Plump mussels, squid-ink flavoured black bread, juicy lemons and tasty rice, accompanied with Croatian white wine is today’s lunch menu onboard our traditional ‘gulet’ as we island hop along the pretty Dalmatian coast.
Island-hopping is a common pastime in Croatia and soon becomes addictive as you cruise along the coastline stopping at tiny islands and discovering seaside villages and deserted sandy bays that are perfect for a quick dip.
Cruising these waters is the best way to discover the many attractions of coastal Croatia and the smaller the boat the better and easier to pull up in secluded bays.
There are thousands of islands in the area but the most popular, Brac, the largest island in Croatia, Hvar with its architectural glories and great restaurants, Vis for its unspoiled beauty and food, Mljet for its green covered hills and Korcela for its history and fun atmosphere are just some of the standouts.
Our seven-night cruise starts in Split, Croatia’s third largest city, where we meet our captain Niksa Gluncic, his brother Tommi and chef Vedran - or ‘V’ for short and board the immaculate Gulet Andjeo.
We plot our course for the next week with Niksa who advises us on the most scenic islands that we don’t want to miss and set off with blue skies and calm waters that continue all week.
The traditional Turkish boat has been redesigned over the years and is an immaculate 10-berth gulet that features every comfort.
There is a master bedroom and four double cabins all with ensuites and only eight of us on this trip of a lifetime to celebrate a special birthday.
Blue mattresses on the front of the gulet are perfect for a little sunworshipping along the way and there are lots of nooks where you can stretch out and daydream watching the amazing landscape and islands.
Breakfast and lunch is served in an outdoor dining area and we usually enjoy a light dinner at local cafes where we sample the regional food.
First stop is a tiny bay beside a small timbered island with a small pebble beach where we spend the morning swimming in warm crystal clear waters. In the afternoon we up anchor and head to our first island stop of Brac, the largest in Dalmatia.
Milna is a small fishing port located on the western side of the island of Brac, dating back to the 17th century that sits on the edge of a deep harbour and is perfect for a stroll and fish dinner.
It’s busy but not overcrowded and many day-trippers leave in the late afternoon.
Locals are friendly and welcoming as we wander through the old town and its beautiful port, stopping at tiny cafes and shops lined with souvenirs and seaside artefacts.
The island of Vis is our next stop and was once a military base for the Yugoslav Army and consequently free from visitors from the 1950s to 1989.
The town of Vis is located in the north-eastern part of the island at the bottom of a well protected bay and is very picturesque. It features charming narrow alleyways and crumbling 17th century houses and is well-known for its wine.
We taste the famous wine, vugava, a white wine and plavac, a red, teamed with tasty seafood and agree it is deserving of praise.
In stark contrast to some of the tiny and peaceful islands we also explore Hvar, Croatia’s most popular island. Lavender is grown on the island and you can purchase everything from lavender jam to lavender tea.
The old town of Hvar features 13th century walls surrounding around Gothic palaces and marble streets. It is a party town with lots of seafront bars and clubs, so we dine early then cruise to a quieter bay.
Korcula island and its seaside town of the same name is another highlight with its marble paved streets, winding alleyways, shops and seafood cafes.
The famous seafaring explorer Marco Polo who lived from 1254 to 1324 is reputed to have been born in Korcula and there’s a museum featuring lots of information about the explorer, his early life and his exploits.
For the best bird’s eye view climb the steep ladder to Cocktail Bar Massimo, lodged in the turret of the Zakerjan Tower. Drinks are brought up by pulley and not cheap but the view is worth it.
Some nights we spend in the ports and if they are too noisy we anchor in quiet bays. Niksa ferries us in to some ports on a powerful tender boat and returns to pick us up - nothing is too much trouble for the amicable captain and crew.
Mljet island is another much favoured stop with its stunning National Park that stretches over 5375 hectares studded with green forests and beautiful blue lakes.
We hire bikes at Pomena and ride 1.5 kilometres to Mali Most to catch a ferry to a small island in the middle of Veliko Jezero, where a Benedictine monastery originally built in the 12th century takes centre stage.
One of the best things about cruising on a small boat is you can stop in secluded bays and inlets and enjoy the amazing scenery, then swim to shore and enjoy a walk along the sandy beaches. We soon discover there’s literally a surprise at every island that are all quite different.
As much as I enjoyed visiting the islands and discovering their charm, sitting at the front of Andjeo watching island life and the stunning scenery pass by, was a highlight and the best birthday gift of all.
Published under license from Well Travelled