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Europe 2019 - Part 2 - Croatia

Six Countries in 21 Days Including a Croatian Island Yacht Cruise

July/August 2019

Continued from Part 1 of our 21 day Europe trip post that covered Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, next up is Croatia and our 8 day small yacht cruise of the Dalmatian Islands and Coast.

Make sure to click on the < or > arrows in the photos to view all in each group


Up before dawn and impressed that everyone in the group rallied to be in the van by 5:00 am! A small miracle considering the cat herding that is sometimes required when traveling with a group of independent-minded travelers who enjoy late nights and adult beverages. We’re off to the airport and our short flight on Volotea airlines to Split, Croatia.

A few words on low-cost European commuter airlines while we're on the subject…While the initial cost may be appealing, most travelers other than business commuters will pay significantly more once all the fees for bags, seat assignments, boarding passes, etc… are paid. The price is still very reasonable but nowhere near the initial quotes. For example, our flight was quoted at $15 each but once all was added in they were about $100 each, Still very reasonable. The airport was packed but seemed to move efficiently, security was quick, there was a long walk through a maze of shops then through passport check and off to the gate where we were delayed about 30 minutes before boarding. An efficient hour and twenty-minute flight and we’re landing in Split

What we liked about Croatia

  • Just about everything! Except for the crowds in Split and Dubrovnik

  • Deep blue waters of the Adriatic and Dalmatian coast

  • Small Yacht cruising is very popular here. Be careful about which cruise you choose as they range from bare-bones (shared bathrooms) ships to upscale full service. We used Sail Croatia and selected the “Explorer” cruise which is “Best suited for couples, young professionals and 'young at heart' travelers” and were pleased with our choice

  • SAIL Croatia - We were a group of 9 friends on an extended European trip this summer, including a 7-day small yacht cruise aboard Cristal. The ship and its amenities were perfect, the itinerary was amazing, including the stops for swimming and the ports of Stari-Grad, Hvar, and Korcula. The other shipmates, from Australia, New Zealand, USA, Peru, and England were all a perfect match in personalities and similar interests making the cruise even more enjoyable. Mia our cruise director was very helpful in organizing activities and restaurants.

  • History! This is a country that was in the middle of many geographic migrations; Greeks, Romans (dating back to the 4th century BC!), Venetians, Ottomans, Habsburg Monarchy, etc… This has left many wonderful remains dotting the country in the form of ruins, preserved villages, fortresses, and evidence of farming and everyday life.

  • Croatian Wine – Good value, mostly warm climate varietals like Sauvignon blanc and Plavac Mali (Zinfandel). Hearty reds, dry white and rose wines. We found good quality Plavac Mali (Grgic), Dingac and Grc (White)

  • Currency – Croatia is one of the newest members of the EU but has not yet transitioned their currents to the Euro. Euros are generally not accepted at most retailers in Croatia. Kuna’s are the currency most widely accepted valued at about .15 to the dollar. Most places will accept cash only (mainly to avoid high taxes) but if pushed they will break out the credit card machine for your transaction. ATM’s are everywhere should you need access to Kuna, be aware and select BANK sponsored machines over independent ones to avoid additional fees for your transaction.

  • The bread and pastries – sample from one of the many bakeries at each stop. Our favorites were the Börek savory spinach and cheese pastries and pizza-like flatbread


Landing in split at a small but modern airport we made a connection with our drivers who we previously scheduled for the trip to our old town hotel. Weather is warm but not oppressive as it was in Lake Como. Split is larger than expected, the second largest town in Croatia with 178,000 residents is second only to Zagreb the capital city with nearly 700,000 residents. Situated on the Dalmatian coast along the Adriatic Sea its best known for its beaches and fortress-like complex at its center. Diocletian’s Palace erected by the Roman emperor in the 4th century. Once home to thousands, its sprawling remains include more than 200 buildings. Within its white stone walls and under its courtyard and galleries are shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, cathedrals, hotels and several houses. We booked rooms at the Royal Suites which turned out to be one of only a handful (5) of small hotels located within the old town area. We were greeted in a nearby parking lot by hotel staff who escorted us into what looked like an apartment building and had us wait in a small room used as their breakfast restaurant. We were then escorted to the 8th-floor check-in desk where the total of 8 hotel rooms resided encompassing the entire hotel inventory! Odd and a bit quirky but the rooms were very nice and worked out well for the group especially considering the location within a short walking distance of attractions and our departure point in the morning.

Once settled in we set out to explore split and found a restaurant Bakra a steak and pizza bar touting a 72-year-old wood-fired oven near the hotel where we stopped in for lunch. The building was probably 15th century or earlier as are most of the structures in the old town area. After some really good pizza and beer, we made our way to the Palace area walking through the hundreds of street vendor stalls and canopy-covered water facing restaurants. A very busy port was just to our left where hundreds of small cruise boats similar in size to the one we will be on, were docked preparing for tomorrow's boarding. As it turns out most of the cruises depart on Saturday which must place a huge strain on the town. Seems like they would be better off spreading the departures out by scheduling on different days? The Palace and Roman ruins were amazingly well preserved given the amount of foot traffic. Several shops and restaurants occupy old buildings within the complex. Some of the waterfront restaurants have built modern facades in front of the ruins which seems odd but I image helps to protect the ancient structures.

Later that night we stopped in Mandrill Nano Brewing, a small cozy microbrewery adjacent to the hotel with very good local beer. They have a beer tap on a bicycle parked out front in case they need to be mobile? We moved next to dinner at Zinfandel, a restaurant inside the palace ruins. Croatians are very proud of their wines and this restaurant was no exception. They had a broad selection and explained each wine in-depth as they brought them to our table. I do have to admit that some of their wines are very good. Since the growing climate is very warm and dry most wines produced are heavy and bold. Zinfandel is said to have originated from Croatia in a grape called Plavix Mali. There was a bit of a scare during dinner, we couldn’t see outside based on our table location but apparently, the crowds outside started running and patrons inside our restaurant near the front got up and hid towards the rear near our table. Turns out many of the travelers in town are from areas of high volatility and viewed the events as potential terrorism. What happened was a nearby restaurant had a small gas explosion and fire followed by a strong fire department response. Dinner was good as we sampled many dishes that were local influenced, Seafood is big here with Seabass and Octopus, Lamb and Pasta were also big, Potatoes and Chard are staples of the diet and accompany many dishes. On our way out the town was just beginning to party with club music and lights filling the streets, ready to party the night away

After breakfast, we headed to our ship for boarding. Our luggage went to the ship via golf cart escorted by AM and both were waiting for us after a short walk from the hotel. The harbor area was chaotic with hundreds of ships of our size were rafted together awaiting their passengers. Fortunately, ours was first at the dock so unlike others who had to walk through our ship and others we were on board immediately and waiting on the back deck for instructions and our rooms. Once checked in, lunch was served and we were underway to our first destination Makarska.

What we liked about Split

  • A Very busy port town

  • Royal Suites Hotel was small and strange layout but nice and great central location. Only 5 small hotels in the old center where we stayed, the rest are a taxi ride away

  • The Diocletian’s Palace and Roman ruins were amazing but sad to see such an important piece of history turned into a shopping mall.

  • Saint Domnius Cathedral was small but ornate (most sites charge an entrance fee of max. 10 kunas pp, about $1.50 usd)

  • Many shops and stalls around selling all kinds of souvenirs and food


Cruising the Adriatic to our next destination Makarska, you can see the typical Croatian landscape of rocky light colored limestone shores dotted with ancient villages and structures, stacked stone wall terraced hillsides and pebbled beaches (no sandy beaches here). Makarska is a port town on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, known for its Riviera beaches (Pebbles not sand), seafront promenade and nightlife. Set on a small bay between wooded headlands, the old town centers on Kačić Square nestled under the massive peaks of the Biokovo mountain range, with Mt. Jure being the highest seaside peak on the Mediterranean. We docked right on the promenade in the center of the city where strolling along the streets you’ll find numerous churches and architectural sights. Not our favorite stop as it lacks the historic charm and sites that our other stops contain. Once you venture to the streets above the promenade you become immersed in less touristic daily life surroundings. A few shops and restaurants dot the back streets along with numerous churches of historic value. We were forced to spend two nights here as opposed to the original schedule of one due to rough seas. We made the most of our stay here dodging the intermittent rain showers by dropping in to cover of the restaurants along the promenade. We walked the promenade and streets, viewed the Cathedral of St. Mark and the Franciscan Monastery of the Virgin Mary then hiked around St. Peters park to view the statue guarding the entry to the port and other ruins and stopped at along the Riviera beach at one of the numerous outdoor bars for an adult beverage.

Dinner on our first night was at Restaurant Riva on a recommendation from our cruise director Mia. The restaurant was all outdoors with great food, whole fresh fish, open fire grilling, attentive service, and an amazing wine selection. They introduced us to a Plavac Mali (Zinfandel) wine from Croatia made by Mike Grgich of Napa Valley fame. Grgich, originally from Croatia has returned to make wine here. It was a bit more expensive than other Croatian wines but well worth the added cost. After dinner, we bought some Cuban cigars from their humidor for later consumption. Very good quality and reasonably priced.

On our second day, Mia our cruise director arranged a wine tasting in what Mia described as the Hinterland (Interior Valley). Through intermittent heavy downpours, we ventured out on an hour-long bus ride over the mountains and into the small narrow roads of the valley behind Makarska we finally arrived at the small modern winery facility of Grabovac winery set among 12th-century homes and buildings in the local farmland. The tasting was fun, wines were okay but the journey with our shipmates through the rain, beautiful countryside and harrowing bus maneuvers were memorable.

We were late getting back to Makarska and the ship causing a slight delay to the scheduled Captains dinner on board. Following dinner, we wandered the streets for a bit then retired to our cabins. A few of the die-hard shipmates ventured out to Club Deep, a nightclub set in a natural cave next to the sea.

What we liked about Makarska

  • Our first stop docked right at the base of the town. Very little historic value here compared to our other stops.

  • Walk around St Peters point to the statue, church, cliffs and around to the Riviera beaches, Bars and restaurants

  • Venture out to the Hinterland (Valley over the hill behind Makarska) for open countryside, ancient farmland, 12th-century structures dotting the narrow roadways and a few wineries. A good area for a road trip.


Early morning, we motored from Makarska toward Stari-Grad for a brief stop before docking for the night in Hvar. On the island of Hvar, Stari-Grad literally means “Old Town” and is one of the oldest towns in Croatia dating back to 200 bc, Stari-Grad boasts an architectural network of old narrow streets, vineyards and olive groves that surround the town, as well as the Stari Grad plain: a Unesco protected world heritage site. We spent the afternoon wandering the streets of this beautiful, secluded, small, quiet town. We were the only cruise Yacht docked there today but many smaller personal and chartered boats lined the low seawall along the promenade. Visited Tvrdalj Petra Hektorovića, the Renaissance era summer residence of Petar Hektorović, the Croatian poet (1487–1572) and the 5th century Church of St John and some ancient ruins .

Departing in the afternoon were heading to Hvar for our overnight catching up to our regular schedule. Sorry we missed the scheduled overnight in Stari-Grad, would have liked more time to enjoy this area

What we liked about Stari-Grad

  • A Beautiful, small, quiet port town full of historic structures and beautiful walkways to explore

  • Docked again along the low sea wall on the promenade just in front of the city

  • Walked by an open door and inside was a small family-run winery Vino Antoni, wines made by grandpa seemed mostly for family consumption. the youngest son Antoni sold us 2 bottles of wine for the equivalent of $9.00


On the way to Hvar, we stopped for a swim off the back of the ship in another beautiful cove. The water is clear deep blue and warm here, a refreshing break from the summer heat. Arriving in Hvar along with several other boats were once again rafted side by side along the promenade docked in a prime position along the town front immersed in the atmosphere of restaurants, cafes, and bars. Hvar town located on the island of Hvar is a larger, more popular town filled with locals and tourists and features a 7th-century fortress on a hill overlooking the harbor. Explore the renaissance cathedral with its original tower and discover the oldest community theater in Europe.

Off the boat, we wandered the town, quickly found a bakery for a snack then found a table for beverages at Ka’Landa a great bar situated in an alley of the 14th-century village overlooking the Cathedral and square. After enjoying drinks from their very creative menu, a few of us decided to hike uphill to the fortress.

The Spanish Fortress Looms high above the town today and lit with a golden glow at night, this medieval castle occupies the site of an ancient Illyrian settlement dating from before the 8th century B.C. where on the site stood a fort. Archeological evidence indicates long-distance trade from the eighth century B.C. onward. The views looking down over Hvar and the Pakleni Islands are magnificent and well worth the trudge up through the old-town streets. Once you clear the town walls it's a gently sloping meander up the tree-shaded hillside to the fortress. The Byzantines built a citadel here in the 6th century, and the construction of the current fortress began in 1282 shortly after the town turned to the Venetians for protection against the pirates rampaging through the Adriatic. The town financed the construction from the proceeds of selling salt. At one point in the 14th century, Spanish engineers participated in the project which is how the fort acquired its nickname, Spanjola. It was strengthened in 1551, which may have saved the lives of Hvar's population, who sheltered here in 1571 when the Turks sacked their town. Only eight years later however, a lightning bolt struck the fort igniting a store of gunpowder which blew up and caused substantial damage to the fort and its substructure. Repairs ensued and when the Austrians took over in the early 19th century, the fortress was remodeled with larger barracks and raised battlements. By the end of the century though, Hvar had lost its strategic importance and the fort fell into disrepair. Before its recent overhaul and transformation into a historic monument, the fortress was the site of a popular disco. Inside there's a collection of ancient amphorae recovered from the seabed, along with a terrace cafe.

Following our visit to the fortress, we continued our exploration of the city, did a little shopping and stopped for a Gelato (Gelato stands are everywhere in each town we stopped).

Dinner tonight was at Luviji on a recommendation from Mia. She told us to chose the downstairs restaurant which consisted of about 8 tables outside on the cobblestone walkway as opposed to the larger restaurant upstairs. Good call as this kitchen featured a more traditional menu, great service and an amazing outdoor location off the beaten path. Great food and wine were enjoyed.

What we liked about Hvar

  • A busy popular port town where we once again docked with several other boats and private yachts. 12 ships of our size “rafted” together in two rows off the dock where passengers walked through the ships to get to theirs

  • Cool bar for drinks Ka’Lavada in an alley of 6th-century ruins

  • Luviji downstairs for dinner off the beaten path outdoors among the centuries-old ruins.

  • Hiked to the fortress high above the city for dramatic views among the 6th century (and older) Ruins


Early morning departure from Hvar today on our way to Vis. One of the most outer-lying islands on the Dalmatian coast, Vis has been used over the centuries as a strategic military port and saw action by the Allied military through WWII against Italy and Germany. Today it is an idyllic island famous for its stunning blue cave an island cave system accessible only by boat where the blue turquoise water and refracted light into the cave make for fantastic views.

Several of our group and other shipmates chose an early morning excursion to see the Blue Caves. We dropped them off at 8:00 am for their excursion, one of the first of many yachts lined up to drop off their passengers we would ensure a short wait. They said the sights were beautiful and worth the journey. On the way to Vis, we once again stopped in a beautiful cove for a quick dip off the back of the boat before landing in Vis. At the cove, we noticed an old abandoned Villa on the point and inquired about it. We were told that property is difficult to buy here as ownership is difficult to prove or to locate. Many properties have been passed through several generations, who are either not aware of their family’s ownership or are difficult to contact due to the long history and branches of the family tree. This one we are told that after several years of research had recently sold for ten million.