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.
Sailing around Croatia is one of the best ways to see the beautiful country as you can stop off at the many islands along the coast and take a dip in the Adriatic Sea.
Below are four of the best routes to see Croatia by boat.
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 Korčula, where the highlight is Korčula 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, Korčula’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 — Šipan, Lopud or Koločep.
Croatia’s most popular point of departure for sailing holidays, Split (and nearby Trogir and Kaštela) takes you straight to the islands of Central Dalmatia. Begin with Brač, 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 Hvar bears fertile vineyards and purple lavender fields. Here, trendy Hvar Town centres on a harbour hugged by elegant Venetian-era stone buildings, overlooked 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 Yugoslavia, 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 Dalmatia 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 these 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 16 sheltered 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 Šibenik, 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 peninsula, set sail to the glorious Kvarner Gulf. Here Lošinj dubs itself as “the island of vitality”. Its main port, Mali Lošinj, 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.
Lošinj is joined to neighbouring Cres by a bridge, which spans the narrow sea channel at Osor, and is lifted twice daily, so boats 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.