Otok Ilovik – Island #37

Another gorgeous little gem to add to my collection! Beautiful little Ilovik is situated due south of Lošinj and is home to 85 people and lots of the cleanest sheep I have ever seen – with tails! And lizards – thousands of lizards! It’s a small island – only 15.4 km in circumference. It occupies an area of 5.8 km2 . It has a single, lovely little village (also called Ilovik), a brilliant network of pathways around the island and also boasts a sandy beach at Pražine which is a bit of a rarity in Croatia.

Ilovik used to come as a pair with its sister island of Sveti Petar (St Peter) but they are now apparently treated as separate islands. The smaller island of Sveti Petar is uninhabited and only about 300 ms or so right across the water and you could easily swim there from Ilovik harbour. I didn’t go there so I didn’t count it but it’s in a lot of photos!

Most of the inhabitants of Ilovik have apparently moved to America and it is said that there are 3 times as many native Ilovik inhabitants in the US than in Ilovik itself and there is even an Ilovik Social Club in New York!  It’s a picturesque little island originally covered by large stones which have now been organised to create small units of land divided by wide dry stone walls designed to keep the sheep from straying. These small units are planted with olive trees and the island is covered in typical Mediterranean trees and shrubs. The islanders make their living from sheep herding, agriculture, some fishing and more recently tourism.

The harbour and only settlement of Ilovik is a pretty place with a handful of restaurants situated right at the water’s edge. A naturally safe anchorage since antiquity, it is the perfect place to moor up and avoid the various strong winds of the area so is very popular with sailors.  At this time of year there were only a few yachts there. There is only one real ‘street’ which runs behind the harbour, one general store, a post office, a church and not much else! Addresses here are just numbers. The only vehicle I saw was a truck carrying some building materials to a building site. The main form of transport here is boat.

I visited Ilovik on a 12 hour day trip from Lošinj – the ferry for Rijeka has to pick up from all the islands on the way, drop off in Rijeka and then come back again – all in a day – so it starts early!  The high speed ferry leaves Mali Lošinj at 0600 and drops off in Ilovik about 15 minutes later – just time for an espresso and a chocolate croissant from the little bar on board before being deposited on the end of Ilovik’s deserted dock just as the sun was rising.  I was the only person to get off here and had just over 12 hours to discover Ilovik before it came back to pick me up again later on.

There is something magical about sunrise especially a beautiful one like this. There was absolutely no-one around so I took the narrow path towards the sunrise and walked along the coast, watching the sun come up over Sveti Petar a few hundred meters across the water from me.  The path petered out eventually and it was too overgrown to continue without knowing where I was going so I decided to turn back to town.  I saw no-one except a few early-rising yachties and even when I got back to Ilovik about 8.30 am, wasn’t much going on.

A group of old men sitting on a bench outside the general store directed me to the only restaurant open and I went in search of coffee.  Sadly, the coffee machine was broken and the replacement machine – which should have arrived from Mali Lošinj on the same boat as me – had not arrived. I settled for orange juice but, after about 10 minutes, the owner scurried out with an espresso for me – he’d got the old machine going and had rustled me up a coffee! His Mum chatted to me (in Italian) about the difficulties of having to get everything you need from somewhere else and by boat. Very friendly people.

I had all day so I set off to walk around Ilovik. The path out of town headed up a hill to a little chapel at the top.  The way was blocked by 3 large sheep – all clean and fluffy with long tails – it had rained quite a lot the day before and they must have had a shower! They weren’t that bothered by me and after giving me a few funny looks, took themselves off the path and let me pass. There are quite a lot of sheep on Ilovik and I saw a few on my walks around the island.

From the chapel at the top, there were brilliant views back down to Ilovik village and a choice of pathways. I chose to walk to Radovan first of all – about 3 kms away on the island’s south easterly point. The road turned into a track and later a wide path, lined by dry stone walls with wooden gates, olive trees and juniper bushes full of red berries. I have never seen so many lizards in my life – darting across the path in front of me.  It took me an hour or so to get to Radovan, it was a very hot and sunny day and and I didn’t see a living soul! Radovan was a bit of an anti-climax with nothing but a rocky beach, covered with drift wood and a huge sign with an upside-down anchor sign. The view across the blue sea was very impressive though. I really enjoyed the walk and the silence.

I walked back and headed for Pražine to the sandy beach. I came upon a couple also looking for the beach.  Originally from Switzerland, the couple had sold everything to travel the world on a small yacht.  She looked unimpressed with the whole thing.  He talked continually about…..the importance of silence and spending time in peace and quiet!!!! On and on he went, recommending websites where I could watch people being silent, totally oblivious to the fact that he was ruining my lovely silence!  I tried to point that out but couldn’t get a word in!  When we got to the beach they both stripped naked and walked into the water, him still talking.  I took the opportunity to ditch them and swerved behind some trees and found a pretty spot under a large pine tree along the shoreline and sat down for a bit of peace and quiet!

Once they’d gone, I went back to the beach and had a lovely afternoon in the sun. A few people joined me – a large Croatian family and a German couple with an inflatable paddle board and, later on, a couple of yachts turned up. It turned into a fabulous, hot summer’s day and I had a lovely swim in the crystal clear water and ditched the walking I was going to do in favour of a lazy afternoon on the beach. There is a lot of dried seaweed on the beach – apparently what is responsible for keeping the water so clean and clear.  Hunger eventually roused me from my spot on the sand and about 4 pm I wandered back to Ilovik in search of food.

I had a leisurely walk back, bought some postcards from the shop and had a fabulous late lunch of seafood risotto (and wine obviously) on the deck by the water’s edge, at the restaurant with the broken coffee machine. Three guys from one of the yachts sat at a neighbouring table and got steadily more and more drunk – very quickly. They provided entertainment for everyone as they staggered off and tried to get back into their tender and fell into the water instead! I sat here, sipping my wine, enjoying the view and generally enjoying myself until the catamaran came back to get me.  This was one of the most beautiful islands and best days I’ve had so far.  I was sad to leave. I didn’t see the whole island so I might well be back!

NEXT ISLAND: The next island will be the last one in Croatia, Cres.

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