By Cindy Burch, Owner of the Doves Nest
If you are feeling brave and adventurous, there are finally some European travel options opening up this summer. Although the Department of State still advises US citizens to not travel abroad due to the global impact of COVID-19, Croatia has opened its borders to include American tourists. Hearing this news reminded me of a wonderful trip a few years ago when we chartered a 90’ woodengulet and sailed the Adriatic with friends and family.A gulet is a traditional wooden boat designed for comfortable cruising from bay to bay. Most of these vessels are found in Turkey, Greece and Croatia and are usually chartered with a captain, crew and chef. We have enjoyed some of our best vacations traveling this way.
After arriving in Split, a main port along the Dalmatian Coast, we had a short briefing from our captain and set sail for Brac, a beautiful island renowned for its white marble quarries used to build palaces – as well as The White House. As we approached the little town of Pucisca, the magnificent stone buildings created a monochromatic backdrop with a bell tower that seemed to reach to the sky. As if on cue, the bells rang out just as we set foot on shore. We wandered up an ancient stone staircase just off the town center and found a family owned restaurant preparing fresh grilled calamari over an open fire on their rooftop terrace. It was the perfect beginning to an incredible adventure.
We awoke the next morning to the smell of coffee and a table filled with fresh pastries and fruits out on the deck. Our chef made eggs to order while the captain pulled anchor and headed for the island of Hvar, known for its fields of scented lavender. The sailing in this part of the world rivals any other with hundreds of ports and countless natural inlets scattered across a thousand islands. We relaxed in the sun and enjoyed the warm Adriatic breeze as we approached the town of Stari Grad, filled with cobblestone streets, quaint shops and beautiful chapels. Throughout the week, our chef prepared delicious meals using local ingredients and fresh fish. A typical lunch on the boat consisted of black squid ink risotto with cuttlefish, followed by seared red snapper on a bed of arugula with fresh pomegranate seeds and an apple tart with a rich vanilla sauce for dessert. The wines of Croatia are just as impressive as the cuisine and are exceptionally affordable.
As we made our way further out into the Adriatic we arrived at the island of Vis. Closed as a military base until 1989, Vis has churches dating from the 12th century, forts constructed by the British and graves overlooking the seas on which they defeated Napoleon. There are now wonderful restaurants and sidewalk cafes where you can sip espresso in the shade of bougainvillea while watching beautiful yachts come and go from the island. In the evening, the sound of jazz and clinking wine glasses drifts down from rooftop bars. The bakeries and wine and cheese shops were packed with delicacies, prompting our own cocktail party on the boat while we enjoyed the scent of orange and over-ripe figs wafting down from the mountain orchards.
After several days cruising the islands, we made our way back to Hvar, this time on the west side of the island. Set below a medieval castle, Hvar Town lies alongside one of Europe’s most romantic piazzas, surrounded by the continent’s oldest municipal theatre and a Benedictine convent in which nuns still fashion fine white lace from agave threads. Hvar’s waterfront is covered with lavender and the harbor is packed with European beauties on mega yachts. We strolled down the winding cobblestone alleys and ultimately found ourselves toasting our last night just as we did the first, on a rooftop terrace eating grilled calamari and wishing our trip would never end.
Needless to say, our week exploring the Dalmatian coastline was a memorable one. The country has taken all the richest ingredients from a succession of invaders – Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Slavs, Austrians, Ottomans and French – and blended them into a mosaic of language, architecture, food and spectacular scenery. The Italians have crowned it their new Amalfi and the English have discovered that the Adriatic is as beautiful as the South of France, without the high price tag. As for Americans, Croatia is welcoming us back with open arms and not even requiring a mask. It just might be enough to make us forget 2020.