boat rides away.
I really wanted to see the Blue Cave on the island of Bisevo, so chose a boat trip that took in that. The trip also went to the smaller Emerald Cave and to Stiniva Cove - a circular bay with a narrow opening for boats. Dino from HvarCruise was a brilliant guide - full of local information. Being May it was pretty chilly on the water, so take warm gear.
On this particular day the sun was reluctant to shine all day, and poor Dino would exclaim that the cave, the cove, the scenery was all "more better with sun." Still for our group it was all pretty spectacular and the colours of the caves were sensational.
It was a spectacular day out!
Exploring Hvar by foot.
Hvar town and it's surrounding areas are perfect for walking. The Hvar fortress on the hill high above town is a photography hotspot at sunset, capturing beautiful sunset views over the town and the Pakleni Islands. At night the fortress is up-lit and glows above the town.
The town itself is made for wandering and getting lost amongst the maze of narrow streets with local shops, markets, cafes and restaurants - although many were still not open in early May. And for this reason, the town was full of locals catching up, sitting in cafes, and preparing for the arrival of the tourist season.
One of my best finds was walking along the coast - just 30 minutes walk from the town - was the most idyllic beach. There were three of us on the beach!
Streets of Hvar.
A 30 min walk from Hvar...
Hvar Fortress at night.
Next ferry stop: Korcula.
Korcula is marketed as a quieter island than Hvar. Personally I thought they were both pretty quiet, but I thought the old town of Korcula certainly had more tourists at night, and of course the cruise ships during the day, transformed Korcula from a quiet, relaxing place to an overrun tourist mecca.
The city itself is stunning with the walls that encircle it. It takes 15 slow walking minutes to walk around the town and it's walls - I know because I was having a video call with my mother and sister in NZ while walking it. They were enthralled with the scenery, which was pretty stunning.
Exploring Korcula on an e-bike.
I would never have seen the interior and remote coastal beaches had it not been for my e-bike. The hills from the coast up to the top of the island are steep and long - I never would have done it on a road bike. And there were moments that I had to put in quite a bit of effort to get to the top!
I cycled past local villages, gardens, crops, orchards, vineyards, and then down to beaches where I was totally alone. A 50km ride that was exhilarating and breathe-taking. I came back totally fired-up and ready to do it all again (my bottom may not have agreed at this point!!).
And just in case you thought I travelled with a Hi-Viz jacket...this is actually my puffer jacket inside out! Warm and visible! And the lack of bike pants didn't stop me either - stuffing my merino sweater down my shorts padded me out nicely! (Oops, is that too much information!!!)
You can't miss me in my Hi-Viz!!
Remote Korcula beaches.
A daytrip to Mljet National Park.
Mljet National Park is on an island close to Korcula. I had planned on getting a sailing boat there, but it was too windy, so I opted for the ferry instead.
The ferry is the same one going from Dubrovnik to Split daily (Split-Brat-Hvar-Korcula-Mljet-Dubrovnik). So I caught the boat heading from Korcula to Mljet in the morning - spent the day on Mljet and then caught the Dubrovnik-Split ferry back to Korcula. Honestly this was seriously easy and cheap!
Just as easy, would be to spend a night on Mljet and then catch the ferry onwards the next morning to Dubrovnik. Such a great system.
On the island, in the lake, on an island, in the sea.
Mljet is easy to explore. I was quite content to stay on the flat and bike around the lake and get a boat across to the monastery on the island. With the sun out, the water was the most beautiful colours and the island was so quiet and peaceful.
Then someone said I had to climb to the top for the best view. They negated to say, it was quite a tough, steep, and hot hike in the sun, but my determination got me there, and the views were spectacular, looking out over the ocean and surrounding islands.
Taking shelter from the sun in the viewing platform was the perfect place for lunch and rehydrating.
The lake on the island of Mljet.
Stunning view from the top of Mljet.
Mljet is definately worth the trip.
I'm so pleased I made the effort to visit Mljet. It was absolutely stunning and quite different to the surrounding islands, being covered with much more forest.
Daytrips are on offer from Dubrovnik and are well worth it with lunch and a guide included. Mine was the DIY tour - relying on lunch bought the day before and Google!
Travelling solo on the Dalmatian Islands.
Catching the ferry back to Korcula, I had one last meal on the prominade of the old town, and walk around the town exterior after dinner one last time.
As a solo traveller, the Dalmatian Islands were perfect. Easy to get around and safe at all hours of the day and night. Visiting in May is the low and quiet season, but it was well-worth it. With the cooler spring weather, it wasn't a great swimming time of the year but that didn't bother me. With incredibly friendly locals, and a good handful of tourists to also talk to, there was always someone for a chat if you are after some company!