SPLIT, CROATIA - It was mid-May when we boarded a yacht in this lovely ancient city — the second largest in Croatia — so we could explore the enchanting islands off the Dalmatian Coast. A Croatian friend named Denko, who put himself through university running yacht tours like this, agreed to be our captain.
No one knows the Dalmatian Coast better than Denko.
Before setting off, though, we had just enough time to explore picturesque Split, where ancient remnants of Roman emperor Diocletian’s summer palace make up most of its inner core, creating a wonderfully quaint town to tour. In fact, most of the town’s streets were once hallways of that palace.
As we made our way to the palace entrance, we were greeted on the city’s main boulevard, Riva, by a parade of Roman soldiers in full battle dress. It left us wondering if Diocletian was still in residence.
Left: Jetting across the Croatian waters is a thrill. Right: Split is one of Europe's loveliest cities.
Charming Split is a perfect spot to unwind before a cruise. The countless outdoor cafés and charming bistros surrounding the delightful harbour put us in a relaxed mood instantly.
With the help of Denko’s brother, Milos, our crew — three couples and two school-age children — stocked up on supplies and stored them away safely on our Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 43, which was equipped with four cabins and 2 heads (restrooms).
It was time to cast off, which came later than expected and meant sailing to our first anchorage in darkness — not advisable for novice sailors but with Denko at the helm, we had few worries.
Next morning, off the town Bobovišća on the island of Brac, we awoke to a pastoral scene of a man and his donkey patiently scaling a narrow mountain path, the beast laden down with heavy building supplies destined for the dream home being built on a cliff overlooking the sea. The island landscape was dotted with orange-roofed homes and we sat admiring the tranquil scene for a long time before moving on to Vinogradisce Bay on St. Klement Island.
After dropping anchor, we headed to the island’s famous Toto’s Restaurant, where, surrounded by palm trees and grape arbours, we were treated to a breathtaking view of the anchored yachts along with some excellent local grub.
Next stop, Hvar, known as the heather island, where we entered port under a full sail. This area is known for its brisk winds and Denko’s experience of the area served us well. Colourful fishing boats and yachts make Hvar’s harbour a lovely sight. Here we visited the main town, a.k.a. Hvar, and Vrboska, were we restocked our supplies.
Left: Mingling with the locals at the daily market is rewarding. Right: The Old Town of Split is truly lovely.
At sea, the tiny oven on our yacht produced some miracle meals and we blamed the fabulous Adriatic air for our ravenous appetites.
Our favourite swimming spot was on Dobri Otočić, where the water is a glorious turquoise with a sandy white bottom. Although it was mid-May, it was still warm enough to swim.
On Biševo Island, we discovered the Blue Cave and squeezed through the narrow opening at its entrance to enjoy the shocking beam of blue light inside, which is created by the sun poking through openings in the cave.
Our voices echoed off the cave’s interior and the kids tried to scare us with eerie pirate tales, but ended up scaring themselves.
In picturesque Komiža, on Vis Island, we stretched our sea legs while walking to a unique restaurant called Jastožera, where the boat that brings in the catch of the day is moored in the centre of the room. Fish that was swimming offshore just a few hours earlier is grilled atop huge stone stoves that are fed with wood hewed from grapevines. The result is divine.
After our sail around the islands, we arrived back in Split and took a day trip by bus to beautiful Dubrovnik — the four hour trip along mountainous roads was well worth the effort.
Dubrovnik is a traveller’s dream. Its famous walled Old Town is one of the most beautiful in Europe and the centre of the city is a myriad of beauty; the streets are paved with limestone or marble and are lined with small boutique shops and restaurants. It suffered greatly in the 1991 war that consumed this country, but the proud Croatians painstakingly rebuilt Dubrovnik and the results must be seen to be appreciated.
Croatia is a treasure chest of natural riches that every traveller should see, especially from the water.
A sailing vacation is pricey, but splitting the cost with a few couples makes it possible and definitely worth it. We chose Orvas Yachting in Split for our one week sail. Prices vary — between $1,600 U.S. and $3,300 U.S. weekly. For info go to www.orvas-yachting.com/
Many of the islands are serviced by ferry and there’s ferry service between Split and Dubrovnik. However, the bus service between the two cities is still faster — ours was about $50 per person, round trip. / The fastest way to get to Split or Dubrovnik from Canada is with KLM via Amsterdam and Rome.