There are something like 1,000 islands along the Croatian coast. And we managed to visit just one. Lopud – one of the Elaphiti Islands that lie just a few miles from the city of Dubrovnik. Its main attraction in rocky Croatia is its sandy beaches.
During our stay in the beachside suburb of Lapad we couldn’t avoid the locals trying to tempt us into taking one of their organised boat trips to the islands. Free food! Free drink! Special offer! Hurrah!
But no thanks. It’s not really us. Being herded around like a coach trip from a Carry On film might be fun for some, but we opted for the DIY approach. And it’s not hard to do. The inhabited islands in the group are linked to Dubrovnik via a 10am ferry from the city’s main harbour at Gruz. It’s cheap, we bought tickets easily enough from the booth across the street from the dock and the ferry itself, the Postira, is perfectly adequate for the task. I discovered that it was old as me, a 1963 vintage.
Tourists made up the bulk of the crowd on our trip but the ship is also a vital lifeline for the inhabitants of the islands, carrying supplies from the mainland.
We crawled slowly out of the harbour, past giant cruise ships, billionaires’ yachts and dinky fishing vessels. Beyond the shelter of the bay, the Adriatic was a lot choppier.
Kolocep was the first stop, the smallest of the three main islands and all very attractive – from a distance at least. A fake pirate ship, moored in the tiny harbour, was being loaded with lots of lobster-skinned tourists fresh from their whistle-stop visit. It looked as tacky as it sounds.
Car-free Lopud was the next stop (Sipan – the largest – would be the last). As we approached, it looked just like it’s neighbour – hilly, dotted with rocky ruins of forts and other ancient buildings. The hills were smothered with trees and scrub.
We rounded the headland to a busier harbour, lined with cafes, stalls, fine old stone buildings and, to one side, a large and modern hotel. It all looked wonderful in the September sunshine. Locals bustled about, ready to unload the supplies.
The harbour was guarded by a fortified monastery dating from the 15th century, but which isn’t in the best of conditions these days. After getting our bearings, I wandered into the little church at its heart but it looked a little sad, propped up by scaffolding, its walls peeling in places.
The charming seafront had rather more life, given over mainly to the tourist dollar, and sandy beaches stretched around the bay for those who didn’t want to wander far.
We were surprised to find a grand stone villa or two in a state of disrepair, their roofs missing. For a moment we fantasised about buying one and opening a B&B… But just for a moment.
A little further up, the Grand Hotel, a relic of the Communist era – now derelict, all concrete, modernism and faded glamour, the preserve of some workmen who seemed to be giving it a new lease of life. The grounds were overgrown, with a few concrete benches sheltered beneath giant palm trees. It proved that Lopud has been attracting holidaymakers for decades.
Alongside the Grand, we followed the path across the island to Lopud’s main attraction – the sandy Sunj beach. It was a sweaty climb uphill past fruit and veg plots, apartments, fly-tipped rubbish and ruins. The views were great before we descended through the woods of cypress, lemon, orange and pine and emerged at the beach itself by a couple of cafe-bars.
It was a bit of a disappointment. True, it was great to see a sandy beach and the bay was notable for the lack of development. The sea, whipped up by a brisk breeze, crashed onto the shore, and the headlands were covered in attractive greenery. Behind us, more hills, more greenery, some trees just hanging on to some shallow but crumbly sandstone cliffs.
But the beach was a bit scrubby, covered in tired sunbeds and umbrellas. There was too much litter and the decaying detritus of beach life scattered about. Just a bit of effort could’ve made it a truly idyllic spot. Perhaps we’d just got it on a bad day…
Still, we hired a couple of sunbeds, got out our books and read. I took a few dips in the water and got thrown about by waves and together we took a break in the bar with a beer and pizza.
I felt a bit lazy not exploring the island more. Several walks would’ve taken us into the hills, to the ruins of religious, military and residential buildings dating back centuries. In fact, Lopud has been popular with the moneyed folk of Dubrovnik for centuries – folk who built their mansions and villas around the island.
Later, the clouds came over and so we headed back to the village, this time paying our 10kr to take a ride on one of the golf trolleys that run between the two main bays. There, with the sun out again, we both went into the dead calm waters and ended up with tar on our feet. Still, it was a pleasant spot.
We dried off, stopped off for a few beers in one of the seafront bars and watched the world go by and the sun falling towards the horizon, waiting for the ferry back to Dubrovnik. It was beautiful.
On the trip back, we sat on the bow of the Postira as the sun set and let the wind clear away the cobwebs. Lopud was definitely worth it.