An idiosyncratic stronghold stuck out in the Adriatic between Croatia and Italy, the small island of Lastovo is not an easy destination. Served by a single daily ferry and catamaran from Split in season, this is a holdover outpost of the Med as it used to be: spare, barren and decidedly untouristy. Its unforgiving isolation, which protected it against pirates, offers the same respite from the mad march of tourist development sweeping Croatia’s coast.
Seemingly cut off from the world by steep cliffs plunging directly into the sea, Lastovo was settled as a safe redoubt against the unending raids of Uskok, Turkish and Genoese pirates. Unlike most Adriatic port towns, Lastovo village is situated beyond the crest of the cliffs, its Venetian church spires entirely invisible from the sea. The entire island served as an impregnable defence from sea raiders during the centuries of war between the Venetian and Ottoman empires.
Lastovo’s stormy history has seen it claimed by Venetians, Ragusans, French, British, and eventually Habsburg rulers before being granted to Italy from World War I until 1945 – it was never a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Mussolini hoped to make Lastovo the site of his ambitious if soft-brained resettlement programme to relocate the poor of overcrowded Naples to a sunny new island home in Dalmatia. Almost all of the Italians were repatriated to Italy after 1945, but the Lastovans still speak a Croatian heavily peppered with Italian words and phrases.
Lastovo was declared a National Nature Park in 2006 but tourists are still precious enough to be greeted with a smile and an invite to a glass of home-brewed travarica spirit. Cars pick up pedestrians. Grab a fishing rod and catch your dinner. Swim in a bay all to yourself. Kick off your shoes and really relax. This isn’t tourism. This is way-out-thereness, an antidote to the crowds. Think Robinson Crusoe, only with fine wine, seafood risotto and maybe a rented moped.
Lastovo village, at other end of the island from the port of Ubli, is a vertical maze of old stone houses and flower-covered, walled alleys clinging to the inner crater of an extinct volcano. The tiny centre at the top of the hill offers a bar, two markets, tourist information and a restaurant. A path leads down to a small beach at Sv Mihovil.
During the winter carnival of Poklad, the cigarette-smoking effigy of a medieval Turk is submitted to various creative indignities while hoisted on a rope 300 metres above the town before being burned by costumed villagers dancing to traditional Moreška music shouting ‘UVO! UVO! UVO!’. Obviously, alcohol consumption is deeply involved.