As out of office messages go, it was a good one. “I will be on a private yacht in Croatia for most of this week, I will get back to you as soon as possible”.
Having not sailed on anything more exotic than the Isle of Wight ferry, I had no idea what to expect from the next few days. From my limited knowledge, yachts were a status symbol, owned by people with tele- phone number bank accounts to be seen in at various exotic locations. Is it just a flex of financial muscle, or is there something to The Yacht Life that is more than appearances?
For the next five days, I would be aboard Freedom, a 48-metre luxury yacht operated by charter company Goolets. “Look how she shines!” the cruise manager declares as I leave my cab to come aboard. It’s a grandiose welcome, but in this setting it’s not out of place. Our starting point is in Split on the Riva Promenade, a palm tree lined street of bars and restaurants at the heart of the country’s coastline. Having been occupied by a number of invading forces over the years, you can see many influences in the styles of buildings around the towns, but it’s particularly reminiscent of Southern Italy, Split’s neighbour from across the Adriatic Sea.
Onboard, the next few days would be an introduction to life on this kind of vessel. Freedom holds up to 23 guests in 11 cabins, With the top two decks boasting a dining area with bar, many sun loungers, and a hot tub at either end of the ship. A forthcoming refurbishment looks to a gym, cinema room, and larger cabins, indicating that this is an industry that moves fast to fulfil the expectations of high paying clients.
My cabin contained a workspace and TV which prioritised financial channels, hinting at the type of industry the yacht is used to welcoming, but otherwise had all the amenities expected from a high end hotel room, with a guaranteed sea view.
Outside of my quarters, the ship is run by a crew of eight who handle everything from navigation to dinner. The dining room’s server, Tash, a former manager for Gordon Ramsey’s London restaurant Maze, brought a Michelin Star mentality to the service. If your eyes lit up at the offer of a refill, or your nose wrinkled at the sight of cucumber, it seemed to be quietly noted and adjusted. Crew were on hand for drinks recommendations, meditation classes, and getting the evening karaoke going. Even remembering names was simple, as most of the male staff members were called Ivan.
While not unknown to the yacht scene, Croatia is less associated than the likes of The French Riviera or Greek Islands. A growing reputation among travellers is improving that standing, revealing a country that can measure up to the most glamorous settings.
Cruising along the country’s Dalmation Coast, there was plenty to coax us on to dry land. The white sand and blue waves of Bol, a town on the island of Brač, is as idyllic as any spot you’re likely to find. In the evening, there’s plenty of hotspots hoping to draw you to their docks. History buffs will adore the walking tour of Korčula Island, hosted by the animated “Lady Franch- esca” (mistress of Marco Polo, as she re- minds our group often). The island has reportedly been scouted for the new Game of Thrones prequel, which also filmed in other parts of the coast, and the architecture certainly is the stuff of fantasy.
For foodies, most of the major is- lands have excellent seafood restaurants, with a menu consisting of what was caught that morning. Particu- larly impressive was Gariful, a luxury restaurant on the island of Hvar. There is an emphasis on theatricality, with remarkable culinary creations, and an aquarium of small sharks in the floor. A more intimate setting can be found in Korčula’s De Canavellis, nestled inside the island’s historic walls. It offers creative fine dining, and an array of local wines to choose from.
However, if you’re on a private yacht, the real magic comes from going to places that aren’t accessible on foot. It’s hard to suppress the goosebumps while sailing up to Moro Beach Bar, a small island which contains only a nautical themed bar serving champagne and oysters, both of which are taken from the sea that surrounds us (the champagne bottles even have coral on them). With nothing in sight other than (hopefully) your vessel, it’s as exclusive as it gets, a fact that has drawn a number of celebrity guests that the staff are reluctant to name. Yachts have a reputation for being the preserve of those who want to be seen, but here it offers you a chance to enjoy somewhere that can’t be found by most people.
Aside from the bubbly, there are many opportunities to stop near an uninhabited coastline and simply jump off the back of the boat. The crew of Freedom were on hand with towels, inflatables, and the option of smaller crafts if you felt like being the captain for half an hour.
With the sun beating down even in October, it beats any hotel pool. Throw in experiences like touring the infamous Blue Caves, or the number of isolated beaches dotted along the coast’s small islets, and simply stopping to create your own floating paradise is something that feels like a true one-off in a world filled with locations promising something unique.
It’s impossible to view the trip without the unique frame of the vessel I was staying on, however it was Croatia’s unforgettable landscape that filled that frame.
With parts still remaining undiscovered by the tourist masses, almost every corner will introduce you to striking architecture and history, while the restaurants strike the right balance of professionalism and relaxed comfort. If you are in a position to charter a yacht to see all of this, then it can be far more than a status symbol. Dropping anchor at locations that can’t be reached by foot gives you a feeling of adventure and discovery, like a pampered explorer.
Your floating hotel can be the venue for family fun, grown up adventures, or simply pulling up to the harbour and watching people as they look at you and wonder how you got so lucky. That’s the point – as the name suggests, the real appeal of a trip on a yacht is freedom.
Need to know
For the 2022 season the fully refurbished Freedom will have 11 cabins available for groups of up to 23 people. Also available through Goolets are 50 luxury wooden yachts, 11 sailing yachts and three mega yachts. For more information and to book go to www.goolets.net