Our tender skims into an empty and secluded turquoise bay, the only sign of civilisation being a 300-year-old fisherman’s cottage and a rowing boat on the shore. It’s the kind of place you might see at the end of a Jason Bourne movie; Matt Damon safe in an exotic hideaway as the camera pans out and Moby’s Extreme Ways strikes up.
Smrka Bay was once a smuggler’s cove, and there’s a sense of excitement that we’re off the beaten track, visiting somewhere tourists never set foot. We’re in a southern inlet on Brac, the largest of the 79 islands off the Dalmatian coast of Croatia and Montenegro.
The rose-hued fisherman’s cottage at which we alight belongs to the Tomas family, who farm sheep and make olive oil and wine. This is not a restaurant, it’s a private – and incredibly friendly – home, and thanks to the Tomas’s and our yacht charter company we are welcomed with generous platters of homemade sheep’s milk cheese and lamb prosciutto, octopus, anchovies and buxom olives.
Our visit has been arranged through High Point Yachting’s Croatian founder Sasha King, whose knowledge of the islands means that in addition to having a sybaritic vessel for the week we have the most fantastic concierge with whom to plot the perfect bespoke holiday.
Our floating abode, San LiMi, disguises its size well. It’s discrete, classy, but incredibly luxurious. A 35-metre fly-bridge sailing yacht, finished inside and out in soothing shades of grey and white, it has four ensuite guest cabins and a crew of five – who are all Croatian – headed by Captain Ivo.
My master bedroom is particularly vast, with four wide portholes on either side, a kingsize bed, a dressing room and a doublesized jacuzzi. Or just use the hot tub on the top deck and enjoy the sun and the stars. Additionally, we’re joined by a second craft, as we are a party of nine singletons in total. The 34-metre Dolce Vita is very different in style; a most handsome Turkish wooden gullet, built in 2005 with a vintage aesthetic, offering generous deck space and five en-suite cabins, which also had a full refit four years ago. It too has a local crew of five, led by Captain Niko. Both crews couldn’t be more charming.
Our six-day sail starts in Split, the biggest city on the Dalmatian coast, into which it’s easy to get flights from the UK. The centre of Split is pretty, teaming with restaurants and bars and home to the impressive Diocletian’s Palace, built for the 4th century Roman emperor.
We depart the marina early on Sunday morning and make a course for Vis. Just under 40 nautical miles, this will be our longest sailing day for the week. Once Yugoslavia’s ‘forbidden island’, Vis was a military base and visitors were only permitted in the 1990s. It’s the farthest inhabited island off the mainland and has just two small towns; noble Vis and bohemian Komiza (there’s a centuries-old rivalry).
The sea here is rich with sardines, mackerel and anchovies, which make their way to our plate. As our on-board chef Josip told me: “Here, fish must swim three times. First in the sea, then in oil and wine, then in the stomach.” In the evening, we take cocktails in the gothic renaissance garden of the Villa Kaliopa before hopping in a jeep across the island to Roki’s restaurant, specialising in the favourite local dish. ‘Peka’ is a slowcooked stew of octopus or meat with potatoes and other veg simmering in a large pot. Such a hearty meal, and the day on the water, leads to a deep night’s sleep with the barest rocking of the sea.
A cold lager is just the ticket after a 28m dive among moray eels and octopi.
The following morning we visit the stunning Blue Cave on the islet of Bisevo, a cavern so named because the sunlight bounces under the rocks and off the sandy bottom to illuminate the tall grotto in vivid cerulean. After another wonderful stew – this time ‘gregada’ made of langoustines and potato at Meneghello in Palmizana (a favourite with yachties), we drop anchor that afternoon in the quiet Pakleni archipelago and indulge in the water toys.
San LiMi boasts superyacht-levels of kit, including two new and powerful jetskis, paddleboards, Seabobs, wakeboards and a Lampuga jet board – a surf board with a water jet on the back. I also scuba dive with the PADI-approved Aqualis Diving Centre on Hvar, which boasts a rustic and picturesque wooden beach bar; a cold lager is just the ticket after a 28m dive among moray eels and octopi.
In the evenings, we alternate between the two yachts for dinner when we’re not dining out. Josip treats us to such standouts as crispy-skinned fillets of salmon and sea bream, and black truffle caserecce, while chef Marko on the Dolce Vita rustles up fabulous risotto, John Dory cooked in a paper bag, and mojito cheese cake.
When we sail into Hvar, the stakes get even more glam. Hvar Town is the St Tropez of Croatia, and there’s a throng of tourists on the busy quay curious as to which perma-tanned multi-millionaire is mooring today (if I’d said I was a journalist they’d have never believed it). Here, 13th century walls surround ornamented gothic palaces and traffic-free marble streets. Looming above the town, the Venetian Fortica and its cannons remind us that this was once a strategic trading post and how Marco Polo’s ships once ruled these routes.
Today – possibly as then – Hvar is a noted party town. Twenty thousand tourists descend every day in the height of summer, and the few who can get a reservation (cue Sasha) head to restaurant Gariful. Positioned in front of where the biggest gin palaces dock and with a view of the setting sun, family owned Gariful has been serving A-listers just-caught seafood and serious wine since 1981, and it has a glass floor through which one can view lobster and giant crab swimming around, waiting to be chosen for the pot.
From there we take a tender to a new luxury hotel which is earning rave reviews. The Maslina Resort near Stari Grad also on Hvar welcomes guests with a ‘welcome stone’ – a giant 12-tonne Brac limestone front desk. With stunning modern furnishings and fittings (Scandi in style, but 80% Croatian-designed) and eco-credentials, Maslina has established itself as a ‘mindful’ luxury hotel in Dalmatia.
We don’t sail towards the city’s marina from which we departed, but direct to the airport, at a mooring so close you can smell the jet fuel.
We’re not seeking accommodation, but the resort’s infinity pool and a massage at the Pharomatiq Spa provide a spoiling excursion. Our final night is spent in a deserted bay in Solta, our last stop before returning to Split.
Despite my usual habit of awaking closer to brunch than breakfast I am up at 5am the following day, stirred by the sound of engines but also spurred to watch our final morning’s sail from the top deck. We don’t sail towards the city’s marina from which we departed, but direct to the airport, at a mooring so close you can smell the jet fuel.
I’ve enjoyed more than my fair share of chauffeur drop-offs at terminals, and even the odd helicopter, but I’ve never arrived for my plane by yacht before. The whole week felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Sail Croatia yourself
Weekly charter rates for Sailing Yacht San LiMi start from £33,100 and the Gulet Dolce Vita from £26,700, excluding taxes and expenses. Rooms at the Maslina Resort start from £570 in peak season, with full body massages available from £130.
Read more about sailing in Croatia on City A.M.