Shipshape in Croatia
Kevin Cook-Fielding finds his sea legs for a sailing tour of the Dalmatian islands
Ten years ago Dora Vulic, a London-based Croat, founded Sail Dalmatia, borne out of a passion for sailing and her fascination for the magic of the Croatian coastline. A keen sailor myself and a frequent traveller to the countries on the eastern Adriatic coastline, I decide to take a week sailing around some of the most beautiful Dalmatian islands in the Adriatic Sea.
I arrive late on Monday afternoon in May at the Croatian coastal city of Split. I'm going to be sailing on the Split based gulet Eleganza, which accommodates up to ten guests.
A gulet is a traditional two-masted wooden sailing vessel of between 14 and 35 metres in length. Originally from the southwestern coast of Turkey, they were used to transport cargoes of olives, lemons and other goods. Many have been converted for cruising around the Adriatic islands.
On arrival at Split harbour I am welcomed aboard the Eleganza by the four-man crew (Vlado: captain; Tomo: deckhand; Vule:waiter; and Zeljko: chef). Once onboard I'm shown to my cabin, my base for a week's sailing around the Dalmatian islands. The four cabins and one master cabin comprise an ensuite bathroom and include a double berth (double bed to any landlubbers), a safety deposit box, a complete set of linen and towels, a hair dryer, a set of toiletries, a storage cabinet, reading lights and an independent AC unit. There is also UK and USA power socket available in all cabins.
Happy that my cabin is shipshape and Bristol fashion, I sit down with the other guests to a freshly prepared evening meal by our chef. There is a starter of mussels, langoustine and risotto followed by grilled sea bass and a cheesecake dessert, washed down with one of the many local wines. The chef buys fresh produce from the local markets every day.
Next morning before the other guests awake I check out the boat's layout. The exterior of the boat contains the aft deck, where the dining table is situated, under a canopy that runs the full beam of the boat. This is where most of our meals will be served. There is also a sofa that runs the full width of the deck for lounging around in the shade from the hot afternoon sun. The sun deck is situated at the front of the boat, which is ideal for a mid-morning or late-afternoon nap.
Breakfast is served at 8am, but you can choose what time you would like to eat. Breakfast consists of fresh fruit, cereal, eggs, cheese, cured meats and krafne (Croatian doughnuts), tea and various fruit juices. By 8.30am, we have set off from Split and are heading south through the channel between the Islands of Solta and Bracto, known as the Split Gate, and on to the green and fertile Island of Hvar a two-and-a half-hour journey away.
We moor in open waters between Hvar and the Paklinski Islands and take the boat's tender to Palmazina marina on the largest of the Paklinski isles. On landing I take a short walk over to the south side of the island and visit the Ristorante Meneghello. It is situated in the botanic gardens created by Professor Eugen Meneghello over 100 ago and it is still run by the Meneghello family (the great-granddaughter, Romania) today. The most surprising feature of the restaurant is the collection of brightly coloured artby established Croatian artists, all owned by Dagmar Meneghello, the granddaughter of Eugen.As the island can only be reached by boat, it's extensive footpaths and trails give an intense sense of safety and freedom.
Skipping lunch on the boat I ask the tender pilot to take me straight over to Hvar Island and the small yet busy city of Hvar, a typical Venetian port.Passing the main city gate or Porta di Datallo (Gate of Dates) to the north of the city, I take a gentle winding path through an open Mediterranean herb garden up to the panjola Fortress built at the beginning of the 16th century. The light aroma of the wild herbs adds an extra element to this leisurely evening stroll. On arrival at the fort you can take in panoramic views of the city of Hvar and the surrounding Pakleni islands.
My appetite is fired up by my exercise and I dine at the Passarola Restaurant located just beside the cathedral, in the old part of Hvar.
A typical cold starter here includes Dalmatian prosciutto, local cheese, almonds, olives and home-made honey. For the main course I opt for the ribeye steak, rosemary potatoes and confit mushrooms served with a very creamy garlic and mustard sauce. Ivan the restaurant manager recommends a tasty local red wine from the Dingac region. The dessert that follows is a Bourbon vanilla ice cream served with an espresso and almond biscuit.
Back on board the Eleganza I find time for a quick nightcap before I retire to my cabin to be rocked softly to sleep by the lapping waters of the Adriatic.
An island with cricket
In themorning, we set sail for the one of the most easterly Dalmatian Islands Vis. On arrival, I am greeted by the enigmatic Oliver Roki, restaurant owner, winemaker and reviver of the Vis cricket club in 2002 originally founded by Captain Sir William Hoste in 1809.In those days, the British still held sway in the Adriatic.
Oliver takes me to his restaurant, Roki's Konoba, and vineyard on the south side of the island in Plisko Polje. Also close by is the cricket pitch home to Vis cricket club. The restaurant specialises in Croatian and Mediterranean cuisine. I have the slow-cooked lamb and veal with potatoes seasoned with rosemary and accompanied by a red wine from Roki's vineyard, Roki's Plavac Mali. Oliver's wife recommends the chocolate carob cake for dessert. She tells me it was Piers Brosnan's favourite while filming Mamma Mia 2 on the island of Vis. You can add my name to that list as well.
This following morning I visit the Blue Grotto on the island of Bisevo, You need to be there sometime between 11am and midday to experience the maximum benefit of the sun reflecting off the white sands and caves.
I take a water taxi from the small port of Komiza on the south-western coast of Vis across to the small island visible from the shore. On arrival at Bisevo, I transfer to a smaller boat, which takes me around the cove to the craggy rock face that conceals the Blue Grotto. As we set a course straight into the cliff face I notice a small opening in the solid rock which can be no wider than five foot and higher than four foot. The skipper cuts the engine and tells us to duck as we narrowly glide through the hole, which opens up to a large cave bathed in iridescent blue light. Objects in the water appear to be silver as the sunlight reflects through the water via the white sandy floor of the cave. The trip lasted no more than 20 minutes. But it was one that would stay with me forever.
MoneyWeek reader offer
Sail Dalmatia (0800-124 4176; SailDalmatia.com) offers bespoke cruise holidays aboard a range of boats. The ten-person gulet Eleganza costs from €12,900 per week, including yacht charter, mooring fees, local airport transfers, port taxes and fuel. Half-board, excluding alcoholic drinks, costs from €320 (£280) per person per week. Sail Dalmatia is currently offering MoneyWeek readers a 10% discount on bookings for Eleganza in July and August 2018.