The westernmost of the Kvarner islands, CRES and LOŠINJ (really a single island divided by an artificial channel), together make up a narrow sliver of land which begins just south of the Istrian coast and extends most of the way across the Kvarner Gulf. Allegedly the place where Jason and the Argonauts fled with the Golden Fleece, the islands were originally known as the Absyrtides; according to legend, Medea killed her brother Absyrtus here and threw his remains into the sea, where two of his limbs became Cres and Lošinj.
Despite its proximity to the mainland, Cres (pronounced “tsress”) is by far the wilder and more unspoiled of the two islands, boasting a couple of attractively weatherbeaten old settlements in Osor and Cres Town, as well as numerous villages and coves in which modern-day mass tourism has yet to make an impact. The island marks the transition between the lush green vegetation of northern Croatia and the bare karst of the Adriatic, with the deciduous forest and overgrown hedgerows of northern Cres – the so-called Tramuntana – giving way to the increasingly barren sheep-pastures of the south.
Lošinj (pronounced “losheen”) is smaller and more touristed than Cres, with a thick, woolly tree cover that comes as a relief after the obdurate grey-greenness of southern Cres. The island’s main town, Mali Lošinj, is a magnet for holiday-makers from Central Europe, though even here you’ll find a charming old town and port relatively unsullied by concrete mega-developments. Its near-neighbour Veli Lošinj, which lies within walking distance, is smaller and offers more in terms of fishing-village charm – although it too can get crowded in August.