Sailing the Croatian Coast
Dramatic, sheer-cliffed limestone mountains plunge into the azure-blue sea while random peaks erupt from glistening, crystal clear waters to create a seemingly endless string of islands and bulging peninsulas. It is hard to envision a more magnificent coastline. Add an abundance of secluded beaches, numerous Roman ruins, medieval walled cities, succulent fresh seafood, tempting cakes and pastries, crusty breads, and some of the sweetest figs in the world and you have a perfect holiday destination. This is Croatia’s Adriatic coast.
Throughout our years in Croatia, we developed many favorite destinations … some secluded, quiet anchorages; some bustling urban ports and many historic villages. One of our favorites was Polace Harbor on the northeast coast of the island of Mljet. It was always a joy to reach this sheltered sanctuary where we were surrounded by lush, green Mediterranean woods of pine and holly oak. The wind could howl but the water always remained relatively flat.
Regardless of the season, it was always difficult to leave the natural beauty of Polace Harbor. But one of the best features of the Dalmatian Coast is the proximity of desirable sailing destinations. Aboard Klatawa, our next stop was often the island of Korcula, less than three hours away. Here the setting was completely different and rather than dropping an anchor in a quiet cove, we would “med moor” along the quay.
From our berth on the quay, we would look out over an enchanting town of 3,000 and asked ourselves: “Is this a Hollywood set or do ancient castles, magnificent churches and towering campaniles with this strength, beauty and character really exist?” (For the uninitiated, “Med mooring” is the standard method practiced throughout the Mediterranean for securing boats and yachts to land. The front end of the boat or bow is secured away from the shore by dropping an anchor or picking up an existing mooring line. The boat then backs in toward the quay and lines are secured to the shore from the back end or stern. In this way, boats are squeezed together side-by-side allowing the maximum number to be secured to shore. It may sound straightforward and easy but it can be tricky and frustrating - even for the most experienced captain.)
Heading north from Korcula is a scenic sail through the mile-wide channel between the Peljesac Peninsula and the island of Korcula. One of my favorite sections is a portion of the roughly scalloped Korcula coastline where a beautiful string of smaller islands and islets…whose shores are dotted with the remains of small private chapels, monasteries and churches from centuries past. In various stages of decay and/or renovation they blend seamlessly into the white limestone terrain . . . forcing the eye and the mind to focus carefully in order to separate the man-made formations from those designed by nature. Always identifiable, however, are the campaniles: the tall, elegant bell towers that must have been inspired by the stately grace of the nearby Mediterranean cypress trees.
Across the channel from Korcula is the Peljesac Peninsula where large areas of green pine and tender young scrub are, in the springtime, brightly splattered with generous expanses of dazzling yellow broom. This vernal display provides a sharp contrast to the steep and rocky white limestone cliffs that define so much of the Peninsula. But the pride of the Peljesac are the vineyards scattered along the south-facing coastal areas. Over the centuries, farmers scouted out and laid claim to areas where the geography was hospitable and where the aspect to the sun was ideal for growing vines. Those early farmers made wise decisions - today, many of Croatia’s outstanding wines are produced in this region.
Spread out along the edge of a small, horseshoe-shaped bay at the west end of the Peljesac Peninsula is the tiny, end-of-the-road village of Loviste. Nestled in a sheltered bay with relatively shallow waters, a mud bottom (ideal for holding the anchor) and a picture-postcard setting, this bay provides the perfect small boat anchorage. Here, at the tip of the peninsula, gentle hills roll down to embrace the sea. But several miles inland, beyond these hills, is a range of steep and jagged mainland mountains. When the sun plays off their harsh ruggedness, their presence provides a powerful contrast to the gentle seaside setting.
Our first visit to Loviste remains deliciously memorable, and the recall of that trip motivated our frequent returns. Since it was late in the day when we anchored, we decided to hop in the dinghy, motor to the small town, wander the cobbled path and perhaps, stop for a glass of the renowned and respected local product . . . red wine. Attracted by the western outlook toward the open sea and the palm-frond-shaded patio that clung to the water’s edge, we decided to stop at Restaurant Brasa. The western exposure was perfect for watching the setting sun and the fleet of very small fishing boats working the waters just beyond the entrance to the harbor.
By our second glass of a very nice red, we decided to remain exactly where we were for dinner. With the deep burnt-orange of the fading sunset lingering over the smooth water, we beckoned our host and informed him of our desire. He appeared happy to have us as dinner guests so we were surprised when he suggested that we might want to postpone ordering our entrée. Our quizzical looks prompted him to explain that his son was out fishing with the small fleet that we had been observing and he was hoping that he would return soon with a few squid. To keep us happy and to stave off our hunger, our host recommended that we start our meal with the octopus salad.
Just as we were lapping up the last bits of the glorious, fresh-olive-oil-laced warm octopus and potato salad, the son returned from the sea. About 13 years old, he had been fishing alone in the family’s small, well-maintained classic wooden boat, equipped with a small outboard motor. We sensed victory in the spirited way he handled the boat. And as he closed in on the dock, we quickly caught his energized smile of success. He swiftly tied the boat to the dock and proudly handed over four fresh squid to his dad. Within minutes, those squid were cleaned, brushed with olive oil, dusted with sea salt and grilled. Placed on our plates with a sprig of rosemary, drizzled with a bit more olive oil and served with a wedge of lemon, they were the tastiest, most tender squid we have ever enjoyed.