Croatia - Off the beaten track
Korcula Island is rich in vineyards and olive trees, and its southern coast is dotted with quiet coves and small beaches. The town of Korcula is a typical medieval Dalmatian town, with its round defensive towers and cluster of red-roofed houses.
Korcula's Cathedral Square has a strong Venetian influence, and even has its own St Mark's Cathedral, with two paintings by Tintoretto. Next to the cathedral is the 14th century Abbey Palace, which houses the town's treasury, and opposite is the 16th century Gabriellis Palace. This is now the town museum, with exhibits of Greek pottery, Roman ceramics and home furnishings. If you believe the local tourist bureau, Marco Polo was born in Korcula, and you can poke your nose into the house where he lived.
From Korcula town you can visit Lumbarda, a picturesque settlement at the south-eastern end of the island. It has a good beach, and the town is surrounded by vineyards which produce a dry white wine. A shuttle boat runs from Korcula to Badija Island, which has a naturist beach. If you want to stay overnight on Badija, you can shack up in a 15th century monastery which has been converted into a hotel.
Korcula is approximately 20km (12mi) off Croatia's southern Adriatic coast, mid-way between Dubrovnik and Split. It's accessible from both ports by ferry.
A third of pencil-thin Mljet Island is a national park. The park's main attractions are two saltwater lakes surrounded by pine-clad slopes. Most visitors come on a day trip, so if you stay overnight you'll have the place to yourself. There's a little island in the middle of the larger lake; if you catch a boat out there you can have lunch at the 12th-century Benedictine monastery, which is now the park's hotel. The island is a great spot for swimming and sunbathing, or you can rent a bike and ride around the park. Mljet is approximately 15km (9mi) off Croatia's southern Adriatic coast, mid-way between Korcula and Dubrovnik. It's accessible from Dubrovnik by ferry.
Rab Island, near the centre of the Kvarner island group off north-western Croatia, is one of the most enticing in the Adriatic. The north-eastern side of the island is barren and rocky, while the south-western side is green with pine forests. Medieval Rab town, one of the prettiest in the region, is built on a narrow peninsula which encloses a sheltered harbour - stone buildings climb from the harbour to a cliff overlooking the sea. Rab has been ruled by both Venice and Austria, and these days you'll hear as much German as Croatian spoken.
The towers of four of Rab's churches are easy to spot among the town's mass of red-roofed houses. The Monastery of St Anthony was built in 1675, the Romanesque Cathedral of St Mary the Great has a pleasant terrace which overlooks the sea, and the St Justine Church is now a small museum of religious art. All that remains of Rab's oldest church St John's is the bell tower and the foundations. Take a walk along the city wall for spectacular views of the town, or head north to the shady walkways of the Komrcar Park. Rab Island is accessible by ferry and bus; ferries depart for Rab from the mainland port of Jablanac.
The ruins of the ancient city of Salona (now known as Solin), among the vineyards north-east of Split, are the most interesting archaeological site in Croatia. Salona was the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia from the time of Julius Caesar until AD 614, when it fell to the so-called barbarians.
Outside the ancient city, Manastirine was a burial place for early Christian martyrs, knocked off in the times when the religion was illegal. You can see excavated graves and the 5th century Krapjine Basilica. Above the graveyard is an archeological museum. To the south are ruins of an early Christian cult centre, including a three-aisled 5th-century cathedral, public baths and a small baptistry. At the western end of Salona is the huge 2nd-century amphitheatre, destroyed by the Venetians in the 17th century so that Turkish raiders wouldn't use it as a refuge. Just to the west of Solin is Trogir, which is a jewel of a walled town with a wide waterfront promenade that encloses a maze of medieval streets. Solin and Trogir are an easy day trip from Split.