Cruising Croatia

By Robin McKelvie, a Travel Professional

Read more on Croatia.

Overall rating:4.3 out of 5 (based on 4 votes)
Recommended for:
Activity, Budget, Expensive, Mid-range

With remarkable scenery, an idyllic climate and superb seafood, the coastline of Croatia well deserves its reputation as Europe’s new sailing playground

Just over a decade ago Croatia lay relatively undiscovered, but today its remarkable Dalmatian coastline has become the new hotspot for discerning sailors and boaters. And no wonder. One of Europe’s newest nations boasts a littoral studded with 1,185 islands, an idyllic Mediterranean climate, a string of stunning Venetian towns, bountiful local seafood (as well as truffles, wine and prosciutto) and a level of value for money at the top end that puts France and Italy to shame.

Bill Gates, Bernie Eccelstone and the Benetton family are all said to be amongst the savvy travellers now steering their superyachts towards the Adriatic, but you are equally welcome here with even the smallest of yachts.

Split is the perfect starting point, as Dalmatia’s largest city oozes a palpable sense of living history. The Greeks, Venetians and Romans all vied for control of these lands, and it is the latter who left the biggest trace, with Split’s core still founded around Emperor Diocletian’s millennia-old palace. Today, designer-clad models and the local cognoscenti pose along the waterfront Riva and ease over cobbles once smoothed by Roman sandals.

The pick of Split’s restaurants is Sumica (Put Firula 6), an ideal introduction to the rich larder of Adriatic seafood you will discover throughout Dalmatia. You will soon see exactly why Italian gastronomes nip across the Adriatic to dine. Hotel-wise, the palace itself sports a brace of chic boutique hotels, the Peristil and the Vestibul Palace. Le Meridien Lav Hotel have also opened a five-star resort (the most lavish on the Croatian coast) south of the city, which has become a destination in itself, with its own casino and marina.

Split has waylaid many a sailor over the years, but the way to really discover Dalmatia is to break free of Split’s charms and explore the coastline with a cruise south to Dubrovnik, taking in the essential islands as well as some hidden corners. First up is Vis, the most remote island, set adrift deep in the Adriatic on the very cusp of Italy. This hideaway was closed to visitors as a naval base until 1989, so development is still pleasantly low-key.

Vis is famous for its white wines - you can sample them in the sprinkling of seafood restaurants that cater for passing discerning palates. The best is Villa Kaliopa (Vladimira Nazora 32). This exclusive oasis serves up freshly grilled fish in an immaculately manicured garden laced with towering pines, ornate sculpture and flickering candles. Around the other side of the island lies the tiny islet of Bisevo, home to Croatia’s answer to Capri’s Blue Grotto. You can scuba dive right into the caves and see the unique play of light and water, or just cruise in on a dinghy.

Time now to pulse into the new shiny face of Croatia, in the form of Hvar Town, on the island of the same name. This is the glitziest of the island hubs, attracting the moneyed crowd from the capital Zagreb as well as the attention of the international jet set and Hollywood big guns Tom Cruise and Sharon Stone. Hvar Town’s setting is sublime, with an old port so well-preserved that it looks as if the Venetians just left yesterday. The main quayside today is the most exclusive place to dock with the glitterati at now legendary style haunt Carpe Diem, carefully surveying new arrivals.

Just yards from the moorings is Hotel Riva, a seriously sexy boutique hotel housed in a 100-year-old dame that has been reinvented as the island goes seriously upmarket. Dine there, take in the DJ sounds or ease up into the warren of cobbled streets, where fresh rosemary and lavender scents the air, with a choice of gastronomic escapes now welcoming in the superyacht set. Despite the new arrivals, relative old timer Macondo (Petar Hektorovica) is still the best. Take a seat on the outdoor terrace and settle in for the best seafood platter you will probably ever savour.

Any regrets at leaving Hvar Town will quickly be dispelled by the epic scenery en route to Korcula, the island so impressive that Marco Polo decided to return to his birthplace there after exploring the world. The first sight of Korcula Town, with its postcard-perfect ramparts rising from milky blue seas, with the rugged mainland mountains forming a vertiginous background, is still enough to bring a smile to even the most world-weary adventurer. Make sure to eat at Adio Mare (Ulica Sveti Roka) before moving on, an old town fish restaurant you’ll be able to find by the gorgeous grilled aromas pervading the cobbled streets.

Dubrovnik is the coast’s biggest star and makes a great journey’s end. Eulogised by Lord Byron as the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’ and by George Bernard Shaw as ‘paradise on earth’, Dubrovnik more than justifies the hype, backed by steep limestone crags to the rear and fronted by the sublimely blue waters of the Adriatic. In between is a perfectly preserved city-state, nestled within medieval walls that house a cocktail of baroque churches and palaces, as well as the Pucic Palace Hotel, a romantic 19-room hotel hideaway laden with antiques. Immediately outside the hotel you can enjoy heaped plates of seafood risotto and mussels at local haunt Kamenice (Gunduliceva Poljana 8) for less than a glass of water in St Tropez.

Dubrovnik has recaptured much of the chic reputation it revelled in when star-crossed lovers Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor played out their real life dramas here. The A-listers are back and Hollywood stars such as John Malkovich are amongst those said to be snapping up secluded villas in the hills. As Dubrovnik’s pedestrianised old town gets busier each year, the smart set are heading out to the expansive five-starHotel Dubrovnik Palace for smooth Mediterranean cuisine in their fine dining Luna restaurant. Their Sunset Lounge is one of the sexiest escapes on the coast. From here you can savour the sun melting down over the Dalmatian islands as you congratulate yourself on your cruise exploring Europe’s hottest new boating playground.

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Robin McKelvie
Traveller type:
Travel Professional
Guide rating:
Average: 4.3 (4 votes)
Total views:
First uploaded:
6 April 2009
Last updated:
6 years 24 weeks 4 days 7 hours 14 min 33 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range, Expensive

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Community comments (4)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I am off to Dubrovnik today, so doing some last minute research. It is nice to read such a positive review. Even though Dubrovnik is one of several places mentioned in this guide, I think that this is one of the more useful guides I have read today, with proper practical information, citing venues rather than just saying the food was good. Pity the writer didn't visit any of the islands I am going too, but even the descriptions of the other ones made me excited about what might await me on Kolocep and Sipan. Thanks.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

You've completely sold this area to me, Robin. Everyone knows how lovely Dubrovnik's supposed to be, but you've publicised Split and Vis, which sounds awesome. Unlike another comment, I thought you could have fitted in another couple of destinations on what is after all a touring itinerary - I've heard good things about Mljet.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

This guide covers far too large an area to be really helpful.

Having sailed in this area on several occasions I realise that it would be very difficult to mention all the great places to visit. For that reason I would have thought it would have been better to concentrate on a smaller area and 'break down' the suggested cruise into more detailed 'chunks'. Most visitors go for one or two weeks and want to make the most of the trip. Bearing in mind the vagaries of the weather - you are not likely to manage huge distances unless you have unlimited recources and time.

Useful tips about the time to arrive in the Town Harbours and Marinas to get a mooring for the night would also have been helpful (in season they fill up quickly from around just after lunch)

Also how to get there and recommended boat hire companies would have been good.

All in all I found this guide sadly lacking in all but some good places to eat and how many 'glitterati' frequent the country !!

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Found the guide very useful. I backpacked around Croatia (costal) back in 2005 and would recommend the location. The guide focuses closely on sailing, but you have to understand that with over a thousand islands sailing too and fro are synonymous with the country. But don't think of sailing from the cruise perspective. Pick up your backpack and use the boat network like a proverbial taxi or bus network, which it is. You can jump from island to island, location to location, and will be approached by locals offering accomodation ranging from houses to appartments. Each destination is often alive to the sound of people negotiating rates.

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