When my husband and I ventured off on our sailboat SV Rita in September of 2020, it seemed as if a magnet was drawing us to the little town of Osor on the island of Cres in the Adriatic Sea off of Croatia. The gentle 13-knot breeze coming off of our starboard steered us perfectly from the city of Pula in Istria to the tiny town of Osor that sits in a little crook that connects the wild green island of Cres to the more populated island of Mali Lošinj. Our sailboat didn’t even have to tack as the wind drew us perfectly in the right direction to Osor.
Layers of History on the Island of Cres
Many years ago the small town’s position in the Adriatic gave it power and prestige as it was the best trade connection on the ancient route to the Northern Adriatic. Today that same position makes it a place that you need to plan in advance to visit as the tiny bridge that connects the two islands only opens twice a day. So if you are not there at approximately 9 am or 5 pm, you must wait patiently on your side of the channel until the tiny metal traffic bridge rotates around and lets your vessel pass. Fortunately a beautiful beach complete with the enchanting ruins of the medieval church of St. Mary sits on one side of the bridge so it you happen to be stuck there, it is possible to anchor and go for a swim or walk in the clear waters. On the other side is a small harbor which is short walk across the street from the town center.
A Boat Parade
Boat parades are definitely a thing where I come from in New Orleans, Louisiana. Part of either Mardi Gras celebrations or for St. Patrick’s Day and sometimes even Christmas, it’s not uncommon to have a boat parade floating through the canals and bayous in portions of Louisiana. In Croatia, boat parades are not very common, but in Osor we became part of an impromptu one on this sailing trip in the middle of the Adriatic. Since the Osor bridge opens up only twice daily, it’s quite an event when it does. Swimmers in and along the canal and visitors to Osor line the sea wall gather to watch sailboats and motor yachts pass through the channel. This bridge opening is really a special event in the sleepy little town and the many viewers along on the sea walls attest to this magic.
Here’s a video of our passage on this first trip. You can hear some people yelling out to our SV Rita, which warmed my heart. We’ve been through a few times since this first voyage and been fortunate to have fairly decent weather and complacent tides each time. The weather and currents were very favorable this first day we went through as you can see, but it’s not always the case. Google some YouTube videos on Osor and you can see how hairy it can get if the seas are rough.
And as powerful as the passage was in ancient times, the channel is not very wide at all. Only 11 meters (36 feet) in width, the channel did not occur naturally and was dug in Roman times as a strategic sea route through the islands of Cres and Mali Lošinj. Ships would have to pay to pass through on their way through the Kvarner gulf in the Adriatic. But what a place to wait. The beautiful turquoise waters and stony beaches and shaded forests make it a peaceful and memorable place to hang out even without the fortified walls from antiquity and the more recent modern sculptures which dot the stone walkways throughout the town.
The town is believed to go back to the ancient Bronze and Stone ages. And then the Romans came and made their mark by digging the channel. The amount of Roman artifacts found on the island is mind-boggling as seen in a visit to the Archeological Collection of Osor museum. This special museum located in the small piazza in the center of the town holds a treasure trove of artifacts from Roman lamps, amphorae to dishes, drinking vessels, tools and and even makeup applicators. The sheer number of grooming and cleaning implements show that appearances and cleanliness were very important to Romans.
Here are a few more photos from the Roman collection.
This small museum is worth the trip to Osor itself, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. We walked through the charming town and came upon the abandoned St. Mary’s chapel and the a monastery built during the Venetian era. (Yes, the Venetians were here too.) This Benedictine monastery was a treasure even in the ruined stage so I can’t imagine what a peaceful existence it was to have lived there when it was in its prime. Set on a the coast of a stony beach it looked out over the gorgeous bay.
I’ve visited Osor several times and each visit we make our way to this monastery at sunset and marvel at the views. I try to imagine what it must have been to been living at that time and even told my husband if there was a place I’d like to visit if there was a time machine, this monastery would be it.
After viewing that abandoned place, we found another one not too far away. Sveti Petar. It’s location is higher up off the coast and its view just as beautiful, although I prefer the other location. Some sheep and goats live in the fields near by and add to the charm.
We sailed to Osor again recently with some friends we met last year from Germany. As I walked by a home decked out with flowers and an aqua blue gate, I went to photograph some cats curled up by this gate when the owner stepped up and woke me from my photographic reverie. It was an elderly gentleman and he talked to me prolificly in a mixture of German, Croatian and English. He told me he was a ferry captain on the island but because of Covid hadn’t been working much. He talked about the cold winter and lingering spring on the island. He talked and talked and you could hear in his voice the desperation of someone who had missed everyday conversations because of Covid. I didn’t understand everything he said but got the gist of his words and emotions. I was charmed when he pulled some of the beautiful flowers growing on his gate and gave them to me. I wonder how he’s doing today and hope he is back ferrying passengers back and forth from the mainland.
Since that passage last summer we’ve gone through the channel several times and will probably go there again as it is a shortcut to my favorite island near us in Istria called Rab. If you want to read more about this special island (See link here: 10 Must Dos When You Visit the Croatian Island of Rab )
But you probably won’t hear much about Osor in travel guides as it’s a little hard to reach and remote. It’s one of the special reasons that sailing to the Croatian Islands is such a unique experience. So many of the small towns that sit on these islands hold valuable history that is overlooked by travellers to the beaches that sit off the mainland of Croatia. But the peace and charm of walking the town at sunset is like stepping back in time and offers reflections on what it is to be human in modern times and what we have gained and lost since the early days on islands like Cres and Mali Lošinj.