Have you always wondered what it would be like to explore Croatia by Sailboat? David Ardagh shares his recent experience sailing through this beautiful country with On the Go Tours:
My journey began in Split after a week of backpacking and train-riding to join my On the Go tour group. I met them in Peristyle Square for a quick breakfast then went to explore the town a bit. The palace itself still stands after nearly 1500 years after emperor Diocletan got bored of ruling the Roman Empire and became the first emperor to retire. Since his time, it’s evolved a few times, now featuring a church where his mausoleum used to be and several winding streets vaguely reminiscent of Venice in their ability to get tourists lost in record time. There was a traditional Dalmatian band singing away in the Palace, too, which apparently is a regular occurrence there!
We embarked on our ship for the week, the Lopar, a classic (category A) ship with mostly bunk rooms, an air-conditioned dining/bar/sitting area, and most importantly a third deck with a removable rail for suntanning and jumping off the ship for the more adventurous of us. Our itinerary would take us over the week from Split to Makarska, Mljet, Dubrovnik, Trstenik, Korcula, and Hvar before touching off in Brac on our way back. We had a mix of nations on this one – a few Canadians, lots of Aussies, a couple more Kiwis and Brits and one South African – plus our local Croatian crew. After a quick site (ship?) inspection of some of the other ship types, we were on our way!
Our time in Makarska was short, but we did have a memorable night there. It just so happened the Champions League Final was on that night, so we spent the evening on a waterfront terrace eating pizza – which is almost as good in Croatia as it is in Italy – and watching the final with locals. They were clearly Real Madrid fans for the most part, as the cheers in the 93rd minute when they scored were deafening! This followed a day of swimming and white-water rafting down the Cetina river, which featured some cliff-jumping, some class 2 rapids and lots of laughs as we got to know one another.
We then moved on to Mljet, one of Croatia’s best national parks, with two large salt-water lakes and acres of pristine forest, after some more sea swimming and jumping around. Some of us swam in the lake – attempting unsuccessfully to play frisbee – and others went for a bike ride around the park. There was also a monastery on the island in the middle of the larger lake that for some reason we weren’t allowed to visit. One of the best swim stops of the day was waiting for us on the way back to the ship!
Dubrovnik was next, and it’s one of my highlights of the entire trip. We took a bus to the old town, then walked up the hill and took a cable car up to the top of a mountain for a bird’s eye view of the city. This was only a tease for what we’d encounter when we finally found our way up the walls and started our walk around the city.
The old medieval walls are perfectly preserved and allowed us to walk around the entire city in a couple of leisurely hours. This is a must-do; there were jaw-dropping views of the city and sea at every turn, making for a truly unique way to spend an afternoon. There area two holes in the walls where two bars have ensconced themselves on the ocean side cliffs where one can stop for a drink and watch people attempt cliff-dives of up to 80 feet into the water below. The Dubrovnik nightlife scene is nothing to shake a stick at, either, keeping us out and rocking until well after the buses had stopped service for the evening.
A restful day was in order after Dubrovnik and the perfect location for that was Trstenik, a charming town of about 300 people nestled between the sea on one side and mountains on the others. We had one of the best meals of the trip at the one restaurant in town here, while some of the others met the mayor of Dubrovnik during the war days at the town’s only bar. This followed a wine tasting with a family who’d been making wines in the area for several hundred years. A lightning storm and rainbow made our dining here truly special.
Korcula beckoned after departing Trstenik. As the (possible) home of Marco Polo, we had to visit the Marco Polo museum, where we learned a lot about the famous explorer. FUN FACT – he did not invent his famous pool game, but did bring spaghetti back to Europe from his voyage. The markets in Korcula wrap a semi-circle around the city and sell everything from t-shirts to basketballs to souvenirs, and several of us came home with a good amount of memorabilia. After a dinner by the main square, we proceeded to try a uniquely Korcula activity and climb up a medieval-era turret to a bar on its roof. Though the drinks were not the cheapest, it was well worth it for such an amazingly different experience!
Our last full stop was Hvar. Hvar has a beautiful old Venetian fort up at the top of the hill which only two of our group were brave enough to ascend to and a quaint, 3-4 block old town by the port with lots of small restaurants and bars. The rest of us were brave enough to have lots of drinks in town that evening before heading to Brac the next morning, one of the most picturesque beaches in Europe. It’s a stony beach rather than a sandy one, but that was fine for pebble skipping, and the rocks were so smoothened by the tide that it wasn’t really a problem. The current was really strong, though; swimming back the short distance to the ship was one of the hardest workouts of the trip!
One of my enduring memories of this trip was our last night in Split. We had a hosted Captain’s dinner on board, which was the best of a sublime set of meals we were treated to for the week; a random wedding procession wandered by our boat, live music and all; and though none of us had any energy left we couldn’t accept the trip was over so we dragged ourselves back to Peristyle Square for some mellow live guitar and singing. What a week it was with On The Go Sailing Split with Flight Centre!