Most visitors that vacation in Croatia think the country starts and ends with Dalmatia. But travel to the Croatia’s Kvarner region and you’ll be mesmerized by how glorious it is.
Kvarner draws in the tourist numbers with its proximity to Zagreb and bustling ferry and catamaran services out of Rijeka linking the islands. That said, you can sometimes find yourself on a secluded beach cove or medieval village and feel like you have the place all to yourself.
Home to the most unspoiled, lushest and greenest islands in the Bay of Kvarner, this region offers nature lovers a treat. Sea lovers will find rich diving locations where you might come face to face with a dolphin or sea turtle. Land lovers will find joy in the hiking and cycling trails that meander for hundreds of kilometers. Lovers of architecture won’t be disappointed with Venetian and medieval stone villages complete with ancient palaces, fortresses and bell towers.
For those who want to party it seems that every month offers some sort of carnival, concert evening, festival or celebration where festivities are kicked off with an aperitif and good food is washed down with even better wine.
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We start in the capital of Kvarner, the port city of Rijeka. Gritty, ship-building Rijeka (river in Croatian) usually gets a bad wrap, but don’t be fooled. The city offers monuments and museums housed in former Austro-Hungarian palaces. Moreover it boasts some of the best, eclectic nightlife and festivals in the country.
From Rijeka we have a couple of mainland stops before we start island hopping.
Now it’s southwest from Rijeka to that ‘Queen of the Adriatic’ – Opatija. The Opatija Lungomare, a waterfront promenade that meanders for 12 kilometres from one seaside hamlet to the next is a 5-star experience. I urge you to walk this promenade before leaving for the islands.
Not that the islands you’re about to take off for aren’t spectacular, quite the contrary. Dalmatians will be up in arms but I strongly believe that the islands of Kvarner are some of the best, if not the best, on the Adriatic.
We start by driving from Rijeka to Krk Island, using the toll bridge and then onto Krk Town. You can easily spend a couple of days or longer on Krk island using Krk Town as a base for exploring.
From Krk Town it’s a ferry or catamaran trip to the island of Rab, known as the ‘happy island’. The ferry will probably stop at Lopar on the Lopar Peninsula and from here there’s a bus transfer service that will take you to Rab Town.
From Rab Town, the easiest way to get to Cres Island is to take a ferry or catamaran service back to Krk Island to the port of Valbiska and from there another service to Merag on Cres. From here it’s an easy bus transfer service to Cres Town.
Nature lovers will be in awe of this wild, green island with hundreds of kilometers of hiking and bike tracks ready to explore and pristine beaches and coves perfect for a dip. Spend a day or two exploring the labyrinth of Venetian stone streets in town and then it’s a day trip to Valun and Lubenice. Because these two are so close to Cres Town use the town as a base to explore these neighboring villages.
Or pack your bags and use them a stops on the way to Losinj Island.
On the way to Valun and Lubenice stop at the village of Loznati, near Cres, and the tavern Bukaleta. Lovers of lamb will be in heaven because there’s no better lamb than young Cres lamb. You can try the melt-in-your-mouth meat roasted, grilled or fried. If you’re not a fan, Bukaleta offers pastas/pizzas and many other hearty dishes.
From Lubenice, keep heading south following the signs to Losinj and stop in at Osor. Spend a couple of hours exploring this town, where the islands of Cres and Losinj meet. There’s a draw bridge joining the two, so it’s over the bridge and onto Mali Losinj.
At picturesque Veli Losinj filled with brightly coloured villas stop in at the Blue World Institute. The research and information centre helps protect and study the dolphins and sea turtles that live in the bay.
From Losinj you can take a ferry or catamaran service back to Rijeka, or continue south to Zadar or Split.