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And then we saw five nudists on a boat, chit-chatting like long-lost friends, spurred on by liquor-filled libations and flush with the kind of soaring Vitamin D levels more conservative travellers would never be blessed with…

Most of us are familiar with those epic blockbuster movies that start by revealing the ending and then go on a trajectory, tracing the run-up, taking viewers through the tumultuous, gripping journey of the plot that led to the final dramatic conclusion.

Whilst my ramblings are a few millennia away from entering the realms of epic, it cannot be a bad thing to aim high so today, I shall attempt that same format with my post. Those of you who bore easily may wish to tootle off, since the punch line has already been delivered.

Palmizana Pakleni Islands

Palmizana, Pakleni Islands

Those of you, on the other hand, who remain intrigued about how two body-conscious explorers found themselves on a nudist beach within the depths of a tiny Adriatic island – read on now.

Visiting Palmizana, Pakleni Islands

On our whistle-stop trip to Croatia last Autumn, Hvar was my favourite of the three locations we visited. The island, surrounded by the mesmerising jade waters of the Adriatic Sea, showed me (more than any other European beach I have seen) just how saturated a turquoise you can find on European shores. You really don’t need to travel to faraway lands like French Polynesia or the Maldives islands solely in pursuit of these hues (though I will not pretend I didn’t gasp in awe on my first visit to the Maldives.)

Hvar Old Town

Hvar Old Town

The waters around Hvar and many neighbouring Croatian islands have a clarity that seems almost artificial and a beckoning quality that will draw in even the most ardent aqua-phobes. Perhaps it was senseless seeking out another island when Hvar was such a jewel in itself and when our time was limited to just a couple of days anyway. But with the water taxi stand just two minutes away from our Hvar Air BnB, we gave in to temptation to visit the Pakleni islands.

Hvar Beaches

The Diamond Clear Waters of Hvar

Many companies offer escorted day trips to one or more of the Pakleni islands but notoriously ones to prefer travelling at our own pace, we decided to do it independently. After a feeble attempt at some last-minute research, we boarded a taxi to Palmizana island. Each of the islands have their own quirks and qualities. Some are renowned for being more party-orientated; others more sedate and serene – and then there are those renowned for their nudists, which we thought we had eliminated from our itinerary.

Hvar water taxi station

When approaching a water taxi, be sure to check which island it is travelling to – most taxis will have specific Pakleni islands that they transfer to so you need to ensure you have found one travelling to the island of your choice. Equally important to take note of are taxi return timings. There won’t be many easy ways to get back to Hvar if you miss the last water taxi of the day so unless you’re planning to swim back to shore or are auditioning for I’m a Celebrity, it pays to be organised with this.

We arrived in Palmizana with a specific beach in mind that we had briefly read about, “briefly” being the operative word. I had read it was more unspoilt and tranquil without much in the way of creature comforts but that it would be a welcoming contrast to the more popular and bustling beaches of Palmizana.

Day Trip to Pakleni Islands

Rather like the magic discovery we had made of Ffryes Beach in Antigua, this Palmizana beach sounded appealing for its sheer authenticity. We disembarked the boat alongside a couple of dozen others and followed an uneven path through a small grassy area, a walk that must only have lasted around ten minutes. Signs to a beach guided us and most other travellers were following a similar trail. A few peeled off in one direction, others followed the majority. It is an island with many beaches and minimal sign-posting once you are off the boat but with most of the crowd going in one direction, we remained unperturbed.

Croatia islands and beaches

The First Palmizana Beach

Eventually we reached an alluring stretch of coastline, bathed in midday sunshine, the warm azure waters immediately diverting our attention from the specific details of our whereabouts. The popularity of this beach was evident with most sun loungers taken by those who rise earlier than ourselves. Instinctively, we raced towards the last few empty ones, dumping our beach towels down ungracefully and fumbling around for change before the beach stewards headed our way for payment. With books out and sun lotions at the ready, the official “unwinding” chapter of the holiday was upon us.

Or was it?

Palmizana water taxi

Palmizana water taxi

Our minds can’t have been fully switched off from reality since I caught Pumpkin’s puzzled expression, as he stared at an island map. “I don’t think we’re at the right beach” was the statement that followed. I glared back, a blurry bordered expression laced with hints of bemusement, hints of frustration and hints of acknowledgement that I was in no position to curse someone else’s navigational skills when mine were so non-existent.

Then, I looked around. The man had a point. There were beach facilities, deck chairs and beach staff. Enthused sun-seekers were milling around en masse. The spectrum of blues appeared to have hypnotised us into oblivion, since this beach, as desirable as it was, was far wide of the description I had promised Pumpkin from my research.

day trips from Hvar

Any sensible couple would have accepted their lot. We only had a few hours in Palmizana before we were due to take the return taxi to Hvar. There was little justification in wasting additional time and effort seeking out a second beach just for the sake of it, all the more so when we had forked out over 10 Euros for the privilege of a deck chair.

water taxi boat Hvar

All the logical reasons compelled us to stay put and I am sure if it was left to my husband’s pratical brain, we would have done just that but I was there too and with my over-zealous, thirst-to-explore-it-all brain, together with the dreaded, grotesque #FOMO phenomena, my itchy feet got itchier and my impatience to keep my eyes on the prize grew.

We compromised, as all successful couples do. We would enjoy an hour or two at this beach and then we would resume our beach hunt. And with that promise, I opened up the water-imprinted pages of my novel and threw myself into the text without further ado.

best beaches Croatia

As our deadline loomed, Pumpkin rechecked: did I still want to track down the other beach? He must have known I am not one to go back on my word. With belongings packed, we headed away from the beach, leaving a gold-dust trail of free seating for latecomers to the Palmizana party.

The Woodland Hike

We forayed back towards the grass, this time with a different path in mind. We had made use of the free 3G Pumpkin always seems to have when we travel to help us locate how to reach said beach. The sporadic anecdotes we found online told us that when we head into the woodland, the floor beneath us will be uneven and the path won’t necessarily follow a clearly demarcated route  but the best way to find the beach will be to follow the stones with the red paint. It was starting to sound a little like an Easter Egg hunt without any promise of chocolate but we went with it and obeyed dutifully.

Pakleni islands blog post

I soon realised flip-flops were not appropriate footwear for the forest hike we had just inadvertently commenced. Armed with no insect repellent and sporting a flowy dress and a big shoulder bag that I usually carry to work, I could not have been any less suitably kitted out for a countryside walk. (Go figure – I thought I was headed on a beach day.)

It would take more than a few spiteful stinging nettles and blood-thirsty mosquitoes to deter me on this mission. After all, this was the year we had gone to the North Korean border and slept on an airport floor. This was just proving to be one more entry in my surprising travel tales scrapbook.

Pakleni island beaches

We walked on, chuckling at the predicament we were in. Our water bottles became slowly deplete and time became a wooly, muffled concept. The task of retrieving our mobile phones from the bottom of our bags to check seemed too cumbersome to bother with but my camera remained in hand to commemorate this most unusual turn of events. Clambering between unruly straggles of dehydrated grass, we found no other travellers in sight and heard no other noises that could be attributed to humans.  Pumpkin egged me on to pick up the pace, conscious that there was a very real risk we might have to leave our mystery beach almost as soon as we would arrived on it.

If you have any doubts as to whether I am telling the truth about our long and lonely woodland escapade to the beach, have a peep at this condensed time-lapse video of our journey back from the beach back to the Palmizana water taxi station!

The Second Palmizana Beach

We must have been walking for around 45 minutes when we finally heard some muffled conversation in the distance and saw the peeping glimmers of water. An enormous sense of relief poured in at first sight of the long-awaited, does-it-even-exist beach. I will never be a woman who climbs Everest or jumps out of aeroplanes so in my own personal little world, this was something on achievement.

Palmizana Beach

As we stumbled onto the pebbly beach, the visual was in stark contrast to the beach we had begun our trek from. The miniature stretch of beach here seemed only two or three times the size of my living room. Secluded away in an arc, the patch of coastline was lined by rock formations, with shoals of fish nestling within rock pools. There were no facilities or toilets, no beach beds or towels. There were no bars, restaurants or snorkel-hire shacks. On paper, this beach was as unrefined as they get. With the naked eye though, this was one of the most unspoilt, disconnected and undiscovered beaches we had ever set foot on.

visiting Pakleni islands

With nowhere to sit but the bumpy rug of pebbles, we laid out our beach towels and saw just one other couple on the beach doing the same thing. We had reached our remote little hideaway but now we only had about an hour to spend in it before we would have to commence the long bush walk back towards the water taxi station.

Adriatic islands

Stunned by how few travellers had discovered this miniature alcove, it almost felt as if we had this whole little corner to ourselves…but that was when we spotted them…

It was the nasal hum of the engine that first tickled our ears. The boat, which was being piloted by the passengers themselves, drew closer towards the shore. Even with my contact lenses in, my eyes have nothing on Pumpkin’s hawk-eyed vision, recently described by the optician as “phenomenal”.

day trip from Hvar

He spotted the giveaway clues before I did – the indiscreet male genitalia directly ahead of us on the boat and the elliptical contours of the female breasts of women with their backs to us. There must have been around 5 friends on board, all equally carefree in their mutual nudity. Their accents gave them away as being North American. Who knows whether this genuinely was a beach renowned for welcoming nudists or whether this group of tourists had merely capitalised on its elusive location?!

Adriatic Sea beach

The easily embarrassed prude within me wasn’t quite sure where to look but the awkward, body-aware woman within me secretly envied their self-confidence. I have no aspirations to turn into a nudist anytime in the foreseeable future (or ever) but I can only imagine that those who choose that lifestyle must feel quite empowered and at one with the human body in its most primitive form. All of a sudden, my polka dot brown dress and off-gold flip-flops, that had been thrown on with such well-aimed beach intentions, seemed decidedly out of place.

remote beaches Croatia

Struggling to move past the hilarity of unanticipated rural trek and even more unanticipated date with the nudists, the banter prevailed throughout our remaining time on the beach, amidst fits of giggles and flurries of photographs (though it has to be said, far fewer were taken on this beach than normal – for obvious reasons!!)

If you have managed to make it to the end of my narrative, (1) Bravo!! And (2) I hope it will now be clear to see why this particular adventure made it into our weirdest travel tales from 2016.

Have you ever found yourself in the most unexpected of places on your travels?