Tuesday, September 18, 2007

sailing the Dalmation coast

Sailing The Dalmatian Coast in Croatia

About 10 years ago, when you mentioned the name Croatia to the casual traveler, you usually got one of two responses. The first was “I have never heard of it” and the seconds was “Isn’t that Yugoslavia, and in the middle of a dangerous war”. It is true that Croatia was once a part of the republic of Yugoslavia, from after the Allied victory in World War Two until the early 1990’s. It is also true that there was a bitter war fought there at the time the Iron Curtain was falling and communism was crumbling all throughout Eastern Europe and Russia. At that time Croatia’s tourism industry came to a near standstill as people stopped visiting this beautiful crescent shaped country and its marvelous coast in favor of more stable destinations. But times certainly have changed there because today Croatia is one of the hottest destinations anywhere, attracting millions of visitors from Europe and all over the world, while offering a multitude of great experiences. Featuring charming castles set in the forested hills in the north, sparking blue lakes and waterfalls such as those around Plitvice, to the cosmopolitan capital city of Zagreb; Croatia has amazing diversity and beauty despite its small physical size.

The Plitvice Lakes are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The crown jewel of this country in my opinion is it’s very western portion that includes the coastline along the Adriatic Sea from the Island of Rab in the northwest and extending down past the southern UNESCO World Heritage City of Dubrovnik. This part of Croatia is commonly referred to as Dalmatia or the Dalmatian Coast. Dalmatia enjoys a Mediterranean climate and all the benefits that come with such pleasant weather. It begins with typical Mediterranean vegetation and agriculture- including olive groves, fig trees, small farms, herds of goats and sheep, rugged mountains with vineyards and rock walls built on them, old stone villages, crystal clear waters, great seafood and wine culture, small fishing communities, and of course abundant coastline. There are over 1000 islands- many of them uninhabited and right off the rugged coast. The area has also retained its unique culture and most of its old Byzantine architecture and medieval walled cities.

The dark blue is the portion of Croatia known as Dalmatia

It was in the northern part of this famous and historical region that I embarked on a 7-day boating adventure a few years ago with 24 friends aboard a beautiful handcrafted sailboat named the Moja Maja. We had a friendly and fun crew, a great captain named Tomislav, and very nice accommodations onboard. I knew right away we were in for a fun filled time. Our first full day at sea began by exploring the magnificent archipelago of Kornati, which is also a National Park. These idyllic and mostly deserted islands are perfect places to hop off for short hiking adventures, and jumping off rocks and small cliffs into the refreshing Adriatic.

Kornati Islands The Moja Maja

In the evenings aboard the ship, we were treated to tasty local wines and traditional Croatian dishes such as fresh seafood grilled to perfection by our cook Sonja. All the while all of us were able to sit up on the roof deck and watch the stars fill the sky while the cool night breeze brought in the pleasant smell of the sea. Our trip also took us south to other beautiful islands and coastal spots such as Hvar, Korcula, Mljet, and Dubrovnik- the furthest southern major town in Croatia. We were able to do so many exciting things on this trip such as exploring beautiful 1000 year-old walled cities, castles, and forts in the old coastal settlements of Hvar, Korcula, and Dubrovnik. We also snorkeled and kayaked the Adriatic through and around rocky points and sculpted cliffs near tiny, deserted islands with no name. On Mljet Island, part of which is a National Park, we hiked through beautiful pine forests, swam in freshwater rivers and visited a small castle on an island in a small lake that is situated on the western portion of Mljet Island. Most of us thought the idea of an island within an island was pretty extraordinary.

Island within the Island of Mljet.

View of the harbor from the castle on Hvar.

In addition to all these activities and sights, the nightlife in many of these little ports, especially Hvar was second to none. Our group had a fantastic and somewhat bleary-eyed time heading out to bars and clubs that usually were only a few minutes walk from where our boat was docked in the harbor. The majority of these are situated in old castles or beautiful buildings and offer dancing, drinking, and a festive and friendly atmosphere until well after the sun rises. In the Dalmatian port towns you must be careful to get out of the club by the time your boat is sailing in the morning! There is also nothing better than leaving the clubs then going for a dip in the Adriatic as the sun rises, and afterwards stopping into one of the local bakeries as they pull that day’s fresh bread and pastries out of the oven still piping hot, while the smell of the fresh baking overtakes your senses.

The patio at Carpe Diem club on the water in Hvar.

Having fun in the clubs!

We ended our trip in Dubrovnik, which is generally regarded as the most famous site along the Dalmatian coast and arguably in all of Croatia. This perfectly preserved walled city is a stunning piece of architecture, and its old cobbled streets are lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. Style and fashion are also a big deal in Dubrovnik. In the evening there are so many beautiful, well-dressed people strolling down these streets that you imagine yourself part a runway fashion show. On the architectural side of things, Dubrovnik’s high walls offer great views of the entire old city and all the orange tiled roofs that cover the old stone buildings bunched so close together inside the walls. There are plenty of narrow streets and corridors to explore for hours on end, nearby beaches, and great views of the sea and nearby islands from the top of the wall. On our last night my friends and I hit a little hole in the wall café and just admired the moon over the sea for hours while sipping on some Karlovacko Pivo’s (Croatian brand of Beer), and snacking on a stone oven cooked pizza loaded with veggies and fresh meats like cured ham and homemade salami.

The next morning we all had to say goodbye to this magical place and return to reality. That day I pledged to return here within a few years. Now I am keeping my promise by organizing another group to visit in the summer of 2008. Besides I still have to try one of the flaming drinks at the Carpe Diem club in Hvar when I get back!

Written By: Erik Rasmussen
Owner: Erik’s Adventures LLC. Our website is www.eriksadventures.com. To get more information on Croatia, other travel destinations, or to join a tour with us please contact me at erik@eriksadventures.com.