Stylist’s Siobhan Morrin finds her sea legs on a new-generation sailing adventure in Croatia
Wind in hair, wine in hand, strolling the deck like Brigitte Bardot on the French Riviera – that was my impression of yachting. But, as I discovered on my first ever sailing trip, that sort of cinematic scene takes place on the super-yachts of the mega rich – not on a 34-foot-long chartered boat.
The sailing I was in for was more like glamping – tiny cabins, a refreshing absence of mirrors and wardrobes – with the freedom to leap in the sea whenever you fancy. Yachts and Friends is helmed by two young sailors, Erik and William, who want to challenge the middle-aged, intimidating yachting market by offering bespoke sailing trips and courses that are accessible, affordable and fun. For a newbie like me, it’s perfect – they provide an experienced skipper to get you safely into ports and bays, but there’s plenty of opportunity for hands-on sailing. Boarding in Split, I’m greeted by skipper Dale and first-mate Brooke, two of the most chilled-out Antipodeans I’ve ever met – keen to help me flex my muscles hoisting the sail and dropping the anchor but lovely enough not to laugh at my early struggles getting aboard, walking the (alarmingly thin) plank that joins the boat to shore.
Croatia is popular for its festivals, beaches and low prices (Croatia uses Kuna, not the Euro) but in-the-know visitors agree that sailing is the best way to experience the sheer beauty of the Adriatic – secluded bays, sparkling clear seas and lush greenery hiding ramshackle hillside villages. Visiting in late spring or autumn means you catch the coastline at its best – there’s enough light for hours of sailing, the temperature regularly hits 25°C and, importantly, sea temperature hovers around 18°C to 20°C. The shoulder seasons are also more relaxed, coming either side of the party-heavy Yacht Week season (June-August), when harbours teem with revellers.
We set sail from Split and reach our overnight moor in the petite town of Maslinica. I wake up itching to dive in but am persuaded to wait until we reach a picture-perfect bay off the coast of tiny island Palmižana. An hour of jumping in and racing each other round the boat builds up an appetite, so we venture inland to the hilltop restaurant of Toto’s (totos.eu), where the chef emerges bearing a platter of grilled fish caught that morning. Lunch is spent in a haze of exclamations over every dish – particular praise reserved for the seared tuna steak in soy sauce – and lazily admiring the coastline through the palm trees.
Amazingly, after just 24 hours, I was really getting my sea legs. By which I mean, on land I felt like I was swaying when standing still. Luckily, I dodge the seasickness and instead find a sunny spot on deck for our day-long sail to Vis. Being furthest from the mainland, Vis was used as a fort under communist rule (the whole island is riddled with tunnels) and only opened to tourists in 1989. It’s still relatively undiscovered and the main town is quaint and pretty, making the hulking concrete submarine caves on Rogacic bay strikingly brutal. Today, the towering platform cut into the hill has become a (probably not entirely safe) diving board for holidaymakers, though I very responsibly opt to play echo chambers in the cave instead.
We enjoy plenty of incredible picnics on the boat, prepared by the relentlessly upbeat crew, which only makes our jaunts to traditional ‘konobas’ (tavern restaurants) feel like more of a treat. In Vis we dine at rustic-chic Konoba Lola (lolavisisland.com), a hip restaurant that underscores the Italian influence on Croatian cuisine; I wash down my handmade mushroom ravioli (£10) with a mean negroni, admiring the pretty walled garden cocktail bar.
Every Croatian island has its own distinct flavour, and it’s on Hvar, beloved by the international party crowd, that we let loose. We start at tucked-away restaurant Leporini devouring seafood linguine (£8), then head to the harbour-front. I’m momentarily distracted by a tiny market selling handmade jewellery and traditional (and wildly decadent) fig cake, before we jump in the water taxi to Carpe Diem beach, on a 24- hour party island where the DJs don’t stop all summer. Even if you tire of the dancing, it’s worth a trip for the night-time views back at Hvar from the beach. I’m told sunrise is even more spectacular, but I don’t quite make it that far.
Sunsets are more my style, and I get ample opportunity to record them (although the enforced digital detox means I have to wait until we moor at Trogir, a beautiful Unesco world heritage walled town, to Instagram them). Trogir charms me instantly, and I race around the maze of cobblestoned streets trying to photograph every stone staircase, every unique door, before our taxi to the airport.
This is the thing with sailing, I reflect. Your heart gets stolen in every port.
Yachts and Friends (yachtsandfriends.com) offer a three-cabin yacht charter, including crew, from £215 per person per week (for six). Hostess service and meals are available for an extra £100 per person, per week
Your 2016 Croatian Festival Planner
Combine a sailing jaunt with an injection of culture this summer
Pula Film Festival
The biggest and oldest film festival in Croatia takes place every summer (9-16 July this year), showing new Croatian and international films. The main draw is the impressive open-air venues, including a Roman amphitheatre. The programme is announced in June. (pulafilmfestival.hr/en)
Croatia isn’t short of dance festivals, but Hideout (26-30 June) has attracted a loyal following, thanks to its postcardperfect location in Novalja, between the mountains and the sparkling Adriatic Sea. This year’s line-up includes Jamie XX, Skepta, Gorgon City and more. (hideoutfestival.com)
This cultural festival takes place in the pretty World Heritage city throughout July and August, making use of a variety of magical, unusual venues, including the 11th century Lovrijenac Fort. Classical music, ballet, dance and opera make for a reliably varied bill. (dubrovnik-festival.hr/en)
Photography: Getty Images