These two serpentine islands in the Kvarner archipelago are separated by only an 11m canal, and are thus often treated as a single entity. Although their topography is different, the island's identities are also blurred by a shared history and close transportation links. On Losinj, the fishing villages of Mali Losinj and Veli Losinj attract hordes of tourists in summer, especially from Italy, which is linked to Mali Losinj from Venice. Cres is more deserted, especially outside Cres town, and you can still find many remote camping grounds and pristine beaches. Both islands are criss-crossed by hiking and biking trails. Excavations indicate that a prehistoric culture spread out over both islands from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. The first recorded settlements sprang up on Cres where the Liburnian tribe used the natural harbours of Cres town and Osor, and built hilltop fortresses at Merag, Porozina and Lubenice. The ancient Greeks called both islands the Apsirtides, and they were conquered by the Romans in the 1st century BC. After the division of the Roman Empire, the islands spent a few centuries under Byzantine rule and were settled by Slavic tribes in the 6th and 7th centuries. In the 6th century a bishopric was established in Osor, on the southern tip of Cres, which controlled both Cres and the largely unpopulated Losinj throughout the early Middle Ages. Mali Losinj sits at the foot of a protected harbour on the south-east coast of Losinj Island, lis 19th-century prosperity is evident in the stately sea captains houses lined up along the north-eastern harbour, but its 20th-century affluence rests upon the large hotels leading up from the south-west harbour. In the late 19th century, as shipbuilding was dying out, the wealthy citizens of Vienna and Budapest gravitated to the healthy air of Mali Losinj, building villas and luxurious hotels on Cikat Bay behind the south-west harbour. Veli Losinj retains much more of its fishing village character than busy Mali Losinj, only 4km north-west, and it's smaller, quieter and somewhat less crowded. Pastel-coloured baroque houses cluster around a narrow bay that protrudes like a thumb into the south-eastern coastline of Losinj. Hilly, cobblestoned streets lead from the central square past cottages buried in foliage to the rocky coast. The absence of cars in the town centre is also a refreshing change of pace but the town can be uncomfortably crowded from mid-July to the end of August.

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