Outside of Cres town, the villages are sun-baked and sleepy. Perched high up above the water, places like Lubenice and Beli have almost run out of people, with only a few old folks left in the ancient buildings. Water is scarce in the higher hills, and the roads to these towns are narrow and difficult - they exist now more as curiousities than communities, and all the younger people have left for other, easier places.
In Beli, on the northern part of Cres, we found doors open to quiet kitchens and beautiful vistas down to the sea. The walls and ceiling of this small covered market - unused at the time - were covered with scratched-in names and words. A beach far below was busy with sunbathers and swimmers, but the town was nearly silent. Endangered griffon vultures wheeled overhead, their nests not far along the coast in a preserve.
Cres town is much more bustling, with a lively center and a packed marina and harbor. The water is clean enough - even with all the boats - for thousands of sea urchins and whole shoals of glittering fish. Locals fish right from the town shore or dive in the shallows with snorkels and masks, collecting mussels and clams from the bottom.We ate lots of squid, octopus, sardine and dorade, all of it caught right in the surrounding channels. Men in overalls and rubber boots sold their catch on the pier in the morning, then retired to the cafes for the afternoon, keeping an eye on their bobbing boats while they drank and talked to one another. We were spoiled by the quantity of fresh, delicious seafood. It's a little frightening to think about turning back inland.
Though there isn't the same kind of infrastructure in place on Cres as on other islands, tourism is still the big industry here. There's a big focus on camping, though, which is nice because the island seems less developed even in the hotspots. Some dozen campsites, ranging in size from massive to tiny, dot the coast. Some are better equipped (and noisier) than others - ours had thousands of people and this carnival type space on the outskirts.One of the reasons Cres is less touristy than other islands is that it's not connected to the mainland by road. Unlike Pag, Krk and others, visitors need to take a ferry to get to Cres, where they are likely to need their own car. The ferry "town" of Porozina is really just a dock and a few bars.
Coming to Opatija from Cres was hard. The mainland and the city are pretty and fun, but we missed the simplicity and loneliness of the island. It really was a Croatian backwater, with sheep and tractors on the roads and a sense of unspoiled culture. When we took the ferry back, knowing what to expect, the rush of familiarity and excitement was almost confusing to the two guests we brought along. By the end of the day, though, they were talking about going to other islands and about how much they loved being offshore; it's really nice, we all agreed, to be disconnected and left alone.