First of all, our thoughts go out to all our friends, fellow boaters and the people of the Abacos in the Bahamas, where we had so many wonderful experiences over the years. The devastation from hurricane Dorian is heart-breaking. Hopefully, things are starting to look up and people are beginning to get back on their feet.
September 15th to September 22nd, 2019 — Zagreb to Dubrovnik by car
When we land in Zagreb, Croatia, the sun is shining and it is in the high 70s F. Lovely! We pickup our rental car and head to the Astoria Hotel in downtown Zagreb. Driving is surprisingly easy here, and as we find during our time in Croatia, drivers are aggressive but courteous.
Zagreb is a modern city, that was a stop on the Orient Express so there is beautiful old hotel and large, elaborate train station. Since the war in the 90s, life seems to be back to normal and most physical signs of the war have been cleaned up. In conversations with locals though, we found that feelings are still strong. Most people in Croatia speak English, so it is easy to get around and ask questions.
From Zagreb, we drive to the western-most region of Croatia called Istria. Historically, this peninsula was part of Italy, so we found great wine and wonderful Italian food. It is also truffle season, so many of the towns are having truffle festivals. Yum!
After a day of driving around Istria, visiting towns along the way like Hum and Motovun and enjoying the amazing scenery en route, we settle into our hotel in Rovinj before heading out to explore the town. We love Rovinj — a small historic town with narrow, stone streets and buildings, great restaurants, food, shops and harbour.
From Rovinj, we drive to Zadar. This is a larger city with ruins of a Roman forum in the center of it all and a Byzantine church built over some of the ruins. We wander the city and then meet Julie and Dawson, our friends from Toronto/Sudbury (who we know from sailing in the Bahamas) for drinks and dinner.
After Zadar, we leave Julie and Dawson and drive to Split. The highway system in Croatia is amazing. Roads are new with very little traffic. There are lots of tunnels to save time through the mountains and most appear to be newly constructed. Just outside Split, we stop in the historic town of Trogir. Lovely place with quaint narrow streets and cafes.
When we arrive in Split, we walk around town and visit the Diocletian’s Palace. Not a surprise this is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage site. There is wonderful history here as well as a lovely waterfront. The downside… there are tons of people from the multiple cruise ships moored in the harbour. We spent two days enjoying Split. On the second day, we meet back up with Julie and Dawson for a segway tour up to Marjan park that overlooks the city.
From Split, we drive towards Dubrovnik. Along the way, you need to cross through a small portion of Bosnia Herzegovina, but the border crossing is fast and easy. Before Dubrovnik, we stop in a small town called Mali Ston. We are told this is the place to get oysters which the area is well know for. We are at the Bota Restaurant as they are opening for some great wine and oysters.
When we arrive in Dubrovnik, it is gorgeous! Narrow streets, tons of stairs and lots of history. And, when we say stairs, we mean stairs! It is a beautiful place, but horrible for hauling our luggage to the hotel. Surprisingly, we manage to get there without a tumble down the numerous flights. As for the city itself, unfortunately, it too is a bit over-run with tourists. The crowds are coming close to Venice levels as people from the cruise ships flood the place. Regardless, it is lovely and since many scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed here, we take a guided tour and visit the old fortress that overlooks the walled old-town.
After a great visit in Dubrovnik, we haul our luggage out of the old-town and catch an Uber to the harbour where we meet up with Julie and Dawson for the second leg of our Croatia adventure…sailing!!
September 22nd to September 30, 2019 — Sailing the Adriatic
One of the main reasons we sold Silver Maple was so that we would have the opportunity to travel to, and sail in, other interesting places. We did the Grenadines in the spring… and now a week in the Adriatic Sea! Woohoo!
When we get to the marina where Sunsail is based just outside of Dubrovnik, Julie and Dawson are already waiting for us. And, the boat is ready! We load our gear onto Diana II, a 47ft Jeanneau with three cabins and two heads. It feels huge with tons of space for the four of us. Just to try something different on this trip, we have signed up to be part of a flotilla of boats. There are about 12 boats in the group and the organizers make all the arrangements including the route, the marinas where we will stay, and group dinners. It is no muss, no fuss!
Unfortunately, the forecast the first day of our trip is for rain and thunderstorms. So, we stay in harbour and head out a day later than planned. Boo! When we do finally get on the water though it is lovely! Most of the time we have been in Croatia it has been sunny and in the mid 70 degrees F. Once we are out on the Adriatic Sea, it is more of the same. Lovely! We have fun sailing the first day, although the wind is against us most of the time.
Our first stop is in the island town of Okuklje. Beautiful spot. Randy, Dawson and Julie head out for a paddle in the harbour. Lee walks to the top of the hill overlooking town to visit the historic church and take in the view. In the evening, we have a group dinner with the other boaters at the Maestral Restaurant. Really good!
The next day, winds are down so we motor most of the way. We stop at Pomena for lunch and a swim — it is a beautiful little harbour in the national park. Later in the afternoon, we arrive in Lumbarda, Croatia. The harbour is close to a village called Korcula. We taxi in for dinner and a walk-about. Korcula is really nice! Kind of a mini Dubrovnik without the crowds. It has great cafes and narrow streets. And, it is a beautiful evening for a stroll.
The next day is what the flotilla captains call a ‘free day’. Basically, they cut us loose while giving us a few options for places to go on our own and spend the night. We head to a place called Trstenik. It is an island with a small fishing village that is well know for its local wine. When we arrive, we have to wait for them to shuffle some of the fishing boats around before we can tie Diana II off to the wall. Once settled, we go for a walk through town and visit the wine store for a tasting. The woman there is the local English teacher at the school, but her family produces the wine. Oh, and is it good! Later we have dinner in one of the local restaurants. Randy and Dawson order Peka, a local dish that includes a variety of meat with potatoes, cooked in a pot that is covered with hot coals and baked for hours. It is really good!
The next day as we pull out of the Trstenik harbour the winds are up, so we are excited that we might be able to sail. Short-lived though as the winds quickly die down and we are once again motoring. We stop for lunch in a nice spot along the channel that leads to Ston, our next destination. Great snorkeling. Water in the Adriatic is cool and refreshing. Perfect for swimming.
When we arrive in Ston, we tie off along the wall and head into town. The town, and its counter part Mali (meaning “small”) Ston are surrounded by historic defensive walls, second largest in the world behind the great wall of China. We have a group dinner in town and finish the evening with some Bridge back on the boat.
The next morning, Lee is up early to hit the bakery in town for fresh bread — definitely one of our favourite things about being in Europe. Afterwards, Lee, Julie and Dawson spend an hour climbing the wall over to Mali Ston. Good hike and amazing views. We take the (level) trail back to the boat in time for breakfast before we head out.
After the morning wall hike, we travel back to the Sunsail home-base and the end of our sailing trip. The four of us have a great dinner at a restaurant a short Uber ride from the marina called Amfor, then head back to the boat to pack up. We have to be off the boat in the morning to fly back home. Dawson and Julie carry on with their vacation to Dubrovnik and the Plitvice Lakes National park. It is very sad the trip is over, but it was really great. We loved Croatia and will definitely be back!