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1,000 Reasons to take a Sailing Vacation in Croatia this Summer

With more than 1,000 islands to discover, Croatia is best explored by yacht—here’s what you need to know about its historic ports and unspoiled hidden anchorages

A few summers back, Reese Witherspoon, plus eight of her closest girlfriends, went sailing along the Adriatic coast of Croatia. Beyoncé and Jay-Z have been known to drift into the waters around the country’s southern city of Dubrovnik on Eric Clapton’s yacht. While billionaire Bernie Ecclestone often drops anchor in front of the region’s old town ports. And, with a constellation of verdant islands (more than 1,000, though not all are habitable), picturesque fishing villages, and natural beauty, it’s not hard to see the appeal: Croatia guarantees an idyllic summer of sailing.

The country also enjoys the advantage of being ideally situated. Flanked by Montenegro to the east and Italy to the west, it’s easily accessible from central and southeast Europe, and Venice is a popular location from which to begin a luxury one-way yacht charter.

View of hotel balcony and distant island at sunset
Begin your sailing journey on Croatia’s western peninsula, where the five-star Grand Park Hotel in the port of Rovinj makes an excellent base for inland excursions.

First Up, Istria

If sailing in from Italy, the Istrian peninsula makes a good first port of call from which to explore the rest of Croatia. Comprising craggy terrain, rocky islets, and isolated beaches, this region on the west of the country combines neoclassical architecture with a Cote d’Azur vibe and outstanding vineyards.

Rovinj, a port on the very west of the peninsula, boasts a newly built marina in which to drop anchor and explore the area by land. Use the five-star Grand Park Hotel Rovinj—which is nestled in a fragrant pine forest on the seafront and overlooks St. Katarina Island—as a base or choose from its six restaurants, each a celebration of fine dining.

Further around the peninsula, you’ll find the city of Opatija; a favorite with ultra-high-net-worth individuals who covet its location and Habsburg-era villas. “Opatija’s sloping hills offer unobstructed views of the sea and a proliferation of stunning properties,” says Ivan Kovačić, director of Remington Realty Ltd. “In Croatia, we like to think of it as our Monte Carlo, with mountainside residences, a raft of gourmet restaurants, and an emerging sailing scene.”

When it comes to gourmet fare, he recommends the Michelin-starred restaurant at Opatija’s Hotel Draga di Lovrana. Located on the edge of a mountain reef, with a panoramic view of the Kvarner islands, here you’ll find fresh scallops pulled straight from the Adriatic and a distinctly Croatian wine flight.

Scenic coastline of Opatija and Slatina beach aerial view,
Opatija’s Lungomare promenade curves its way along the town’s coastline and offers spectacular views of the Habsburg-era architecture and neighboring islands. Image: Getty Images

Island Hopping

Cruising south, the incredible Thousand Islands archipelago offers diversity at every turn; from the trendy late-night revelry of Hvar to the harbor town of Bol on Brač, Croatia’s hottest kitesurfing spot and home to scuba divers’ favourite Lučice Cave. The old Venetian town of Trogir, famed for its cultural Italian influences and Renaissance architecture, sits on the island of Čiovo, connected to the mainland by bridges.

The entire Croatian island belt is made up of volcanic rock and offers an island-hopping itinerary like no other. For untamed beauty, Mljet, a national park described as Croatia’s greenest island, is unrivalled for its meandering cycle paths and glistening lakes. Scenic Polače Bay is a perfect spot to indulge in wild swimming and paddle boarding.

But it’s Lastovo that is ideal for visiting by yacht. The most remote of all island municipalities in Croatia, it is comprised of 46 small islands (and boasts 46 vineyards), and is a haven for nature lovers, with some of the area’s best sailing, snorkelling, and authentic food and wine on offer.

City Sights

On the mainland, the energetic cities of Dubrovnik and Split sit at the foot of soaring mountains. Their cobbled streets and bustling markets provide a window onto centuries-old heritage and some of the most desirable areas to purchase property in the country.

Aerial helicopter photo of Saint Mary monastery on litle island in national park Mljet, Croatia
Just 23 miles (37 km) from Dubrovnik, two thirds of Mljet Island’s 62-square-miles (100 sq km) are covered by forest. It’s western side (about a third of its surface area) has been named one of Croatia’s eight National Parks. Image: Getty Images

“Dubrovnik currently offers the best of Croatia’s super luxury residences,” says Kovačić. “Large contemporary builds with private beaches sit in the heart of an ancient city. A well-connected international airport is nearby, as are the luxury amenities at superyacht marina Porto Montenegro.”

Incredible snorkelling, cave diving, and the islands of Šipan and Lopud sit on the city’s doorstep. The sweet scent of olive groves carries on the breeze, but it’s the bold flavors of locally made Zinfandel derived from Dalmatia’s prized vineyards that linger. For something a little different, the island of Vis boasts its own grape variety, while the Edivo Vina winery on the Pelješac Peninsula ages its wine in an underwater cellar, only accessible by boat.

Much like Dubrovnik, which enjoys fame as the setting for fictional city King’s Landing in Game of Thrones, Split is a living historical site. With architecture dating back to the third century, it contains the Roman-built Diocletian’s Palace, which today forms half of the old town.

“Split offers the best of both worlds,” says Kovačić. “It has a large collection of islands located just in the front of the city. This allows residents to enjoy the Mediterranean-like energy of life on the mainland, while also relishing its proximity to islands like Korčula—the birthplace of Marco Polo and home to Michelin-starred LD Restaurant.”

Waterfalls at Krka National Park, possible to see when sailing Croatia
Situated along the Krka River in southern Croatia, Krka National Park is known for its series of seven waterfalls, as well as the Krka Monastery built above ancient Roman catacombs. Image: Alamy

Natural Attractions

Krka National Park, brimming with lakes and waterfalls, is another important site in Croatia. Located about 6.2 miles (10 km) inland, the park is rapidly growing in popularity with elite visitors and is prized for its seclusion and beauty. The Krka River is navigable for boats with a draught of up to 6.5 feet (2 m), though only as far as Skradinski Buk waterfall, with its thunderous cascades and hiking trails.

When evening arrives, guests can return to the mouth of the river and berth in one of three nearby marinas before dining in the area’s second Michelin-starred restaurant, Pelegrini. Its menu offers a feast of local fare and seafood, including mussels, oysters, sea snails, sea urchins, and a variety of freshly caught fish.

Most of Croatia’s island belt sits within a natural reserve, which restricts watersports activities from the boat but guarantees a thriving marine life. Arguably the most beautiful of all the parks is Kornati, a collection of around 150 unspoiled islands and a yachting paradise. Packed full of rocky bays, crystal clear waters, and deserted beaches, dropping anchor here makes for the perfect end to an unsurpassed sailing charter.

Banner image: Dubrovnik’s Old Town. Image: Morgan on Unsplash