We had heard so many good things about Croatia but had never visited, so we decided to have the annual family holiday in Croatia in 2018. Looking for ideas on how to keep the whole family happy, we decided to book a 44ft Catamaran with a local skipper through www.yacht-rent.com and tour the islands of Brac, Hvar and Viz on the Dalmatian coast.
The first night we stayed in the town of Trogir, this is where the boat was docked up in the Marina and we were to collect it the next day. Trogir is also close to Split airport.
Well you couldn’t get a better introduction to Croatia. Trogir is a wonderfully kept medieval walled city, sometimes called the “Venice of Croatia” due to the rich Venetian Gothic architecture of the buildings. With a central square and little cobbled lanes leading off it, the town has a variety of local craft and souvenir shops, an abundance of restaurants as well as a few boutique hotels within its walls.
We stayed in an excellent boutique hotel, “The Monika” which also boasts a wonderful Croatian restaurant “Konoba” that has been in operation since 1970, the fact the locals outnumber the guests in the restaurant tells you how good the authentic local cuisine is, with the meat and fish cooked outdoors the traditional way over wood burning embers.
As we only stayed the one night we didn’t really have time to explore the town or experience the many restaurants, but it did make us want to return. So we did for our last night in 2019 when we stayed at the same hotel and had excellent pizza for lunch down by the front at the Restorant Pizzeria Amfora.
Sailing – The Pro’s and Con’s
The pros definitely outweighed the cons, we had a large catamaran with plenty of outside space and nets at the bow for sunbathing. If you are thinking of hiring a boat, go for the largest one you can afford. We got to see three different islands in a week, the freedom of being out at sea and choosing where you wanted to go that day, getting right into Hvar harbour, and Zlatni Rat beach being the highlights of the trip. We had a local skipper who knew the area so well that we visited small inaccessible coves that could not be reached by road, he also knew the best restaurants in every port we stopped. It gave us an insight into Croatia and made us decide we were certainly going to return to explore it more in-depth. Which we did in 2019 when we spent 14 nights on Brac, and we are returning in 2020, when we plan to visit the islands of Korcula, Mljet and the mainland around Orebic.
The cons – it was a little like caravanning on water at night and we only had one night in each port not giving us long to explore the different towns. You can choose to stay longer if you wish and we decided to stay in Hvar for two nights.
Would we recommend it, yes the pros well outweigh the cons and it makes a great family holiday, would we book again, no, but the reason is that we actually enjoyed the freedom of being at sea that much that we went and took a powerboat training course in Mallorca and now have a license to self-hire our own power boat. This now gives us the option to hire day boats to explore the coast line, but also be able to travel the island by road. Oh, and sleep in a villa or hotel room.
The places we visited in 2018
Milna Island of Brac was our first stop on our own personal cruise, Milna is one of those villages you just don’t build anymore, but you can find them all over the islands of the Dalmatian coast. The harbour is drop-dead gorgeous, with each side having its own beach. We had a wonderful authentic Croatian dinner in the Konoba Galicija which is off the beaten track but well worth finding. The menu consists of fresh BBQ fish and meat. We returned for a day visit in 2019 and had a great lunch in the Olfie Hotel restaurant and it is on our list of hotels to book in the future as we are returning to Milna.
Pucisca is considered to be one of the prettiest villages in Croatia, and you see why as you sail into the harbour. It is a quiet little fisherman’s village but it is far more famous for its stone. Which was used in some of the most iconic buildings in the world, the White House and Diocletians palace to name two and there is still a stonemasons school in the village today, which is well worth a visit. We had dinner at a local family run restaurant “Lucice”. It had a great choice of seafood and Croatian cuisine. It is quite far round the harbour but you can phone ahead and they will send a golf buggy to pick you up and then drop you off after dinner. We did return to Pucisca for lunch in 2019 and had a great meal in the Port Restaurant. It is a great place for a day visit but not sure it has enough to keep you occupied for much longer.
Vroboska – as we sailed over to the island of Hvar, our first port of call on the island was the small fisherman’s town of Vroboska which is hidden deep into the bay with great views of the pine forest behind with its renaissance and baroque buildings. It also has a beautiful little island in the middle of the bay which is connected to the mainland with bridges hence it being called the little Venice of Hvar. We again had the knowledge of the local skipper and, again, had a great meal at the Bonaca Vroboska Restaurant. As mentioned, we plan to revisit Croatia and will be travelling to Brac in 2020, which is covered later in this blog and Hvar in 2021 which will give us far more time to take a more in-depth look at the island, its people and its restaurants and night-life.
Stari Grad which translates as ‘Old Town’ is the oldest town in Croatia. It was a Greek settlement called Pharos and has been populated since 384 b.c. Compared to the vibrancy of Hvar town, Stari Grad is a quiet, lazy place with a laid back local vibe. The stone buildings and streets of the old town have been exquisitely restored and feature small local shops and boutiques. Most of the town’s cafes, bars and restaurants are lined up along Stari Grad’s wide harbour. Again the local skipper recommend we dine at the Restaurant Eremitaz and, as per usual, he came up trumps as we had a wonderful dinner in a great setting. We will be able to evaluate Hvar better when we return in 2021 and spend more time exploring the island. Hvar Town, Seems to be the place that the celebs hang out, as we were with the family (all in their 20s) they wanted to stay two nights. The reason being a day at Hula Hula and a night at Carpe Diem. We gave both a miss, however it is a great vibrant town, and you can still find the authentic cuisine if you look, but with nearly everything geared to the high-spending party crowd, you need to look closely and right on restaurant-lined Groda, close to the main square, you’ll find a little of the real Croatia in the family owned Konoba Menego. You also don’t need to make your way to Carpe Diem for an enjoyable night, as there are lots of cool bars with music all the way round the harbour and a great selection of cocktails. Is Hvar Town for you? If you are in your 20s or 30s then the answer is yes. If you are in your 50s like us, then there are more enjoyable, relaxed towns and villages on Hvar Island.
Vis was used as an army base in the former Yugoslavia and was Marshall Tito’s head-quarters near the end of World War II, where he and his advisers took shelter in a cave. So Vis Island never developed and its natural beauty remained intact. Much of the island is devoted to vineyards that produce the famous white wine, ‘Vugava’ and the red wine ‘Plavac’ with fishing also a large part of island life, tourism takes a back seat. Hvar might be the island to spot celebs, but Vis has also had its own celebs as the movie Mamma Mia II was filmed on the island in 2017. We docked in Vis town, which is a charming small town of stone houses, a few restaurants, shops and B&B accommodation, it does really have a local island feel. This was also the first time we tasted ‘Peka’ which is a baked dish of fish or meat and vegetables made in a pot or a bell. The pot / bell is then put into the embers of a fire and cooked slowly. We have replicated this dish at home in the oven using a cast iron casserole dish. Roki’s restaurant is the place on Vis to enjoy this speciality dish, you need to book a day in advance and choose either fish or meat when ordering. They will pick you up from the harbour as the restaurant is quite a way from the coast, they also produce their own wine that compliments the dishes perfectly.
Getting to Brac Island we flew into Split Airport, it looks like an old military airport, and is certainly far too small with little amenities for the number of people that pass through it now. It has long queues at passport control, only two small take away food outlets in the departure lounge and not enough seats. Two things in its favour though, there are lots of taxis and it has its own port. During the summer months, June to September, you can get a direct fast Ferry from the airport to Split Town in 15 mins, to Bol (Brac Island) in 1 Hr and Stari Grad (Hvar Island) in 1hr 10mins. There is a shuttle bus that takes you to and from the port which has a beach bar to relax in until your ferry arrives. Taxis are plentiful and take about 15 mins to Trogir and 30 mins to Split where the main ferry terminal is located for the islands. One complaint would be that there are not any ferries that you can island hop with, you need to return to Split and change over there which does add significant time to the journey between the islands. Sutivan, our first stop on Brac is on the North of the Island so we crossed using the Split to Supetar ferry which takes approx. 1 hour and then 15 mins in a taxi from the harbour. Sutivan is a small village based around its harbour with a few restaurants and bars. Its main attraction is the 5 -star Lemon Garden Hotel. Which is situated right on the harbour. It is a privately run hotel with its 23 suites and 12 rooms, everything caters to relaxation and enjoyment. It boasts a top restaurant serving seasonal dishes with a well-stocked wine cellar, it also has its own on site bakery, spa and swimming pool, with its own private beach club. There is a restaurant approx. 2km along the coast you can cycle to as the hotel has free bikes, there is also a buggy service. You can book a private speedboat service which will pick you up from the airport and drop you at the hotel entrance, there are also convertible mini coopers for hire. We spent 3 wonderful days here and couldn’t have been better looked after, it is as they say in the brochure, an oasis of tranquillity.
Postira is a small fisherman’s village situated on the north coast of Brac, built around a lovely harbour and the Church of St. John the Baptist with its stone houses and narrow streets reflecting its authentic local ambience. There are a number of small restaurants and bars around the harbour, as well as the Lipa Hotel. Postira is close to the pretty town of Splitska and Lovrecena Bay, one of the few sandy beaches in Croatia. Both can be reached via countryside footpaths that are good for jogging or cycling, bike rental is in the village. There is a lovely little beach bar half way to Lovrecena Bay where you can stop for refreshments. Lovercena bay also has a bar and great restaurant which is owned by the Lipo Hotel, we dined at both and the seafood is amazing, highly recommend the langoustines. We rented “Illyria” a beautiful restored fisherman’s cottage which can be booked via www.gecko-tours.co.uk, the Lipo Hotel would also be a great alternative option.
Bol is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Croatia. It is a small town on the south side of the island of Brac. It is best known for Zlatni Rat beach, which is constantly rated as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Bol has a lot to offer accommodation wise. First of all, there are four large hotels, many small family owned hotels and also a vast selection of private self-catering apartments and villas for you to choose from. There is also a great choice of restaurants, bars and nightclubs around the harbour and on the way to Zlatni Rat beach, which also has some great beach bars. It is great for a family holiday and in the summer, it is easy to reach via the Split express ferry, there is car hire in the town making the villages on the south of the island really accessible. Restaurants we would recommend are Konobo Dispet, Pumparela and Pizzeria Topolino.
Our overall assessment of Croatia – is it is a beautiful country, with great food, wine and beer, friendly passionate locals, and we are hooked. We are returning in 2020 and will come back and update this blog.