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Why Lošinj is the unsung jewel of the Adriatic

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 8/10/2018 Mary Novakovich

a boat parked on the side of a building © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited They call it open-air aromatherapy. Step on the Croatian island of Lošinj and you’re enveloped in the most heavenly scent of wild herbs and plants. Zillions of them. Then there’s the Adriatic Sea in every shade of blue and green, waters so clear that you can count the pebbles. Add to this the colourful baroque sea captains’ houses lining the deep harbour at Mali (meaning “little” — more on that later) Lošinj and you have sensory overload of the most welcome kind.

I’m not usually one to be impressed by a royal seal of approval but I could immediately see why the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz-Joseph turned Lošinj into a 19th-century hotspot for a healing holiday. Like the emperor, I was based in Čikat Bay, which is fringed by cooling forests of Aleppo pines. Rising like a stately ocean liner — but discreetly hidden behind the trees — the gleaming white Hotel Bellevue has its own sprawling swimming platform to go with its seawater pools, spa and terrace of individual hot tubs. It was the least stuffy and most relaxing five-star hotel I’d stayed in for a long while.

It was also a superb base from which to explore the island. I had one of Lošinj’s best bays right in front of me, sheltering pebbly coves under the pines. All around the headlands — covering much of the island, in fact — was a shaded path that went past one enticing beach after another, most enjoyably explored on a rented bike. Cycle, stop, swim, sunbathe, repeat — all the while inhaling the heady fragrance of juniper, pine, thyme and rosemary.

To cover a bit more ground, I hired a scooter and headed first to the fishing village of Veli Lošinj (which means Big Lošinj, even though it’s smaller than Mali Lošinj, just to confuse things). Here there’s more than a whiff of Venice, specifically Burano, about the bright baroque houses that surround the pretty port. I followed the footpath out of the village along the coast where beaches were carved out of the rocky shore. With sandy beaches a rarity, Croatians are extremely adept at turning the most unlikely spots into places to swim. Just stick on a pair of swimming shoes and dive in.

a small boat in a body of water surrounded by trees: Krivica-beach-CROATIA.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Krivica-beach-CROATIA.jpg All along Lošinj’s deeply indented coastline there are dozens of beaches to discover, many best approached by boat or on foot. One of the most beautiful, I was told, was Krivica, on the western side of the island. Leaving my scooter on the side of the road, I tackled the steep, rocky path down to the bay, trying not to think of the half-hour ascent I would have after my swim. It was worth the trek, though, to wallow in blue-green waters with hardly a soul around, just the pine trees.

That evening, the scooter came in handy for dinner at the Providenca viewpoint, which I had passed earlier on my way to Krivica beach. Terraces dug into the hillside are covered with tables, chairs and walking trails; they’re all in a prime position for spectacular sunsets and views of Lošinj and its surrounding islands in the Kvarner Gulf. With the sky on fire and a seafood platter of octopus, bream, mussels and sea bass in front of me, it was pure magic.

I had already become addicted to Lošinj’s seafood the night before during a maritime festival that took over the harbour at Mali Lošinj. It was a lively scene, with stalls selling plates of grilled fish and seafood along with glasses of wine from nearby Istria. There was even ancient history to discover, namely the impressive bronze statue of a Greek athlete dating from around the second or first century BC, displayed in its own Apoxyomenos Museum.

a view of a rocky mountain: Croatia-views.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Croatia-views.jpg More fishy treats were in store the following day during a trip to Lošinj’s offshoot island of Susak. Unusually, there are sandy beaches here, including sheltered Bok, reached via a rocky path along the headland or a longer route through bamboo forests. But first there were fried fish to try at Konoba Barbara in the village to savour — fish and chips, Croatian-style. And a winner.

Back in Mali Lošinj, just to keep the seafood fest going, I had plump calamari at Bocca Vera by the harbour. For a place that looks like a tourist trap and is indeed full of tourists, it’s not actually touristy. And it also makes a mean wood-fired pizza.

My love affair with Lošinj reached its peak with a final dinner at the romantic waterside terrace of Lanterna Grill on Čikat Bay. I missed the sunset but arrived in time for beautifully grilled squid and the most gorgeous lamb from the neighbouring island of Cres.

I felt like I’d been in a blissed-out daze for days, happily drunk on the island’s natural fragrances. My favourite was smilje, a herb rarely found outside Croatia and one that always brings back childhood memories. The French call it immortelle — and it’s as everlasting as Lošinj’s beauty.

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