A week in Croatia can be summed up in 3 very simple words: Boats. Beers. Sunsets.
Croatia had always been on my list of places to visit, but it was kinda at the bottomish of the list, I mean…arent they at war? It wasn’t until Elzaan showed me a Yacht Week Croatia video that it ramped itself up to the top of the list becoming the first stop for our Aramis Voyager journey. Okay, Greece was actually the first first stop, but that was for one night and you can read the Greece blog post here.
Getting to Croatia from Cape Town is no easy task, combined with getting to and from Greece, this became one of the most difficult trips we’ve ever had to organise. However, in true Aramis Voyager style, we decided to ‘take the voyage, the world was waiting’. It starts with choosing a yachting company in Croatia. Well, actually, it starts with deciding whether you’re partying or exploring and then choosing the appropriate yachting company. We were meeting up with 2 of our best friends and jointly decided that we were all too old to party every night (or so we thought) or share a bathroom with strangers. Yep, the perks of pushing 40. : )
In this space, there really are 2 major players in yachting, Sail Croatia and Katarina Line, both offer everything from party cruises to luxury cruises. We wanted something in the middle and decided on the Southern Pearls Cruise With Katarina line on an A+ ship – The ships are graded according to the amenities – with en suite bathrooms and Aircon. So far so good. We booked a little late in the year, so our option on date, departure and landing point as well as cabin were limited. My suggestion, book early! Like right now for next year! If you book early you can pick a cruise that starts and ends in the same place making your trip much easier.
Our cruise departed from Split and finished a week later in Dubrovnik. Unfortunately, though, we could only fly into Dubrovnik from Athens as there were no flights to Split….and so started our incredible voyage.
We arrived in Dubrovnik pretty late at night and jumped on to the airport shuttle bus towards old town – definitely the fastest and cheapest way to get into old town or Port Gruz. It’s about a 30min journey ending with one of the most spectacular arrivals I’ve ever experienced. Arriving into this 7th Century city is like walking onto the set of Game of Thrones, quite literally in fact as it’s the setting for Kings Landing. Luckily for us, winter was not coming and it was hot as balls (is that still a saying?).
We checked into a little air b’n’b in the city walls (get ready to climb a LOT of stairs) and got to exploring this incredible city. You really feel as though you’ve been transported back in time in this UNESCO World Heritage site, from the limestone buildings neatly squeezed around tight alley ways to the marble walkways that literally shine from being walked smooth over thousands of years. To say it’s magical sounds lame and perhaps a little Disney, but really, it’s the only way to describe it. Every alleyway and corner reveals a new coffee shop, restaurant or bar. You are truly overwhelmed with dining choice’s in the city which is not always a good thing – We were desperately in search of some local cuisine only to find pasta, pizza and burgers at every establishment, a little disappointing for such a culturally rich place. In the end, we picked a spot, ordered some fried calamari and tucked into our first of many bottles of Karlovačko beer, the food was okay, but the atmosphere made up for it.
The next day we packed our bags and made our way down to Port Gruž in order to catch a ferry from Dubrovnik to Split – the departure point for our cruise. Surprisingly, there are not a lot of options in getting from one city to another. You could drive, but that would require a trip through the Bosnian border (and another Visa) you could take a 6/8 hour bus trip through the same border where apparently you may or may not get stopped and asked for a Visa or you could do what we did and take a 4 hour high-speed catamaran that is totally worth the extra few Kuna.
We arrived in Split for the night where we met up with our friends for dinner and got ready to board our cruise the very next day. By this time we were pretty happy with our decision to pack light. We had done 4 cities, 4 hotels and 3 flights in 3 days. We had another 4 flights on their way, a week on a yacht and a couple more bus and ferry trips in between. Packing light is possibly my best advice I can offer for this trip. The best advice I ever received in packing for a trip is to take half the clothes and twice the money, the theory being that you can just buy whatever you forgot to bring. It’s a great theory, if you can afford it.
Part of packing light was leaving the 3 or 4 fragrances I usually bring along on a trip and seeing if my Aramis Voyager could do the job. This fragrance is all about the man who lives to explore the world, and as this was the most epic journey I had ever been on it seemed the perfect fit. I like my fragrances like I like my curries, spicy! This was that perfect scent that adapted itself for every occasion and there was every occasion from the Captains Dinner to the 3 hour guided tour to put it to the test. Elzaan would constantly say “ooh, that smells good, what is it?” always thinking it was something new – a great sign of a fragrance that adapts to you. It turned out to be the perfect partner for this journey.
Our boat was called the Amalia and although it wasn’t the slickest coolest yacht in the Katarina Line fleet, it was more than adequate – Another benefit to booking early is picking your yacht. Our cabins were a decent size, but the decor was a little dated (along with the rest of the yacht) the aircon worked, as did the shower and in the end, we spent such a small amount of time in them that it really didn’t matter.
The small crew was all very friendly, there was only about 6 of them including the captain and they jointly serviced the yacht of about 35 guests. We also had a Katarina line representative on board with us as a ‘tour guide’, however, she was more like the fun police, laying down and enforcing all the rules with a bad attitude. Can you tell we didn’t like her? Cause I need that to be clear.
Every day on the boat is much the same, breakfast is served on board from 8am – 9am and consists of a combination of hot and cold items. There was always eggs and bacon as well as continental options, all pretty standard. The boat would be en route to the next port while you had breakfast and would make a swim stop in a secluded bay before lunch. However, as the trip progressed we made less and less swim stops and there were more and more excuses as to why. Leaving us with nothing to do but drink beers at the onboard bar. Lunch is also served at 1pm sharp and is a 3-course meal usually consisting of a soup starter (weird for the middle of summer), a main with meat or fish and a dessert. Some meals were better than others but everything was edible, and nothing stood out as spectacular or terrible.
The fun for us all started when we arrived at a new port to dock for the night and explore a new town. Every place is as beautiful as the one before it, filled with alleyways and hidden gems just waiting to be found. We would stop for a beer, rent a bike, find a beach, eat an ice cream, whatever, every place offers something new. There were however 2 places that really stood out for us along the way, Hvar Town and Korcula. In Hvar we stumbled upon a restaurant which turned out to be the centuries old home of a local who decided to open his doors to tourists in order to offer them true Croatian hospitality. We sat outside drinking wine on the steps for 3 hours just waiting to get in and feast on home made gnocci, goats stew and octopus salad. The entire experience was incredible, or maybe it was just the 3 hours of drinking wine in the sun. Korcula was made incredible by a fascinating guided walking tour. In the end, we realised, had it not been for its beauty Korcula would have been flattened in the 2nd world war and never experienced again. We celebrated by joining the annual oyster festival and experiencing the local wine. It’s moments like these you travel for.
The list of experiences goes on but there are too many to mention and I need to leave some things to surprise. I thought I would end off with a few tips and discoveries along our journey.
Doing a week of sailing is definitely the best way to explore Croatia for the first time, it’s carefree and easy going. I realise our experience wasn’t the best, but we’ve put it down to bad luck. We saw loads of boats much nicer than ours and spoke to other travellers who’s experience was completely different. Our food experience in Croatia was unfortunately not very memorable, we struggled to find good local dishes and eventually gave in to the pizza and pasta restaurants. To be fair though, Italy is just across the Adriatic Sea and that has heavily influenced the cuisine, so every pizza and pasta was outstanding! Being Cape Tonians we were also really looking forward to a new wine experience but were left disappointed. Maybe we’re just spoilt at home! Lastly and sadly the Croatian people were generally not very friendly, they’re not rude, but they’re just not friendly. Maybe they’re sick of tourists maybe they’ve just had it hard for a few years or maybe, it’s just a cultural thing that we didn’t get.
The big question is would I go back and even more so, would I recommend you go? Yes yes yes! 1000 times yes! It was one of the most incredible journeys of my life. The sheer beauty of the place is something that you have to experience for yourself, from the limestone towns to the crystal clear water the place is just incredible and you have to go!
Okay. Travel safe and stay fancy.