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Uncovering the quirky beauty of Croatia’s under-the-radar Brijuni islands

Uncovering the quirky beauty of Croatia’s under-the-radar Brijuni islands

As former presidential playgrounds go, Brijuni National Park ranks pretty close to the top. These 14 islands and islets scattered off Croatia’s south-western coast of Istria became the luxurious summer residence of Yugoslavia’s late president Tito, until they were turned into a national park 40 years ago. Tito would entertain heads of state – and much of Hollywood – in lavish surroundings on the main island of Veliki Brijun when he wasn’t holed up in his private villa on the now-off-limits island of Vanga.

When you step off the boat that takes you from the small Istrian fishing village of Fažana 15 minutes away, it’s easy to see why Tito preferred to spend up to four months a year in this relaxing place. Tito wasn’t the first to fall for Brijuni’s beauty, however. It appears that the Romans got there first, judging from the ruins of what would have been a large villa rustica overlooking Verige Bay. But it was an Austrian industrialist, Paul Kupelwieser, who bought the islands in 1893 and created a pampering retreat for aristocrats and luminaries so they could play golf and polo and take fragrant strolls in the Mediterranean Garden. Even James Joyce nipped over from nearby Pula where he was living at the time to celebrate his birthday here in 1905.

The Brijuni Islands have a fascinating history

(CNTB_Ivo Biocina)

Nowadays, you have the choice of taking the boat from Fažana for a day trip or staying overnight in one of the three hotels and three villas. If you have your own boat, you can moor in Veliki Brijun’s marina or dock in St Nicholas Bay on the island of Mali Brijun. Once you arrive, you’ll quickly fall into the slow rhythm of island life and discover an astonishing amount of history packed within a small area.

A little tourist train will be waiting at Veliki Brijun’s pine-shaded harbour, ready to take you on a guided tour around the island’s main sights. There’s always the option to explore on foot on your own with the help of the Brijuni National Park app, or hire an electric golf cart or bike at the harbour, but you’re asked to keep within the designated footpaths.

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