Island-Hopping Croatia’s Hidden Coastlines

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

Having spent childhood summers in Croatia and several years living there, I am deeply connected to it. It is a destination I can return to over and over again, each time discovering a new corner and connecting even deeper to it.

Here is a glimpse into exploring the beautiful islands of Croatia.

This is the summer to charter a yacht and explore the Adriatic’s harbors.

Planning is key when exploring Croatia’s islands. After all, there are more than 1,000 of them in this boomerang-shaped country (and only about 4 million residents). Each inhabited island’s distinct culture, cuisine, and lifestyle will inspire you to relax and savor the pace of liveaboard life.

It’s easy to see why. The island of Hvar, for example, averages more than 2,700 hours of sunlight per year, making it one of the world’s sunniest places. Korcula, which some historians claim to be Marco Polo’s birthplace, produces award-winning olive oil. Brac boasts beautiful beaches and scenery; its famous limestone has been used to build Diocletian’s 1,600-year-old palace in Split, the White House in Washington, D.C., and the United Nations headquarters in NYC. These three Adriatic islands alone can easily account for a week’s worth of sailing and exploring – but don’t discount the lesser-known spots.

The best way to navigate Croatia’s coastline: Corral a group, charter a private yacht, and let a captain-cum-chef do the steering, cooking – even the cocktail mixing. This style of island-hopping isn’t just luxuriant; it’s an opportunity to meet locals far off the tourist circuit and discover a corner of the Adriatic not yet inundated with Instagram hashtags. Below, how to spend an amazing week yachting in Croatia.

Day 1: Arrive in Trogir

Noon: Arrive in Trogir on Croatia’s central coast and spend the afternoon exploring Old Town before setting sail. This medieval town’s impressive Venetian-style palaces and churches and overall vibe feel unhurried and welcoming compared to nearby tourist hub Split and its main draw, Diocletian’s Palace. For lunch or dinner, stop at Skrapa, a long-established konoba (tavern), for classic Dalmatian dishes such as squid-ink risotto. Cap it off with a shot of rakija, the local grape brandy, which comes with a bell. The traditional joke: Ring it if the spirit moves you to have another.

Day 2: Embark to Kornati

10 a.m.: From Trogir, set sail for Kornati, an archipelago of 89 diminutive islands to the north. Marked by beautifully stark landscapes, hidden coves, and crystalline waters, these islands are home to Kornati National Park. Moderate-difficulty hiking trails through the semi-arid landscape lead to viewpoints where you might catch a glimpse of a kestrel or beech marten. It’s a hot spot for divers too – the park has great marine life and nine different diving and snorkeling zones.

2 p.m.: As the day’s activities wind down, head to the park’s Kornati Agriculture Cooperative, which sells quality artisan crafts and goods made on the islands, including honey, lip balm, jam, and olive oil.

Day 3: Wine and Olive Oil in Brac

11 a.m.: In the mid-seventeenth century, the Venetian authorities who ruled over most of the Dalmatian Coast ordered workers to plant olive trees on the 32-mile-long Brac (pronounced “Bratch”). The result is an unusual and rare form of olive called buhavica, which, when pressed for oil, delivers a particularly bold, grassy flavor.

Spend a couple of hours lounging on the white-pebbled Zlatni Rat, or Golden Cape, often cited as one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. (It’s also a great place to watch or try windsurfing.) In the main town, Bol, be sure to sample some of Brac’s plavac mali, a popular, refreshing red wine that pairs beautifully with the tender lamb dishes common here.

Day 4: The Hvar Scene

11 a.m.: Hop off the yacht onto Croatia’s hippest island: Tourists from across Europe flock here for the beach clubs, bar scene, and DJ sets that run from midday late into the night. Pull up a chair at Red Baron, a café on the shoreside boulevard overlooking the harbor’s mega-yachts that’s great for people-watching. Then explore Hvar Town, which fans out in a horseshoe on a hill surrounding the port. Throughout its tiny alleyways, you’ll find hidden cafés, restaurants, bakeries, and boutiques.

2 p.m.: Visit a lavender field. “Not only is Hvar a great spot for people-watching and nightlife,” says Virtuoso advisor Joanna Kuflik, “but I love to time my visit in June or July to see the beautiful lavender fields in full bloom.” She recommends the villages of Zastrazisce, Gdinj, and Bogomolje for picturesque touring. Every year, the fourteenth-century village of Velo Grablje holds a lavender festival to celebrate the beginning of harvest (currently scheduled to take place July 9 and 10 this year).

6 p.m.: Grab a water taxi at Hvar harbor for the short ride to Marinkovac Island’s Carpe Diem Beach, a scene that blends the coolest aspects of European clubbing on the beach with ultra-fresh seafood and great cocktails. DJs spin as guests lounge in bamboo huts or swim until early in the morning. This is Hvar to the core.

Day 5: Historical Vis

Noon: When Croatia was part of Yugoslavia – 1945 through 1992 – Vis hosted an important secret military base, and the island was off-limits to everyone but residents. As a result, the way of life there was largely frozen in place. Landlubbers have to take a two-hour ferry ride from Split to get here. It’s a great place for unhurried beach lounging, simply prepared seafood, and untouched nature.

“A must-see is the Blue Grotto, situated on the east side of Bisevo island, right across from Vis,” Virtuoso advisor Dolores Jakolis says. “It’s a secluded cave accessible only by small boat, at its best around noon, when the sunlight filters through the crystal-clear Adriatic waters and illuminates the cave with an eerie blue light.”

7 p.m.: A short drive from Vis Town is Roki’s, a wine-drenched tavern that prepares meat peka-style: slow-cooked under a bell-like lid covered in burning embers, rendering lamb, pork, and octopus to fork-tender deliciousness. They also make their own easy-drinking table wine. Be sure to call a day in advance to tell the restaurant you’re coming for peak.

Day 6: Greek History in Korcula

Noon: A few facts about the Adriatic’s sixth-largest island: Its name derives from the original Greek name, “Melaina Korkyra,” or Black Corfu. Medieval Korcula Town is laid out in thin, interconnected lines inspired by fishbone ribs, designed to divert the strong Adriatic winds from the town center. Ask any local, and they’ll swear thirteenth-century explorer Marco Polo hails from the island.

A must-do recommendation from Jakolis: “Don’t miss tasting the best island wines, posip and grk,” she says. It’s true: These varieties are hard to find outside Croatia, so take advantage of being here. Have a glass or three at Bokar Wine Bar, located right in the heart of Korcula Town.

3 p.m.: After the wine wears off, rent a bicycle – there are numerous rental shops around the main town – and explore the sea paths that take in the rugged coast on one side and olive groves and vineyards on the other.

Day 7: Forest Bathing in Mljet

11 a.m.: Leave crowds far behind on the southern Mljet island, a forest-covered strip of land, one-third of which is part of the Mljet National Park. Purchase an entrance ticket (around $20 per person) and hike the leisurely paths bordering the island’s two saltwater lakes – also great for swimming, as they’re a few degrees warmer than the nearby ocean coastline. After a dip or kayak tour around the lake, travelers can hop on a sailboat in the larger Veliko Lake and sail to the Melita Islet, a spit of land that houses a twelfth-century Benedictine monastery, which now serves lunch. Surrounded by water on all sides, it’s an ideal way to end a week of island-hopping in Croatia.

That is how to spend an amazing week yachting in Croatia exploring the islands.

Dreaming of island hoping and have more questions? Bareboat vs. Chartered? Catamaran or Monohaul? Grab my Detailed Sailing Comparison Guide that covers all of that and more. Discover which of the top 3 sailing destinations are perfect for you.

Source: Virtuoso

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