Croatia’s growing popularity with independent travellers has given a new lease of life to the Adriatic camping scene, with a new breed of small, family-owned sites squeezing themselves into some beautiful corners of the country’s famously stunning coastline. Facilities are improving – nowadays you get things like wi-fi as well as hot water – but it’s a combination of location and atmosphere that make the best sites special. Cute camping grounds on the South Dalmatian islands can often provide a far better holiday than the huge, regimented trailer cities that prevail at the more developed, northern end of the country. Listed below are ten of our favourite Croatian beachside campsites, running geographically from south to north. One thing to remember before you set off: all Croatian sites tend to occupy hard, stony ground; so try not to bend all your tent pegs on the first night.
Why stay in the summertime sardine-tin that is Dubrovnik when you can enjoy an idyllic beachside holiday a little further south? Shrouded by lush Mediterranean greenery 35km from the city, Molunat faces east across a small shallow bay that boasts a smooth, sandy seabed on one side and a more rocky section on the other. One of five sites in the village, the neat, 30-pitch Monika shelters amid olive trees on a shingle-edged inlet, just south of the main beach. Monika’s restaurant isn’t bad either, serving up grilled seafood backed up with wines from local vineyards.
Camp Grebišće, Jelsa, Hvar
Occupying a terraced site above Grebišće beach, four kilometres out of Jelsa on Hvar’s northern shore, this campsite is perfect for a bathing-based seaside holiday. There is a restaurant on site, a free wi-fi zone and olive groves – although not all of the pitches are shaded. The beach itself is both very shallow and sandy underfoot, making it perfect for safe paddling and playful splashing around. Drinks and basic snacks are available at the campsite café or the Čorni Petar beach bar on the headland to the east.
Lupis, Lovište, Pelješac
Lovište is a blissfully sleepy end-of-the-peninsula backwater and, judging by the dearth of public transport to this part of the Pelješac, looks destined to remain so for the foreseeable future. Pretty much all of this fishing village’s indented seafront is composed of shingle shore and clear water – and Lupis is one of two family-run campsites that sit right beside it. Set on terraced, gently-sloping ground shaded by tamarisks, and with several village taverns in walking distance (but not close enough to be noisy), it’s as enchanting and restful a spot as they come.
Kamp Lili, Jagodna, Hvar
Getting to the southern side of Hvar can be an adventure in itself, involving careful navigation of the winding road through Pitve before passing through a rough-hewn single-lane tunnel that never fails to spook first-time visitors. Beaches here are an informal mixture of shingle cove and rocky outcrop – and it’s this landscape that family-run Kamp Lili sits right on top of. Life here is blissfully free of discos or cocktail bars, and this stretch of coast – overlooked by sloping vineyards and cliffs – is stunning.
Mala Milna, Milna, Hvar
Three kilometres east of Hvar Town, Milna is a bay-hugging cluster of houses that lies below the main Hvar–Stari Grad road. Milna’s main beach is a broad swathe of pebble with rocky stretches on either side; the smaller, slightly less crowded pebble beach, Mala Milna, can be found five minutes’ walk west. Lying between the two is the Mala Milna campsite occupying terraced, pine-shaded ground just above the sea. With a bit of luck small-tent travellers might find a pitch right beside the shore.
Just outside the peninsula town of Primošten, Adriatiq is one of the Dalmatian mainland’s most pleasant and well-organized sites, situated conveniently mid-way between the historic cities of Šibenik and Split. Occupying its own small peninsula 4km west of town, the site is fringed by a long stretch of pebble beach, with pitches occupying terraced, tree-shaded ground. With a 350-pitch capacity it’s not the most intimate of places, but it does have beach volleyball, tennis courts, pedalos, a diving school and its own restaurant.
Camping Jasenovo, Žaborić-Jasenovo
One of the most outstanding small sites in Croatia and on a beautiful stretch of coast that is often overlooked, Jasenovo is in the tiny coastal settlement of Žaborić, 15km southeast of Šibenik. Bordered by neat hedges and well-tended Mediterranean plants, the fifty pine-shaded pitches slope gently down towards a small pebble beach. West facing, the beach is perfect for the evening sun – and the campsite’s beachside café-bar serves good ice cream.
Camping Zdovice, Valun, Cres
The kind of place that will have the purists twanging their guy-ropes in triumph, Zdovice is unique in Croatia for remaining resolutely closed to caravans, mobile homes and automobiles. Facilities in this unreconstructed canvas paradise are on the simple side, but the location is superb, right on a shingle beach beside the tiny fishing village of Valun – a wild and unspoiled place on what is by and large a wild and unspoiled island.
Antony Boy, Viganj, Pelješac
Tourism in the windsurfing village of Viganj is almost totally campsite-based, with a string of appealing sites lining the splendid strip of shingle that is Ponta Beach. Medium-sized, orchard-like Anthony Boy is one of the best equipped, with a windsurfing school, kids’ play-park and bicycle rental among the extras. A few metres away, cult boho beach bar K2 is where people come to earnestly discuss which way the wind is blowing: you don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy Viganj, but it helps to show an interest.
Camping Medveja, Medveja
The sweeping crescent of shingle at Medveja, 10km south of Opatija, has long been celebrated as one of the best family beaches in northern Croatia. It has been slightly spoiled by the arrival of beach bars, expensive sun loungers and the buzz of jet skis, but it’s still the best place hereabouts to spend a day with your bucket and spade. Immediately behind the beach, Camping Medveja is a well-appointed and spacious affair tucked into a steep sided valley. Behind the site, a well-trodden hiking trail ascends towards the summit of Učka, the imposing mountain ridge that dominates this stretch of coast.
Explore more of Croatia with the Rough Guide to Croatia. Book hostels, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.