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Yacht Charters: Article

The Dalmation Coast

Unspoiled islands of the Med

Diversity is the key to a good sailing area and Croatia has it in spades, with excellent marinas as well as secluded, deserted anchorages. Like a setting from classical antiquity, the quintessential cruising grounds of the Dalmatian coastline are ludicrously perfect.

The notion that the Mediterranean was discovered, popularised, exploited and, in many cases, ruined does not run true for the Dalmatian Coast, where hundreds of islands scattered along the Croatian Adriatic remain beautifully preserved. We have, at least in part, Communism to thank for this. In Tito’s Yugoslavia, foreigners were barred from owning property so there was no opportunity for outsiders to blight the coastline with holiday villas or hotels catering to mass tourism. Having faced their share of conflict and war, the islands have fortunately remained relatively unharmed. Glorious remnants of the past still pile up one on top of the other – Illyrian, Roman, Christian, Venetian and Austrian influences ooze from the architecture and cuisine, and the Croats pride in their heritage is evident wherever you go.
Flying over the islands of southern Dalmatia en route to Split Airport, the excited shrills of five girls from London rang throughout the aircraft. After a short flight, transferring from Split Airport to the new Kastel Marina was painless (for us anyway, our driver Mario might not have the same opinion). Escorted aboard the 50-foot sailing yacht by our skipper Robbie, the excited shrills continued. Whether these were due to our awe of the new vessel in Sail Croatia’s fleet or the six-foot blond skipper is uncertain – I think it was a mixture of both. The yacht itself, a Beneteau 50, earns admiration for its deportment at sea but also for its impressive bow-to-stern finish, the sparkling teak deck, the roomy saloon and cabins, and, most importantly to us girls, the striking dark hull, making our home for the week the most attractive in every harbour we entered.
With over 1,400 islands floating tantalisingly in the azure waters of the Adriatic, the Dalmatian coastline is around 350km long, stretching from Brioni in the north to Korcula in the south. With hidden coves, olive groves and perfectly formed white-stone villages, each island has its own special charm.
After a peaceful night in our roomy cabins and a hearty breakfast of flaky pastry rolls filled with hot cream cheese, a delicacy left by the Turks, we happily sailed away from the mainland towards our first island, Vis. The Croatian equivalent of Capri, without the prices and crowds but with its own blue grotto, Vis is one of the furthest islands from the mainland and the nearest to Italy. Arriving in port in the late afternoon, we were heartily welcomed for a seafood dinner at the Pojoda Restaurant, which also doubles as a cookery school for men. If you like fish, Croatia is the place for you. The Dalmatians have always lived off the Adriatic Sea and although fishing has given way to tourism as the main earner, locals are still great fishers and in the late afternoon you can see groups of men gutting the fish they have caught that day.
Sailing along the southern coast of the island we discovered several military tunnels dotted along the cliffs, which were used as munitions depots during the Second World War. Vis played an important part in the War. Tito used it as his base in 1944, establishing a hilltop retreat in the security of the caves of Mount Hum. From here he devised his strategies as the British Navy in the harbour provisioned forays against the Germans. After climbing the 282 steps to the now unadorned cave, with an insight into the islands’ history along the way from local winemaker Oliver Roki, we were ready for the local delicacy of fresh octopus and potato that had been stewed in Roki’s red wine all afternoon.
Colonised by the Greeks thousands of years ago, the islands almost certainly owe their wine-producing heritage to the Greeks who first planted the vineyards. The neighbouring island of Hvar is known to have some of the best wine in the world, thanks to 320 days of sunshine a year. In the 13th century Hvar was governed by the Venetian doge and the main town of the same name owes much to Italian influences. Centred around a Baroque-style harbour (the largest in the Adriatic after St Mark’s in Venice), Hvar Town could not be better designed for a stroll around the many cafés that line the piazza, harbour and tiny medieval streets known as kala.
Retaining a feeling of remoteness despite being one of the largest islands and one of the closest to the mainland, Brac is most famous for its scores of interesting villages built mainly out of local stone. The island is a great source of stone worldwide (the White House is built of Brac limestone) and its masons work all over the Dalmatian region. Built into the side of a cliff face is the immaculately maintained 14th century monastery, Pustinja Blaca, which is a pleasant 45-minute stroll upfrom the valley on the south side of the island. Home to monks since 1551 (the last remaining left in 1963), the inhabitants of the monastery and its local community tilled the land and created a thriving and wealthy area producing wine and the finest cheeses and smoked ham that are now famous to the area. The latter, Prsut, is said to be superior to its Italian rival, Parma ham.

More Stories By Miriam Cain

Miriam Cain is the communications and publications manager for Camper & Nicholsons International. She is also the managing editor for the the luxury travel magazine Sea & I.

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