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8 secret islands of Croatia

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Palagruža-Croatia
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Palagruža

From lonesome lighthouses to roaming elephants, a luxury yacht vacation in Croatia’s secluded islands can still be packed with surprises, say Tristan Rutherford and Kathryn Tomasetti

Croatia’s islands have not always been accessible. Bickering Austrian and Venetian overlords left Gothic towers and soaring campaniles across Dalmatia – then prohibited strangers from sailing in. Some top secret escapes remained off limits until the past few decades, such as the Brijuni Islands, which used to be a presidential retreat, and Lastovo, which was a Yugoslav submarine base. Even tiny Vis was only opened to the public in 1989.

The tourism bug has now bitten Croatia hard – one in every six euros the nation makes comes from its travel sector. Today, Vis has a daily ferry to the mainland and a host of A-list habitués. Fortunately, the country has 1,200 other islands, islets and tiny havens in the middle of the sea to explore. The only requirements are a private yacht, a tube of suncream and a pair of swimming trunks.

1. Palagruža

Location: An isolated speck in the centre of the Adriatic

Off the radar rating: 5/5

Palagruža takes its name from the Greek word pèlagos, meaning sea. It resides in its own Adriatic bubble of infinite blue, as far as you can get from the Croatian mainland. Whether you feel envious of, or sorry for, the island’s lighthouse keeper is a matter of opinion. Either way he welcomes sailors – and the occasional paying guest – into his airily capacious tower on the island’s 90 metre summit. As Palagruža marks Croatia’s southernmost point a unique microclimate pervades, with the nation’s lowest rainfall (just 30cm a year) and wind direction changing multiple times a day. The waters are teeming with sea life and fishermen often flock to the area.

A geographical fluke forced Palagruža and Mala (Little) Palagruža – and another dozen or so rocky specks – to rise from the Adriatic seabed. Before GPS, sailors would easily miss them. The captain should call the lighthouse on Channel 16 for mooring details and embarkation directions to the shingle beach.

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