With its turquoise-blue waters, secluded beaches, coves and pine-scented islands, the Dalmatian coast – on the eastern coast of Adriatic Sea in Croatia – is one of Europe’s top sailing destinations. In Split, its main charter base, yachts are hired on a weekly basis, from Saturday afternoon to the following Saturday morning (note to wannabe sailors: unless you have an internationally recognised sailing license, the charter company will supply you with a skipper).
Yachting can be romantic, glamorous and restful, but also liberating, challenging and adventurous, as it puts you at the mercy of the elements. Unlike a hotel-based holiday, sailing takes you to a different place every day – moored-up in a medieval harbour to dine at a sophisticated seafood eatery, tasting local wines at a waterside winery, or dropping anchor in a secluded bay to skinny dip. Here’s an itinerary that will let you experience all of these on a sailing odyssey around the Dalmatian coast.
Day 1: Milna (on Brač)
A short Saturday afternoon sail from Split to Milna on the island of Brač is a good way to find your sea legs. Built around a deep bay affording natural shelter from storms, Milna has offered refuge to many a weary sailor through the centuries. Founded in the 16th century, its meandering seafront promenade, elegant stone mansions and grandiose Baroque church attest to former prosperity – Milna used to have two shipyards building sturdy wooden boats called bracere. Upon arrival, moor up in the harbour, then step ashore for a sunset dinner at Fontana – try the octopus salad followed by crni rižot (black risotto made from cuttlefish ink).
Day 2: Hvar Town (on Hvar)
Hvar Town, just a two-hour sail from Milna, is Dalmatia’s most fashionable island destination, with Tom Cruise, Beyoncé and Prince Harry just some of the celebrities who have visited. Arrive before lunch to moor at the palm-lined seafront, and explore Hvar’s old town, which centres on a vast square rimmed with cafés and a cathedral, presided over by a 16th-century hilltop castle. Clothing boutiques and jewellery stores line Hvar’s cobbled alleys, as well as bars and stores stocking local wines. Hvar is also renowned for its glamorous nightlife. Walk along the coast for sunset drinks at fun beach bar, Hula-Hula Hvar, then eat in the courtyard of a 15th-century palace at Giaxa – the beef fillet medallions with black truffles and gnocchi pairs perfectly with a bottle of robust Plavac red wine. Round off at Veneranda for dancing by a pool within the ruins of a medieval monastery.
Day 3: Šćedro
After a late night partying, have an easy Monday morning. Perhaps buy some lavender oil – a Hvar speciality said to promote relaxation and sound sleep. In the afternoon sail to Ščedro, an all-but-forgotten islet with just 15 inhabitants. En route, moor up in front of Zlatan Otok, a winery in Sveti Nedjelja backed by steep rugged slopes dotted with vineyards, and taste its award-winning wines in an underwater cellar. Proceed to Ščedro and drop anchor in a sheltered bay – there’s no running water or electricity here, but you can take the dinghy ashore to Restoran Šćedro where the Jakas family cooks fresh fish and meat over glowing embers, before returning to the yacht for a silent night’s sleep beneath the stars.
Day 4: Vis Town (on Vis)
Sail to the island of Vis, settled by the Ancient Greeks in the 4th century BC. During World War II, Yugoslav revolutionary Tito co-ordinated legendary resistance movement, the Partisans from a cave here, and under Yugoslavia the island became a military naval base. As such, it was closed to foreigners until 1989, and as tourism is still relatively new, Vis remains blissfully uncommercialised. Vis Town strings two miles around a horseshoe-shaped bay, its entrance marked by a lighthouse. For the adventurous, Alternatura organises hiking trips to caves and vineyards, as well as sea kayaking and scuba diving. Back in town, artists’ ateliers display local paintings and wine stores offer tasting of Vis’s organic wines. After dark, dine below towering palm trees in a walled Renaissance garden at Villa Kaliopa. There’s no menu here; the choice of fresh fish depends on the previous night’s catch. Afterwards, visit Fort Saint George, a tumbledown 19th-century fortress close to the lighthouse, hosting a seasonal bar and occasional concerts.
Day 5: Komiža (on Vis)
On Wednesday, sail around the island to Komiža on Vis’s southwest coast, stopping for lunch and a swim at Zoglov, a bay with a sandy beach, and Stiniva, a “secret” cove accessed from the sea through an opening in the cliffs that’s only four metres wide. Famed for centuries for its courageous fishermen who would pursue shoals of sardines all the way to the Atlantic, Komiža’s harbour is ringed by higgledy-piggledy stone cottages. Walk up to the hillside church, where they burn a fishing boat every year on 6 December, St Nicholas’ Day, in honour of the patron saint of seafarers. Feast on lobster spaghetti with a bottle of crisp white Vugava wine at Konoba Jastožer, a renovated lobster-pot house built over the water. Returning to your yacht, listen out for locals singing open-air klapa, a form of plainsong unique to Dalmatia.
Day 6: Sveti Klement, Pakleni islets
Buy the Komiža speciality, komižka pogača (tomato, onion and anchovy pie) for lunch, then sail around Vis’s west coast and head for the pine-scented Pakleni islets, opposite Hvar. Drop anchor in Palmižana Bay, off Sveti Klement, for a sunset swim before dinner at the charming Palmižana restaurant – aficionados include actor John Malkovich. The owner, Dagmar Meneghello, collects contemporary Croatian art and the restaurant’s deep red walls are hung with bold-coloured paintings and eccentric modern sculpture. Try the Hvarska gregada, a fish stew with sliced potatoes, onions and fresh herbs, simmered over an open fire and served in a big black pan.
Day 7: Maslinica (on Šolta)
On Friday, the last full day at sea, sail to Šolta, stopping to swim in emerald blue water below sheer cliffs off the south coast. Continue to Maslinica and in a sheltered inlet on the west coast, dine at Martinis Marchi Hotel & Restaurant, an 18th-century waterside mansion that was fortified to defend it against pirates. Order the asparagus and scampi soup, followed by roast lamb and a good bottle of red. The boat needs to be back in Split tomorrow at 9am, so for the perfect end to your Dalmatian sailing trip, agree with your skipper that he will set sail at 7am while you sleep, and have a lie in.