Our Croatia holiday was highly anticipated and came around with much excitement partly because we booked in January for a holiday to take place in August so the countdown was palpable and partly because I’ve been to Croatia on a yachting holiday before and couldn’t wait for my friends to experience it all.
My childhood holidays were made up of bare boat sailing- in Croatia twice, Turkey and Corsica. Bare boat sailing is something so unique because while you can sometimes stop in a major port, at other times you can be a solitary boat in the most beautiful little cove, eating a basic dinner of fresh produce with just your family. This trip brought back so many memories and I’ll be forever be grateful to my parents, that this is what my childhood holidays were made of.
Like I said, this holiday was booked in January for a departure date end of August but in a flurry we managed to get together a group of 9 who all eagerly accepted the holiday including my best – Claire Carson. To the crew of Croatia 2015 (the wonderful Kate, Chris, Bear, Et, Tori, Marius, Steve, our new friends Ella, Lilly, Cath, Penny, Andrea, the Kiwis Zoe, Joel, Matt and Cherie and a particular shout out to Broozer and Jenny and our legendary rep Janice plus the rest of the peeps) thank you – this was one of my best holidays yet. Phil came back more Australian than ever and I fear the words ‘mate’, ‘dingbat’ and ‘no worries’ will be entrenched in our daily conversations forever more.
We arrived in Split after an early Gatwick start. From Split Airport, there is a regular airport shuttle bus that meets each flight and can take you to Split harbour. Turn right as you come out of the arrivals terminal and you will see the buses and ticket kiosk 30 metres away. The journey time is 45 minutes and the fare is approx. 35 Kuna (£4). Taxis are available from outside the airport. There are ATM machines at the airport if you need local currency.
After a great amount of research and recommendations we chose Sail Croatia for this trip and couldn’t recommend it highly enough. We chose the Explorer programme – the one way south route from Split to Dubrovnik on the Premier Plus boat and wouldn’t change a thing. I think we were really lucky because from our rep Janice, to our crew (even dirty Ante), to our chef and captain Tony who made us pancakes at 2am after the Captain’s dinner we couldn’t have had a better week. We were on boat Aurora with spacious rooms and everything we needed including our own en-suite bathroom.
Our days started with a leisurely continental style breakfast with cooked extras most mornings served in the dining area, followed by some forced relaxation on the top deck to catch some rays and wake up at our own pace. The first swim stop of the day was usually around 10am for an hour or more and by this stage the cool water was a welcome respite from the already sweltering heat. For the more active, this session was spent with training swims and for the rest of us, lying on a doughnut, alligator or anything we could find that floated as we were lazily dotted around our boat watching those brave enough, jump off the top of our boat. You can buy lilos/floaties in almost every port so you don’t have to bring one unless you want to.
Lunch was served at around 12:30 and was a delicious 3 course meal from red meat to fish to pasta followed by mouth-watering chocolate mousse or cherry strudel dessert to name a few. We usually docked early afternoon giving us time to explore our destination or take part in an activity and then after a quick shower and freshen up we would head back into town for dinner and drinks.
Our first stop was the island of Makarska. We stood on the upper deck as we arrived in Makarska and simultaneously agreed that it looked very similar to Cape Town, Camps Bay area with its palm-fringed promenade, fashionable café’s and bars and mountain behind. The centre of the old town has narrow, stone-paved streets and a main church square which are lovely to walk around. This is a very popular tourist destination nestled under the Biokovo mountain range with Mt Jure the highest seaside peak on the Mediterranean.
We were recommended the restaurant Riva for dinner and what a great first impression to Croatian cuisine and service. As a sail Croatia partner, we were treated to complimentary starter, aperitif and small dessert but the overall experience was undoubtedly made memorable by our hosts. After dinner, the bar of Marineta was recommended as a local watering hole along with many street side cafes and bars but we headed straight to the infamous club Deep for some cocktails. This setting is truly unique – a natural cave next to the sea, rustic tables and chairs are etched into the mountainside with the water only a few metres away. Later this turns into a proper club but after our early start in Gatwick we decided to call it a night. Judging by the crowds heading past us on our way home, this is definitely the place to be on a night out in Makarska.
After an early start, we moved onto the island of Hvar to Stari Grad (probably my favourite spot). Here we decided to experience the wine on offer and did a wine tasting at Hora, a beautiful working farm that is also a UNESCO heritage site. This setting was gorgeous and while we sipped the local wine, we really felt holiday mode kicking in. Bathing in the afternoon sun, sampling home-made focaccia straight from the wood fired oven with olive oil, we happily chatted into the evening making new friends. I would definitely recommend a visit here if you find yourself near Stari Grad one day. While the wine is certainly nothing like our Cape wine, the whole experience was unique and so enjoyable in a simply unforgettable setting.
Stari Grad is a small port on the northern of the island of Hvar, literally meaning Old Town. One of the oldest towns in Europe, Stari Grad lies at the end of a long protected bay. It is famous for its lavender and olive oil as is most of Croatia. I sampled the lavender ice cream and while I may not choose this flavour again, when in Stari Grad… After an afternoon of wine we happily followed our rep to a recommended restaurant where I had octopus stew in a meaty sauce served with polenta followed by delicious cheesecake. Some of the group even managed to enjoy an impromptu street party which ended as suddenly as it started.
Although we didn’t have time for this, Et and Tori hopped into a bright green convertible beetle to explore nearby villages of Jelsa among others – this is a great place to hire a car/scooters/bikes to explore a bit more.
The next day, after a beautiful swim stop next to a very nudist island, we headed into the infamous Hvar. The island of Hvar has been famous through the years because of its important strategic and nautical position. It has a bit of everything from cultural and historical heritage, wonderful food, beautiful beaches and crystal blue sea. It is consistently makes the top of islands to visit lists and it is becoming increasingly popular particularly with worldwide celebrities and the party crowd. We’d heard that if we wanted a party, this was the place.
We headed straight for the fortress high on the hilltop which is about a 20 minute walk up and down. It’s around 30K to get in but worth it for the view looking down over Hvar port. Hvar is a very lively town and quite a contrast to sleepy Stari Grad from the night before.
To reward our efforts, we headed for Nonica for their chocolate cheesecake raspberry brownie and other delicious treats before heading to Hula Hula bar. This is a heaving and energetic beach bar with more alcohol in the drinks than there is anything else. This is the playground of the rich and famous and while we managed to find a quiet spot off to the side of the main moshpit, we had some very festive sundowners.
We had a place in mind for dinner but were beckoned into San Marco restaurant set inside the Palace hotel instead and this was a great find. With a beautiful setting and scrumptious pizzas this is a great option for a meal in Hvar. After dinner, we ventured out to wine bar red red wine and although my sea legs got the better of me on this day, the others went in search of some nightlife. After 2am the local bars close but clubs such as Carpe Diem, Pink Champagne, Veneranda and the Nautica Bar give those wanting a late night plenty of options to choose from.
We awoke to our boat already making its way to Vis. Vis is famous for the outer-lying Blue Cave, an island cave system accessible only by boat. The blue turquoise water and refracted light into the cave make for quite a magical experience. Unfortunately the weather conditions weren’t good enough to visit the Blue Cave but this is highly recommended if you are in the area. Vis is definitely an island to explore and if you can find any type of wheels I’d recommend grabbing them as there can be a shortage. Vis was of high importance as a naval base in the former Yugoslavia and was out-of-bounds to tourists and the island retains a sleepy somewhat undiscovered air particularly if you venture inland a bit. It is the furthest inhabited island off the Croatian mainland.
Unfortunately there were no scooters left to hire but we managed to find a taxi driver who took us to Stivina cove. This was definitely one of our highlights and worth the tough hike up and down in the heat. You can also reach this by boat. At the bottom is a beautiful pebble beach cove with turquoise water and feels like a little piece of paradise with a little café serving refreshments.
Dinner that night was probably my favourite restaurant of the trip in terms of setting at the lovely Lola. Surrounded by lush leaves and wisteria we dined on beef cheeks and other delicious dishes served by candlelight in the balmy evening breeze. I’d highly recommend this restaurant. If you have the chance, there is also an open air cinema where you can catch one of the latest blockbusters under the Croatian stars. Vis was a favourite of quite a few and Phil’s best stopover.
Korcula was our next stop and is a beautiful, quaint town built inside a fortified wall – said to be the birth place of Marco Polo. Korcula town is beautiful – a coastal citadel with cobbled, narrow streets filled to brim with jewellery boutiques. The town is small enough to walk around quite quickly so you can easily fit some exploring into your visit. We opted for the kayaking excursion. After a 30 minute paddle we arrived on a beautiful pebble beach with crystal clear water for an afternoon swim. Back in Korcula, Massimo bar is a great place to stop for a drink set on top of a fortress. While the drinks might not be the best, the setting is rather unique.
Restaurants recommended are: BBQ Loco and Doris. We were quite a big party so opted for one of the many waterside restaurants where I sampled the home-made macaroni native to Korcula. With the look of macaroni but a consistency and flavour more like gnocchi this is one to try. For those wanted to venture out after hours there is dos locos and Boogie Jungle which you can get to via bus and back via taxi.
Miljet was our next stop and is definitely an island I remembered from my previous trip so I was most excited to return here. The actual village is very small with a few restaurants and bars and one or two supermarkets. Mljet is one of the most picturesque of all the islands, with large forests covering most of the island. Mljet National Park’s lush vegetation, pine forests and spectacular saltwater lakes are exceptionally scenic and untouched.
We immediately walked the short walk up to the national park to hire bikes and enjoy the most beautiful and tranquil bike ride along the 10km route around the lakes. The lakes are salt water with a bright turquoise colour. We enjoyed swim stops along the bank before reaching the halfway mark. On instruction we waited patiently for the water taxi to take 10 of us plus our bikes across the short channel before continuing along the rest of the way. I would definitely recommend bikes here, the path is flat and wonderfully scenic. After the bike ride we rode the 10 minute ferry to the monastery where you can explore or opt for a refreshment and enjoy the unique surroundings.
While there are a few restaurant options, this was the evening of our captain’s dinner. Everyone donned their formal attire and we were treated to yet another delicious three course meal. Things got rather festive with lots of yappa shared amongst the guests and crew followed by midnight swims, the loco and finally Nutella pancakes at 2am made by none other than the captain himself. A great night all round. Miljet’s natural beauty made it another favourite stop.
A week that started off seemingly endless, was quickly coming to an end as we headed for our final destination, Dubrovnik. After a beautiful, final swim stop we docked in port just after lunch. Because of the heat, we delayed going into town but when we did, we joined the throng of people enjoying Old City Dubrovnik in all its glory. We ambled along at a slow pace within the ancient walls-and finally came across Buza Bar. Phil has labelled this his ‘best bar in the whole world’ which is quite a statement, but fitting for this spot. We settled in at Buza Bar 1, the lower of the two and while nothing fancy, it’s rustic charm and setting is unparalleled and you could spot us here on numerous occasions throughout our last few days.
That night we dined at recommended Azur restaurant just a few steps from Buza Bar I and I can’t recommend Azur highly enough – see mine and other TripAdvisor reviews here. I started with the salmon ceviche tacos and had the meatballs in coconut broth as a main. Each dish came beautifully presented, filled with intelligent and mouth-watering flavours. We were a party of 15 and the restaurant especially put a long table together in a separate, cool room and the host was extremely friendly and attentive so that we almost forgot about the queue outside waiting for tables. I would recommend booking in peak season.
As we bid farewells to our wonderful crew and new friends, swopping email addresses and contacts, we knew this was an experience we would never forget. Sail Croatia was very professional and made the holiday completely stress free with affordable and attractive excursions and great recommendations in each place. It is a great mix of activity and relaxation plus our rep Janice really did make all the difference.
Luckily we had 2 more nights in Dubrovnik and my sea legs were grateful to finally be on solid land. We had reserved an apartment in the old town wanting to get a real authentic taste of this beautiful city and we couldn’t have picked a better spot with Villa Homa. Our host was extremely helpful, very responsive to emails/requests and everything went smoothly. The apartment was bright, airy and tastefully decorated and a cool retreat during the heat of the day.
After dropping our bags off, we took to the wall. This is around 100 Kuna and there are three points of access. The views from the wall are breath-taking and a must activity for your stay. After a quick swim we grabbed lunch at Barba seafood street food cafe serving octopus burgers and tempura prawns, a great find right on our street. We then headed up the cable car to take in the views of Dubrovnik far below. A return trip is 108 Kuna and if you have time, a sunset visit is recommended.
That evening, we gave in to our sushi cravings and visited Bota sushi restaurant. We shared a mixed platter of their dishes on offer and the sushi was delicious and of a very high standard. After dinner, we joined Cath and Lily at Troubador jazz bar for a final cheers or ‘živeli’ to a wonderful holiday before they set off on their return journey home.We sipped on drinks listening to live jazz and enjoying great company with new friends. The girls stayed at Fresh Sheets and this is another accommodation option within the old town.
On our final day in Dubrovnik, Phil decided to join the boys jet-skiing and Claire and I chose to spend the afternoon wining and dining at Gveroric Orsan. If you find yourself in or near Dubrovnik, please add this to your list. Even our taxi driver proclaimed it the best seafood in the area – said with vigorous nodding of approval when we announced our destination. The food was rustic and simple with great flavours – after smoked tuna and fish carpaccio to start, we went for the seafood gnocchi and black squid ink risotto for mains. A local band lulled us into complete relaxation. The best part about this venue is that all the tables sit waterside with gleaming water lapping at your feet. In between courses they encourage swims with towels available for use. After yet another swim, we opted for Nutella pancakes for dessert before dipping our toes in the water again and could quite have happily spent hours in this little slice of paradise with the best company. See my TripAdvisor review here.
We returned to our cute little apartment for our last supper. That morning, we’d visited Gundulić Square to grab some fresh fruit, traditional Croatian delicacies and spreads, cheese, meats and a baguette for a local charcuterie board to enjoy on our terrace that evening. Being in the heart of the old town meant that on our final morning we could have a last swim at Buza bar and a delicious Croatian coffee at Café-Bistro Orlando all before our airport transfer took us swiftly back along the beautiful coastal road to Dubrovnik airport. It is better to pre-book a transfer and agree on a fixed rate when going about your airport transfer.
It is hard to capture all of the special moments that we had on this holiday into a blog post – the friendly, humble nature of the Croatian people, the friendships we made, the abundance of relaxation, delicious food, unforgettable sunsets and stomach wrenching laughs – this trip was one for the books.
To move, to breathe, to fly, to float, to gain all while you give, to roam the roads of lands remote, to travel is to live – Hans Christian Andersen