It doesn’t get the attention its better-known Dalmatian neighbours enjoy. But it’s easy to see why Krk’s landscapes and light have given the island its nickname of the golden one
There are hundreds of islands scattered along the higgledy-piggledy Adriatic coast of Croatia. Some, such as Hvar, have become international playgrounds; others, particularly Krk, are better known among Austrian and German tourists who have been coming to the northern Kvarner Gulf since Victorian times. While British tourists have long been flocking to the resorts on the Istrian peninsula, they have been slow to discover the gems that lie just south of the port city of Rijeka.
Like most of Croatia’s islands, Krk’s landscape looks positively barren when viewed from the mainland. That’s thanks to the bura, the wind that shoots down the coast, stripping everything green in its wake. Go to the southern part of the island, however, and you’ll find lush forests, Blue Flag beaches and inviting coves. A bridge connecting the island to the mainland makes it an easy journey from Rijeka, Croatia’s third largest city. And the island is home to Rijeka airport, which has direct flights from London Heathrow with Croatian Airlines.
Krk Town, the island’s capital, is a lively and attractive place with a pleasant old town and bustling waterside restaurants. The food is typical of a region that had been Venetian, then Italian until 1946, and mixed agreeably with Croatian cuisine, which shows its legacy of Austro-Hungarian rule. So in addition to the Croatian version of prosciutto, called prsut, and soft creamy cheeses you’ll find plentiful seafood served with a minimum of fuss. The Konorba Sime (pronounced Sheemeh - Frankopanska 38) in the old town knows what to do with incredibly fresh seafood: add a bit of olive oil and garlic to it and then leave it alone. A starter of octopus salad followed by a huge plate of grilled king prawns needed nothing else. Except homemade bread and a bottle of the local nectar, a white wine called Vrbnicka Zlahtina, which is made in the medieval town of Vrbnik.
I wasn’t there to eat my body weight in seafood, appealing though the idea was. The island has some excellent walking, and I was intent on getting closer to this wild landscape that was almost frightening in its barren intensity. On the way to the southern side of the island (home to some very good beaches at Baska) is the 568m peak of Obzova. The terrain is a bit rocky, and the local sheep have an amusing habit of following you as if you’re their leader. But the views at the top are glorious: a panorama taking in the whole island, the rugged Velebit mountains on the mainland’s coast and the deep blue and green hues of the Adriatic.
On the drive back to Krk Town, I stopped at the local watersports centre, Cable Krk, which is two kilometres from the marina at Punat. Waterski cables suspended above the bay allow skiers and wakeboarders to show off – and fall off – to their hearts’ content, while spectators can watch the free entertainment on the huge moored boat that doubles as a bar.
If you’re not tempted by the watersports, you can relax in the privacy of your own beach at the Valamar Koralj Hotel in Krk Town. It sits in a lush pine forest, with the rooms and balconies gently tumbling down towards a private beach. It’s only a 10-minute walk into town along the coast path, which makes for an extremely pleasant late-night stroll.
Krk’s neighbour, and near equal in size, is Cres, an elongated sliver of land that is worth a visit via the regular ferries that cross between Valbinska, on Krk’s south-western side, and Merag. Cres is a nature-lover’s delight, particularly in the verdant northern half of the island. Near the hilltop village of Beli, which was a Roman settlement, is a nature trail that goes through the Tramuntana forest. As I immersed myself in the tranquillity of the woods and wandered past the occasional Illyrian ruin, my guide told me the story of the forest’s fairies, the masmalic. These good ghosts have an endearing habit of making you see animals’ faces in the woods. So that’s why I had spotted an ostrich and a bull – before I was even told the story. Nothing unusual in that, I was told. It’s all part of the magic.