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Croatia is fast becoming a go-to holiday destination, offering the most exclusive hotels and ideal locations that comes with the perfect climate and guaranteed summer sunshine.

There is culture and history within the region, the Croatian wine lends itself to the islands off the Adriatic Coast, the music festival appeals to the young and the Eastern Europe culture interests all ages.

Credit: Gojko Vukov-Colić

What is there not to love about Croatia?

We have all read the reviews on Hvar, Dubrovnik and Split regarding their individual wonders that accompany those locations but it is something different that we need to talk about.

The island of Zlarin lies off the Šibenik coast and is a hidden jewel that doesn’t get the credit that it fully deserves.

The name of Zlarin is believed to have originated from the Latin words “Insula Aur”, which in Latin translation means the island of gold.  Since there is no proof or existence of this, other theories are allowed comparable significance but you can see the allure within the island and the link behind the most common theory.

Natural beauty distinguished by scenic views and cultural history that has yet to be touched by globalisation and modernisation.

Many islands of the Adriatic Coast are often spoilt to accommodate the incoming tourists. You will see English restaurants, hotel chains and tourist amenities but not here, you get to experience the real Croatia in all its glory.

Credit: Franko Krava

The car-free zone lends to the clean air while it promotes and allows users to use your feet or bicycle as the only transport option creates the opportunity to explore.

So what makes it so great? Why has the island been so untouched for so many years?

First of all, there is plenty of history to marvel at when exploring the island with the earliest records stretching back to 1245 when Zlarin was mentioned as part of the city of Sibenik.

It then goes onto the formation of the importance of religion to the island, with the churches becoming a vital cog in the culture learning with Zlarin. There is plenty of Catholic churches on the island, with the Church of Mary’s Ascension, Church of Saint Roko and Church of Saint Simenon all there for the tourists view.

The historic parish church of Mary Ascension dates back to the 14th century and offers a glimpse back into that era and an opportunity to see the works of one of the greatest ever altar craftsman in Italy, Domenico Focozzio. The site now has seven altars to look at and feel connected to the history, particularly the Roman era. One even encompassing the body of Saint Fortunat.

Another historic and one of the most mysterious churches is found at the bottom of the crossroads and named the Our Lady of Rašelj Church. Built in the 15th century, there is a story of how the church came about being built, a sure thing to ask any locals. The ‘miraculous Lady of Rašelj’ had a huge influence on the population of Zlarin; farmers, fishermen, sailors, coral hunters, immigrants who declared their commitment to her and presented her with copious amounts of gifts after having gone through life troubles.

Credit: Gojko Vukov-Colić

The Holy Cross Church, Saint Mikula Chapel, Lady of Carmen Chapel and Church of Saint Roko are all there to be viewed in its natural beauty.

If you are short of time on the island then climbing to the top of Klepac, a 69-metre hill allows you to see all religious sites in a 360 panoramic view. The climb may make you hot and sweaty but the view is special over the mountain of Velebit and a little island called Jabuka.

Standing on the highest point enables you to plan your visit and be able to see a civilisation that doesn’t rely on motor vehicles to get from A to B. A reflection of the life back before the 20th century.

Should religion and culture not be your thing then you will find a suitable place with ultimate relaxation by the sand and sea.

Zlarin plays host to a number of special beaches and can offer the idle chance to top up your tan or simply just to relax on the sand and pebbles.

Due to its minimal size, the island does not have a copious amount of beaches to offer so you may think that there is limited space available to enjoy that day at the beach. Nevertheless, you could not be more wrong.

The island has only 300 permanent residents, and although the population grows during the summer months, you could find yourself in tranquil luxury on the beach.

From the beach to waves and another attractive option that Zlarin possess is the available coral located off the coast. Snorkelling or diving in the clear waters in the Adriatic Sea attracts more and more each summer season.

Coral has been harvested and dived for since the 14th century with it bringing the most significant and recognisable cultural aspect associated with the island. Back then, the islanders from Zlarin were mentioned as the most famous coral divers, with the present-day island divers sent off with a song and dance. Revered as heroes in history and to the present day.

In much Croatian folklore and many other stories, Coral’s are reflected as divine creatures and their origin is perpetrated within their skeleton structure at the foot of the water. The famous red corals are said to have come from when Perseus beheaded Medusa and threw the head into the sea. Sea algae, covered in blood from the Greek mythological lady then turned to stone and then became a beautiful coral.

Credit: Gojko Vukov-Colic

True or not, Zlarin benefits from the presence of the coral, the main factor that drives this tiny little island’s tourist economy.

The Croatian Coral Centre serves as a gathering place for scientific coral divers, allowing the industry to keep on thriving within the country and Adriatic Coast. Zlarin is doing things the right way, similar to the conservation efforts within the Great Barrier Reef and on the Darwin Mounds with the officials on the island teaching the next generation of their conservation practices and ideologies.

Once out of the water, it’s time to dry off to relax or simply a stopping point to allow yourself to drop off your bags and go an explore everything that Zlarin has to offer to tourists and Croatian locals.

Offers of temporary residence are increasingly limited on the island given that there is one hotel and only a handful of rented apartments available. With the booming industry during the summer months, it may be worthwhile to stay nearby on the mainland, particularly Šibenik due to the proximity.

Credit: Franko Krava

But why would you when you can experience all glory for its worth.

Hotel Koralj is a two-star rating hotel that offers clean, comfortable living space and the basic ‘plus’ amenities, such as the internet, satellite TV and the much-needed air conditioning to survive that summer heat. 

The accommodation is equipped with the basic facilities and is only a short walk away from the sea, but if the hotel is unavailable and doesn’t meet your requirements or if you prefer somewhere more exclusive then there is private accommodation available to tourists.

Holiday homes, most of which are stone houses, are available on a self-catering basis and located throughout the island. You will have to do your research though, should you want a greater slice of luxury in your home as many properties may not suit your needs.

You will find most of these rentable properties, including the hotel, within the north of the island and close to the pier. The south and central areas are predominantly forested and properties are unlikely to be located in these areas.

Food is an important aspect of culture in anyone’s holiday, with the available sites good enough to not dampen your holiday spirit.

There are at least four restaurants among the island all displaying varied menus and serving excellent food. These are predominantly open during the summer months, with Tavern Aldura, Restaurant Koralj, Tavern Prslika and Restaurant Ivana having a formal atmosphere and better food with the remaining taverns and bars attracting the more laid-back customer with their relaxed feeling.

All place have recommendations but it may be worthwhile to check with the locals who is rated the best on the island. At the end of the day, a happy stomach equals a happy you.  

Credit: Mato Adzic

So if you’re looking for something different for your next holiday, why not consider a tiny island, first plastic free island, that is tranquil, has frequent sunshine and plenty to offer to as a tourist. Peaceful in nature, going to Zlarin for a day from mainland Croatia will be a different and enjoyable experience from the holiday normal.