When the summer wind comes blowing in the Dalmatian Coast, the beaches of Croatia polish their pebbles and fluff their plumage for the peak season from July through to August.
The secret of Croatia’s stunning Adriatic Coast and its award-winning beach destinations is well and truly out, thanks in part to the popularity of shows such as “Game of Thrones,” which used the Eastern European country as a backdrop.
More than 100 Croatian beaches have earned blue flag status for their remarkable purity on land and in the sea.
Much of this is thanks to the white pebbles that cover most beaches in the country, keeping the water a clear, jewelry-grade tone of turquoise.
Inside nearly every curve of the Croatia’s coastline, from Istria in the north to Dubrovnik in the south, lies a fabulous Adriatic beach where you can play. Here are 11 of the best when you travel here:
Stiniva Beach, Vis
Stiniva beach is based on the island of Vis, which is in southern Croatia.
Now one of the country’s hottest beaches, Stiniva lies on the south side of Vis, an island laden with legend as the staging area and hideout for Tito’s partisans and British commandos fighting Nazi invaders in World War II.
Situated a two hour and 30 minute ferry ride from Split, it was named the best beach in Europe by European Best Destinations, a Brussels-based organization that promotes culture and tourism, in 2016, and looks every bit the part.
Set in a natural limestone arena, sheer tufted walls of rock all but encircle the smooth, sunken, white pebble floor, with the only break at the 16-foot wide “cliff gate,” which opens the beach to the sea.
The unusual formation, thought to be the result of the collapse of an ancient cave, could easily serve as a heavenly Hollywood vision, or at least a refuge for the Mother of Dragons from “Game of Thrones.”
Stinivia has grown in popularity over the years, and the beach is usually filled with swimmers, sun bathers, and snorkelers by late morning, many of them ferried in by a small fleet of taxi boats.
Others arrive via the somewhat treacherous land route down the steep south slope — which is definitely not for the young, the clumsy or the sandaled.
Thankfully the challenge of reaching Stinivia is still strong enough to protect it from the worst cases of crowding, making a coveted spot on the beach feel very well earned.
Bršeč Beach, Bršeč
Bršeč Beach offers views across the Kvarner Gulf to Cres Island.
Beneath the clifftop medieval village of Bršeč sits one Istrian beach that escapes the attention of many tourists (as the locals prefer).
Seemingly scraped out of solid rock by a giant paw, Bršeč Beach is small in comparison to most Croatian beaches but comes with all the spectacle of the best, including views across the Kvarner Gulf to Cres Island.
Like Stiniva, the challenge of getting here, along a wild and windy half-mile trek, keeps away the busiest crowds.
Be sure to bring all your own amenities as there are no facilities on or near the beach.
The sheer limestone cliffs below Bršeč are a favorite with experienced climbers as well as abseilers and definitely worth a visit.
Kamenjak National Park, Premantura, Istria
Kamenjak National Park — a stunning nature reserve.
Croatia’s most exciting beach can be found at the southernmost tip of Istria, on the Kamenjak Peninsula, a national park, which dribbles into the sea for nearly four miles before ending in 70-foot high cliffs.
From here, daredevils leap into the sea.
Its protected status keeps both land and water pristine for the passing dolphins and Mediterranean monk seals that frequent.
Dinosaurs also loved this area, leaving fossils and footprints in the limestone, some of which can be seen on “The Dinosaur Path” near Penižule beach. More recently, humans have added the kitsch, with life-sized dinosaur models.
Oprna Beach, Krk
Oprna Beach can be reached via a narrow path down a slope.
With more blue flag beaches than any other island in Croatia, Krk offers spectacular swimming and sunbathing around almost every bend of its shoreline.
But Oprna Beach is undoubtedly one of its stand outs, as well as one of the hardest to get to.
The calm, clear waters and long shallow shoreline here make it a favorite for snorkelers and divers.
Plus, its remote location means the beach remains quiet and relaxing throughout the summer.
As with many wild beaches Croatia, reaching it requires navigating a narrow path down a slope.
While you’re there, you can also take a boat out to 16th century Franciscan monastery on Košljun, a tiny island within the island of Krk.
Beach Mali Bok, Cres
Mali Bok is home to the endangered Griffon vulture.
Squeezed between Istria and Dalmatia in the Kvarner Gulf, Cres island drips north to south like a Rorschach test inkblot.
Outside the village of Orlec, long walls of barren jagged limestone act as the bookend for a dramatic channel that funnels to a small pebble beach.
There’s no shade here, so it’s best to bring an umbrella if you don’t want to burn to a crisp under the sun, which fades quickly in the afternoon once it passes behind the rock.
Keep an eye skyward for the endangered Griffon vulture, which nests in the rocks above
The island is also known for its fabulous conditions and there are many scuba diving centers in the area.
Zlatni Rat, Bol
Zlatni Rat’s name translates to “golden horn.”
Croatia’s most photographed beach extends like a “golden horn,” as its name translates, south from the island of Brač.
A Mediterranean pine grove fills in the bell side, but the mouthpiece is naked beach, with golden pebbles so fine, they actually feel like sand.
Owing to the shifts in wind, one side usually takes the brunt (attracting surfers), while the other remains calm, and therefore more carpeted with towels, tents, and tourists.
Another highlight is the curly sea snail shell, dubbed “lucky stone” by locals, which is located among the pebbles on the beach.
Punta Rata, Brela
Punta Rata is popular with families.
Along the Makarska Riviera, stretching south along the rocky coast from Split, some of Croatia’s most famous beaches spread out against the backdrop of the Biokovo mountain range.
The arrow-shaped Punta Rata beach flashes more bling than most and is often rated among the best beaches in the country, if not the world.
Its crown jewel is the “Brela Stone,” a giant boulder just off shore miraculously sprouting pine trees.
The beach also comes with a complete range of facilities such as sun beds and showers and is hugely popular with families.
Visitors can also opt to rent a bicycle and explore paved and unpaved trails running along the coast from Brela and into the hinterland.
Nugal Beach, Makarska
Nugal Beach is a favorite with nudists.
Makarska’s most cinematic beach comes complete with its own 30-foot waterfall, fed by a stream coming down from Mount Biokovo and cascading down the rock face into the sea.
Perhaps unfortunately, it’s most impressive in winter, when swimming is not possible.
The actual beach area open to the sun is relatively small, but the surrounding pine forest surrounding offers plenty of shade and privacy, which is much appreciated by the many nudists who gather here.
It’s also worth budgeting some time for a hike in the seaside Forest Park Osejava, which extends for almost two miles from the beach.
Sunj Beach, Lopud
Sunj Beach features 800 meters of sand.
A rare example of a sandy beach in Croatia, Sunj rolls out half a mile along the bay of the same name at the south end of Lopud, west of Dubrovnik.
This is matched perpendicularly by long, gently sloping green hills extending far out into the sea on both sides.
The island is car free, so accessibility relies on golf carts running to and from the main town.
Going by foot or bike is possible, but the slopes may challenge those without modest fitness, particularly under the sun.
The area is also home to various ruined monasteries, palaces, villas, and forts that speak of the island’s medieval heyday before decimated by earthquake and repeated occupation and are definitely worth exploring.
Sveti Jakov Beach, Dubrovnik
Sveti Jakov Beach overlooks Croatia’s Lokrum island.
What’s could be more cinematic than swimming under the walls of King’s Landing in “Game of Thrones?”
As every fan knows, Dubrovnik loaned its inimitable visage to the series, and remains every bit as impressive in person as it is on screen.
The city’s main beach, Banje, rolls out an attractive enough pebble carpet.
But the wilder Sveti Jakov, a 20 minute trek away, keeps the Dubrovnik backdrop while adding quiet, privacy, shade, snorkeling, and excellent sunsets.
Largely overlooked by tourists, it can be reached by the no.5 bus from the Old Town of Dubrovnik, or on foot
Betina Cave, Dubrovnik
Sixteenth century scientist Marin Getaldić performed experiments in optics at this cave beach.
Visitors are almost always guaranteed shade (bar a few hours in the late morning when the sun hangs opposite) at this cave beach, situated about a mile south of Dubrovnik.
A small strip of pebbles jutting out front offer the only direct exposure to sunlight, which suited 16th century scientist Marin Getaldić, who conducted experiments in optics here, including creating the first parabolic mirror.
The only way to reach the hollowed out cliff is by taxi boat or kayak, which keeps large crowds away.
Be sure to catch the sunset (and a cocktail) from Bar Giardino, on the back terrace of the nearby five-star Villa Dubrovnik.
Originally published on CNN Travel