Kornati National Park, Croatia

Photo: Josef Grunig via flickr

Croatia is pretty much your perfect destination. It has a gorgeous coastline and too many islands and beaches to accurately count along the Adriatic Sea. Walled cities and ancient fortresses overlook them and the surrounding sapphire water from the mainland. They’re bordered by rocky hills and vineyards older than everyone who tends to them. Seafood is right-off-the-boat fresh. While the sun always seems to be shining on the Balkan country. It’s about to get even better.

Kornati National Park has most of the beautiful features you expect to find in Croatia. Historic cities are the only things missing. Actually, it’s more than just cities that are absent. It’s people and buildings in general. Most of the limestone islands are uninhabited. Some of them hold the remains of ancient settlements. Others are home to temporary shelters; people from the mainland keep sheep and olive groves on the otherwise barren islands. There are a few seasonal restaurants and convenience stores in well-protected coves, as well.

The Kornati islands are the largest and densest archipelago in the Mediterranean. Ruins prove that the Illyrians, the Romans, and the Venetians all lived here at one point. But without a source of fresh water, it was impossible for people to remain on the islands. So they were left largely untouched. In 1980, 89 of the 140 islands were protected as a national park. More were added to the list in the years that followed. They could soon become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well.

That means you have 140 islands practically to yourself. Day trips leave from Zadar, Šibenik, and Murter. After sailing away from the busy harbor, you start to see rocky islands in the distance. They look like pumice stones due to their karst limestone. While caves, grottos, and cliffs make them look even more striking. Except for maquis shrubs and random pine trees, the islands are desolate. Seagulls, lizards, and almost 70 types of butterflies rule them instead of people. While the surrounding waters, once severely overfished, have regenerated beautifully in the last 30 years. You might even spot dolphins racing alongside your boat these days.

So where to first? Kornat, the largest island, is home to Tureta (the ruins of a 6th-century Byzantine fortress) and the late-Romanesque Church of Our Lady of Tarac. Mana, once the site of a movie set, has 100-meter cliffs that drop straight into the sea. Lavsa, Levrnaka, and Ravni Žakan have stunning bays. You can drop the anchor to snorkel or scuba dive just about anywhere. Or you can just enjoy the breathtaking islands and the warm sunshine from the deck of your boat. Absolute perfection.


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