Travel

Island Time: Exploring Croatia’s Islands by Yacht Charter Cruise

BY Janna Graber TIMEJanuary 27, 2022 PRINT

The sun is just beginning to rise as the Freedom of Croatia pulls away from port and the sleeping town of Split. Standing on the ship’s top deck, I watch the sun’s rays reflected in the clear turquoise waters. Within minutes, we’re cruising along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast.

Croatia has more than 1,200 islands, and one of the best ways to see them is on a private charter yacht cruise. This week, a group of friends and I are doing just that on the Freedom of Croatia, a 50-meter yacht with 19 cabins. The yacht is operated by Goolets, a leading agency for crewed charter yachts in Croatia.

I’ve always loved cruising, but exploring the Croatian islands on a private yacht charter is something quite different. The main difference is that we are the only passengers on board, and the itinerary, meals, and plans have been made just for us.

In my mind, yachting was always reserved for those with hefty incomes, but you don’t have to be rich to charter a yacht in Croatia. Many charters cost about the same per person as a luxury consumer cruise. There are vessels of all sizes. Fully crewed yachts include a captain, crew, and even a chef so you can sit back and relax.

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The Freedom of Croatia. (Janna Graber)

The Freedom of Croatia holds up to 20 guests and has two onboard chefs, a large dining room, and comfortable staterooms. My friends and I plan to visit four Croatian islands on our four-day cruise. On the way, we’ll stop in quiet bays to snorkel, swim, and enjoy the water.

Brac is the largest island in central Dalmatia, and it’s our first stop. Home to 1,400 residents, its tidy cobblestone streets are lined with outdoor cafes and small shops. Many of its structures were built with radiant white limestone, the same material used to build Diocletian’s Palace in Split.

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Wine tasting in Bol, on the island of Brac. (Janna Graber)

Zlatni Rat is the island’s top beach. Like most Croatian beaches, it’s lined with smooth pebbles and has clear, warm waters.

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A beautiful day for a swim. (Janna Graber)

Croatia’s Mediterranean climate is perfect for vineyards, lavender fields, and olive groves. We sample local wines at Stina Winery, which has a beautiful tasting room lined with ancient stone walls.

In between ports, I enjoy cruising. The ship feels luxurious and has a gym, spa, and plenty of room to relax on the top deck. Dining on the Freedom of Croatia quickly becomes one of our favorite experiences. Even with a small galley, the chefs whip up tasty dishes of fresh produce and local fish.

Hvar is the most popular island, and it’s easy to see why. Walking through its ancient streets is like stepping back in time. Greeks, Romans, and four centuries of Venetian rule have left their mark on its well-preserved architecture.

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The Venetian influence—four centuries of rule—can be seen on the beautiful island of Hvar. (Rostislav_Sedlacek/Shutterstock)

As day turns to dusk, we walk to Fortica, a fortress built by the Venetians in 1278. The illuminated fortress stands grandly on a hill overlooking the town. For dinner, we head to Gariful, a luxury restaurant along the waterfront that’s popular with locals and visitors alike. Hollywood celebrities have been known to cruise in by speedboat from Dubrovnik just to dine at the waterside restaurant. Croatian cuisine revolves around fresh seafood and produce, and our meal at Gariful is a three-course delight.

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Exploring the streets of Hvar. (Janna Graber)

Even from the water, I find our next stop, the island of Korcula, picturesque. Sailing along its coast, we view its ancient town walls and then pass quiet coves, pebbly beaches, and hills covered in olive groves and vineyards. Some of the best Croatian white wines are produced on this tiny island.

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Fortica, a fortress built by the Venetians. (Janna Graber)

Our local guide entertains us with historical tales and her delightful sense of humor. Walking through Korcula is a walk through the 13th to the 16th centuries, she says. She tells stories of famous residents, including Marco Polo, who some biographers believe was born on the island when it was part of the Venetian Republic.

Part of the fun in cruising in Croatia is enjoying the sea, from snorkeling to standup paddle boating to diving. The water is a warm 70 degrees even in early October, so one morning, our captain finds a protected cove and drops anchors. The crew pulls out snorkels, standup paddleboards, and a jet ski. The water is so clear, I can see 20 feet down.

Later, we visit the Blue Cave. On a motorboat, we enter the cave through a small opening in the rock. Light streaming through an underwater opening in the cave gives a luminous blue light to the water. It’s an otherworldly experience that delights all aboard.

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A visit to the Blue Cave. (Janna Graber)
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The eerie light in the Blue Cave. (Janna Graber)

The island of Vis is our last stop. As we walk along the harbor, it looks vaguely familiar. Then I learn that the movie “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again” was filmed on this tiny island. Our local guide takes us in four-wheel-drive cars up into the hills. From the peak, I can see the island’s quiet villages and meandering coastline. I stand and soak in one last Croatian sunset, knowing that I’ll be back.

If You Go

When to Go

Summer is high season due to summer holidays and the festival season, but the best time to visit Croatia in late spring or early fall, when the weather is warm but there are fewer crowds and prices are lower. (Note, however, that some businesses may close, come October.)

Chartering a Yacht

Goolets (Goolets.net) offers crewed yacht charters for various budgets and group sizes. Their trip advisers can design a yacht trip according to your group’s needs and budget.

Janna Graber
Janna Graber has covered travel in more than 55 countries. She is the editor of three travel anthologies, including “A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women’s Travel,” and is the managing editor of Go World Travel Magazine.
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