Cruising Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast
A family trip to Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast opens the author’s eyes to a gorgeous, versatile cruising ground that just may be The Next Big Thing.
“In Croatia, they serve fish with the head attached, always!” our captain and tour guide Gogo proclaimed in an accent slathered with squashed Slavic vowels. He had taken my wife’s family and I by boat to a seaside restaurant on an island off the city of Dubrovnik. And now we were staring at a menu written in Croatian as a waitress set down carafes of icy-cold white wine to combat the relentless midday summer sun. “That way no one can serve you a fish that is not the fish they say it is! Also,” he added happily, “we eat the fish with our hands.” Gogo scanned the occupants of the table expectantly before zeroing in on me. “You will do this, yes?”
I paused for a beat. “Uuhhh, yeah. When in Rome.”
“Ah ah ah!” Gogo responded, wagging his finger back and forth. “When in Croatia!”
Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is nothing short of paradise. And this is something I did not know before I went there last July. I remember hearing about Croatia as a boating destination maybe six or seven years ago, and at the time I knew little of it. All the name conjured up for me was a handful of NBA players and a terrible and recent war. Basketball remains a national passion, and happily, the country has rebounded magnificently from the bloody conflicts of the early ’90s.
Today, Croatia, and particularly its Dalmatian Coast, which stretches from Rab in the north to the Bay of Kotor in the south, is a seaside wonderland heaven-sent for boaters. The water is nearly as blue as it is in the Bahamas, and limestone and dolomite cliffs jut straight up out of them in many areas—a geographical hallmark that defines the area. Seventy-nine islands and 500 islets dot the Adriatic there, and they range from deserted wildernesses to club-kid heaven, with parties raging until sunup. The coastal cities and towns are ancient, stretching back into Roman times. Dalmatia has actual castles, and it’s no surprise that the HBO megahit Game of Thrones does a large amount of shooting here. The locals are friendly, they all speak English, and they are more welcoming to Americans than some of their western European counterparts (but don’t get them started on the Russians). Beer, wine, and food are a particular point of national pride for Croatians. And while I don’t think I’ve ever visited a country where I haven’t heard some iteration of, “Our beer is the best beer in the world!”—except in England, where they know their place—Croatia actually has a leg to stand on. If you visit, try a bottle of richly flavored Tomislav and thank me later.
The Croatians also highly value boating and nautical knowledge, not surprising considering how much of their country rubs up against the sea. At each of the three cities I visited, Split, Dubrovnik, and Hvar, the harbors were lined with gleaming motoryachts, working fishing boats, and scads of sailboats. The country is particularly obsessed with sailing, and is well suited for it. There’s good reason the notorious Yachtweek, with all the ensuing bacchanalia, is held here every summer.