It’s no secret that Croatian tourism has boomed in the last decade or so. Once travellers discovered the island archipelago between Split and Dubrovnik, with its dreamy blend of bone-white pebble beaches, aquamarine shallows, Roman ruins lavender fields and red-tiled Gothic architecture, it didn’t take long for the word to spread.
Now there are multiple ways to travel the Dalmatian Coast. You can set up camp in Split and slowly make your way along the mainland. You can island hop your way through Hvar, Korcul, Mljet and Vis. Or you can board a more substantial vessel and try your hand at adventure cruising.
We sat down to chat with Nat Placko, Marketing Manager for Peregrine, about her recent Croatian cruise, what to expect, and how Croatia has managed to keep its identity while undergoing a tourism Renaissance.
So Nat, what’s the best thing about the Croatian coast?
The best part? Gosh that’s hard. Even though I’m Croatian – my family are from the mainland, close to the Hungarian border – this trip blew me away. It was definitely one of the best things I have ever done. And anyone can have this experience. Croatia is a beautiful country with stunning coastline. But you also get this great Mediterranean culture of relaxation, good food and wine, family and enjoyment. Everyone’s happy. It’s summer. The sun’s out. And you put it all together and it’s just a melting pot of amazing adventures. Hvar was a highlight for me. It’s one of the best islands I’ve ever been to. They’ve managed to adapt to the needs of tourism, and the different styles of tourism, but still keep that classic Hvar personality. It’s quite flashy, but sail around the coast and suddenly you’re at this little port where no-one goes. When you get off your boat there are all these little Croatian grandmas with signs saying ‘Room to rent’. So you can stay in resort-style luxury, but there’s still this option of a real authentic, local experience with the granny that lives at the top of the hill.
What’s the advantage of adventure cruising?
Croatia can be quite busy, particularly over summer. But when you’re sailing or cruising you have this ability to step back from the crowds. You feel like you’ve wandered back in time, seeing all this stuff as you’re sailing along. You’ve managed to break free of the rat race. You can escape the tourist trail. We passed a lot of other yachts, but we never felt crowded. You could step off the boat and be right in the centre of town, but then hop back on the boat and think ‘Phew. This is a real holiday.’
Croatia’s got a pretty interesting history. Is that something you notice on the islands?
Oh definitely. That’s why it stands out. My dad’s obviously a bit biased, but he always says it’s the most cultural place in Europe. There’s so much history there. Not all of it good. But it’s all led to this amazing love for the country. Croatians are really proud of their little part of the world, particularly on the coast. They’ve got so much passion and love. Hard-core Europeans, lots of hands, drinking and celebration. Even though the aftermath of Yugoslavia was tough, there’s a lot of positives in Croatia now.
Stepping off into a new port is like discovering a hidden gem. A beautiful secret. Totally different to the port you saw the night before. The facilities are good in a lot of them too. So you have this mix of new and old. The port might be surrounded by ruins, but you’ve got great cafes and restaurant culture, good tourism infrastructure. The locals have done a good job of merging the expectations of a modern traveller with the individual character of the various port towns. And partly that’s down to the respect they have for their own history. They don’t just want to modernise their cities and lose all that character.
How was the food?
The food culture is amazing. Croatians are definitely what I’d call food pushers. It’s a really big part of their culture. It can be for your own family, or for someone you’ve never met before, but Croatians have this real need to feed. To welcome people with food and drink. I’m a bit like that too, even though I’m second generation. And when you’re sailing, you have this real connection with the people who live in those ports. The fisherman and the farmers. Yes, everything for them is tourism in the summertime, but for many months of the year there are no visitors. So they have this chilled out attitude to life. It’s all about relaxing and having a good time. And that doesn’t go away, even in the chaos of the warmer months.
When you’re sailing, it’s all about the seafood and meat. The quality of the seafood is hard to beat. You feel like you’re jumping off the boat and eating seafood that the fishermen caught that day. Often it’s the fisherman that’s cooking the food for you. It doesn’t get much fresher. But there’s variety too. They grow lavender on Hvar, they make cheese on Pag, and all the inhabited islands grow lots of fresh veggies. It’s a typical Mediterranean diet. Olives, olive oil, good bread, tomatoes that have been picked that morning, fresh fish. Just simple, good ingredients. A very uncomplicated life.
What’s a typical sailing day like?
We slept on the boat every night, usually in port, which is great. You get this sense of adventure, knowing you can walk on or off the boat at any time and go exploring. A given day might have been: waking up in the morning, heading out for breakfast in town, grabbing some fresh food from the local market, getting back on the boat and sailing for a couple of hours, stopping somewhere for lunch, swimming in some secluded bay, eating lunch on the boat. After that we’d either sail for the afternoon, or head into port early and explore for a few hours before dinner. Every day had a similar rhythm, but each place felt very different. A lot of the time we’d just drop anchor and go swimming in the middle of nowhere. No-one else around, no other boats. It’s those moments that make you appreciate cruising. You really feel like you’re getting a special experience because you’ve chosen to sail, not drive.
Want to experience the best of the Dalmatian coast? Explore our brand new Croatian adventure cruise from Dubrovnik to Sibenik.