Koločep is an enchanting getaway lost in time.
By Sharon Kurtz
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
Trade the bustle of the city for the sundrenched island of Koločep, shimmering in the Adriatic Sea. Just 3 miles from Dubrovnik’s port, it is the southernmost inhabited island in the Republic of Croatia.
Koločep Island is a Mediterranean Gem
Koločep Island, called by locals “Kalamota” belongs to the Elaphiti Archipelago—a pristine, untouched Eden. The island’s name is pronounced ‘ko-lo-chep‘ as č in Croatia is pronounced “ch” (as in ‘church‘).
The smallest of three inhabited islands has an area of just over one square mile. With 160 permanent inhabitants, it is one of Croatia’s most alluring car-free destinations.
Two small villages, Gornje Čelo on the southeast side and Donje Čelo on the north side of the island, are the only settlements. They are both situated in peaceful coves and connected on land by a meandering walkway.
It feels like a small park; the evergreen island is full of pine and carob trees entangled with citrus gardens and small olive groves.
The island comprises limestone and dolomite rock but coves with natural sandy beaches at each end. The island attracts those who favor its pristine nature, idyllic beauty, and pastoral ambiance.
Time of the Kings
Boasting seven pre-Romanesque churches that date back to the time of the Croatian kings, a visit to Koločep is like taking a journey back to a time. The island was once popular with the nobility of Dubrovnik, who built their stone summer houses here. Sadly, most lie in ruins today, but Koločep retains an un-touristy feel.
An ancient lighthouse watches out to sea from the east point of the island. A pathway to the lighthouse dissolves into forest trails along the way. Stone steps from the headlands lead over to the lighthouse. It’s small, but the location is stunning. It resembles a rook from a Game of Thrones chess set from the sea.
The Elaphiti Archipelago
The Elaphiti archipelago is a group of 13 islands dotted off the coast of Dubrovnik, of which only three are inhabited. Besides Koločep, Lopud is the most developed, and Sipan is the largest. The three main islands have fewer than 1,000 residents and are easily reached by public ferry.
Historically, the Elaphiti Islands came under the control of the Republic of Dubrovnik in 1272. The islands get their name from the Greek word elafos, meaning deer; in ancient times, they were home to a large deer population.
Dubrovnik is so close but so far away.
After spending a few days in Dubrovnik, we decided to find out where the locals go to escape the crowds and the heat of the walled city. Most visitors are satisfied exploring the attractions of Old Town, but if you like discovering hidden treasures, dig a little deeper. For a change of pace, take a short boat ride to Koločep Island for a fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
My husband and I were invited to Koločep to learn about its history and stay at the charming Kalamota Beach House—it has a fascinating past.
We were whisked away by a private speed boat (I love saying that) to spend a few days on the enchanted island. It was late afternoon, and the sun was setting over the island, casting a golden glow on the surrounding sea. Magical? I’d say so; my first sight of the island left me breathless.
Kalamota Beach House has an Artistic History.
Kalamota Beach House is a charming boutique hotel in Gornje Čelo, on the island’s southwest side.
The 4-star luxury property is situated on the water with a panoramic view of the turquoise Adriatic Sea.
It’s located on the former Kalamota Pension, a Koločep hotel opened in the 1920s by the famous Slovenian painter Rudolf Marcic.
He bought a villa and turned it into a small hotel, more precisely ‘Pension Kalamota.’
Here he founded a painting school and a small art colony, which was attended by numerous artists, painters, composers, and writers from all over the world.
Many old charms remain, but some luxury amenities have been added according to modern standards, including a rooftop pool.
The size of the hotel has remained the same; there are 10 spacious guest suites with sea views and an exceptional fine dining open-air restaurant on the terrace by the sea.
Old black and white photographs sprinkled throughout the hotel remind visitors of its hey-days with parties, leisure, swimming, and relaxation.
It had an intimate connection with the island and remains the same today.
Book of Impressions
Rudolf Marcic’s legacy is a book of impressions of this Koločep hotel filled with compliments, drawings, and verses penned by delighted guests who enjoyed this pension of art. He ran the pension until 1953.
After the Croatian War of Independence devastated the area in the 1990s, the hotel became a ruin without receiving any guests for more than 25 years.
The current owners purchased the building in 2016 and, after extensive renovations, opened its doors in 2018.
The interior details have captured the hotel’s unique history and feeling of how it once was.
While maintaining the old charm, it offers guests the best of both worlds—old and new.
The Island’s Charms and Watery Pleasures
The viewpoint from the pine-forested paths overlooking the cliffs was stunning, gazing at the waters mesmerizing, the color ranging from deep blue to turquoise green. I needed to stop a moment to catch my breath and take it all in.
The fragrant Mediterranean vegetation’s aroma and the Adriatic Sea’s intense color were a boon to my soul on my island wanderings.
The citrus trees lining the stone-walled paths begged you to pick a juicy fruit. Those paths led to rugged cliffs overlooking the beautiful beaches, underwater caves, and turquoise waters.
I breathed deeply, letting the healing power of nature work its magic. Spying the ruins of crumbling stone structures, I daydreamed of the days of sea captains and summer cottages of Dubrovnik’s nobility.
We had a private boat tour that took us around the island. Seeing the lighthouse from the water was spectacular. The Blue Cave is one of the most visited caves in the area.
From the outside you will see a narrow entrance where you swim in to see it is aglow in a shimmering blue light.
A crescent-shaped beach stretches a quarter mile along part of the picturesque bay of Donje Čelo. The Gornje Čelo beach next to the Kalamota Beach House is a favorite cove for day trippers from Dubrovnik.
Want some privacy? There are secret beaches often hidden from plain sight that can only be accessed by boat. The water is shallow and clear and is excellent swimming and snorkeling spots.
Skillful Mariners and Shipbuilders of Koločep
The island has a rich historical heritage. Many archeological sites dating from ancient Greece and Rome and monuments of the medieval and Napoleonic times can be found on the island.
Once called Calaphodia, Koločep came under the control of the Republic of Dubrovnik in the 11th century.
It experienced its golden age in the 15th century and became an essential element of the Republic.
Koločep was a vital shipbuilding center known for its skillful mariners.
Two sailors on the Santa Maria, the Christopher Columbus expedition to the New World, were from Kolocep. The Islanders were generally known as reputed coral divers.
The island has several pre-Romanesque churches dating back to the times of Croatian kings, from the 9th to the 11th century.
Among them is the Church of St. Anthony of Padua and the Church of St. Nicholas.
The Parish church dating to the 15th century is in the Donje Celo Village. Not all churches were in a good state of repair, as some date back 1,000 years.
St. Nick’s Church
The church of St Nicholas was my favorite. I passed it several times on my walk from Kalamota Beach House on the island’s southeast side to Donje Čelo.
I’ve never seen such a narrow church door. The people back then must have been much smaller than nowadays. It has a very impressive graveyard with beautiful sculptures and statues.
The Drawbacks of a car-free island
Kalamota Beach House can be reached by water taxi or the Jadrolinija Ferry service from the Donje Čelo side of the island.
When we were ready to depart, a big storm was rolling in. Our water taxi couldn’t reach us to take us to the mainland—so we were stuck.
Rather than wait until the next day with calmer seas, we did a slow slog wheeling our bags in the wind and rain to catch the ferry on the other side of the island. We got wet, but we made it… It was an adventure!
Adding a Boat Soon
This is one of the drawbacks of a tiny car-free island. The hotel has plans to add a boat to ferry guests to the mainland and golf carts to transport guests and luggage to the Jadrolinija ferry on the Donje Čelo side of the island.
When you next visit Croatia, don’t stop at Dubrovnik’s charms. Get on a boat and lose yourself on the island that remains barely touched by time.
Come to Koločep to get away from it all—a paradise in paradise. It has a fascinating history and is a magnificent archipelago island in the Adriatic Sea.
The Kalamota Beach House is open from May to September. For more information,