Telling an urbane resident of architecturally well-endowed Zadar that you are headed to Pag Island for a night or two will make them think you want to wallow on a sandy beach all day and party all night. Indeed, Pag Island has developed a reputation in recent years as a place to sunbathe and live it up rather than visit historic sites. The town of Novalja, in the north, has quite a summertime population of easy-livin' revelers. But to be fair, this narrow island, one of Croatia's longest, stretching 63 km (40 miles) north to south, has long been famous for other reasons, among them its cheese, salt, and, not least, its lace. Moreover, Pag Town in particular has an attractive historic center, a surprising contrast to the modern, resortish feel of its outskirts, and a contrast to the breathtaking natural barrenness of so much of the island.
Inaccessible for centuries except by sea, Pag Island saw a dramatic boost in tourism starting in 1968 with the completion of the Paškog mosta (Pag Bridge), which linked it with the mainland and the Zagreb-Split motorway. The first thing you notice on crossing over the bridge onto the island is that practically all vegetation disappears. You are on a moonlike landscape of whitewashed rocks scattered with clumps of green hanging on for dear life. But, sure enough, soon you also notice the sheep so instrumental in producing both Pag cheese—that strong, hard, Parmesan-like product that results from the sheep munching all day long on the island's salty herbs—and, yes, Pag lamb. Then, five minutes or so apart, you pass through a couple of small villages and, finally, the huge salt flats stretching out along the road right before you pull into Pag Town.