We recently visited the Island of Pag in the off-season, that is early May of 2015. And I gotta say, I can’t imagine coming any other time of year. Off the top of my head I could easily rattle off 20 compelling reasons why traveling to Croatia, especially an island like Pag, outside of the dog days of summer makes a whole lot of sense. But I don’t want to be boring so I’ll give you my trimmed down ‘Top Three Reasons To Visit Croatia In The Off-Season’.
The number one reason why you should come to Croatia out of season is for the peacefulness that abounds and envelops you. Despite generally being an extrovert, I am not a fan of crowds and all that large mobs of people engender. People in crowds are usually less polite, less mindful of their trash, the lines are always longer, be it for a toilet or a ferry, and besides being louder, crowds are just not any fun. In the off-season people have time to talk and there is no hurry. Everyone seems so much more polite and willing to share their story and connect. It is quiet when there are no crowds and it is so much easier to get a sense of the intensity of the natural surroundings that Croatia is abundant in, when the weather is less intense and we feel open to our surroundings.
Which leads me to the second reason why you should come to the islands of Croatia in the off-season, and that is the Sun. In spring, the sun is such a welcome thing. After a long winter being wrapped up in long sleeves and boots, our pasty white skin craves some vitamin D and our feet are looking for a little more freedom. I love how in spring or autumn when you stroll past a line of café’s looking for a spot to sit, people are sitting with their faces turned to the sun like sunflowers gathering up those glorious rays. In summer, it seems as if I am constantly dodging the sun, and forever in search of those prime spots that offer me shade. In fact in summer you will notice at the more popular beach spots in Croatia, people get up very early to stake their claim on the shady spots by setting out their towels. My first summer in Croatia I was staying in Makarska and woke up early to go for a run on the beach and found myself dodging perfectly placed towels with no people lying on them! I thought it was strange, but it is perfectly normal here. In spring and fall, even in winter, when the sun shines, the mood is immediately lifted and everyone is happy and gay. And everyone is outside; no one is hiding in the shade. And if Croatia is anything, it is an outside destination. Which leads me to my last and best reason to visit Croatia outside of July and August.
Croatia’s got Nature. Boy, do they got some nature! Croatia is a country of breathtakingly amazing natural beauty. Although not all of that beauty has been given the protection it should, I suspect that will change in the near future as Europe’s wetlands and untouched green space becomes more sparse. In the meantime, there are 8 National Parks, more than 1,700 islands, and 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites all sitting in little ole Croatia (a country the size of West Virginia) waiting for you to visit. When you consider it’s size, you’ve got to admit, that’s a lot of Nature! In summer that beauty takes center stage on the sea, the mountains, and in the ancient cities and small towns. Each one a visual masterpiece of it’s own. And all that natural beauty deserves an article devoted specifically to that. The guys at Croatia In Your Pocket do a nice overview here.
And yea, you don’t need to come in the off-season to enjoy these natural beauties that’s for sure. But in the off-season, the colors, the sounds, and the smells are richer, deeper and more delightful. Besides, it’s what those parks contain that I was referring to, when I said that Croatia’s Got Nature. The flora, the fauna, and the bird life in Croatia are ahhhhmazing!!! And while there is plenty of it to enjoy in high season, like the people, they are at their best in the off-season.
On our recent visit to Pag, we sat with our binoculars passing an afternoon, in, under, and around a bird-watching tower at a protected biotope on an ornithological reserve with our two young boys without hearing a whisper of complaint or that most dreadful of childish refrains, “I’m booored!” I can’t imagine doing that in summer. In fact, our side trip to Veliko Blato turned into an all day affair and such a refreshing break from regular life, that all four of us became decidedly more interested in exploring bird life. There are 22 ornithological reserves in Croatia, and 387 bird species that can be spotted when visiting one of those reserves. Just in case you did not know, Croatia is becoming a popular bird-watching destination, especially in spring and fall when various protected species are nesting or migrating. This bird-watching tour is on the top of our homeschool field trip list for next fall.
When the first explorers climbed Mount Učka, which sits above the Kvarner Gulf where my family and I make our home, they did so to uncover the flora and fauna species that they rightly suspected could not be found elsewhere. I am certainly not a naturalist, but living in Croatia with its natural beauties has helped me to realize how, as John Muir once wrote in a journal, … “it is by going out (into nature), that we go in”. Having lived here now for more than seven years, Muir’s advise in the following quote has taken on so much more meaning as I hope it will also for you when you visit:
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” ― John Muir, The Mountains of California
Blog cover photo credit: Roberto Jory 2015. Thanks Roberto!