Despite being one of the closest islands to the mainland – less than an hour by catamaran – and prime candidate for the most popular, Brač gives you the option to carouse with the hordes or be lost in solitude. In many ways, Brač is Croatia’s everyisland. In Bol, it has a town where you can grab a lively cocktail and head to the island’s postcard shot, the country’s most famous beach, Zlatni Rat, windsurfing central. From Bol you can trek to the area’s highest peak, the 778-metre Vidova Gora, or investigate remote and traditional villages, where donkeys still work the rugged landscape to transport grasses, grapes and olives.
And, because Brač is so close to Split, you can do it in a day trip. A bus or hire-car ride from the northern entry port of Supetar – the other main tourist centre and family-friendly resort with sand-and-pebble beaches and package hotels – goes past pines, olive groves and marble quarries to the southern coast and Bol. When explored, Brač allows travellers to step off the tourist conveyor belt, take a break from the herd and gain a deeper sense of the island and its culture.
Brač, 40 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide, is karst rock. This supple white stone has been used by Croatia’s finest sculptors. Examples fill the cemetery near Supetar, with tombs of Byzantine and art nouveau fancy created by local Ivan Rendić. His 1900s contemporary Toma Rosandić made the Petrinović Mausoleum, the most impressive monument here. The village of Donji Humac, south of Supetar and with views of the nearby quarry, provides an opportunity to observe the stone-carving tradition with a carefree ramble through an authentic settlement. It also contains one of the island’s real gastronomic gems: Kopačina. Another easy excursion from Supetar is to the ancient hilltop settlement of Škrip, with the Museum of Brač (021 630 033) in the Radojković Tower. East of Supetar on the coast, Splitska is a pretty small town with a few restaurants and a lovely quiet beach, and Postira is transforming itself from a tatty resort into something more attractive with hotel facilities to match and a shiny new man-made beach. Inland, Dol is a historical treasure with two good restaurants – Konoba Toni and Stori Gusta. Pučišća is an oft-overlooked coastal town with a quiet and protected harbour. There you will find the nicest hotel on the island in the boutique Palace Dešković.
Supetar is the setting-off point for buses to the old fishing village of Milna and the quieter beaches around it. From Bol, the dramatic clifftop Blaca Hermitage (021 630 033, 091 512 9312 mobile) is a four-hour hike or short walk from a boat service from Bol. It contains astronomical instruments, clocks and an atlas from 1623.
On the way you pass Murvica, set below the Dragon’s Cave, covered with pagan paintings of wild beasts from the 15th century. East of Bol, at Glavica, stand the Dominican church and monastery (021 778 000; open May-June, Sept 10am-noon, 5-7pm daily; July, Aug 8am-noon, 5-9pm daily; 10kn), with a museum, which contains prehistoric finds, Greek coins and a Tintoretto.
Behind Bol, Vidova Gora offers its magnificent view of the island and further off across Central Dalmatia. You should be able to make out Zlatni Rat, Hvar, Korčula, Biokovo and more. Allow two hours for the walk from the baroque Church of Our Lady of Carmel in the centre of Bol – you’ll find the Vladimir Nazor tavern (021 549 061, 098 225 999 mobile, www.andjelinac.hr) at the top. Coach parties are an occasional hazard.