Cruising Croatia

A taste of floating luxury. Navigating the world of high-end yacht charter takes us to the Adriatic, where families and groups of friends can discover island hideaways in style

ANDREW FORBES

It was one of those idyllic early summer evenings that fill you with wistful thoughts. I was strolling back to the harbour of Vis, a port town that hugs a deep, natural cove edged with neat, honey-coloured sandstone buildings topped with rich terracotta tiles. A place of serenity that’s undeniably laid-back, understated, and authentic.

For more than 50 years Vis was indeed isolated, cut off from the world, chosen by Yugoslavia’s then President Tito as an “off-limits” military base and private retreat. Now its picturesque charm, preserved from the ravages of developers or decades of tourism, make this one of modern day Croatia’s most desirable island ports of call, an Adriatic island hideaway, and must-visit for yachting itineraries.

Fully crewed

Being on the water is magical, yet when it comes to escapades on the seven seas, the current trend of holidaying in your own ‘bubble’ of friends and family means cruise ships remain largely out of favour and instead travellers are choosing to charter private boats, which offer complete privacy, and freedom to go where you want, when you want. Yet you’re not a skipper, you’ve never sailed, and aren’t qualified to take the helm of a shiny, multi-million-euro motor yacht? Well, no problem, as boats of all shapes and sizes can be chartered with a captain and crew including chefs and even concierge, making a summer holiday afloat the tempting alternative to a fancy resort or taking a boutique cruise with hundreds or even thousands of strangers.

The island of Vis.

Winter itineraries are typically focused on the Caribbean, and during our summer the hot spots are traditionally the Mediterranean, including of course the south of France, Greece, and the Balearics. Yet as these waters became increasingly crowded, the Aegean, and the Turquoise coast of Turkey has consolidated itself as a yachting destination of choice.

Now, the Adriatic can well and truly be added to this gold list, with the coast of the Balkan peninsula emerging as a sophisticated destination for contemporary yachting. I headed to Croatia to meet the yacht charter innovators Goolets, who are working with yacht-owners to refit their vessels to offer a more refined experience for guests who might never have dreamed of sailing the big blue in such extravagance.

Croatia calling

Now part of the EU, Croatia joined on terms that allowed it to keep larger motor yachts, with 11 cabins, meaning a private group of 22 guests can travel together, cruising the Adriatic, rather than the standard EU limit of 12 guests on a standard yacht charter. This means that in Croatia there is a new class of ‘super yacht’ emerging, allowing families or a larger group of friends to travel in pampered privacy for the price of an upscale public cruise. These Croatian yachts are sometimes a quarter of the price compared to chartering a classic super yacht.

SCICSailing luxury charters. / SUR

I sailed aboard Freedom, a 48.2-metre-long yacht with 11 cabins that can be fairly described as sumptuous; some with dressings rooms and bathrooms that boasted double showers and huge bathtubs, which could put many hotel suites to shame. Upper decks offered sea-view accommodation, dining and living areas, while lower deck spaces included the yacht’s cinema, massage treatment room, and even a sauna. The top deck had an open-air bar, sunbeds, hot tub, plunge pool and a gym with panoramic views. Cynics might say “floating gin palace”, but I kept saying “wow”.

So, if you can bring together plenty of friends or find another family or two to join you, then you could be cruising the Adriatic like a member of the world’s one per cent.

The Dalmatian coast of Croatia retains much of the quintessential beauty and allure we associate with a bygone Mediterranean era, with its history of kings, pirates and merchants, rich architectural styles from Romanesque to Renaissance, and unspoilt bays and coves.

There are blockbuster ports of call too, like Dubrovnik (well and truly on the pilgrimage route for Game of Thrones fans) and surprising coastal cities like Split, with a wealth of history hidden behind ancient city walls.

Then of course there is the unmissable island of Hvar, as well as Korčula, birthplace of Marco Polo, and the quaint appeal of Vis, used as a film location for Mamma Mia Here We Go Again.

The timing of launching this new class of family-friendly and large group yachts is on point since this year travellers are splashing the cash. To make summer really count families and friends are pushing the boat out, with bigger budgets than ever. That’s not just because of travel inflation. Many high-end villas, hotels, and yacht charters have already enjoyed their best June for years as travellers seek to make this summer truly memorable.

Freedom super yacht

Once on board a yacht like Goolets Freedom, life feels even far more cosseted than in a luxe boutique resort or in a chic villa rental with a butler. Here there’s white glove service from breakfast till late, thanks to a young, friendly and experienced crew, who, despite their hard work, always seem to remain impeccably presented in uniforms that change with the time of day, from crisp day whites to dinner service black.

Every meal is chef-prepared with top notch ingredients and served with fine-dining presentation, including beautiful table settings, from artistic sea shells and drift wood to fresh orchids and crystals.

When it comes to playing in the clear waters of the Adriatic, you can forget about a modest inflatable lilo or floating in the sun with a couple of foam noodles. Here an abundance of innovative playthings keep privileged guests amused.

Start off gently with a stand-up paddle board or kayak and then for a surge of adrenaline the crew will bring out the electric water toys. Deckhands will show you the ropes, so within minutes you’ll be having fun on a jet ski, or gliding below the water surface, up to 20km/h, with your arms over a seabob underwater scooter. Then try your luck with the hydrofoil, controlled with a handheld remote so you can ‘fly’ over the water.

After two years of pandemic, the extravagance of experiencing the Mediterranean as your private playground seems more appealing than ever.

Goolets - Croatia yacht charter

Over the last two decades Goolets has emerged as a leading added-value yacht broker, introducing quality boat owners to holiday guests. Goolets has been creating new yachting trends in Croatia, including the move towards high-end super yachts and mega yachts. They have exclusive access to many vessels that have recently been refitted and enhanced with personalised services including an onboard Goolets concierge that can help plan your itinerary, secure restaurant reservations and access to the finest island nightlife. Not all of us can fork out a cool 6,000 euros per person for this kind of family holiday, but one can still enjoy a flavour of high-end yachting life aboard one of their smaller luxury crewed vessels, for couples, family, or small groups, with prices from around 2,000 euros per person. www.goolets.net/

ScicSailing – Turkish riviera yacht charter

Specialising in chic gulet yachts and motor yachts, ScicSailing was the first to introduce me to the world of yacht charters. They started the business offering chic cabin charters for couples or families happy to share a gulet and have since expanded their fleet to include deluxe and luxury charters which are very accessible for families and groups of friends, with prices for an eight-person deluxe gulet yacht starting at 1,300 euros per person, including discounts for children.

www.scicsailing.eu/en/