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A CROATIAN JEVEL FIT FOR ROYALITY      (19.09.2011)

Who'S heard of Rab? Despite years of travelling the world both as a royal correspondent and as a holidaymaker, I certainly had not.

Until that is I was doing some research and discovered this tiny Croatian island has a curious connection to our royal family.

It was 75 years ago, during his short reign as King, that Edward VIII and his notorious mistress Wallis Simpson caused a sensation when they visited Rab. Rumour has it that they sunbathed naked in the bay of Kandarola when their steam yacht stopped off for a day during their Adriatic cruise.

They are still feted as the most important visitors Rab has ever received. But now the town's charismatic mayor, Zdenko Antesic, has plans to entice some modern-day royals to the island.

When William and Kate announced they were getting married, the mayor sent an invitation for them to spend their honeymoon on Rab. A polite response came back from Clarence house declining the offer, but Mr Antesic and the tourism board are still hopeful the young royals might drop by one day - after all, Prince harry visited the island of hvar, further south, last month.

Jennie Bond discovers secret If they do, they'll find a real jewel, one of an incredible 1,200 that line the coast of mainland Croatia. The 10,000 people who live on Rab believe theirs is unique. It's certainly a world away from the hustle delights regal history) on the Adriatic and bustle of the larger and better known Croatian resorts such as Dubrovnik, Split and hvar. The lifestyle is laid-back and the landscape (all 10 by 15 miles of it) is varied.

island of My daughter Emma and I left the UK on a rather grey day and were delighted that it took just two hours to fly into searing temperatures. We landed on another island, called Krk, and drove south for about an hour-and-a-half along a stunning coastal road. Then it's a 10-minute ferry crossing to Rab.

It has to be said that our first impressions of the island left us somewhat bemused. "It looks like the moon!" I whispered to Emma. Bare rocks dazzled in the sun, not a tree, plant or house in sight. The only sign of life was a couple of seagulls perched forlornly on the baking stones.

And then, a small miracle. As our driver headed away from the little jetty, the world suddenly changed colour. Lush greenery reclaimed the land, pine trees lined the tiny coves and beaches and we passed through several pretty villages. Emma said: "It seems a bit like the Caribbean - but a bit like Switzerland too, with the mountains on the mainland."

As we were to discover, Rab is an island of hidden secrets. It's years since I lazed in the sun on a lilo, bobbing around in the waves with Emma. She graduated from university this year and is about to leave home... I wanted those moments on our lilos to last for ever.

Rab is very proud of its beaches - particularly its sandy ones, which are Perfect for families ... Paradise Beach unusual in Croatia. The biggest, Paradise Beach, is perfect for families, with safe swimming and plenty of watersports. Take a boat ride around the coast and you'll find cove after cove with just a few people enjoying the peace and beauty. Possibly in the nude - like the King and his mistress.

You can stop to swim in tiny bays or tie up by one of the larger beaches to explore the bistros and bars. We had one of the best meals of our lives at a beachside restaurant called More (it means sea) in Supetarska Draga.

They brought us fresh tuna, octopus, anchovies, langoustines on a bed of mussels and a vicious-looking fish called a dentex, which tasted better than it looked!

We had another fantastic meal at the Astoria in the main town, also called Rab, on a beautiful terrace overlooking the harbour where posh yachts linger on their Adriatic odysseys. A four-course meal at top-class restaurants like these will cost around L30 a head - worth every penny.

But you can eat well for much less: calamari and salad at a stunning little seaside restaurant on the Frkanj peninsula was around L10 with a glass of wine, a T-bone steak was about L13 and the apple strudel, which owner Aleksandar Bravaric insisted I ate, was sensational. Coffee everywhere is good and only about L1, and a beer costs around L2.50.

The old town of Rab is breathtakingly beautiful.

It rises above the ocean on a rocky outcrop, defined by four ancient bell towers. An evening stroll around its quaint, narrow streets is a joy. Wherever you look, there's something to admire: a balcony festooned with bougainvillea, a tiny konoba (bistro), a stunning view of the sunset through the ramparts. The shops are classy, with lots of local produce - the olive oil and lavender are especially good.

We stayed in two contrasting hotels: the Imperial in Rab town and the Carolina on the beach 15 minutes away by road, or 20 minutes in one of the many water taxis which are a great way to get around.

It was at the Imperial that Edward and Wallis had lunch in 1936, and it has an interesting royal corner to commemorate their visit. The Carolina has more of a family feel, with two small pebble beaches, a lovely pool and plenty of sun loungers.

One of the most extraordinary features of our stay in Rab was that we didn't meet or hear a single Brit. This really is a hidden corner of Croatia... one well worth discovering.

Jennie Bond, Mirror

 

 

 

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