Island Hopping in The Split Archipelago
The waters around Split are among the most attractive sailing regions in Croatia. Popular internationally, that part of the Adriatic was until recently under tourist occupation: in addition to all the yachts and other vessels available for charter in the area, endless private day cruisers made their loud pilgrimage to the serene islands of the waters in the vicinity of Split, like Biševo with its famous Blue Cave, southern shores of Vis, Paklinski Islands or Hvar. Ports were crowded, the sea spotted with trash, the smell of fuel as omnipresent as the scent of sea and salt.
Local yachting enthusiasts adapted fast and started avoiding the Split-Hvar-Vis triangle altogether. The moment to discover this lovely region just might be now – it’s almost certain the sea will not be crowded this summer. Gather your crew and turn your bow toward the south for an unexpectedly unhurried tour of the triangle.
The first stop on your cruise should probably be the Split Gates strait, a blink away from several charming villages, like Milna on the island of Brač and Stomorska on Šolta. If you decide to drop your anchor closer to the islands, both Brač and Šlota offer plenty of safe space. Paklinski Islands are five miles further southwest and interesting enough for a detour. The 21-strong archipelago brims with bizarrely charming islands big and small – and don’t let their name fool you. The opposite the wild Pacific ocean, this archipelago whose name sounds just like the Croatian word for hell – Hellish islands – are actually named for a similarly sounding word denoting a specific pine tree resin used for waterproofing hulls, found on almost every island in the archipelago. The largest among them is Sveti Klement, whose southern shore in the absence of southern wind is a true oasis. Coves dot the coast from west to south – the big and welcoming Soline, the turquoise Taršće, the small Stari Stani and the popular Vinogradišće. The fifth in this row is Stipanska cove on Marinkovac, but beware – there is a night club on that island and the noise it creates is unavoidable. If you decide to spend a night there, Sveti Klement is the best choice, as it is if you’re into hiking. The island is criss-crossed with hiking trails connecting all of the coves, interesting enough for a two-hour hike. The waters around the island are calm and ideal for diving, stand-up paddling or fishing – catch enough fish for a nice family dinner and relax after a long day of diving and discovering the hypnotizing and diverse underwater life. In addition to abundance of fish, these waters offer some unusual delicacies, like sea snails or sea anemones, which as weird as it sounds, when grilled taste just like calamari. One thing is for sure: don’t count on finding a restaurant in these waters, but the sea will provide. Although Paklinski Islands are interesting enough to hang around for several days, as it is the case with locals and their families, if you’re looking for something different every day, turn toward Vis. This dreamy island is easily approachable from the south, and mere ten miles from Paklinski islands. The loveliest cove on the island is Stončica, a bliss in turquoise with the loveliest lighthouse in the Adriatic. The nearby Smokva cove is the locals’ favorite ‘picigin’ spot, but despite offering ideal conditions for this addictive water game – sandy beaches and underwater– it’s mostly empty even in high season.
Another sandy beach lies in Zaglav cove, uninhabited if you don’t count the many fan mussels that live in these turquoise waters. The sand in this cove is particularly fine and brilliantly white. Right around the corner, so to speak, lies the village of Rukavac – split between the rocky northern coast and the fine white pebbles of Tepluš beach. You can choose either part for anchoring, except during southern winds, or come a bit closer and moor at the small stone dock for vessels with small draft. The small nearby island of Budikovac is also safe in most conditions, and its turquoise lagoon will only be unsafe in rain and strong wind. Budikovac is a unique place, bent on maintaining eccentric character no matter how beneficial mainstream tourism might be for local economy. Green Cave on the nearby Ravnik island is at its most beautiful early in the morning, with first sea rays, but when the sun gets high, continue to one of the most beautiful coves on Vis for a swim. Srebrna cove – Silver cove – is known for silvery pebbles, and is one of several extraordinarily beautiful coves on the southern coast of Vis. Along Ruda Cove known for almost Caribbean turquoise waters, Mala and Vela Travna with their creatively shaped rocks and miniature silver crescents of sand, and Stiniva, the most famous cove on the island of Vis and a true masterpiece. Stiniva used to be a cave, not a cove – but the roof of the cave sunk and now there’s nothing above you but the sky. Shielded by rocks on both sides, Stiniva is easily approachable by boat and hides in her heart a silvery beach. All the way from there to the westernmost point of Vis, small unnamed coves dot the coast, all perfect for a quiet afternoon or watching the sunset. Finally, the quaint fishing village Komiža is the the buzziest place on the island – if you consider hiking, biking, tanning or visiting the one church in the village an adventure. The steep and narrow hiking-biking trail is spectacular, and will lead you to one of the most spectacular promontories in the Adriatic – and give you a chance to see the region as if on a map, and decide which way to turn your bow next. On your way back, visit Biševo island (Biševo is worthy of its own piece, which you can read on the pages of our magazine) and Maslinica on the island of Šolta, home of Croatia’s most exclusive boutique hotel and marina, the spectacular Martinis Marchi. Considered quite ordinary among locals, Maslinica is still a unique example of a fishing village that found new splendor and function in modern times.