BY THE TIME we reached Lastovo, we were made of salt water and octopus. For a week, my family—14 of us, from age 78 down to 16—had sailed along Croatia's Dalmatian coast in a 100-foot Turkish gulet, gorging on grilled fish and pickling ourselves with local wine. We'd come far from the cruise ships of Dubrovnik and left the nightlife of Korcula behind. Lastovo (pop. 800) was the last and most remote island, one big national park with, from the look of the charts, great sheltered kayaking. But even our guide, adventure writer Maria Coffey, had never been.
We'd heard there were vampires on Lastovo—in the 1700s, the island had a little problem with vukodlaci, undead corpses that rose, as our guidebook said, "to visit the beds of bored wives and pleasure them in the night." This sounded fine to some of our clan, but the island still emitted a creepy vibe. Even today, one of Lastovo's biggest celebrations involves the ritual humiliation of a straw puppet led through town on a donkey.
Sure enough, the crags showed little sign of life—just crying gulls and the colorful towels of naked Germans, the predominant pink-skinned species here, found sprawled along Dalmatia's rocky coast. But the little harbor of Skrivena Luka was a miracle, a still blue bay ringed with stone cottages. At the lone restaurant, Porto Russo, the proprietor brought out homemade verbena-infused Croatian grappa, then white wine (from his own grapes), home-cured olives, and local squid cooked for hours pod pekom—under a metal bell in a wood-fired outdoor oven. Later, in Lastovo Town, a 15th-century wonderland of vineyards and minaret-topped churches teetering on the island's summit, the local street sweeper—who still uses a broom—dragged us into his courtyard for thick, sweet coffee.
Did we come here by plane? Was the World Cup still going on? What was my name again? The Dalmatian islands aren't exactly off the beaten path, but in Lastovo you can feel like you sailed in and discovered them yourself.
GET THERE: Hidden Places owners Maria Coffey and Dag Goering guide ten-day kayaking-and-sailing trips along the Dalmatian coast for $4,550 per person (hiddenplaces.net).