By Ella Jameson
Croatia was viewed as one of Europe’s best kept secrets for many years. Away from throngs of tourists in Southern Spain or the Greek islands, Croatia had a distinct appeal for independent travellers and was the place you could enjoy a more undisturbed holiday – the sort that is often so hard to find elsewhere in the Mediterranean…
By the early noughties Croatia – and in particular the Dalmatian Coast – had become one of Europe’s most fashionable holiday destinations with vast stretches of the coast becoming commercialised with package holiday hotels and families, and young people flocking to the many new music festivals that are held on the beaches.
Luckily for those looking for something more serene, Croatia is blessed with 1,200 miles of coastline and over a thousand islands, so there is no shortage of pristine, isolated beaches to relax on or quiet little fishing villages to explore.
Undoubtedly the best way to explore Croatia is by boat, as not only does it give you access to the islands that are scattered so abundantly throughout the coast but it allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist hotspots.
The best time to visit is from May to October, but even during the most visited months of July and August you’ll be able to locate enough off-the-beaten-track islands to make you feel as though you’re visiting old Croatia at its unspoilt best. Coastal Croatia enjoys a warm, Mediterranean climate with temperatures ranging from about 26 to 30°C in the summer months, and there are hundreds of anchorages available along the Dalmatian coast, from tiny ports to upscale marinas.
Northern Dalmatia is good place to begin your coastal Croatia cruise and will give you a fascinating insight into the country’s history and culture. Medieval towns perch just aboveinviting coves with crystal clear waters, while countless islands are waiting to be explored just off the coast. An exciting blend of tranquil beaches, spectacular scenery and thumping nightlife means most tourist requirements are easily catered for.
Zadar is the main town in northern Dalmatia and is home to an exciting blend of the cultures which have shaped Croatia so uniquely; the Venetian and Roman influences are especially noticeable in Zadar’s architecture. From this region you can easily explore some of Croatia’s most impressive natural wonders, including the breath-taking Krka National Park and the Kornati archipelago; a cluster of beautiful uninhabited islands that are definitely worth visiting.
Cruising southwards you will be able to admire one of Europe’s most remarkable shorelines, and though it is one of the most developed regions it remains one of the most beautiful. Revolving around the vibrant harbour town of Split, Southern Dalmatia boasts vast coastal mountains, picturesque pebble beaches, charmingly traditional fishing villages and a hint of glamour thanks to the Makarska Riviera. Split’s port provides the perfect place to anchor and explore the surrounding area: the dramatic Cetina gorge, enchantingly bizarre Imotski lakes, Roman ruins of Salone and the Renaissance town of Trogir are most certainly worth a day trip.
Southern Dalmatia is the point where you’ll be even more thankful you decided to explore this area by boat. The numerous islands in this region offer tourists a wonderfully unique experience and having a boat gives you a sense of freedom to explore this stunning area at your leisure. Split’s port is the easiest place to explore the islands from; the island in closest proximity to Split is Brač, which has several excellent beaches on the south and many yacht-adorned bays to the north which you can anchor in.
Further south is the island of Hvar which truly has something for everyone: from trendy bars and imposing stone-built palaces in breath-taking Hvar Town to idyllic beaches, olive groves and lavender fields, you can flit between Hvar’s exciting cosmopolitan appeal and sensational scenery with ease.
The island of Korčula to the south Hvar is another location which offers visitors the ideal blend of urban charm and dazzling beaches, and further south (but still only a few hours from Split) is the island of Vis. Far more isolated and less popular than the other Dalmatian islands, if you are looking for a private day out with a little piece of Croatia all to yourself, then a visit to Vis is vital.
Dubrovnik town at night. Image courtesy of Eric Hossinger
You can finish off your Croatian cruise with one of its main draws: Dubrovnik, Croatia’s most popular tourist destination. Walking around this sea-pounded medieval town is like stepping back in time and it is uniquely beautiful: baroque architecture and striking churches sit within the ancient city walls and bright fruit-bearing trees are in abundance.
Above the town is the crest of Mount Srđ from which you can enjoy jaw-dropping views of Dubrovnik town and its coast, and the islet of Lokrum offers some of the best swimming and sunbathing in the entire Dalmatian region. Dubrovnik’s port gives you very easy access to the southernmost islands of Croatia including the semi-wild islands of Koločep, Lopud and Šipan. Further out is the visually stunning island of Mljet, which is the ideal place to conclude your Croatian cruise.