Croatia has islands. Approximately 1400 of them. It also has a beautiful coastline, lush green hills and small towns with stone houses and red tiled roofs. Plus the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea.
And, as if those were not enough, it has Dubrovnik, with its extremely well preserved fortified old town.
So we, a group of 17, decided to rent a couple of catamarans and explore the Croatian Riviera from the sea. We rented the cats from Split and decided to go a few days early to spend some time in Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik throughout its long history had survived the pirates of Venice, the demands of the Ottoman Empire, numerous fires, earthquakes, quarantines and the horrible bombing of the Balkan War. Today it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Mediterranean and a Unesco World Heritage. After 1994, the Old Town and its massive stone walls have been restored to their former glory days of the 16th cc, when Dubrovnik was the capital of the maritime Republic of Ragusa.
If you’re a fan of the TV series Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik will look very familiar; only you’ll know it as King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms. If you’re not a fan, well then – You know nothing Jon Snow.
We spent a very enjoyable day at Dubrovnik, walking around the little harbour, gazing at the Rector’s Palace and strolling up and down on its main street, the Stradun and its many little alleys. We took the cable car and enjoyed the breathtaking views from the top of the Srd Hill. It was a clear day and we could see the surrounding landscape in great detail. A round trip costs 120 kunas pp (around EUR 16) and totally worth it.
In late afternoon we took a guided tour on the Walls. It took around 1.5 hours and we could see almost every major site and got a good sense of both the past and the present life of the city. You just need a comfortable pair of shoes and lots of water to survive the tour. Speaking of which, one still can drink clean water from the fountains and taps in the city thanks to an ancient ruler who commissioned an Italian architect named Onofrio to bring clean water through the mountains and into the city. Today you can still fill your bottle from Onofrio’s Fountain with the same cool sweet tasting water.
Dubrovnik is full of cafes and restaurants. The cuisine is Italian / Mediterranean and everyone can find something that fits their taste and budget. They also have a fairly ok selection of local wines. Although it can’t be compared with Italian wines, I found Posip (white) and Korlat (both the Cabarnet Sauvignon and the Shiraz) quite decent. In restaurants they cost around EUR 20 and 25 respectively and worth a sip – or a bottle or two.
We had a very enjoyable lunch at Wanda. All our choices from risotto and pasta to seafood were very tasty and the service was superb. We were a fairly large group and had some hungry youngsters in our company who were very particular about their menu choices. Nevertheless the chef and our waiter handled our requests quickly and efficiently.
In contrast, the dinner was a disappointment . We went to Amfora, which is reputed to be one of the best in the city and learned to our dismay that they gave a new meaning to the phrase Slow Food. The bread and olive oil appeared 30 minutes after we arrived and only in gourmet proportions. We finally managed to eat our dinner after 2.5 hours and after we complained. Apparently they had a problem with their chef that day and caught unprepared (to serve food ?) but we only learned about that right at the end from a very self important and rude restaurant manager.
But we didn’t let him or the sub-standard food that they serve to ruin our memories of a truly great day in this beautiful city.
Next day we traveled to Split to start our cruise.The trip from Dubrovnik to Split, although picturesque, was long, hot and as much fun as one can imagine in an ancient bus with bad air-conditioning with five very bored adolescents.
After 4.5 hours we finally arrived at the Nautica Center Nava at ACI Marina where we found our catamarans. A Lagoon 450 named Mustra 1 and a Lagoon 400 named Babulica would be our homes for the next six days. Normally we own and sail monohulls and chose catamarans on this trip due to the crowd vs. comfort factor. They proved to be indeed spacious and comfy. We ladies especially enjoyed the nets on the fore.
After the check-in, we left our luggages in our cabins and went for an early dinner at F-Marina Restaurant. I had the Dalmatian Ham which deserved its reputation and Scampi buzzara which I washed down with white crisp Posip. Buzzara is a local speciality, basically it’s scampi (or any other meat or seafood) cooked in a rich tomato, wine and garlic sauce with some herbs. Since all the ingredients were fresh and tasty, the end result was delicious.
Afterwards we went for some shopping for the days ahead. Split is a large city so the provisioning options are good and close by. There’s also a well stocked chandlery in the marina.
The next morning we had to wait for some minor repairs on our boat and could only leave the marina around noon. As usual I said a prayer for a safe trip to my favourite Greek, the mighty Poseidon and since Split is another filming location of the GoT, I included the Old Gods and the New.
Catamarans in general perform well under sail if the winds are coming from beam or broad reach or preferably running. They don’t handle close reach well, so in order to reach our destinations we preferred a motor/sail combination almost every day. Around 27 knots and 3.5 hours later we arrived at the Sveti Klement island and anchored at Uvala Tarsce or Tarsce Cove. Sveti Klement belongs to a group of islands called Pakleni Islands, home to secluded beaches and coves.
The sea was cool, clear and perfect after two hot days spent on land. Dinner was three different types of pasta on board the Babulica accompanied by local wine. Since we didn’t spend much time and effort with neither breakfast nor lunch , dinner was well received by the crew.
The second morning I went for a long refreshing swim and explored the bay. In general Croatian coast is rocky with typical Med fauna and lovely pine trees. Thanks to the rocky bottoms, the seas are crystal clear and surprisingly cool.
After breakfast we motored our way to Uvala Vinogradice about 1kn to the east and took a mooring. This is a popular anchorage with lots of moorings and three good restaurants on the coast. The buoys cost 30 kunas per meter per day and the guy who collects the money also takes the rubbish bags.
We found the anchorages crowded and the moorings very close to each other in Croatia compared to other places that we have sailed. Add to it the dinghies, the SUPs and the swimmers and it can get a bit over-crowded.
A pleasant discovery on the Sveti Klement is the breakfast boat. There’s a boat selling warm croissants and freshly squeezed orange juice in the mornings.
In the afternoon we hired a couple of water taxis (100 kunas pp 2 ways) to take us to Hvar, the popular resort island. Hvar is beautiful with hillsides covered with pines, olive trees and botanical gardens. We walked along its main square, climbed its hilltop fortress enjoying magnificent views of the busy port and the nearby Pakleni Islands and drank mojitos in a street bar.
The night was spent at Zori Restaurant, a short dinghy ride from our boats and it was a great experience. The restaurant is located on a small hilltop overlooking the bay and the sunset colors were beautiful. When the dark settled the anchor lights of the boats became a mini milky-way reflecting on the waters. It was an exquisite atmosphere. So were the food, the wines and especially the service. My tagliata di manzo was so tender it will be a benchmark for future chefs. Apart from the more typical Italian dishes they also had specialities like slow cooked bison with gnocchi and bison burgers.
Only negative comment about Zori was the water. They serve Voss, the expensive Norwegian bottled water without specifically asking, and we ended up paying to the water almost the same amount that we paid to our wines. Not so cool, for a classy establishment in all other respects.
Next morning started with an exciting expedition to retrieve ‘The Sunken Paddle’. One of the kids dropped the paddle of a SUP the previous day and we weren’t able to retrieve it for it was half buried in 10+ m deep water. We tried to buy a new paddle in Hvar to avoid spending the rest of the holiday with five kids and only one functioning SUP, but there weren’t any. So one of the guys purchased whatever he could find to create a very very very long fish net/ boat hook/retrieving device thingy. The next morning he and my husband, both experienced scuba divers, took turns using the thingy and after about hundred attempts they managed to salvage the paddle. I don’t know know who were more happy, the kids or the 50-something kids.
Afterwards we departed for Vis Island and since there was no wind to speak of we had to go with power for about 1.5 hours. We took a mooring at Kut (273 kunas per day) and directly went to Pizzeria Karijola, just across from our boat. It was fast and super yummy.
We then took a tour around Kut, a sleepy fishing village with a pier. Searching for a place to serve dinner for 17 people, we stumbled upon Restaurant Val. Overlooking the pier and under the shadow of tall palm trees, it looked very cute. The owner was extremely practical. When we asked about the fish she told us to wait for five minutes, for her fish seller was about to come and deliver the day’s catch. True to her word, she called a few minutes later and showed us the fish, explaining how she’ll prepare it while offering us raw fresh shrimps directly from the ice casket. They were sweet and juicy, better than some of the Ebi Sashimi I tried back at home.
That night we had a memorable seafood dinner at Val Restaurant with fresh shrimps, mussels, grilled bonito and a very tasty scorpion fish stew. I still wonder what spices she had used to give that deep chilly taste to the stew.
The following morning we woke up to gray skies and a strong side wind. We were planning to take a mooring line at the pier to get water and take a shower. Most of the crew on Babulica took the dinghy to avoid the cues at the public shower and left three of us on board. As fairly experienced sailors, we thought it would be a walk in the park to take the mooring lines and berth the pier, no matter how crowded. I mean, we had done it many times before, right ? Wrong. At least not with a catamaran, and what a difference it did make. After twenty excruciating minutes, some near misses and with a lot of help from the neighbouring boats and our friends on the pier we finally managed to berth without any permanent damage to anyone apart from the damage to our egos. We later learned Mustra 1 had a similar experience. Anyway, all’s well that ends well.
After getting on board water and some fresh fruits we sailed to Komiza at the western end of the island. En route we stopped at Rogacic and took a look at the WW2 submarine base completely hidden under a hill. One can’t help but think about an older generation James Bond – Connery or maybe Moore in a weirdly tight black wet suit but still dashing and armed only with a tiny device that Q recently invented – fighting heroically a small army of evil Nazis in these waters.
Today, it’s of course a touristic curiosity.
Since we finally had some wind, we sailed most of the way to Komiza and took a mooring (250 kunas per day) close to Mustra 1 in the afternoon. The Yacht Week participants, around twenty boats that moored and tied together were just behind us, already partying hard.
After spending the rest of the afternoon swimming and snorkelling, we called a water taxi (15 kunas pp one way) and went to explore the little town. I found it very charming with its two churches, small castle and tiny back alleys. We later found out taking the water taxi to town was a stroke of genius.
We had dinner at Barba overlooking the bay. Good food and wine, lovely atmosphere, good friends. One can’t ask for more.
Barba has a local speciality which has to be ordered a day in advance. As far as I understand, it’s lamb or octopus slow cooked in a metal container. The full name of the dish is ‘ jela ispod peke’ or food cooked under the bell. We couldn’t try it for obviously we didn’t know about it until we saw the menu, but it sure sounds interesting. Next time !
Mustra 1 had a nasty surprise after dinner when they went back to their dinghy. Someone stole their gas tank along with the connecting lines. So they had to call a water taxi to carry them back to the boat and tow the dinghy. The next day we learned that these kind of small robberies sometimes happen. No big deal, just be careful next time seemed like the official response. At least no one had suggested it was our fault.
We were planning to spend the next day visiting the famed Blue Cave but when we learned about the waiting lines and the fact that you’re not allowed to swim but visit the cave in little boats our appetite for exploration had vanished. Instead we swam and SUPed (is that even a word?) all day long. One of the kids again dropped the paddle. My husband again retrieved it, securing his top frogman status among the youngsters. The boys reinvented speed SUPing, trying to stand on a SUP while someone drags you with the dinghy. As the old saying goes, boredom is the mother of all inventions.
We had drinks at Babulica at sunset. Dinner was at Bako that evening, a few steps from Barba. Lovely seafood dinner and nothing was stolen that night.
Note to self : There’re quite a lot of wrecks around Komiza from the WW2 era, probably thanks to the submarine base next door. Come prepared for a few dives next time.
Next day was our last and we decided to spend it at Solta Island, 9 miles south of Split. It was a 33kn ride from Vis. Two of our captains heroically woke at 5:30 and while we were sleeping motored their way to Solta. After refuelling at Uvala Rogac, we anchored at the beautiful Uvala Necujam just after 10 am. Waking up at a more respectable hour, Mustra 1 followed a few hours later.
We still had some of the yummy cakes that we bought from the Slaticarnica Cukar at Komiza and had a late breakfast. Their carrot cake and fig & walnut buns are to die for.
Solta is a charming resort island full of small holiday houses, vineyards and olive trees. The sea is exceptionally clear with limestone rocks and a small wreck of a fishing boat on the coast offers some snorkelling fun. For me, it was one of the best swims of the whole tour.
At sunset we took the dinghy to tour around the bay and went to Mustra 1 for a last round of drinks. Dinner was on board that night with potato salad with cheese and cold cuts platter.
Next morning around 8 am we motored the last 9 kn to Split and checked out for the last time from Mustra 1 and Babulica.
As I said in the beginning Croatia has more than 1400 islands and we only saw a handful. So au revoir and vidimo se kasnije Crotia. We’ll see you later.
Thanks to Mutlu and Erbil for the photos. Below are the whole crew.