All islands have a story to tell. Sarah Loughlin swaps life in Jersey to explore the islands of the Adriatic and find out about Croatias history, culture and holiday hot-spots
THE European Union's most recent addition has more than 1,200 islands spread along its coastline, 47 of which are inhabited.
Bordered by Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro and Boznia and Herzegovina, its food culture has a heavy Italian influence with an eastern European twist.
In a place where an ice cream costs 70p (seven Croatian Kuna) and a fresh stone-baked pizza is £3 to £5, it's impossible not to have a good time.
If you are looking for long, ambling, sandy beaches, perhaps Croatia is not for you, but the pebbly beaches and rocky swimming platforms make the turquoise water crystal-clear and wonderful for swimming and snorkelling.
You can drive the whole coast in just nine hours, so it is possible to travel the length of the country to get a taste of this unique culture in two weeks.
The bus from Pula airport into town takes 15 minutes (£3). Leave your luggage at the free bag drop, turn left out of the bus station and walk the 200 metres to the town centre. Here you will be met by the Roman amphitheatre, which although small in Roman times, is now the sixth-largest in the world.
Wander down the main street towards the Temple of Romae and Augustus, built in the first century AD, set in a quiet sunny square with cafés and restaurants strewn around it – a perfect lunch stop.
Take the bus from Pula to Rijeka (£9 plus 80p baggage charge), and then catch the ferry to Rab. Rab old town, just to the left of the harbour, has small winding streets lined with craft stalls and shops. Head to the cosy terrace at San Marcos for fresh stone-baked pizza – they are in fact big enough to feed two.
The next day, explore the island. Hire a bike from Eros Rab in the harbour (£7.50 for half a day) and cycle along the paths on the sea front and into the national park. There are trails to suit all cyclists, with small coves and beaches to stop off in if you fancy a swim.
Take a ferry from Rab to the town of Novalja on Pag Island (£4.50). From here take a bus to Pag town, famous for its cheese and its salt. In Roman times soldiers were paid in salt, which is
where the word salary comes from. The family-friendly pebbly beach in Pag and the Salt Museum are just a short stroll from town.
From Pag town, take the bus to Zadar (£5.20), Croatia's fifth-largest town. Zadar is well known for its old walled town and also more modern additions. The Sea Organ is made up of 35 pipes which create a calming, if somewhat eerie, tune when the wind and the waves pass through them. Next to it is the Greeting to the Sun, a large solar panel which emits a multi-coloured light show at night. Both these attractions require only Mother Nature to power them.
Maraschino, a cherry liqueur invented in Zadar's Dominican monastery in the 16th century, was popular with many English monarchs, including Queen Victoria and George IV. These days you can taste it and pick up a bottle to bring home at many of the shops in the old town.
Stop off at Restaurant Groppo for some local grilled fish – a great central location set in a shady walled terrace overlooking the local ladies crocheting lace.
Climb the bell tower (£1.50) opposite for amazing panoramic views of the old town and the islands. The winding, narrow streets of the medieval quarter close to the university have become the hub of nightlife in Zadar – head to Kult for after-dinner cocktails (£3.50 to £4 each).
Want to get out of town for the day? Plitvice Lakes National Park is just a few hours inland (£18) – the huge lakes and amazing waterfalls will not disappoint. The water is so clear that you can see hundreds of fish darting around. There's a hike here to suit everyone, from an eight-hour adventure to an amble through the forest. If you fancy taking to the water instead, hire a wooden rowing boat for £5 an hour.
Take the bus from Zadar bus station to Split (£10 plus 80p baggage charge). After a few days of travelling and exploring, it's time to treat yourself, so check into the Radisson Blu Resort for a day by the pool. With great views overlooking the bay and tasty cocktails starting at £5.50, you can't go wrong. Try the Elderflower Cooler – the perfect refreshing poolside drink!
Head to the roof terrace restaurant for incredible fish and meat sharing platters, and then on to the bar for happy hour from 10 pm to 11pm.
After your relaxing pool day, take a tour with local history professor Dino Ivan?ic (Dino.firstname.lastname@example.org) around the walled palace, built by Diocletianos, the Roman Emperor who ruled for 21 years and who claimed to be Jupiter incarnate. Dinner at Konoba Varos is a must – call and book at least three hours beforehand to order a traditional Croatian dish of lamb, octopus or fish. After dinner, try some Prošek, a local dessert wine. Back inside the palace walls, Figa is great for some cosy after-dinner drinks.
From Split, book a day trip to Hvar with Adriatictransfer.com, stopping off at the small caves and coves on the surrounding islands on the way (£110). Among the highlights of the trip is the Blue Cave; lit from below by the reflection of the sun on the sea floor, it is now a Unesco World Heritage sight. Once in Hvar, head to dinner at Shrimp House for the amazing shrimp salad. After a refreshing night's sleep, it's time to get back on the water – book a kayak trip with croactiveholidays.com (£37.50). This half-day adventure to the Pakleni Islands includes a group lunch with a glass of wine followed by snorkelling and relaxing on the beach.
Take the ferry from Hvar to Korcula. This trip is particularly scenic, as you pull into the old town and see all the white buildings with terracotta roofs set among the trees.
Head for lunch at Pape Pizzeria, set on a shady walkway above the old town, with walls lined with pine trees overlooking the mountains and the ocean. Hire a bike from Kaleta (£10 a day) and cycle half an hour to the sandy beach in Lumbarda at the top of the island. On the way, stop at Cebalo Winery and try local the local Grk wine.
Take a sunset ride on the semi-submarine (£8). You will see yellow coral sticking out of the rock like huge skyscrapers, as well as huge red starfish, sea slugs and sea urchins – not to mention the fish.
Head to Massimo cocktail bar in a turret of the town walls for some sundowners, or if you fancy picking up some presents, this is the place to do it, as there are lots of craft stalls and unique jewellery shops.
Jump on the ferry from Korcula to Dubrovnik (£11), your last stop before taking a 30-minute taxi to the airport. Dubrovnik was an independent republic and it is still separated from the rest of Croatia by a small section of coast owned by Bosnia and Herzegovina. Despite damage from earthquakes and the Homeland War, the two-kilometre-long city walls still stand, along with two very impressive city gates complete with medieval wooden drawbridges.
Protected by Unesco, the city attracts a lot of tourists. For me, the bustling atmosphere is reminiscent of a London Tube at rush hour, so it is a town best viewed from afar. Take the cable car
to the top of Mount Srd for wonderful panoramic views of the town and surrounding islands. Then grab some fresh fruit from the Green Market in Gundulic Square and hop on the boat to Lokrum,
an island just a 15-minute boat ride away (£8). From here, you can relax on a peaceful rocky swim platform and admire the city walls while taking a dip in the sea – the perfect end to an action-packed island adventure.
Sarah Loughlin is a travel writer from London currently living in Jersey. For more travel tips and ideas, visit her website .