Coves, castles and calm seas - set sail for the sights of Croatia
One of Europe's most beautiful sailing destinations, Croatia offers calm turquoise waters and a host of islands, each with its own identity and idiosyncrasies. Yacht charter bases are located in marinas, the most popular ones being on the mainland, in or near Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar and Pula, all of which are conveniently served by summer flights from the UK or elsewhere in Europe.
If you set sail from Dubrovnik, you'll be touring the islands of South Dalmatia. Make your first stop at Mljet, to explore the dense forests and two turquoise interconnected saltwater lakes of Mljet National Park - hire bikes and cycle the perimeter of the lakes, or rent kayaks and paddle across them.
proceed to neighbouring Korcula, where the highlight is Korcula Town, perched upon a tiny fortified peninsula. Within its medieval walls, tightly packed stone buildings include the magnificent Gothic-Renaissance cathedral and the supposed birthplace of intrepid explorer Marco Polo.
Beyond the town, Korcula's undulating hills are planted with olive groves, vineyards and pinewoods. South from here, the remote island of Lastovo is often missed by holidaymakers due to its inconvenient ferry timetable, leaving it wonderfully peaceful for those who arrive by yacht. On the return voyage, spend a night in a sheltered bay off one of the tiny car-free Elaphiti islets-Sipan, Lopud or Kolocep.
Croatia's most popular point of departure for sailing holidays, Split (and nearby Trogir and Kastela) takes you straight to the islands of Central Dalmatia. Begin with Brac, where Bol, on the south coast, is home to the country's most photographed beach, the stunning Zlatni Rat, a 500-metre long pebble spit, which juts out into the sea, perpendicular to the coast.
It's also Croatia's top windsurfing destination. Nearby, the island of Hvabears fertile vineyards and purple lavender fields. here, trendy Hvar Town centres on a harbour hugged by elegant Venetian-era stone buildings, over looked by a hilltop castle. Adored by the rich and famous, its glamorous nightlife venues include rustic-chic beach clubs and cocktail bars.
The waterfront does get very crowded in high season, with yachts mooring up several abreast. To dodge the crowds, drop anchor in a sheltered cove off the nearby pine-scented Pakleni islets.
Further out to sea, Vis rises on the horizon. Under Yugoslavakia, it was a military naval based, and remained closed to foreigners until 1989. For centuries, locals have lived from fishing and growing grapes and olives - still today, much of Vis's produce is organic.
For those wanting a true castaway experience. Zadar (or nearby Biograd na Moru) looks onto the waters of North Dalmantia and the rocky arid archipelago of Kornati National Park.
Wild and practically uninhabited, and named after Kornat, the largest island, it encompasses 89 islands, islets and reefs. Historically, locals from nearby Murter used theses sage-scented islets for grazing sheep and keeping bees.
Today they remain blissfully unspoilt, frequented mainly by sailing crews, who drop anchor in one of 16sheltered bays, and hop ashore to dine at one of the dozen or so rustic eateries, serving local seafood and tender roast lamb.
From Zadar, you might also sail down the coast to sibenik, then up the sea channel to Skradin, the gateway to Krka National Park with its lush woodland and spectacular waterfalls.
ISTRIA AND KVARNER
Departing from Pula, on the tip of the Istrian penisula, set sail to the glorious Kvarner Gulf. Here Losinj dubs itself as "the island of vitality". Its main port, Mali Losinj, has a history of ship building and naval trading, hence the elegant 19th-century villas, built by sea captains, overlooking the harbour.
There's a dolphin research centre here - look out for these joyful creatures while sailing - and a small aromatic garden, planted with fragrant medicinal herbs.
Losinj is joined to neighbouring Cres by a bridge, which spans the narrow sea channel at Osor, and is lifted twice daily, so bats can sail through.
Wild and sparsely populated, Cres is known for its hardy sheep and the griffon vultures that nest in its seaward cliffs.
East of Cres, on Rab, medieval Rab Town has a distinctive skyline, pierced by four proud church bell towers, resembling a ship when seen from the sea.
FOOD AND DRINK YOU MUST TRY
The dishes that will give you a real taste of the region.
When it comes to food and drink in Croatia, you're in for a real treat: freshly caught Adriatic seafood, local seasonal fruit and vegetables, and the abundant use of olive oil.
Fish such as sea bream, sea bass and John Dory are normally simply grilled, drizzled with olive oil and served with olive oil and served with a wedge of lemon. Some of the best places to eat fish are rustic seasonal eateries on the islands, where the owner-cook is also a fisherman, so you're guaranteed that morning's catch. Some of the best include Restoran More on Rab; Konoba Stoncica on Vis; and Konoba Triton on Lastovo, all of which have moorings out front.
Beside grilled fish, except plenty of risotto and pasta dishes bearing witness to the centuries spent under Venice. Be sure to try crni rizot (black risotto made from cuttlefish ink). Another popular Venetian dish is brodet, a rich fish casserole, best made from monkfish or red scorpion fish (or if you're really lucky, lobster), stewed in onion, tomato and white wine, and served with polenta. Try it at Maconda in Hvar Town or Kod Damira in Stari Grad, both on Hvar. Other seafood dishes include octopus salad, tuna carpaccio, and fresh oysters from Ston.
Meat lovers will relish prsut (similar to Italian prosciutto), normally served with Paski sir (sheep's cheese from Pag) as an appetiser. Also look out for tasty spit-roast janjertia (lamb) on Brac, Pag and Cres and the Kornati islets, and pasticada (beef stewed in wine and prunes) served with gnocchi - try it at Konoba Mate in Pupnat on Korcula. Or, for a total gourmet feast, Croatia now has three Michelin-starred restaurants: Monte in Rovinj; Pelegrini in Sibenik, below left; and 360 degrees in Dubrovnik. All serve contemporary cuisine, prepared from fresh local seasonal produce, exquisitely presented.
As all boats have basic cooking facilities, you can also dine aboard. Shopping is part of the fun - buy summery peaches, apricots and watermelon, along with succulent tomatoes, cucumber and peppers from waterside stalls. And for extra special sweet treats, call at Nonica on Hvar or Cukar on Vis. Also remember that Croatia produces some excellent wines, notably reds from Pelijesac peninsula, whites from Krocula, and both reds and whites from Hvar. As you sail between the islands, you'll find family run wineries open for tasting - and you can buy direct from them.