As the ferry pulls away from mainland Croatia and draws towards the southern point of the island Rab, you’ll wonder what you’ve got yourself into. You’ll compare it to landing on the moon. ‘Arid’ is an understatement for the sloping expanse of barren rock from which every trace of soil has long since been washed into the sea.
Summer Holiday in Rab, Croatia
What you don’t see, but what you’ll discover as your car rolls off the ramp and begins to climb, is that Rab is like one of those two-headed dolls: hold her one way, she’s Cinderella, but reverse her skirt and you’ll discover a princess. Rab has two faces. Draw a line through the middle, following the high crest running it’s length: on one side there’s nothing but rock, but the other is green with protected coastal forests, olive groves and vineyards, the historic city of the same name, and beautiful, calm Adriatic bays. It’s a treasure, not least because even during the peak tourist season, it’s sparsely populated. You might need to book for dinner if you want a table overlooking the sea, but you’ll find there’s enough space on the beaches and shores to find your own private enclave.
Rab is 22 kilometers long and 11 kilometers wide. It’s a compact space for exploring, and filled with contrasts. We stayed a week, balancing our time between long hours in the sun and swimming, and getting out and about in the car. It was long enough to get a good taste of what the island has to offer, but brief enough to leave us wanting for more. We missed out on buying just-caught produce from the fish market in Rab, and we didn’t do a boat excursion around the bays. Nor did we spend an evening in the old town, people-watching over an aperitivo at a lounge bar, before eating in a medieval lane. The restaurant on the highest peak was already fully booked, as were the opportunities to eat local goat or lamb cooked in a traditional bell-shaped peka.
Some of those experiences we missed out on only because we fell in love with where we were. We lucked out. Not knowing anything about Croatia, but wanting to be lower than the level of Jesolo on the Veneto coast, we let Booking.com sift through our filters – pet friendly, self-contained, free wifi, medium price range. It tossed up Apartmani Tomo, and the images of the roof top balcony overlooking the sea roped us in. What we hadn’t counted on was that the view is just as stunning on a dark, moonless night: the chairs on the roof are fully reclining, and the stars of the Milky Way are clear as lights.
Prices on Rab, Croatia
Supertarska Draga. What a fabulous name for a village. Our apartment was just 4 minutes from the water. Everything slopes, so the walk back home was great for increasing the heart rate just a little and for burning off the glucose from a glass of wine. There are three great eating places in the quay, with food ranging from an easy fast food type menu of hamburgers and shnitzel through to super fresh fish that dexterous waiters open and debone at your table. We ate well, and plentifully. The prices, including those at the supermarket for groceries, were never any more than what we would pay at home in Italy, and sometimes a little less. Download a PDF of the prices we paid in the supermarket and at couple of restaurants, converted from kuna to euro.
Bays and Forest, Boats and Bikes, Sudden Storms
All the water, everywhere, is crystal clear. There are sandy shallows where children dive bomb, play ball, or float on inflatable flamingoes, and stony shorelines that plunge deeply and suddenly. Numerous bays can be reached only by boat, bicycle or foot: scooters and quads can be hired for tearing around the curving island roads, but the forest and it’s peripheral bays remain a quiet, pollution free space.
We admired the cyclists, but to be honest, in the high heat of August we were happy to scurry around in the car with the windows open. Essential travelling gear: a cap or headband for anyone with hair long enough to get in the eyes. As well as wanting to have the windows down instead of closed for the air-con, the wind can blow in ferociously, suddenly, from nowhere. Mid-week, with no hint from the forecast, we had to deflate our mattress and rush back to the quay, carrying Roxy over the scary bits where the waves beat high onto the walkway. It was fabulous. We checked in to our favourite konaba, ordered a drink and watched the drama. All boats had pulled into port for safety, and the jetty became a catwalk of rich young things heading to the bars and restaurants in dinner attire, shoes in their hands.
Essential Items for Rab, Croatia
As well as a cap and a sun hat, there are two essential items that will take your experience on the island from good to brilliant. One is a foam beach mattress that makes lying on stones comfortable. You can pick up for around €10. The other is a pair of those rock-hopping slipper shoes, which, again, you’ll find for a tenner. They’re necessary, not just for walking across the rocks, but also for avoiding the pin-cushion creatures which live underwater. The sea creatures are minor obstacles and not to be worried about. The rocky shoreline, in our opinion, is way preferable to sand. Rocks stay in one place, but sand gets everywhere.
Rab, Croatia, the Old Town
Rab, the town, occupies the tip of a peninsula. It’s elegant and bright. It’s piazza’s are watched over by four bell towers and well kept gardens provide shade. The Church of St Mary dates from the 12th century, and the streets, architecture and interiors reflect it’s history: Rab was governed by Liburnians, Greeks and Romans before the establishment of the Croatian Kingdom. It was colonised by the Venetian Republic, Napoleons France and Austria. It was assigned to Italy after the 1st World War, then the Yugoslavian Kingdom in 1921. During the 2nd World War it was the location of Italian Concentration Camps under Mussolini, and after the war it merged with communist Yugoslavia. In 1991 it became a stable region of the independent Republic of Croatia.
Like most medieval towns, it’s small enough to be seen in a day, but we want to go back and give it more time. There’s the usual craft and souvenir market, cafes and gelaterie, and shops with nautical themes. But there’s also a good level of art. The Paradiso hosts an artists retreat every June which attracts artists from Eastern and Western Europe. They make art for a week, and their works remain in the restaurant and gallery, on sale throughout summer. The local artists, tucked into corners and alcoves, capture the essence of the city and sea.
It’s a relaxing place. All over the island, it seems, people talk in low voices. Even the jubiliant shouts of children are softened and absorbed into the ripples, so by the time they reach you they’re low key. While preparing the car to leave, we found a bottle of Tomo’s home grown extra virgin olive oil propped up beside a suitcase. No ostentatious display or announcement, just a bottle and a business card. Gracious and genuine, the gesture, like the island, and very much appreciated.
More Travel Stories
A Paleo Holiday or a Holiday from Paleo? – Striking the Balance -how we Paleo when we’re on holiday.
Venice Carnival Costumes – the Lush, the Fantastic, the Homemade – how to have fun on a budget at the Venice Carnival.
Two Veneto Excursions – What we get up to here in our valley, and well worth the experience if you happen to come here.
Do visit Croatia if you ever get the chance, it’s a special place. Thanks for your time here at Paleomantic – don’t forget to sign up for the News, download some Free Printables, and reach out, let me know what you’re up to and what you need.
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