If you’re seeking a dose of culture on your next charter, the Med is your best bet. Not far from one of the cradles of civilization (there are now thought to be six), the Eastern Med is chock full of history, as the old Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Cypriots and Turks all crisscrossed these waters, often building their own civilizations right atop one another. One of the most complex and stunning examples of this annexation of preceding societies is the Dalmatian coast that today is a bustling charter destination.
In recent history, the nearby mainland was called Yugoslavia, which in 1991 broke up into several countries, including Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Albania and—hmm, I’ve lost count. If you’re wondering what airport code to use, it’s SPU for Split in Croatia, a port from which you can sail to more UNESCO sites than anywhere else in the world.
Croatia is a weird mix of a laidback Mediterranean vibe and leftover Eastern Bloc sensibility. On our last tour with Dream Yacht Charters, we took a few days to explore the towns of Sibenik, Dubrovnik and Split, where Diocletian’s Palace would make Disney envious. More of an ancient city center than a Roman palace, Diocletian’s digs show off Roman, Byzantine and Egyptian artifacts and architecture all jam-packed within a 100ft radius, each dynasty rolling over the last. Even if you’re not the museum type, you can hardly miss the energy of the history that meets you at every quay.
Unless you’re of Eastern European origin, the signs won’t be easy to read, but Croatians are happy to practice their English. Many also speak German and French, as hordes of European tourists have descended on the area in recent years. If you’re bashful, steer clear of German and Norwegian boats, because they like to go for their morning refreshers au naturel. In fact, there’s more nudity in Croatia than anywhere I’ve seen, which can get awkward if you ever find yourself having to defend your Med-mooring spot after being confronted by a naked skipper.
On a happier note, the beer, wine and food are good, plentiful and affordable, and because we cruised mostly town-to-town on our last charter, we didn’t need to provision too heavily beforehand. If you’re into sausages, you can hardly get more authentic than cevapcici, a kind of minced meat kebab that Croatians seem to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner—always with French fries just to max out the cholesterol.
Be warned, the holding can be sketchy in popular places like Hvar Town, where superyachts deliver their Onassis-type clientele to docks bordered by every kind of restaurant from the inexpensive local shack to upscale eateries that will set you back. With this in mind, it’s best to scope out a lunch hook for while you visit the fort, but also have a fall-back for the night anchorage. (We found an idyllic cove on the northern side of Sveti Klement, or St. Clement Island.) With reservations you can eat at The Fisherman’s House on shore, which is like having an excellent dinner at a local’s residence, since it’s one of only three restaurants on the island. The cove has mooring balls and is well protected from everything but northerlies.
In the end our charter in Croatia had a little bit of everything: from paparazzi-worthy beautiful people to nude and salty sailors; from gentle breezes to gusty winds that can make a day of sailing either a lovely beam reach or a rugged slog to windward. And hey, if you can only take so much culture and the trip was your ruse to get the spouse to come along under the pretext that “the kids will get a history lesson,” you’ve even got the fact that large portions of Game of Thrones were filmed in and around these waters. Mind blown.
May to early July is a nice time to visit. Stay away during August when all of Europe seems to be on vacation. AirBnB and Uber work well in Croatia and you can often get accommodations right in historic areas for less than at fancy hotels.
All the large charter companies have bases in the area, including Dream Yacht, The Moorings, Sunsail, Navigare and numerous other local outfits. Although catamarans are increasingly visible, it’s cheaper and easier to charter a monohull, like our new Dufour 43 from Dream. When there’s limited space at the quay, you’ll be glad you don’t have to squeeze a cat into the mix. Beware the gulets—large, multi-guest, crewed boats that look right out of a movie. They have reserved spaces on the quays and will not think twice about pinning you in or waving you off.
Most charter companies have a base in Trogir (another medieval UNESCO town) or nearby. Dream Yacht Charters also has one in Sibenik if you’d like to explore the islands farther north.
Tune in next month when we sail through the land of Odysseus in Greece on Cultural Charters Part II.