Hopping the tiny islands in Spring
By Lora Tomas
Island hopping just before the rush of the tourist season.
Spring could be the perfect time of year to visit some of Croatia’s small little islands. The summer heat and larger groups of tourists have still not swept over them, and everything is blooming.
You also get to choose from several very good private accommodation options, as the rooms and apartments are not yet fully booked. The only downsize is that not all the shops and restaurants have opened for the season yet.
Premuda (photo: croatia.hr)
More often than not, the only social event of the day is the docking of a ferry, boat, or catamaran, in predictable intervals. Those are the times of day when the locals, mostly men in this case, flock on benches in ports to watch the coming and going, then stay on to talk about fishing and politics. During siestas, silence is religiously observed.
Decades ago, life was colourful and complex on these islands, but waves of emigration, especially in the second half of the twentieth century – to America and elsewhere, or simply to the nearest part of mainland – have left them starkly depopulated.
They’ve become platforms for all kinds of tourism. Only a handful of autochthonous inhabitants have remained, most of them above sixty. Some of the new residents, from other parts of Croatia or the world, have permanently moved there in retirement. Others drop by only during the summer season. New, different communities are formed.
Here is my photo story about my visit to five islands which you will not likely find in the tourist brochures – Drvenik Mali, Unije, Susak, Silba and Premuda.
Silba (photo courtesy of croatia.hr)
Here is how to get there by ferry:
Daily from Trogir Riva at 10:00 a.m., plus two afternoon ferries, either at 4:00, 6:00, 7:00, or 8:30, depending on the day of the week.
Silba and Premuda
Daily from Zadar, Port Gaženica, at 9:00 or 11:00 a.m. Check by day of the week and date for accurate timings.
Susak and Unije
Daily from Mali Lošinj at 5:00 a.m., and 1:00 or 2:30 p.m. Check by day of the week for accurate timings.
Šoltanka ferry at the dock on Drvenik Mali. On a Monday in May, the ferry carried Croatian vacationers, retired people, construction workers, and the priest from Trogir, who was rehearsing his sermon leaning over the railings, book in hands, reading out to the waves. He was the first to jump off the ferry, hurrying toward the nearby church as the ship was leaving the island in an hour, and he had to be on it.
Turquoise waters of the sandy cove of Vela Rina on Drvenik Mali.
A scene from the almost deserted village of Petomavar above the cove of Vela Rina. Sealed and dried-up water tanks and torn-down stone walls, with macchia breaking out through the glassless windows, surround the few inhabited homes.
Catnaps in Silba’s gardens.
In front of the Sports and Fishing Association “Galeb” (Seagull) in the harbour of Mul on Silba, members run a makeshift shipyard. We came to Silba just in time for the first briškula tournament organized in Galeb, followed by grilled fish and sausages, and wine “from the shop”.
Painted doors on Silba.
Seagulls clamouring for a fisherman’s catch as he is returning to Silba’s harbour of Mul in the evening.
A sun-filled courtyard on Premuda.
This broken-down house on Premuda is not an isolated example, as these small islands have been consistently losing population. The only child on the island had left some time ago to attend high school on the mainland, they told me. The primary school had been running only for him.
The upper and lower village of Susak, the island made of reed and sand, as seen from the path that leads toward the Susak Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1881, and has been run by the same family for over thirty years now. They tend to the light, their garden, and their cats.
Tourists lost among the tall reeds on one of many paths criss-crossing the island of Susak. The reeds keep the island’s sand together, and frame and hide its gardens.
Susak was once covered in vineyards. Now there are only a few. Water is a constant problem on small islands. Besides rainwater harvesting, water is delivered by ships and then distributed. The authorities are looking into desalinating the sea.