I thought Pag was something smoked by a person with a speech impediment, before I visited the stunning island in Croatia.
We were flown out to sample the island’s celebrated Club Papaya and survey ‘The Beautiful People’ in their natural habitat.
And as we tottered along the balmy Zrce beach at sunset towards the flashing lights of Papaya, it quickly became apparent that a) I would need a body double for the rest of the trip and b) why celebrities including Eva Longoria, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Martin, Beyonce and Jay-Z have started flocking to Croatia.
We were ushered behind the stage – where celebrity DJs were dining on lobsters and champagne in their individual, white marquees – and straight into the VIP area, where we were seated with bonafide supermodels and Olympic swimmers and given heroic amounts of alcohol.
The Croatians were all grown in Petri dishes specifically for the purpose of drinking and having fun. As one local told us: “The ethos is very much, ‘the war’s over so let’s party.’” And party we did.
I have never seen anything quite like Club Papaya – downstairs, some 6,000 clubbers danced their faces off to house legend Tiesto, in a club which overlooked the glittering ocean and was bulging with Jacuzzis, pools, flumes, cheeky little bars, bobbing bungee jumpers above the stage and crisp, white decor which I blended into perfectly.
But I had an opportunity to tan and party – who said I can’t multi-task? – the following day, because the after-beach party kicks off at Papaya between 4pm and 8pm and is best described as Nikki Beach on steroids. The drinks were top value with a one litre cocktail costing 100KN (£12) which is what you’d pay for one, solitary drink in Ibiza. Or 600KN (£85) for the VIP area at Papaya, which gets you a table overlooking the dance floor and a selection of spirits and mixers.
The other great thing about Pag is that you can pack very light; a bikini – or some sequinned dental floss for many of the ladies – and bling is all you need, because you’ll spend most of the time exploring many of the beautiful beaches. Our favourite was Rucica, a secret beach – which won’t stay that way for long – nestled between two huge mountains with water so clear and blue, you don’t realise how deep it is. At the top of the beach is a restaurant cunningly disguised as a wooden shack, exotically named, Konoba Ivo.
I was a little nervous about the food here when we saw the rotund, toothless chef and the outdoor barbecue kitchen, which largely consisted of bricks, twigs and hope. But damn my high-falutin’ London ways – it was one of the best meals I have ever had. Incredibly flavoursome, colourful tomatoes and barbecued peppers with just a simple drizzle of oil, lamb so tender you don’t need teeth, the crunchiest roasties in Christendom and fish so fresh its family hadn’t noticed it had gone.
Croatian food is essentially simple and delicious Mediterranean peasant food, with not one whiff of chemicals, preservatives or processing. And you can really tell. Another fantastic nosh spot is the stunning Boskinac, where DJ and musician Tiesto stays whenever he’s in town. This is a glorious open-air restaurant, award-winning hotel and winery on top of a hill, studded with olive groves and overlooking the beach. We were given a bit of everything to truly taste Croatia, which included honey schnapps – served before every meal in Pag – Adriatic sea squid, citrus chicken and the infamous Pag lamb.
It is also well worth visiting Paprika’s restaurant, where you will often find local celebrities tinkling away on the grand piano. Make sure you try the Pag cheese there; a sharp, sheep’s cheese which is a local delicacy.
If you need a break from stuffing your mush, dancing or beach-hopping, I recommend the tranquil Hotel Luna, which is a fantastic spot to chill out before the after beach party and features a big pool and bar/restaurant overlooking the sea.
Refreshed, fed and rested, we rounded off our trip by heading back to Club Papaya. And we were still dancing to Swedish House Mafia legend Axwell at 6am when the sun slowly rose over the hills, spreading its incredible pinks and oranges across the sparkling sea and bathing all of the sweaty, smiling clubbers in its light.
This was one of those special moments which remain with you – no harsh lights coming on, no hairy bouncers herding you out and no pale and gurning oxygen embezzlers, just tanned and beautiful people, fresh sea air, a crisp sunrise and Axwell’s music gradually winding us all down.
Then, feeling sleepy and content, we jumped into a car with Axwell, some charming models and our guide – as you do – and stopped off at a local bakers for some hot Burek – delicious, flaky pastries stuffed with cheese or meat, which make kebabs look plain silly.
And that pretty much summed the experience up – as a party destination, Papaya is the sexy, moreish Burek to the rest of Europe’s cheap, grey and tasteless kebabs.