Lopud Island works as a day trip from Dubrovnik to stay on the beach and walk through nature. But stay a few nights to uncover its real charm...
As one of the busiest islands in the Elaphiti, Lopud is not short of things to do.
But it is not long on them either.
So think hiking, lazing on the beach, examining local crafts and soaking up Croatia's nature: the brilliant blue of the Adriatic Sea. Lopud Island provides the chance to slow down and connect with Croatia, looking at her past, her present and her future.
It’s a small place, albeit one of the bigger islands off the coast near Dubrovnik.
Surrounded by the Mediterranean waves of the Adriatic, it has no space for cars, no time for traffic.
Its main street is close to being the only street and yet this island of only 220 inhabitants hides around 30 chapels and four churches amid its palms and pines.
After the whizz and fizz of Rome, of London, of city life and fast paced connections and synced to-do lists in general, it was time to slow down. To walk and wander amid the pine and olive groves, to swim in the fresh Adriatic and to linger as the sun blazed above the sky, melting into purple laced with gold and then falling into the rocks and the amber-rippled sea.
The island of Lopud was to be my base, the Lafodia, my hub. As befits life on such a small island, all rooms overlooked the sea. With walls in white, linen faded in blue and porthole-sized photographs of hidden Croatian coves, the building itself seemed to have glided onto the open sea: a majestic ship on a quiet and steady journey to simply slow down.
It had been an uneventful flight and a James Bond type drive: all hair-pin swerves and clifftop spills into foaming surf below. The red rooftops of Dubrovnik and the years and villages that followed splashed red-rust tiles under the light of the sun and pierced the sense of overwhelming blue.
Yet the moment I stepped on the boat, the atmosphere changed. Smooth and short, the journey to the island of Lopud, the one with the sandy shore let the breeze run through my hair, my clothes, my mind.
Here on the Elaphiti Islands of the cool blue Adriatic, it was time to let my cares drift away on that sprightly, salty breeze.
The Elaphiti first feature in the written word through the work of Roman author Pliny the Elder. The term itself, though, travels back even further to the glory days of Ancient Greece when wild deer roamed the green-tinged rocks (elaphos being the term for deer in ancient Greek.)
The crumbling stone arch that leads to the Park of Mayneri de Giorgi gives a hint at times of former glory – and tragedy – through the personal story of the Venetian Baron who lived here, and who came to an untimely end.
If you're staying at the only luxury hotel around, the Lafodia, they will arrange transfers by boat to Lopud Island.
If not, then check out the ferry schedule for Dubrovnik to Lopud. It's a short (and beautiful) journey that many locals make but the itinerary does vary so do check it out.
Like many parts of Europe, this island has changed hands many times. Romans, Habsburgs, the former Republic of Yugoslavia. And most of those times have involved bloodshed.
Yet today, it offers plenty of peace.
Peace through the poppy-lined hiking paths that wriggle over its peak.
Peace in its parks and cool church stone. Peace through the scattered shoreline, the sand amid rocky defences and the dolphins that splash their snouts through the waves.
And peace through its approach to life: embracing visitors without abandoning its traditions and past.
And local craftsman Luciano makes a point of gathering together those traditions.
His shop lies part way along the main street of Lopud, the village that wears the same name as the island. Its hand painted sign signals something of a half way point between the rocky outcrop of the bay at one end and the Lafodia Sea Resort on the other.
As a shop owner, he prides himself on the local nature of his produce. As an author, on knowing the island well.
And as self-appointed maverick or mischief, as fine connoisseur on the local schnapps (rakija) and love for women.
“It is the source of all pain, pleasure and life itself,” he tells me when referring to one of his sculptures: a wooden carving that would belong in a gynaecological anatomy class.
I move the conversation along.
Hand painted silk and sequins flutter besides more traditional souvenir fare: painted stones and magnets in bright colours and Venetian-inspired glass.
The work comes from local artists, the rakija from across Croatia. The red coral necklaces derive from the Adriatic Sea and the extra virgin olive oil from the Croatian Pelješac peninsula.
It’s a small focus, but one that has brought Luciano peace.
“I have spent half a life in this race among machines made of flesh and machines made of metal, trying hard to catch something, racing for illusion.
“It seems to me I have been “reborn” in the world where nothing breaks my inner repose, in the world where I am surrounded by terrific nature and a simple life of a small community carefully guarding its own culture, traditions and history.
“Maybe I am insane. But I prefer to see sunset of the sea, than the circular road around Modena at rush hour. I prefer to eat fish I fished than to have dinner in a restaurant. I prefer to walk than drive a car.”
The Lafodia, the main hotel here, offers excursions, and activities that befit being surrounded by blue. There’s kayaking, jet ski, safaris, and good, old fashioned swimming in the sea.
For once, I left all that adrenaline to taste another day.
On my first night, I stretched the sinews of my soul instead with a walk into the sunset.
It began with a harbour stroll, past the restaurants, beneath the palms and into the cool, green-cloaked park, the shadow of the local stone church beside the sea.
And then I climbed high above (alright, with the aid of a buggy in parts) to where swallows tumbled overhead, their calls and graceful darts and dives drifting in the amber-lit breeze.
Apparently dolphins swim here, my companion Alessandro told me, too.
And we stood and watched as the surf flicked up at the weather-worn rocks, serving cobwebs and cocktails from the sea.
Lopud Island has no cars and precious little crowds for all its proximity to the hub of the Adriatic: the red-tiled roofs of Dubrovnik and its 3.4 gazillion visitors each year.
The closest to a traffic jam you’ll find here involves the buggies that transport weary travellers over the walkable small peak to the sandy beach on the other side of the island.
It’s a keen spot for hikers, with trails easy to follow and find, poppies and pine striking tall in the air, and the promise of a sauna or at least a good soak at the end of the day when that sunset returns.
But for medical reasons this year, I had to go slow.
Lots of people travel to Lopud Island to visit the sandy beach at Sunj.
And it's easy enough to see why.
With its "untouched" charm, it's not totally remote. You can hire sunloungers and pick up snacks at low key restaurants.
If you're too tired to walk across the peak back to the harbour or hotel, you can hop on a buggy too.
I followed the path with a young and enthusiastic guide from Zagreb, fluent in English among others, as so many young Croatians are.
He leads me to a small church, along a hidden, steep, grass-strewn path, and I pause beside the gravestones before dipping my head beneath the arch of stone.
Religion still has power here, I’m told. “More than Italy,” are the words I hear.
But this small stone sanctuary reflects the size of the island: 220 inhabitants, down from thousands years ago.
Peace, and relative prosperity, seems to flow with ease into post-Yugoslav Croatia. I first visited shortly after the war, when scars were evident, the wounds still sore.
Yet more than 20 years passed, now. Although I hear "the war" mentioned on a daily basis, it’s in terms of interrupted schooling or changes in careers, spoken as a standard matter of reference rather than relived at every turn.
But then, I only met the young, or at least those no older than me.
And this time, I didn’t delve. I didn’t want to probe. Let people enjoy their peace, their hard-won right to leave certain issues behind.
For as a hiker through these laurels and long grasses, it does seem like a different world. One where such conflicts never existed. Where even the thought of noise could never be heard.
Back on the “main drag,” a sandy dirt track with frond massage from long grass on the side, we reach "the other side" and my historical daydreams melt away.
Hungry rocks chomp at the foam and the soft, wet sand lets it glide on by. Sun loungers and "beach dens" in bright blue and painted pink wait for the enthusiastic beachgoers that August will bring.
And I learn that this place is pronounced shoon not sunge and laugh with the pictures of mermaids.
Amid the rocks, the sand, the waves, the sun, and the pop-bright beachside colours, I realise this is no place for talk of war.
It's a place to enjoy nature. And the chance to relish the moment.
Disclosure: I visited Lopud Island as part of a project with Lafodia Hotel and Spa. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, life just becomes too plain depressing.
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