The beautiful harbor on the island of Hvar
To my eye, Croatia looks like a open crab claw that is about ready to snap closed on its neighbor, Bosnia. Fortunately after 20 years the bordering countries that made up the former Yugoslavia, including Serbia are no longer in conflict. Now they offer some of the most unspoiled and affordable travel destinations in Europe.
Croatia and it's borders. At the very top left it connects with Italy. If you come this region you might start in Ljubljana, Slovenia and then work your way down the Croatian coast to Zadar, Split and Hvar.
We have visited this entire region, and Croatia is the country that captured our hearts, and that is why we returned for this extended second stay. That and a chance to catch some sun and step out of the Schengen Zone (as explained in the previous blog).
One of the many cruising options for exploring the region are these Turkish boats called Gulets
After a two week stay in Split, we boarded the catamaran for the one-hour ride to the island of Hvar.Croatia is 2nd behind Greece with the number of islands in the Mediterranean and I suppose we could have been a little more adventuresome and tried a different island this time, but we enjoyed Hvar two years ago and were glad we went back. Hvar is the 4th largest of the 700+ Croatian islands and a very popular tourist destination. Happily we were ahead of the high season crowds and enjoyed leisurely walks and uncrowded restaurants. Debbie was able to get a good start on the Airbnb book we are writing.
Debbie Sherpa style! Travel days require a lot of patience and arm strength.
We also played several games of Scrabble - with Debs getting score of 107 in one play with the word FLOATING which was a Bingo (worth 50 additional points) over two triple word squares - an epic score!
Our first two words during one of our games. And it was just that - a very warm day.
We tried to book the same Airbnb we stayed in two years ago, but it wasn’t available. As it turns out, that worked in our favor because we found another wonderful Airbnb with a great view of the sea in a little enclave on a harbor that had a few small shops for basics and a couple of cafes. Our lovely hosts took care of our every need including lending us their printer and buying us a toaster. Here's the link: https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/1089827
We were also closer to the center of the main port city and the walk to and from the old town from our house was a beautiful half mile stroll with the sea on one side and the ancient fortification walls on the other.
Sunset from the deck of our Airbnb.
The highlight of our week in Hvar was spent on a boat, only this time I was the skipper. We rented a small 14’ runabout with a 5hp outboard and a brightly colored Bimini for shade which allowed us to spend a day exploring the nearby Paklinski islands just across from our little harbor. We reserved the boat the day before and were surprised at how informal the process was. It went like this: What’s your first name? Phone number? That will be 100 kuna please ($15) as a deposit. See you tomorrow!
Captain Campbell back at the helm.
The next day we turned-up with a lovely picnic lunch that Debbie made and paid the balance of the rental 250 kuna ($37). The young man at the counter told us that his co-worker Ivo would meet us in a few minutes to show us the ropes. Meanwhile we were pointed to a nearby dock where our little love boat was tied-up. No paperwork. No ID. No deposit. No Liability Release form. Just, “Have a great time.” I have to say, it was a breath of fresh air when compared to American liability phobia.
Ivo took us out in to the harbor and checked us out on general operation of the outboard and told us if we wanted to go ashore, we were not to run the boat up onto the beach. Instead, we should anchor out and swim in… or if we wanted, we could tie-up to one of the docks dotted around the islands. I was surprised that even small runabouts are expected to tie-up Med-Style which in this case meant bow in, stern out.
A portion of the pamphlet were giving to use for navigation and the basics of "med-style anchoring".
Note, in boating, there are no “maps” only “charts” but in this case, it would be a stretch to describe this hand-out as a chart - but it certainly was enough to help us get around. With our 10 minute training behind us, off we went. We explored a few islands before anchoring to enjoy our picnic in a quiet little harbor. Had we anchored just one bay away, we would have had a view of the naturalist (nude) beach on Jerolim island. It was voted best nude beach in Europe by CNN two years ago.
Paklinski islands from the air. Sailing charters are very popular in this part of the world.
Croatian harbors fill up with mega-yachts and luxury cruise boats all summer long.
Later in the afternoon we motored (slowly) between the many beautiful islands - it felt like being back in the San Juans Islands in our home state of Washington. We found a large marina that was almost empty and thought we'd head in for a pit stop. As we approached looking for a place to tie-up (Med-Style of course) the Harbor Master came running down the dock whistle in mouth indicating that we needed to be on the other side of the marina where dinghy’s like ours were welcome. We didn't know why, since the marina was almost empty - I guess we were riff-raff compared to the sleek yachts he was hoping for any time now. We successfully deployed the stern anchor and tied-up like veteran sailors. On ashore, we went for a hike to explore the other beaches on side of the island. We weighed anchor and took a slow turn around the main Hvar harbor and admiring humongous mega yachts that towered above us. We got boat back by 5 pm without a scratch or incident and called it a great day.
The Franciscan abbey near our Airbnb where we enjoyed an evening concert.
We also were lucky to find a mixed choir concert at the Franciscan Cloister just around the corner from our house. You wouldn't have guessed how great it would be by the poster alone (see below). I would guess over the three years we’ve been traveling we’ve probably been to over 100 concerts in one form or another, and we usually find out about them on church bulletin boards. This little group of members from the community stood out for a number of reasons. First, the location was a small chapel that was over 350 years old and had great acoustics. Only about 50 people could fit in the seats so it was intimate as well. The choir of two-dozen adults of all ages was energetic in their “rust red choir robes” and the program ran the gamut from Bach to the Beatles as well as contemporary Croatian composers.
A magical Senior Nomad moment enjoying a local choral group performance in an ancient abbey.
We find a lot of fun and affordable entertainment by scouring posters around town.
And, like all good entertainers, they left their appreciative audience wanting more. After their final number - ABBA’s Mamma Mia, the encore was a robust version of “This Little Light of Mine”. They really did shine.
One of the great walks along the coast that started just outside our door.
One afternoon we were walking in town during a holiday celebrating St. Prosper (he being the patron saint of Hvar). St. Prosper's Day has been celebrated here since 1671 - no reason to stop now. We happily came across several booths offering homemade baked goods, cheeses, and tastes of regional dishes for a donation to the church. Lunch was served!
The main square in Hvar where there is a lively Saturday market and great people watching.
We ended our time in Hvar with romantic dinner out at a restaurant a few steps off the main square called Macondo. The chef was our host in Hvar two years ago so it was fun to catch-up with him and of course, he went out of his way to make everything perfect.
Macando - the well known restaurant where our former Airbnb host is head chef.
If you haven't visited Croatia, we highly recommend it. Most everyone speaks some English, and you'll find yourself in an unspoiled beautiful country. If you have been here, but haven't stayed on Hvar, add it to your itinerary next time you come. Once you've been here, there will always be a next time.
The dazzling harbor lights - our evening strolls with Gelato were our favorites.
From Hvar, we took the 7:30 AM catamaran back to Split, then caught a bus for the scenic three-hour journey north to Zadar for our a final two weeks in Croatia. Stay tuned for the third and final installment of my Laid Back in the Adriatic blogs.
Thanks again, REI for these amazing suitcases that, as Willie Nelson would croon keep us "On the Road Again!"
Thanks for following along,
The other half of the Senior Nomads