Sleep is for Losers
We check out the party island of Pag, Croatia, where the clubs are open all night, superstar DJs are on the decks, and the action never stops. Oh, and you can get excellent cheese here, too. Something for everyone, then.
They are calling it the new Ibiza, a beach on the Croatian isle of Pag where the music flows and anything goes. Party princess Zoe Griffin samples the nightlife everyone’s talking about
It’s 3.45am on a warm Friday in August, the time when most clubs in Europe are switching on the lights and telling you to drink up. But here on Zrce beach the party is just getting started.
I’m in Papaya, one of the biggest clubs outside on the beachfront in this little corner of the otherwise tranquil Pag island – and I can’t believe I’m still going. But the warm air, happy vibes and the fact that I have nothing to in particular to do to worry about the next day gives me an energy buzz.
In front of me, two girls in skimpy white bikinis are shaking their bums to the beat, their hands in the air, swinging their hair to the rhythm of the music. Despite their obvious sex appeal, nobody is looking because in front of them is a sea of tanned revellers, each dancing to a set by world famous DJ collective Swedish House Mafia. There are lasers shining above us, everybody’s jumping and the DJ trio of Steve Angello, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso are scratching, fist-pumping and whipping the clubbers into a frenzy.
“We love Croatia so much, we’re changing the lyrics,” they shout as they put on their number one party anthem Miami 2 Ibiza, inserting the words “and Pag” at the end of each line. The crowd goes wild.
Pag is one of the largest islands in Croatia (although technically linked to the mainland by a road bridge), and one of hundreds in the Adriatic Sea. Pag’s Zrce beach, 3km from the town of Novalja – only an hour and 20 minutes’ bus ride from Zadar – has become the summer party hub not only for Croatia’s youth but for thousands of clubbers from around the world, in search of sun, affordable prices and superstar DJs.
The beach itself is simply gorgeous, nestled in a sheltered bay, with a 1km-long crescent of pebbles and excellent swimming in the turquoise blue waters. But it is the three big clubs, Papaya (www.papaya.com.hr), Kalypso and Aquarius (www.aquarius.hr), and a scattering of bars, that make Zrce the place to be from June until September – for DJs and punters alike. The likes of Armin van Buuren, Tiësto and Roger Sanchez all love playing here because the crowds are so into it.
Beautifully designed Kalypso is built into the north end of the beach, with double beds to hang out on during the day and a sophisticated older crowd. Super-flash Aquarius is all alcoves and big sound. But it’s Papaya, with its separate terraced areas and open-air dance floor that holds the most decadent parties. Best of all, it never closes. Croatian law means they don’t have to, allowing for a truly hedonistic experience. DJs booked for summer 2011 include Markus Schulz, Chicane Live, Freemasons, The Shapeshifters and Swedish House Mafia. And look out for a special DJmag Festival in August.
I’m here with a group of friends for a three-day party and have hooked up with a local clubbing guide who goes by the nickname M Diddy – his first name is Medo. The first thing he tells me on arrival at Zadar airport on Wednesday evening is: “You’ve got 72 hours of beach parties, after-beach parties, clubbing and sunrise parties. If you want to party 24/7 then you can.” M Diddy wasn’t lying.
After the 90-minute journey he drops us off at our hired apartment – a basic four-bed right next to Zrce beach. It costs HRK4,000 (€544) for a week, so split between five people it’s remarkably cheap. There are plenty more options to choose from too, and you can find great deals on the website of the island’s tourist board (www.pag-tourism.hr), or the website of the beach town Novalja (www. novalja.com).
We waste no time, shower quickly and get to Zrce beach for 10pm to find the clubs pumping even though it’s relatively early. The absence of a kicking out time is just one of the many things that make Papaya and the rest of Zrce so cool – not to mention the gorgeous waiting staff, called ‘Angels’. Prices are more than reasonable too. A three-day pass to Papaya costs HRK258 (€35), and a table in the VIP area costs HRK750 (€102) per person and includes half a bottle of spirits, soft drinks and waitress service. At the bar you can get a pitcher of cocktails for HRK150 (€20), and you’ll pay no more than HRK15 (€2) for an ice-cold beer.
So you can imagine Papaya is where I spend most of my time. The 5,000-capacity venue will suit all types of partygoers. Ravers can hang out on the huge dance floor practically on top of the DJ booth, with what is said to be the best sound system in Croatia; the VIP area overlooking the stage has great people-watching potential; and at the centre of the club there’s a huge pool with water slides.
And it gets messy. By 6am I am starting to wobble, having danced for the last eight hours. So I return to the apartment for a nap but set the alarm for 10am – after all, we’re only here for three days and we may as well party as much as we can!
So we head back to Papaya for a fruit cocktail on the beach, and I see some of the people I met from the night before still there and still partying – waterpistols are squirting, girls in skimpy bikinis are grinding against boys in Speedos and tanned flesh is on display everywhere.
At 4pm every day the music is turned up and you enter the stage of the day officially known as the after-beach party. This is the time when DJs get back on the decks, and now it’s the turn of the Freemasons to make people dance. I’m tempted down from the VIP area to get sweaty in the main section, and get so lost in the moment that it’s 7pm before I know it. The house DJ gets back on the decks to keep the music going until the evening’s entertainment properly gets started again at 10pm. It’s madness!
In fact you, could easily go a whole weekend without eating, as you barely think of your stomach when you’re having so much fun. But there are lots of choices of cheap, affordable eateries on Zrce beach and in nearby Novalja town. Close to the clubs you’ll find no shortage of fast-food venues, but branch out into Novalja and you’ll find cosy pizza trattorias with traditional ovens, and restaurants with grills to barbecue
meat and freshly caught fish. A must-try delicacy is world-famous Pag cheese or “paški sir”, salty and sharp, made from free-range sheep’s milk, and served generally at the end of meals.
Having eaten properly, we now have much more energy to see us through the next Thursday night into Friday morning. So much so that we make it to 8am before finally crashing out.
From clubbing on land, we spend day three clubbing on a party boat and swimming, before hitting all three big clubs through the evening and staying on until dawn. Then, suddenly, it’s time to head back to Zadar airport. We’re a little the worse for wear in some ways – but a lot more tanned and on a natural high that keeps me going for days on my return home.
There really is nowhere like Pag and Zrce beach, and I’ve partied in a lot of places. I’ve already booked my trip for this summer.
If you’re not partying…
Pag is a beautifully dramatic island, all vast empty landscapes and sepia-coloured as if out of an Antonioni movie. It’s rich with history and culture and has been ruled over the centuries by everyone from the Romans and Slavs to the Venetians, Austrians, French, and Axis powers during WWII. There’s plenty to see and do if the clubbing becomes too much, and the local culture involves everything from salt production to the celebrated paški sir cheese and the famous hand-crafted Pag lace. If you are heading here on the last day of July you can join in the annual Pag Carnival, taking place in Pag town. You’ll not want to miss the kolo, a feisty Slavic circle dance, and there’s also the opportunity to appreciate the traditional dress of Pag, as the main square fills with dancers and musicians. For something truly special be sure to try baskotini, a crunchy biscuit made only in the kitchens of Pag’s Benedictine convent, St Margarita, from a secret recipe. Eat them plain, dipped in bijela kava (white coffee), or drizzled with convent-made honey.