The Amazing Dalmatian Coast

When I was originally planning my trip this summer to Croatia, I really wanted to do a sailing trip. Cruising the Dalmatian coast is HIGH on my list, but with this trip I had some specific date constraints and waited a bit too long to get on one of the only boats that was running a 7-day trip NOT from a Saturday to Saturday.  Nearly all of the options are 7 days, leaving on a Saturday, and then cruising either from Split to Dubrovnik, the reverse, or round trip out of one of those two ports.  They all stop at any number of the islands along the coast - places like Hvar, Vis, Brac, Korcula, and Mljet (a national park) are the most popular.  

Once I realized I wasn't going to do a sailing trip, I decided it would be easy enough to island hop using ferries, especially since none of these are more than a couple of hours from each other.  The ferries in Croatia all end up working just fine, but there is sort of a duopoly:  you're either going to want to take Jadrolinija or Krilo.  I heard differing accounts of reliability of each of them, and in general there's NOT a ton of reliable information online, and schedules can vary greatly from season to season, so you need to be ready for a little bit of flexibility with your plan.  Also- if you want to take the faster, more modern catamarans, you WILL need to book ahead of time - especially in the height of summer - because they do sell out.  (This is one reason why I used a local expert company to help me put my trip together - so I didn't have to stress about getting the "right" ferry - another benefit you would have from having me help with your trip!)  The ferries I were on were modern, very comfortable, had wifi (!), and yet were super crowded, so boarding & disembarking were a bit of a cluster.  They do feature a ton of windows, but only one had any outdoor space, so they're certainly not a pleasure cruise like a sailboat would be, just fyi.  Here are a few shots from in & on the ferries - the first pic is overlooking the port at Split, so you can see that these modern catamarans are the three smallest boats closest in, with the medium boat being one of the slower car ferries.  The two big giants in the back are for longer distances, over to Italy for example.  The other shots are upon arrival through the windows, so they're tinted a bit badly!

So- even though it's completely simple to island hop with ferries, as I was putting my itinerary together, I realized I just didn't have that much time, and I eventually decided to just focus on one island so that I could have a bit more time actually enjoying the island, rather than rushing around from one to the other.  It was a hard choice to make, but I ended up on Korcula (pronounced kor-chu-la), which is the sleepier option of the two most popular ones in the central area of the coast.  Hvar is apparently (and from the looks of the port) MUCH swankier, so if you want to see and be seen a bit - that's the one you should pick.  I have to say I was THRILLED with my choice.  My local partner got me set up in a gorgeous little hotel directly across from one of the city beaches for my two nights - Hotel Korsal.  It's exactly what you'd want from a little boutique hotel - but beware: there aren't many.  In fact, the other hotels in town are a bit further away from old town and not NEARLY as nice - so what most people do is stay in apartments or guesthouses, called "sobe".  In fact- every ferry is met with a handful of people holding signs advertising their lodging, so if you wanted to just wing it and show up at an island, you can probably even find a cute little room or aparment upon arrival.  Keep in mind that I was there in July, right in the heart of the season even!  Here are just a few shots of the Korsal and the beach out front, though, I'm sorry - I totally forgot to take a pic of my room, which I loved because it was huge and clean and modern, though it did not have a sea view... :(.

Now Korcula itself is an adorable little peninsula complete with walls and fortifications and a main gate.  There's one main street down the middle (where the cathedral is), and then little side streets branching off in each direction down towards the water.  One cool thing they did was curve the streets on one side to protect against the "bad wind".  So from the main street, if you look one direction you'll be able to see the sea, and in the other, no dice.  Korcula's claim to fame is that Marco Polo was supposedly born here, so you'll see more than one building with his name emblazoned on the entry way (most are gift shops I think), but I skipped those in favor of just wandering and taking in the sights.  I sadly missed their other claim to fame, which is this very cool folk dance performance called the Moreska.  Twice a week locals dress up in medieval costumes and do this dance with swords right outside the main gate.  People I spoke to loved it, so I was especially bummed to have missed it.  I did climb the tower of the church which gave AMAZING views, but was not for those worried about heights.  Safety rails are not necessary in rural Croatia it seems.  You know what else isn't necessary in Croatia in general it seems?  Eating indoors.  I don't know if it's just a summer thing or what, but it was in Korcula that I realized I hadn't eaten a meal indoors in days and days.  Much of the street along the east side of the town walls is just restaurant after restaurant.  Even the street my hotel was on (just on the far side of the port from the old town) was basically restaurant after restaurant (and these boasted a view of the cute little town).  Like Split and even Dubrovnik to some extent, I would imagine this place would be a little sad once all the tourists stop showing up at the end of the season.  In summer though, it's spectacular.  The food in Korcula was particularly good - with lots of fresh seafood and pastas (remember - Marco Polo is apparently the one who brought noodles back from China, so naturally his home town loves a good fresh pasta!).  I also finally tried what has to be one of Croatia's national dishes: octopus carpaccio on a salad. I don't think I'll be making it for myself any time soon, but it was super delicious.  Here are some shots in & around town:

Finally - let's talk about what else there is to do in Korcula. Korcula town is actually just one teensy little peninsula on a much larger, long & skinny island. Since I had a whole free day, I really wanted to get out into the water or even inland to explore a little bit.  (The town is small enough that I'd seen it all the afternoon I arrived, AND had time to relax on the beach for a couple of hours!)  There are lots of different sightseeing companies dotted around town offering excursions to go wine tasting, snorkeling, dinner cruises, and so forth.  You can rent kayaks or stand-up paddle boards (SUPs are very popular now in this part of the world) or even little boats.  There is even, apparently in a different town, a dive shop or two.  Now, the wine tasting was hard to turn down, as was the scuba diving (though that would have been difficult for me to get to), but I decided to go with the "fish picnic".  This is another super popular excursion, but I'll tell you what it was.  It was a lovely cruise around the area with stops for swimming and a delicious fish lunch complimented by some live music - in other words, a really great way to spend the day!  We had a pretty small group - only about 15 of us total, and I quickly made friends with a young Australian couple who became my partners in "crime".  We saw windsurfers and kite surfers galore, as the channel between the mainland and Korcula is a world-class wind-sport location, we saw families enjoying the rocky beaches, we saw old churches, we saw crumbly villages, we saw the one sandy beach on the island (which didn't look that impressive), and we even saw a few folks enjoying the sun au natural.  In fact, this one older couple who was at the far end of our beach were two of the tannest people I've ever seen with zero tan lines - it was almost impressive to witness them worshiping the sun.  We snorkeled and didn't see too much sea-life, though we saw some super cool lavender-colored vegetation that looked like mushrooms on the rocks as they got deeper before the ground turned to sand. OH- and we also saw a TON of sea urchins, which, after prompting, our guide started cutting open for us to try.  Now "uni" is a super popular delicacy in most parts of the world - but even though it is readily available here, it appeared on zero menus.  Our captain said they know they can eat it, they just don't.  (I didn't either - that orange slimy stuff is just TOO strange for me to try - sorry uni lovers!)  We even did a little jumping off the boat and enjoying a cold beer while floating in the refreshing water.  I mean - that's all on top of having a delicious freshly-fried fish lunch with wine while being serenaded by our new friend with the accordion.  SO MUCH FUN. That little "fish picnic" was likely a 5 hour sample of what an entire week sailing the Dalmatian coast would be.  I'm telling you - I'm in.  Next time I go back to Croatia, I'll be on a sailboat.  Here are some pics from the day:

I realize this is just a taste of the Dalmatian Coast, but I hope you can see what a wonderful part of the world this is.  Whether you island hop via ferry, take a sailing trip, or even just visit one island, you'll have a delightful time.  I know I'd be thrilled to help anyone experience it themselves.