When in Croatia?

I’m finally in Florence, but before I switch onto the Italy tangent, there’s a little more I want to write about Croatia. If I ever get the chance, I’d love to go back and see more of the country. I probably don’t have to emphasize its beauty- hopefully that’s obvious from the photos. It’s also incredibly relaxing, and the better part of my three days there either were spent in the water or on a rock near the sea with a book. If I’m not taking photos, this is my go-to activity when I visit somewhere with water. Despite the old town being bustling, it had the same calming effect that places like the Cinque Terre and Santorini have on me, and Dubrovnik felt familiar and safe in that sense. That being said, I did have one experience there that was completely and totally new.

There is an island called Lokrum about 15 minutes from Dubrovnik’s main harbor. It’s a quiet little place, and it makes an ideal day trip if you want to evade the August cruise ship crowds. On Dubrovnik day #2, I thought escaping the city during peak business could be beneficial, so I hopped on the ferry after lunch to explore it myself. Going in, two things stood out to me about Lokrum: it was an island only populated by peacocks (who knew that could exist?!), and there was a nude beach.

I’ve never been to a nude (or “naturalist”, as they are called here) beach before, but I figured if I was ever going to do so, it should be in Europe. From my experience, the stereotypes about nudity are mostly true; the attitude towards the human body is more relaxed and frankly much healthier here. I still wasn’t sure what I wasn’t getting myself into, but I figured I would at least show up and see how comfortable I felt.

It turns out that the nude beach on Lokrum isn’t exactly a beach. Instead, it’s more of a collection of staggering, climbable rocks that offer a pretty limited field of view. I have no pictures of my own as they are not allowed (thank goodness), but I was able to find this photo of a portion of the beach from a quick Google search. The atmosphere seemed very laid back and respectful; plus, there were maybe 10 others on the beach in total and they were all at least middle aged. Given the ease of finding your own personal space, I decided to be brave and give it a try.

I’m glad that I did, because it was one of the most exhilarating and liberating things I’ve done while in Europe. There was no awkwardness or shame, and I never felt like I was being stared at. Taking my clothes off was the hardest part, but once that was over with, nothing about it felt weird. Maybe that was also because I knew I was in a foreign country and knew that I’d never see anyone on this beach again.

Once I made my way into the water and could get a full picture of the beach, my improved vantage point also offered me a view of the only graffiti to be found. The word “JESUS” was painted about five or six times in huge blue letters across the otherwise pristine rocks. Something in me reflexively flinched upon seeing that, probably thanks to a southern Christian upbringing (although I’m pretty sure Jesus never said anything about Croatian nude beaches). I also realized a little too late that some of the passing boats came questionably close, but not close enough for it to make me uncomfortable.

I ended up spending the better part of my afternoon there, either swimming or reading on a rock. At one point I decided to swim the perimeter of the beach and discovered that, at the very edge, the rocks built up to a cliff that was suitable for jumping (although I did not partake in nude beach cliff jumping because there are about a million other places at which I’d prefer to die). However, it was what lied around the corner from this cliff that really struck me. If you swam down the small cove directly adjacent to the beach, it opened up into a gorgeous, high-ceilinged cave complete with a small pebble beach. Although there were a couple of cliff jumpers diving into the cove, there seemed to be no one in the cave itself, so I swam over there myself to explore. It was even more stunning on the inside. The only sound was the push and pull of the tide bouncing off the cave walls, and there was no other person in sight. I lied down on a rock and stayed there for a good 30 minutes, basking in the calm.

Unfortunately, the calm was short-lived. After a while, echoing voices snapped me out of my zen moment, and I looked up to find that a fleet of 20 to 30 kayaks had decided to join me. Dubrovnik has a fair amount of kayak tours (I also went on one the next day), and apparently this particular group thought that my cave would make a great place to dock for lunch. I’m not sure how they felt about nudity, but it seems important to note that everyone in this group was fully clothed. Meanwhile, my clothes were all the way on the other side of the beach. Of course.

It was a little like those dreams you have where you are naked in front of a crowd of people and there’s nothing you can do about it, except this wasn’t a dream. This was actually happening. I was far enough away from the water that I couldn’t simply jump in and swim away; the cave was somewhat narrow and I would have to run through the kayakers to get back in the water. It seemed like there was no modest way to go about it. So, I did what any rational person would do: I made a break for the sea, avoided eye contact with the (most likely horrified) tourists, hit the water at full speed, swam away without looking back, promptly put my clothes back on, and called it a day.

So, nude beaches. Are they as scary as they sound? Absolutely not. Would I ever go back to one? Yes, if I could have written confirmation that the beach was not frequented by tour groups. There is the old adage that traveling is about having new experiences and expanding your horizons; as cliche as that is, I believe it to be true. I can now say that I went skinny dipping on a Croatian island only populated by peacocks, which is definitely a first. I can also say I know with certainty that being naked in front of a crowd is every bit as horrifying in real life as it is in stress dreams. On the plus side, at least it makes for a good story.