When it comes to beaches in Croatia, the best advice is to head south: it’s on the Dalmatian coast where the most seductive sandy shores, pebbly coves and sun-fried rocks are to be found. Indeed all of the beaches that made our list are in Dalmatia, except for one (the bewitchingly sandy island of Susak in the Kvarner Gulf). A sizeable collection of swoon-inducing destinations has been left off this list, largely for simple reasons of accessibility: islands like Korčula, Vis and Šolta boast any number of heavenly bays accessed by goat tracks or private boat – gems like these should be left to individual discovery.
Desert island getaways don’t come much better than on Susak, the tiny island composed almost entirely of sand. It’s a ferry ride away from Mali Lošinj, which is itself quite some distance from the mainland – the time it takes to get here only adds to Susak’s connoisseur appeal. The island’s main beach, Spiaza, is a majestic moon-grey crescent stretching out from Susak village. The bay is very shallow – you need to wade for almost half a kilometre to find sea deep enough to swim in. Similarly sandy is Bok bay, further east; it’s significantly less crowded because you have to walk round a rocky headland to get there.
If your idea of a beach is a long strip of sand that stretches away towards the horizon, then you really need to make tracks for Nin. Located 15km from Zadar, Nin’s long, luxuriant Kraljičina plaža (Queen’s Beach) contains a brace of beach bars and very little else, save for mesmerising views of the haughty Velebit mountains across the water. Don’t be alarmed at the sight of fellow bathers smearing themselves in sludge: the reedy area behind Kraljičina plaža is rich in peloid mud, an effective natural treatment for sore joints and muscles.
For many of its inhabitants Split is not so much a city as a religion, centred around a collection of semi-mystic locations. Among the holiest of holies is undoubtedly Bačvice beach, a shallow bay of sand and shingle that has played an important role in the early childhood and teenage years of virtually anyone who has ever called the city home. Immensely popular as a family beach, it’s also a buzzing social hub, with a café-packed pleasure pavilion rising immediately to the east. Bačvice is also famous for being the spiritual home of picigin, a uniquely Dalmatian sport that involves a lot of acrobatic leaping around as players try to prevent a small ball from hitting the water.
LOVREČINA BAY, BRAČ ISLAND
Four kilometres east of Postira on Brač, Lovrečina Bay is one of several beaches on the island that genuinely deliver what you read about in the brochures, with a sandy shore bordering translucent waters, and a ruined medieval church among olive groves just behind the strand. The fact that there is limited parking and no clear bus stop nearby helps to the beach from becoming overrun. Apropos rent out apartments in Postira, while Villa Adriatica up the coast in Supetar is one of the island’s cosier hotels.
UVALA DUBOVICA, HVAR ISLAND
The Renaissance port of Hvar enjoys a worldwide reputation when it comes to chic bars and racy nightlife. If a good beach is what you’re after, however, it’s best to get out of town. There are several good choices in the coves and bays to the east, of which the most attractive is Uvala Dubovica, a broad pebbly affair beside a historic manor house. The bay’s shallow nature makes it good family paddling territory, although it gets popular with yachts and motorboats in season. Otherwise, difficulty of access tends to filter out the guests – the parking strip on the main road above the bay is only big enough to accommodate about fifty vehicles. Rent a bike or scooter from Luka Rent in Hvar and beach-hop your way along the coast.
GREBIŠĆE, HVAR ISLAND
While many of Hvar’s beaches involve perching on a rock before stepping gingerly out onto a stony seabed, the silkily sandy Grebišće is absolutely perfect for smooth paddling around. Located 4km east of Jelsa just off the Sućuraj road, the beach is reached by walking through the Grebišće campsite. The beach itself is very narrow and contains very little shade, but the bay is both very shallow and sandy underfoot – which is why it’s such a popular venue for splashing around. Drinks and basic snacks are available at the campsite café or the Čorni Petar beach bar, nestling beneath trees on the headland to the east.
ZLATNI RAT, BRAČ ISLAND
A silvery tongue of shingle extending into a turquoise sea, Zlatni Rat (“Golden Cape”) is very much the poster boy of Dalmatian beaches, pictured in countless brochures and guidebooks. The pebbly peninsula remains a compelling destination despite the crowds; indeed its clear shallow seas and gripping maritime views make it a difficult place to leave. It’s within walking distance of Bol, where More Travel or Adria will sort you out with accommodation.
PROIZD, NEAR KORČULA ISLAND
Approaching by taxi boat from nearby Vela Luka, the islet of Proizd looks at first sight to be a pretty average Adriatic hump of pine trees and maquis. In fact it’s one of the most alluring sunbathing and skinny-dipping destinations in the whole of Croatia, with a trio of dramatic ‘beaches’ made up of sloping rock slabs shelving steeply into a clear sea. The port of Vela Luka is your obvious base for accommodation: contact the ever-dependable Mediterano agency for rooms and apartments.
ŠUNJ BAY, LOPUD ISLAND
Sometimes it’s not just the beach that matters, it’s also about the journey there and back. Getting to Šunj Bay on the island of Lopud involves a delightful fifty-minute crossing on the passenger-only Dubrovnik-Šipan ferry, followed by a hike over the central hump of blissfully car-free Lopud island. Once you get there, Šunj is a graceful crescent of fine shingle and sand strung between rocky promontories. There’s an informal beach bar at the back of the beach; you’ll need it by the time you arrive.
Looking for a beach with just a hint of the post-apocalyptic? Then try Kupari just south of Dubrovnik, one-time holiday resort to the Yugoslav Peoples’ Army. Badly damaged in the 1991–95 war, its hotels have lain derelict ever since. It is, however, home to one of the Dubrovnik region’s best beaches, a fine crescent of shingle with a few sandy bits underfoot, complete with evocative backdrop of shell-damaged hotels. Note that the hotels are unprotected and potentially dangerous –so resist the temptation to go exploring.