Croatia, a small European gem which sprawls along the eastern coastline of the Adriatic Sea, home to some magnificent heart-warming ancient roman remains, stunning picturesque traditional towns and pristine untouched coastlines. In addition, its 2000 kilometres of rugged coastline is also home to over 1000 Islands, Isles and Inlets. Although city breaks to the likes of Zagreb and all-inclusive getaways to Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik are all pretty enjoyable, exploring the many well-preserved islands does however give you a slightly more unique experience and an even greater appreciation of the country’s beauty.
Has the idea of Island hopping always sounded quite stressful? Is it all the planning for a limited timescale, the revolving around ferry schedules or even the not knowing which islands to visit whilst having to pick through a whole horde of hotels? At least to us this whole list of considerations always seemed a lot of hassle and enough to put us off when wanting to unwind and avoid being constrained to a specific itinerary.
This was all until we found what is known as a Yacht Week!
Yes to some this might automatically make you think of the well-known floating festival known as “The Yacht Week”, however, it can in actual fact be quite the opposite so long as you keep away from those large boozy flotillas.
In our eyes the issue of a sailing trip was always that it seemed a little out of our depth both technically and financially. With neither of us having much sailing experience and thought of it as an expensive trip, we had naively written off the idea of a yacht week. In hindsight we should have probably ignored any preconceived ideas, perceptions or even the need for a set level of competency as they are intended to cater for pretty much anyone. Having now had a taste for the adventure on a couple of occasions, today it is probably one of our favourite types of travel and a must do each and every summer!
It is no coincidence that Croatia is one of the most popular summer sailing destinations. The combination of the soothing summer climate, its remote white pebble beaches and an array of stunningly beautiful quaint harbours provides you with an endless number of opportunities that would otherwise simply be impossible. Schedules, crowds and bookings, these are three major common frustrations that you can instantly disregard and not have to worry about as can all be avoided from the moment you first step on board. Skippered yachts are without a doubt the easiest way to sailing around the Islands as it allows you to sit back and enjoy the ride but at the same time enables you to pick up the basics in sailing if you are somewhat remotely interested. The skippers are not only your saving grace when it comes to the sailing, but are also somewhat of a guru when it comes to knowing about some unbelievable isolated coves inaccessible by land and unbeknown to the majority of tourists. With a local skipper, popular with the residents, you may even be lucky enough to a little VIP priority treatment when it comes to wanting a spot in the popular harbours or restricted coves.
I think it is safe to say that the pre-planning of your travels can sometimes be one of the more stressful requirements, but having eliminated the need for hotel bookings, ferry schedules or even putting together any set form of itinerary, it all just gets a little easier. The toughest decision you need to make on a sailing holiday is probably picking the “best” Charter Company, but then again this will all depend on your budget and what sorts of comforts you are after. With most companies offering competitive packages, once you have narrowed down your requirements, finalised your crew of friends or family and chosen your preferred dates, it is all pretty straightforward and simply requires just one booking and you are set for the entire week! A further additional advantage and what is a major selling point for us, is the flexibility and freedom due to the nature of the trip. There is no need to decide on certain routes or specific destinations in advance and can all be decided as you set sail.
With the Southern Dalmatian Islands an evermore popular sailing destination, it is hardly surprising that most itineraries to start and end are in Split. Within touching distance is a whole array for fantastic Islands which provide a variation between culture, history, relaxation and of course a lively nightlife for those who want to get a little loose. Along with its opportune location with respect to the surrounding islands, Split Itself is a charming city in its own right. With the perfect blend between modern design and ancient architecture, Croatia’s second largest city has a natural draw through its old town and what is their very own UNESCO World Heritage Site … Diocletian’s Palace! Unlike what you would expect of a palace, this ancient roman fortified town, built in the 4th century, is today the living heartbeat of the city; a labyrinth of narrow streets bursting with bustling bars, charming restaurants and trendy shops amongst the well preserved ruins.
We know first-hand that deciding on your final route can be somewhat tricky and quite a tough decision as each destination does have its unique appeal. We can only speak for the Islands we visited but if you are after a fine balance between Croatia’s culture, cuisine, relaxation and some unbelievable scenery then a similar route would give you more than you can bargain for.
Without a doubt one of the most popular islands in Croatia, Hvar has reason for its big reputation and attraction for so many visitors. The town of Hvar itself is a great place to enjoy swanky hotels, elegant restaurants, chic bars and an impressive nightlife along with the opportunity to admire the notable number of superyachts that scatter the bay out towards the remote Paklinski Otoci.
As soon as you cast yourselves away from the vibrant town of Hvar, the remainder of the island does become a lot more traditional and tranquil where you are able to enjoy the island at a much more leisurely pace. Located on the opposing Northern coastline of the Island is the historic town of Stari Grad, which in fact translates to “Old Town” in reference to it being one of Croatia’s oldest towns dating back to 384BC. Originally named Pharos by the ancient Greeks, this beautiful laid back town offers a contrasting, more sobering experience where a walk along the quaint marina with a refreshing lemon sorbet is as wild as your nights will get.
Located at the base of a deep inlet, this ancient town curves around the beautiful palm lined promenade where hundreds of small local fishing boats bob up and down in the wake of taxi boats. Its tightly packed ancient whitewashed stone streets with those terracotta roofs, narrow marbled lanes and intricate wrought iron balcony balustrades is probably what we would consider to be the epitome of an old traditional Mediterranean Island town. Despite being overlooked by many in the mad rush on route to the town of Hvar, Stari Grad does however also offer a much quieter, more relaxed vibe ideal for those lazy strolls without a care in the world.
As you begin to move inland and away from its picturesque coastline and out of the towns, you will soon find yourselves amongst what the island is truly famous for which is its acres of rolling vineyards, olive groves and lavender fields. A little wine tasting and the sampling of their olive oils should most certainly be a must!
As the most distant Island from the shores of the mainland, the crossing between Hvar and Vis is extremely fulfilling. As the wind fills those sails and the boat begins to lean, you soon find yourselves travelling at some considerable speeds. Even for those who are not massive boaties, once you have found your sea legs, it is a great feeling of freedom.
Having been cut off from tourists and served as a Yugoslavian military base until 1989, the Island’s development is far from that of its neighbours and still very much untouched, retaining much of its true authenticity. With its isolation having preserved its natural environment, and the reduced population consisting of primarily fishermen and farmers, today Vis attracts an abundance of visitors thanks to its rural charm, its fresh gourmet delights and plenty of peace and quiet.
With Vis being one of the smaller of the main islands, nothing is really too far away and jumping in a rickety soft-top or zipping around on scooters is most certainly a fantastic way to cover the island and explore its extraordinary beaches.
Solta & Brac
Despite the close proximity to Split, both the islands of Solta and Brac are far less touristic than their popular neighbours and a little off the beaten track for your average tourist. Short of specific sights, these Islands are ideal for those who typically love the outdoors and are after evading the masses of tourists.
In addition to the traditional coastal towns and marinas scattered across the various Islands, a major attraction to this region are the remote natural bays which exhibit unrivalled crystal clear sapphire blue waters and deserted pebble beaches surrounded by dense pine forests. With a significant proportion of the coastline only accessible via a boat, this is when being on a sailing trip plays right into your hands.
Out of range from the day-trippers on their small Pasara rental boats, dropping the anchor in a quiet secluded bay provides for such a fulfilling experience. Whether it being sprawled out on the bow of the boat, bobbing around on your inflatables or even testing your skills on a paddle board, it is the idyllic spot for pure relaxation in the beautiful Mediterranean sun.
Completely self-sufficient and with the boat fully stocked up with all your supplies, being able to make those spontaneous decisions to stay the night in these coves are always exciting. Entirely surrounded by nature and accompanied by only a few other boats, these peaceful nights do provide for an alternative experience to those vibrant nights in the marinas.
With the Southern Dalmatian Islands possessing some of the most impressive coastlines, there is hardly a better way to spend your last night on board; fully submerged in the natural untouched beauty for which Croatia has become so famous for!