Croatia’s coastline is speckled with a thousand or so islands, ranging from small, green mini-paradises to large and arid ones. Its magical blend of ancient and modern makes Croatia a unique destination for all tastes. Even though its fame and popularity as a sailing destination are well established, there are still enough off-the-beaten-track islands, quiet coves, and stone-built fishing villages to make you feel as if you’re visiting Europe at its most unspoiled. The only questions are where to start and how long have you got? We’ve put together some essential info to help you decide.
Istrian peninsula and Kvarner
Location: Northern Adriatic
Closest airports: Rijeka-Krk(Croatia), Pula (Croatia), Zagreb(Croatia), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Trieste, (Italy)
Boat Pick up: Pula, Krk, Opatija, Rovinj, Porec
Special Features: Although it is the cities and islands further south that attract all the attention, the Northern part of Adriatic, if not quite undiscovered, seems certainly less crowded. One can sail between unpopulated islands, while walkers can hike the magnificent, lonely trails and, about 40km in land, explore Risnjak National Park, Northern Velebit National Park and Plitvice National Park.
The large peninsula of Istria dominates the Northern Part of the Adriatic. Its picturesque western coastline includes the archipelago of the Brijuni Islands National Park, one of Croatia's most beautiful National Parks and a sailors dream come true. This archipelago of 14 islands was originally the private resort of the late President Tito; in 1983 it was declared a national park and opened to the public.
Three-thousand-year-old Pula is Istria's yachting mecca and attracts many sailing enthusiasts. Of its many ancient sites, not to be missed is the Roman amphitheater. Starting in Pula you can either sail over to the Kvarner Islands (Krk, Cres, Pag, Rab, Losinj) or cruise along the smaller and less crowded islands ( Unije, Ilovik, Susak, Silba, Premuda). These pretty islands boast clear waters, great bays for shelter, short distances between them and mostly ideal sailing conditions. You will see why Croatia is famous for its natural beauty. Mountainous landscapes extend up the coast to the busy resort of Opatija, above which is the Ucka Nature Park. In Opatija you can find well-equipped marinas, great dining and a little glamour.
Sailing conditions: The calm waters of the Northern Adriatic and the mild climate make for good sailing conditions. The myriad of islands provide protection and this section of the coast has many well-equipped marinas. In summer there is very little chance of the Bora: the strong, cold Northeasterly wind from the mountains. The daily Maestral wind is an anabatic sea breeze; friendly to sailors and fairly frequent from spring to autumn and strongest in July and August. It usually starts blowing around 9 or 10 in the morning, reaches its strongest in the afternoon and fades at sundown. Maestral is generally weaker in the north Adriatic than in its south. In the Kvarner region the weather is less stable and a daily weather report is recommended.
Northern Dalmatian coast
Location: Between the island of Pag and Makarska
Boat Pick up: Sukosan, Sibenik, Zadar, Biograd na Moru, Makarska, Kastela, Split
Special Features: Northern Dalmatia is vibrant and diverse with rough mountainous regions, pretty islands and two UNESCO world Heritage Sites. There is plenty to see on a week’s sailing charter. From Zadar or Sukosan one can explore the Zadar archipelago consisting of hundreds of islands and islets. Dugi Otok (long island) with its sublime Saharun Beach, Ugljan Island, known as the green island because it is covered with dense bush, pine trees, olive trees, fig trees, vineyards and other Mediterranean vegetation. The archipelago also includes the Kornati Islands National Park and Telascica Nature Park. Due to its amazing landscape and clear waters, the Zadar Archipelago is popular among sailing enthusiasts as well as among people seeking remote unspoiled havens.
From Sibenik, the Sibenik Archipelago awaits the enthusiastic sailor, with 249 islands stretching out over 157sq k to discover. In this island complex, only six have permanent residents and make for a rustic getaway. Kaprije island, tranquil with a well-sheltered cove, Krapanj island famous for its sponge industry, the bigger Murter island, tiny Prvic island covered in vineyards, rocky Zirje and Zlarin, famous for its coral jewelry.
Further south is the buzzing city of Split, the largest city on the Dalmatian coast. Diocletian’s Palace is not to be missed. From Split or Markarska sail south to the islands of Brac, known for its white stone and Zlatni Rat, a long pebbly beach at Bol; Hvar, the Adriatic’s glamourous party island has a great culinary scene and Vis, with its Roman ruins and clear waters. Peace and quiet is nearby too with many hidden coves and sandy beaches to anchor in. Back towards the mainland is Trogir a charming medieval walled town on a small island – definitely worth a stop!
Sailing conditions: The waters in this region pose no major problems for navigation and are suitable for beginners. Sailing conditions are good as the tides have little effect and the currents are weak. The prevailing winds are the friendly Maestral from the North West, the Bora from the North East, and Sirocco and Jugo winds from the South/South East. The Bora, a gusty wind that occurs in the Kornati islands can be dangerous. One should always check the local weather forecast.
Southern Dalmatian coast
Location: Between Makarska and Dubrovnic
Closest airport: Dubrovnik
Boat Pick up: Makarska, Dubrovnik
Special Features: Southern Dalmatia is delightful. Its most famous town, Dubrovnik, is simply unique; like a place from another time, its setting sublime. This remarkable old town is a highlight of any trip to Croatia, capturing the essence of medieval Mediterranean.
The Elaphiti Islands, a small archipelago consisting of several forested islands stretching northwest of Dubrovnik, is accessible to sailors. The main islands are Sipan, Lopud and Kolocep. Sipan Island is the biggest in the chain, Lopud is known for its sandy beaches and Kolocep is the closest to Dubrovnik. There are seven other uninhabited islands and islets waiting to be explored.
Further North is the island of Korcula with its glorious old town and traditional wine cultivation. This a place to be savoured by sun seekers, wine buffs and history lovers alike as is the coast of the Peljesac Peninsula close by on the mainland.
Miljet island, a seductive green island is just south of Korcula. Mljet National Park makes up most of the island, and there are several villages, two salt water lakes - Veliko and Malo jezero, and a Benedictine monastery. In Polace there are some of the best natural anchorages in the Adriatic.
Out of the way and less visited is Lastovo island also a Nature Park where you will certainly find a quiet spot or two!
Sailing conditions: Similar to the rest of the Adriatic with Beaufort Force 2-5 being the norm, sometimes a little stronger when the Bora or Sirocco blow. Seas can be choppier, especially in late afternoon and early evening when a combination of opposing winds and currents can cause a buildup. Recommended for sailors from novice to some experience.
The appeal of sailing in Croatia is obvious. It is well-organised with a good infrastructure, thousands of islands and a mystical blend of history and nature -whether you are an old-hand or just starting out, booking a charter has never been easier.
By Merryn Wainwright