The Scottish Mail on Sunday
...Or try this Croatian gem where a King skinny-dipped
RAB ISLAND’S claim to fame is that in 1936, King Edward VIII went skinny-dipping there with his bride Mrs Wallis Simpson.
Kandarola beach where they bathed on the Croatian island has been a nudist retreat ever since and, close to the harbour, there is a plaque commemorating their visit (with her name mis-spelled).
At the time the British public knew nothing of their trip, as it was the subject of a news blackout. Most Brits still know very little about this beautiful island in the Adriatic – while thousands of Germans and Italians go there every year.
There are some lovely hotels, such as the recently refurbished Valamar Imperial (valamar.com), the first on the island when it was built in 1927, where the King and his new wife stayed, and the historic Arbiana (arbianahotel. com/en) right on the waterfront.
Both have elegant gardens and outdoor pools, and are a short stroll from Rab town.
Dominated by four church towers, two dating from the 12th Century, the town has a labyrinth of enchanting streets and alleyways, palaces, arcaded squares and wooded parks.
From the harbour you can sail around the island and visit Rab’s Alcatraz – Goli Otok, a barren island where then President Tito kept political prisoners in often appalling conditions when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia.
Beaches are plentiful: there are 22 sandy ones – a rarity for Croatia – and cafes and restaurants for all tastes and budgets. Our favourites were the award-winning restaurant at Hotel Villa Barbat (hotelbarbat.com), where we dined on lamb cooked in honey in a secluded garden, and the Astoria, (astoria-rab.com/en) with its first-floor terrace overlooking the harbour.
Here we were served some of the best fish dishes we have ever eaten, from scallops gratin and white scampi risotto to black calamari and sepia risotto. Our meals for two with a bottle of house wine cost us no more than £30 to £35.
And at Kuca Rabske Torte (a museum that celebrates Rab cake) we sampled this traditional island speciality. It was created by nuns 900 years ago as a thank you to Pope Alexander III, who consecrated the cathedral.
We travelled to Rab via Rijeka, a once-bustling port now reimagined as a cultural and tourism hub.
It has a stunning opera house, Austro-Hungarian palaces, a baroque cathedral, dazzling waterfront and mouthwatering market providing delicious fish for the next-door Fiume restaurant.
In 2020, along with Galway, it will be a European City of Culture. A major feature of celebrations will be a yacht, Galeb, once commandeered by Tito to entertain dignitaries.
Now a rusting hulk, it is being restored with the help of several million euros and will house a museum and restaurant.
Rijeka’s other attraction is that it offers easy access to many of the Kvarner region’s tourist hot spots – such as the island of Krk and the Opatija Riviera.