Enchanted Islands-Sailing Dubrovnik to Split (Part 2)

Croatia is an ancient land.  It was colonized by the Greeks and Romans–among many others–and has ruins spread throughout the islands that reflect its rich history.  A week is not enough to do more than scratch the surface of this wonderful land.

For anyone with a sense of adventure, who wants maximum flexibility experiencing a coastal civilization like Croatia,  sailing is a rewarding alternative to driving, taking a ferry or traveling on a cruise.  The experience is unique until it becomes addictive.  We travel with a small group of people, move quickly from one small port to another, and can change our plans on a moment’s notice. In Croatia we elected to sail with a full crew.  It was worth it.  Instead of preparing food, “manning the sails”, shopping for groceries, buying gas, taking on water and participating in all of the activities required to keep the Fortuna functioning effectively, we were able to spend our time enjoying the sea and exploring every harbor.

Our explorations included bumping, almost literally, into ancient carved stones.  There were also statues of more recent origin.  We were excited when we came upon this bust of Don Sime Ljubic, a leading 19th century Croatian archeologist and a native of Hvar.

One of our favorite stops was the island of Vis.  Populated by the Greeks by the 4th century BC, the island has  long served as a military outpost. Vis has been heavily fortified since the 1800s.  During World War II it served briefly as a military base for the British.  Because of the complex of caves, mines and tunnels, it was perfectly situated to serve as a submarine base for the Yugoslav People’s Army who abandoned it in the 1990s.  Closed to tourists until 1998, it is now a popular tourist destination.

The Church of our Lady of Spilica, erected about 1500 A.D. is one of the most photographed sites on the island.  It’s structure is much like those of other churches we visited, but is still unique in the way that the church appears totally surrounded by the sky, the earth and the lush greenery of palm trees, cypress and other trees.

Every town and fishing village offered the opportunity to wander through the narrow streets lined by stone houses with orange roofs. The flowering bushes and trees were a vivid contrast to the gray stone.

The harbors offer calm water for sailors, including amateurs like ourselves.  Many of the harbors were filled with working boats, owned and operated by the fishermen who lived and worked in the community.

The juxtaposition of sailing boats and catamarans with the working boats of the locals, was common.  We docked next to boats ranging in value from luxury cruisers, to motorized rubber rafts.

Generally we travelled on the Fortuna from one destination to another.  There was one special place where sailing on a large gulet was not possible–our visit to the Modra Spilja, the Blue Cave.  Discovered in 1881, it is situated off the island of Bisevo, only 5 km from Vis.  It is accessible only by a small motorized raft.  It was a choppy ride, one I would rather forget.

The reward for enduring the discomfort of the 20 minutes bumping through the water was more than worth the ride.  The Modra Spilja is literally a cave with a hole below the surface of the water.  A small opening has been drilled through the rock to allow very small boats to pass through into the center of the cave.  The sunlight that filters through the water from below makes the water seem iridescent.  The cave seems to literally glow in the dark.

The island of Bisevo is tiny but beautiful.  These barren rocks are a powerful image against the blue waters below.

After a “challenging” day of adventure, there was nothing more rewarding than stepping out of the Fortuna and onto solid land.

We spent some evenings wandering through the town and villages in search of a cafe, or just a quiet nook to sit and talk.  The spectacular colors of the flowers, bushes, awnings and even the door, made humble and affluent neighborhoods seem to blend together.

Sometimes in the evening we just wanted to look out over the water and feel totally and completely at home by the sea.

Sailing on the Fortuna gave us a unique view of this wonderful land.  Unfortunately, after an amazing week, we had to leave the Fortuna.  We landed in Split where we said goodbye to our wonderful captain, our chef, and our crew and began our next adventure.  And that, of course, is a story for another time.

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Enchanted Islands-Sailing Dubrovnik to Split (Part 1)

Enchanted islands.  That is the best way to describe them.  When Terry and I left Dubrovnik to begin our week sailing the Dalmatian Coast, we expected a great trip.  But we did not believe it could match the experience we had in Dubrovnik. We were wrong. We expected to see drab buildings left over from World War II followed by years of communist rule.  We were wrong again. With six close friends, we boarded the gulet, “Fortuna Dalmata,” in the harbor outside Dubrovnik and set sail to visit islands, towns and villages as enchanting as their names suggest: Vis, Hvar, Krk, and Komiza. Our crew included experienced sailors and an incredible cook.  They made our island hopping experience as relaxed as it was satisfying. Our food was as good as we would expect in a first class restaurant.  Not surprising, since our chef’s family owns a fine restaurant in Split.  Breakfast included chocolate croissants, fruit, eggs and cereal.  Dinners included veal shank and lobster.  What could be better than dinner served looking out over the sea to the islands nearby. Only 69 of the 1000 or more islands along the Croatian coast are inhabited. The  entire coast has a rich history that extends back long before the birth of Christ.  Various islands and towns along the coast were inhabited by–and/or did battle with–the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Turks and Venetians among others. Many had ruins from those periods.  The fortifications on some islands were evidence of a long history of war. The islands we visited included picturesque rural villages with basic agricultural equipment and few automobiles and taxis. Tractors were common sights.

So were donkeys.
 It was not uncommon to land on islands with Greek and Roman ruins that spoke to their influence along the Dalmatian Coast.
There were shrines and statues to unknown heros.  The sacred nature of the temples and the sculptures, both Christian and pre-Christian were apparent all around us.  The detail of the carving and the powerful portrayals of worship evidence that the populations along the coast were highly religious throughout Croatia’s history.
 The 16th century Church of Sv Nikola at Komiza dominated the hillside as it rose up from the terraced land and towers over the cypress.  It’s sleek lines and sculptured beauty seem to rise up to meet the heavens.
While the beauty of the architecture on Vis and Hvar inspired us with man’s creative spirit, we also visited islands where the natural
beauty appeared incapable of existing anywhere other than an artist’s canvas.
Each island had it’s own personality.  We could be inspired in the morning by nature and arrive in the evening on an island where the ornate buildings evidenced centuries of affluence and commerce long before the Americas entered the world stage.  As you can see, I am way underdressed for this highly sophisticated and elegant harbor town.
 Terry was similarly decked out in his favorite sailing stripes as he walked the gang-plank from the Fortuna to the dock.
As we look at the serenity of the coastal town below, it is hard to believe that only twenty years ago Croatia was involved in heavy fighting that left much of the country in shambles.  It was just as difficult to understand that this wonderful part of the world has seen far more than its share of political and military turmoil from pre-historic times to the present.

There wasn’t an island that we didn’t want to visit longer.  Many of the uninhabited islands are little more than rocky crags dotting the water between the larger islands. They cluster together like hens and chickens.

To show you even more of our favorite sites in the Croatian Islands we will post Part 2 later.