Historically known as the Dalmatian Coast, the area is very popular for cruising thanks to its large numbers of coves and islands. The region is usually split north and south by the appropriately named and ancient city of Split.
Island destinations include the national parks of Brijuni and Kornati, as well as Krk, Cres, and Susak. The Kornati archipelago in the north offers many rocky islands and spectacular reef diving in turquoise waters. Charter option abound out of Pula, Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik.
The beauty is incredible, and the cruising is made interesting and easy by the many islands that lie close to each other. The islands are largely hospitable, with many coves, harbours, beaches and lagoons that can easily be visited. Navigation is generally easy, with hardly any currents or tides to worry about. Most of the harbours are easily accessible, well sheltered, and have few hidden dangers. One always has a choice of harbours and the distances travelled in one day never needs to exceed 20 nautical miles.
The islands’ diversity is what sets Croatia apart. This is the result of natural phenomena as well as cultural and political influences. To say that the history of the whole region and its sea has been governed by turmoil is an understatement, and this is as true for the last few decades as it is for the last centuries, or even millennia.
In addition to the usual bareboat and crewed charter options, Gulets offer a unique local flavor. For generations these two-masted wooden vessels have been used for transport and fishing. Now designed with comfort in mind, they come fully crewed.
The charter industry started to blossom there more than a decade ago, and even before all the political turmoil of the late twentieth century the region was a popular cruising destination.
The big culturally rich islands of the middle Adriatic such as Hvar, Vis and Korčula all have a vibrant history, from the palaces and forts of Bonaparte to the bizarre underground fortresses of World War II. These islands have relatively big towns and harbours, where one can enjoy the buzz of island summer life or the quiet survival of winter. Even here neighbouring islands can provide a complete contrast, like Mljet and Lastovo. Too isolated to be culturally developed, nature has thrived on them; there are no towns, just small fishing villages erected next to the ruins of some distant civilisation’s forts. If we look even further there are some completely isolated small islands that are fully exposed to the elements and offer only partially sheltered anchorages adequate for short stops during fine weather, such as Palagruža or Svetac. Nobody lives here anymore, but they used to. Nevertheless the beauty of their isolated wilderness impresses the few that visit these islands.
In the northern part of the middle Adriatic the islands are numerous, most of them uninhabited and wild. Much smaller than the southern islands, even the bigger ones can only support village communities. Deserted islands in the Kornati archipelago covered with minimal vegetation are only a few nautical miles from the rich forests of neighbouring islands. The popular story (and source of endless historical debate) is that Venetians stripped those bare islands of their forests to use the quality timber for boatbuilding and houses in Venice.
In the part known as Kvarner, the islands grow in size again. Some of the largest islands are among them and their towns are more significant. A good example is Mali Lošinj, which despite its name of “Small Lošinj” is a very well-developed town providing all the tourist services. But even in this area there are islands that are small and isolated, such as Unije or Susak. The former is unique as its young inhabitants go to primary school on Mali Lošinj by a small airplane. The latter is famous for its unusual costumes.
Further north is Istra, the largest peninsula of the Adriatic. This region is famous for its villages and small towns resembling Tuscany. This is the most developed part of the Adriatic and it is mostly bilingual, as both Croatian and Italian are widely spoken. Agriculturally developed with very fertile soil, excellent wines, olive oil, cheeses and even truffles, the focus of this region has never been exclusively the coast and sea. The coast has fewer islands, and while the sea might not be as stunning as in the south, Istra makes up for that with its beautifully kept coastal towns and gastronomic delights.
The Croatian coast is only one half of the Adriatic sea, the eastern side; the west side has very few islands and the coastline is largely bleak and industrial. There are a few very nice places to visit such as Trieste, Venice, and Porto Garibaldi. These are all short hops from the northern Adriatic.