Accounts vary as to why the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder chose to name the dainty archipelago that lies just off the coast of Dubrovnik after deer (elafos in Greek). One version has it that the assemblage reminded him of a deer’s antlers while another holds that these animals once inhabited the islands. Whatever the reason, the name has stuck, and appropriately too since they retain the beauty and mystery the Romans associated with these graceful animals.Just three of the islands, KoloÃ¨ep, Lopud, and Sipan, are still inhabited, each of which can easily be reached by the inexpensive local Jadrolinija ferry that runs four times daily (twice on Sundays) throughout the year from Dubrovnik. All three islands have private accommodation, hotels, and small tourist offices that are open in summer only. Both KoloÃ¨ep and Lopud are, like the Old City of Dubrovnik, car-free.A mere twenty five minutes by boat from the mainland, KoloÃ¨ep, the smallest of the inhabited islands at a mere 2.35 squares kilometres, was once the favored summer home of the Dubrovnik aristocracy (as if living in Dubrovnik itself wasn’t pleasant enough!) Consequently it’s littered with all sorts of ruins, some dating back to Roman times. Much of the island is covered in thick forest with the result that the settlements of Gornje Ãˆelo and Donje Ãˆelo, are crammed into its two largest coves. The clear seas nearby allowed their inhabitants to develop a reputation in past centuries as the Mediterranean’s most renowned coral divers.The most “developed” of the islands, although the word hardly seems appropriate, Lopud was likewise once a playground of the Dubrovnik nobility. It’s the second largest of the islands at 4.63 square kilometres and forty minutes by boat from Dubrovnik. It features the finest ruins of the three islands – in particular the remains of the Rector’s Palace (which today are preserved as a verdant park) on the outskirts of its sole town and hill-top Franciscan Monastery, whose remains offer wonderful views over the island and its many ruined churches. Lopud’s greatest pleasure is an earthly one, however, which is to be found in Sunj Bay, on the far side of the island, whose calm waters are popular with boaters and whose pleasantly sloping white-sand beach is much beloved by the small number of discerning bathers aware of its presence.The largest (at 16.5 square kilometres) and wildest of the islands, Sipan contains a wide plain given over to wine and olive groves surrounded by hills, many of them covered in the remnants of ancient churches. There are few better ways to get a sense of how Croatia and indeed the entire Mediterranean once was than by strolling across the valley at the center of the island along road between the settlements of SuÃ°uraÃ° and Sipanska Luka. The two towns are 65 minutes and 100 minutes away from Dubrovnik respectively by ferry, although some ferries only stop at SuÃ°uraÃ°.