The westernmost of the Kvarner islands, Cres and Lošinj (really a single island divided by a narrow artificial channel), together make up a narrow sliver of land which begins just south of the  Istrian coast and extends most of the way across the Kvarner Gulf. Allegedly the place where Jason and the Argonauts fled with the Golden Fleece, the islands were originally known as a the "Absyrtides"; according to locals, Medea killed her brother Absyrtus here as he pursued her and threw his remains into the sea, where two of his limbs became Cres and Losinj. Cres (pronounced "tsress") is the second largest of the Adriatic islands, only beaten in size by neighbouring Krk. It marks the transition between the lush green vegetation of northern Croatia and the bare karst of the Adriatic, with the deciduous forest and overgrown hedgerows of northern Cres – the so-called Tramuntana – giving way to the increasingly barren sheep-pastures of the southern part of the island. Sheep apart, there's not much agriculture on the island, and the only other economic activities are fishing and tourism. Despite its proximity to the mainland, Cres is by far the wilder and most unspoiled of the two islands, boasting a couple of attractively weather- beaten old settlements in Osor and Cres Town, as well as numerous villages and coves in which modern-day mass tourism has yet to make an impact. Lošinj (pronounced "losheen") is smaller and more touristed than Cres, and has a thick woolly tree cover that comes as a relief after the obdurate grey-greenness of southern Cres. Long overshadowed by its neighbour, Lošinj developed a thriving maritime trade after the demise of the Venetian Republic, with a large fleet and several shipyards, and later emerged as a holiday destination —Eke Opatija on the mainland it started out in the late nineteenth century as a winter health-resort for sickly Viennese. Nowadays the island's main town, Mali Lošinj, is a magnet for package-holidaying Germans, Austrians, Italians and Croats, though even here you'll find a characterful old town and port relatively unsullied by concrete mega-developments. Its near-neighbour Veli Lošinj, which lies within walking distance, is smaller and offers more in terms of fishing-village charm — although it too can get crowded in August.

 

Access to the islands

Getting to the islands is relatively straightforward. Ferries run hourly from Brestova, just south down the Istrian coast from Opatija, to Porozina in northern Cres, and fromValbiska on Krk to Merag on Cres. Most buses plying the Rijeka—Cres—Lošinj route use the Brestova ferry crossing, although at least one bus daily goes viaValbiska. If you're driving, bear in mind that both ferries attract lengthy queues on summer weekends — so it's best to arrive early or bring a good book. Heading to or from either Istria or Dalmatia, there are also six ferries weekly in each direction between Pula and Zadar, which call at Mali Lošinj on the way. Public transport runs up and down the main road along the island's hilly central spine, making travel between the main centres fairly easy, though to properly explore some of the smaller places on Cres — such as Beli, Valun and Lubenice — you'll need plenty of time and good walking shoes, or your own transport.

 

Cres Town

An oversized fishing village strung around a small harbour, CRES TOWN has the attractively crumpled look of so many of the towns on this coast: tiny alleys lead nowhere, minuscule courtyards shelter an abundance of greenery spilling over the rails of balconies, while mauve and pink flowers sprout from cracks in walls. Trg F. Petrića, which opens out onto the harbour, is the town centre, flanked by a small fifteenth-century loggia and a sixteenth-century clock tower.An archway leads through to the square known as Pod urom ("Beneath the clock"), where St Mary's Church (Crkva svete Marije) boasts a fifteenth-century Gothic—Renaissance portal featuring a fine relief of the Virgin and Child. Just south of here, set slightly back from the harbour, the Gothic Pettis Palace holds a small museum which, once restored, will display piles of encrusted amphorae from the Roman trading post of Crepsa which once stood here, plus coins, manuscripts and sculpture from the town's days underVenetian and Austrian rule. From the northern end of the harbour, the main street, Creskog statuta, runs along the fringes of the town centre before finishing up at the Porta Marcella, a Renaissance gateway from 1595 that stands at one end of a stretch of old town wall dating from Venetian times. A couple of hundred metres south of here, past a peeling Partisan war memorial, another Renaissance gateway, the Porta Bragadina, leads back into the mazy centre of town via a collection of small piazzas.

Over on the southern side of town, just behind a rather ugly shipyard area, the Franciscan monastery (Franjevački samostan) holds a shaded cloister and a small museum, in which flaky portraits of Franciscan theologians are outshone by Andrea de Murano's Virgin and Child of 1475, a warm depiction of a fat and mischievous Jesus with dove in hand. Swimming in Cres takes place along the concreted Lungomare promenade, which stretches west of town as far as the campsite some 1500m away; there's a naturist section on the far side.


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