Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hvar, Split, and Trogir: Croatia June 5, 2011

We’ve been in Croatia for a few weeks now, keeping our appreciation for travel keen by alternating between popular cities and quiet anchorages. In terms of cities, the Rough Guide to Croatia has the following to say about these three cities:

Hvar town: One of Adriatic’s most bewitching cities
Split: Adriatic’s most vibrant cities, exuberant and hectic
Trogir: Most seductive town on the Dalmatian Coast

Given these colorful descriptions, how can one afford not to check them out!? So we visited all three as we worked out way north-west up the Croatian coast.

For Hvar, we anchored at the little island of Sv Klement, as Hvar harbor looked to be too busy. The bay of Uvala Vinogradisce, on the south of the island, is very popular and when we arrived there were already 16 boats anchored there. We managed to squeeze in, but we put our fenders out just in case. The island has a few restaurants, and across the island is an ACI marina (I think ACI means ‘Absolutely Cost Ineffective’) where one can take a water taxi to Hvar. The island is pleasant enough, pine covered, with some short walking trails, and has a sheltered bay of turquoise blue water, which proved irresistible to some Slovenia guys to urinate into and some German men to swim in (at the same time).

The next day we took a water taxi into town. Hvar is a beautiful town, quite touristy but not overwhelming. Meandering alleys lead uphill to a Roman castle which overlooks the town. It was a refreshing walk for us, having been sitting around in the boat for a few days. On the castle wall one can see a beautiful view of this medieval town with ancient stone houses and Venetian architecture.


The next day, while preparing to leave the island and head towards Split, we experienced a thunder-shower that’s common in this part of Croatia. The sky darkened, followed by fast-approaching lightning and thunder, and then heavy rain that went on for an hour. On the VHF the Split forecast station was breathlessly warning of severe thunderstorm and gale somewhere (which we never figured out exactly where). We hid our laptops into the microwave, and mopped up the few places where water seeped through. We were thinking about Turkey, where we never saw any trace of clouds from June to October.

Eventually we did get to Split. We were expecting to see a harbor crowded with anchored yachts, such as Hvar, but strangely there was only one other sailboat anchoring at the area which the Pilot Guide indicates to be ok to anchor. On the shore, there is a large sign indicating ‘no anchoring’. When in doubt, ignore signs that you don’t like. We dropped our anchor and dinghied into town.

Split is Croatia’s second largest city and we were expecting to see a crowded metropolis, but we were pleasantly surprised: the place is lively, but the streets are very pleasant and it is nice to stroll through the town. The harbor is fronted by a large boardwalk, covered with palm trees. The old town started as a retirement palace for Diocletian, a Roman emperor. Of the original palace, only the mausoleum remains, and it has subsequently been turned into a cathedral. Meandering alleys open up into pretty squares, some big, some small. There are plenty of tourists, but by early evening the place is packed with locals, who are out for a walk, have ice creams, or relaxing in the café’s. It’s a lovely, vibrant city. We found a small restaurant just outside the old city, and had an excellent and reasonably-priced supper of Italian/Croatian dishes.

Split waterfront

Vibrant city squares

Diocletian Palace

The next morning, we went to the town market to get some fresh produce, and then took a walk to a large park just outside the city. The pine-covered trail hugs the waterfront and offers a beautiful view of the city and the peninsula. On the way back we were caught by yet another afternoon shower. It seems noon shower is an everyday event here. And then while dinghying back to our boat, the Port Police spotted us and came by to inform us that no anchoring is allowed, and we should go to the marina instead. So instead of paying a 90 Euro marina fee, we decided to leave. That was too bad, as Split is a city that one could spend several days.

Trogir is only a few hours boat ride from Split, on the other side of the peninsula. The whole town is a UNESCO world heritage site. We found a spot on the river outside the town to drop our anchor. At least there’s no no-anchor sign here. It seems most yachts have no problem going to the marina and paying a 90 Euro (or more) per day berth fee. We all complain about Croatia being expensive, but it’s simply supply & demand. From what we have seen, the cruising market in the Med is fundamentally driven by the chartering market. Charter boats flood every marina and every anchorage; entire industry of restaurants and shops are fed by charter boaters. With two to three couples sharing a boat, paying 90 Euros for a day is suddenly affordable.

Our anchor spot on the river, just outside Trogir old town, is a noisy one. Numerous ferries and water taxis roar by at full speed. Right across from us is a large shipyard, with what looks like a huge tanker under construction. But it’s free!

Trogir, St. Lawrence Cathedral

Trogir waterfront

The main attraction in Trogir is St. Lawrence’s Cathedral. Built in the 12th century, the cathedral has a fascinating, complex stone carving depicting stories of religion and life. The rest of the town, however, is a bit disappointing. Perhaps it’s that the souvenir shops are a bit crowded, compared to Korcula; or that the restaurant gophers are a bit aggressive; or that the city is sitting on flat land and there is no surprising vistas that open up, unlike Hvar. Or perhaps it’s that we’ve done too much sightseeing with cities. It’s probably time to move on and get back to anchorages at deserted coves. For summer has finally arrived: the days are hot, hazy; mosquitoes are out; winds are light, except when the Bora blows. It reminds us of the EMYR last year, wonderful time we had, but it was roasting hot in the Eastern Med. Hopefully this part of the Adriatic will be somewhat cooler.

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