My grandfather was Croatian. When I was growing up in the eighties I remember being jealous of the other kids with Greek or Italian heritage. Those countries were cool while mine (South African, Croatia and the Ukraine) were dysfunctional places ravaged by war – all my molecules were born from flight. It was impossible to think of my countries as beautiful or something to be proud of.
My grandfather died when I was 10. I never really got to know him properly except as someone who was sick.
I’ve just visited his homeland and I realise now how wrong I was about his birthplace. Croatia is beautiful in every possible way. I’m writing this in Dubrovnik airport wishing I could stay longer and so so proud that I can claim this place as part of me.
I’ve spent the week sailing the Adriatic Sea with Sail Croatia. I’ve met amazing people, eaten spectacular food, sunbathed, kayaked, and swum until my skin has wrinkled.
I don’t ever want to forget this holiday within my holiday – so, for prosterity’s sake, here’s what we did:
Day 1 – Saturday 15 June
In Dubrovnik we climbed onward our boat, Navigator, and met our crew and fellow passengers. We drank beer and chatted as we sailed towards our first island, Mljet. By the time we arrived in this sleepy, secluded town with crystal clear water we were already mates and took our first dive into the Adriatic together. Thwarted only by the spines of sea urchins we swam and finished the night with a seafood dinner as we watched the sun set. We went to sleep salty that night.
Day 2- Sunday 16 June
We rose early and hired bikes to ride to the national park. We struggled up a steep hill and then nearly stacked it on the gravel decline. The lake, when we found it, was indescribably, brilliantly blue. We eventually found the point where it narrowed and jumped off rocks and swam to the 12th century monastery of Saint Mary on the other side. Inside the ancient stone walls it was cool and still.
We were still exploring in our bikinis and board shorts as a tour group came through. We escaped to eat icecream next to a ‘pool’ which was actually for boats and then swam back again. We rode some more and then stopped to float under the small bridge with the tide. We owned the hill on ride home.
As we ate lunch we sailed to Korčula. There we jumped into kayaks and paddled to a small island for more swimming while our Croatian guides challenged each other to swimming races in the water.
That night we ate in Korčula old town -a dinner of prawns, polenta and aubergine rolls. The pannacotta and chocote mousse that followed was the best I’ve had.
Day 3 – Monday 17th June
We arrived at the island of Viz at around three and went wine tasting at Lipanovic Winery – a cellar housed in an old military tunnel complex – the underground rooms providing the perfect climate for wine production. We sampled brandy and trotted back to the boat drunk by the wine and the heat and the blueness of the sea.
That night we ate BBQ on the boat before visiting a group of Germans from Bavaria who gave us mango champagne on their yacht.
Day 4- Tuesday 18th June
We arrived at a small port on the island if Bisevo at around 11 am with the promise of seeing the Blue Cave “Modra Spilja”. We clamboured onto a little motor boat and sped around rocks until a tiny hole appeared and we ducked our heads as our boat entered the tunnel. It was dark and full of silent people rowing tiny dinghys in procession towards the light. Rounding a corner the blueness began to glow, edged by the rock face that was visible for meters under the clear Adriatic water.
That afternoon we anchored off Stipanska island and a couple of the boys jumped ship and swam, against a strong current, to shore. We watched them disappear and sunbaked until a small boat zig-zagged into view carrying three Koreans and Adam, one of our fellow travellers.
A few of us climbed on board until the boat swayed and nearly dipped below the water. We wobbled over to the island ending our short sail by crashing into another boat moored on the jetty.
We invited our new Korean friends for a drink but they had to pick up other mates in Hvar – rather than worry about how to get back we walked over the crest of the island to discover Carpe Diem Beach. We chatted to the manager, swam amongst the beautiful people and drank mojitos and coronas in the sunshine.
Slightly tipsy we launched into the ocean again, praying the current had died. We used our thongs as paddles and swam in our clothes back to the boat.
Later that evening we arrived in Hvar – the water-front packed with yachts and sailors and parties. A couple of us ducked off for massages then we met at a small bar and shared a meal of dalmatian tapas and wine. Later we had cocktails with fireworks at Nautica Bar then traipsed up the hill to Veneranda with its pool and Prince Harry story for a hip-hop party. I tried to skinny dip but Brian thankfully stopped me – daylight revealed the threat of sea urchins (our trip nemesis) and other flotsam we did well to avoid.
Morning broke in Hvar and we wandered around in stifling heat as sweat mixed with the scent of lavender from the market stalls.
We arrived at Stari Grad after lunch and discovered the quieter side of Hvar island with its narrow laneways and photo opportunities at every corner. We ate fried cheese and corgette in a tiny alleyway sheltering from the midday sun.
That night we dined with our Captain, Mate, on the boat while Ivo our chef produced two magnificent Bomb Alaskas.
Day 6 – Thursday 20th June
Our Captain sailed to a deserted inlet on the island of Brac where we anchored and jumped in for an early morning swim. A few of us swam the 100 meters to the beach – it was covered in rubbish and behind the bushes we found a small stone house. March flies forced us back into the water where we lazily inched our way back to the boat.
The serenity of this remote place was superseded by the urban sprawl of Markaska. By this stage both me and our host, Natalija, were sick and the sun was blazing 38 degrees. We tried to recoup in a bar but the humidity forced us into nearby shops. I went to bed while others parasailed and shopped in the baking heat of the mainland.
That night we ate together at Riva Restaurant and returned for an early night and a chance to recover for our final day.
Day 7 – Friday 21st June
A bus picked us up at Markasa at 8:30 am to take us white water rafting on the Cetina river. Even this fresh water sparkled with clarity and we paddled over trout hiding amongst grasses on the river bed. Halfway along we stopped for a swim – the water was colder than the Adriatic. Emily and Ian represented the group by jumping off a cliff face.
That night we arrived in Split – our final destination. Traffic, congestion and the ugly harbour area greeted us but we persevered towards the old town walls and once inside were overwhelmed with how lovely it was. Again we explored alleyways and found a place to share our final dinner together. We finished the night, and our journey together, with cocktails on the water front looking across the sea that had rocked us gently through paradise for seven days.
This was a holiday I never wanted to end. Our boat was home to an amazing bunch of people for that week – all ages and nationalities. To all of you who joined me I can’t thank you enough for your company, for the ease of spending time with you, for the things you taught me, for the great conversations and the friendships I have made.
And Croatia, country of my blood, I’ll be back very soon x