When we last parted ways with you, we were on our way to the ancient city of Trogir to pick up our next set of guests. As we arrived in the marina, we were super excited to see that they had put us in the last slot on the quay which meant we had a front row, unobstructed view of the city and fortress. A beautiful sight and even more amazing lit up at night. We had a couple of hours before our friends arrived (and remember, we had been out in the islands for quite some time), so we quickly began our usual chores of cleaning the boat, getting all the laundry done, and filling the water tanks. Once our friends arrived, we gave them a quick boat tour, and a few lessons on the various systems of the boat (showering, toilets, electrical “rules”, even making coffee are all very different experiences from life on land). With that done, we headed off to provision the boat, so we would be ready to leave in the morning. Our provisioning became a comical experience as the ratio of food to booze was highly skewed….no, not in favor of the food 😜 We even garnered some applause from the patrons behind us in line! Next thing we know, the shopkeeper scurries off and adds a complimentary bottle of champagne to our cart! Guess she thought we needed a little more libation 😂
Once everything was squared away, we headed into the ancient city of Trogir. We wandered the old cobblestone streets, admired the ancient architecture, and climbed to the top of the old fortress to revel in the 360 degree views of the city and sea. This city is known for its medieval and Renaissance buildings. Trogir is a very popular tourist destination, so it was remarkably crowded, and one of the very few places we finally encountered Americans. Next stop was dinner. By now it was getting late, and our weary travelers were running out of gas. We found a lovely seafood restaurant tucked in amongst the walkways of the ancient city, and enjoyed a very nice evening of Croatian seafood and wine. As is his generous nature, our friend wanted to be sure to pick up the tab for dinner and promptly put his credit card down on the table. Unbeknownst to him, dinner here is a ritual and paying/asking to pay right away is a signal to them that you were unhappy with your meal and want to get out of there. We all repeatedly explained to our waiter that everything was great, we truly loved the experience, and this was nothing more than reverting to our American ways. Our poor friend was left totally baffled at the reaction that ensued from his attempt to treat us to dinner (it was pretty funny after the fact, of course). We wandered our way back to the boat, and everyone settled in for a good night’s sleep.
We were all up fairly early the next morning (well, Dan and I not so much)…..and ready to get underway. Next stop…..the island of Vis! It was about a 6 hour sail/motor straight south. As is typical for this region, we got a little bit of sailing in when the wind cooperated with both speed and direction. We pulled into the big bay where the town of Vis opened to our right and the town of Kut opened to our left. We chose a nice, isolated mooring ball in front of the old church between the two towns. By now, you know what came next….beers, swimming, and SUPing. We were surrounded by beautiful views. A beautiful old church and cemetery sat on a wooded peninsula to one side of us; Fort George sat on the hill overlooking us (same King George of the Revolutionary War who conquered the island because of it’s strategic location in the Adriatic); the seafront of Vis; and the seafront of Kut. Everybody was happy. Early evening we headed ashore to explore the architecture, shops and konobas (restaurants) of the two towns. After exploring from end to end, we decided it was time for some dinner. Pizza! And supposedly (according to research) at the best pizza place in Croatia! Meh….not so much, in my humble opinion. There was so much to see on this island, we opted to stay another night (this is the true beauty of being your own cruise boat….don’t want to leave just yet? You don’t have to!). Our resident researcher (Dan) began his work. After talking through various options, we all agreed that the 4×4 historical military tour piqued our interest. The next morning, we were picked up in a super old, camouflaged Land Rover Defender. We all piled in and off we went away from the city.
Our first stop was the submarine bunker. We climbed down the path and walked through the depths of this huge tunnel into the mountain. We then walked through the tunnel built inside the bunker to allow for a hidden, exterior escape. From there we climbed to the very top of the bunker (🤢 we are talking about dizzying heights with no protective barrier). Our guide explained that they have had to put signs up that forbid jumping! Seriously?! We then learn that this can be jumped safely, in theory, if you drop a big rock first in order to break the surface tension of the water (otherwise you are basically hitting concrete from 60 feet). You also need to keep your body perfectly straight, with legs squeezed together. I’m getting queasy just standing at the top! No way in hell you could tempt me to try and jump! After the heart pounding excitement of contemplating that jump, we pile back into the car for our next stop. Our second stop took us to tunnels deep in the face of the mountains where camouflaged bunkers for cannons were used to defend the island. The structure of the exterior face of the bunker was not only designed to camouflage from planes and boats, but also to redirect the smoke and sound from the blast so the location could not be determined.
We then moved on to a WWII landing strip for bombers in trouble. Landing here was extremely risky, but so was running out of fuel 🙂 As a matter of fact, there are quite a few sunken wrecks of out of fuel bombers off the island that didn’t quite make it to land. Many are American bombers at that. There were a couple of memorials to honor those that had died. Next up was Tito’s WWII headquarters for the partisan effort against the Nazis. The island was frequently bombarded in an attempt to assassinate Tito, so he had a network of caves and safe houses in order to stay on the move. The final part of our tour took us on a scenic drive to the highest point of Vis for a quick exterior view of the current military installation (no visitors allowed, of course), and then to a small church for a panoramic view around all of Vis. From here, our guide pointed out some of the location shoots for the movie “Mama Mia, Here We Go Again.” Also from this high point, on a clear day, you can see Italy. We learned that many, many years ago, Vis was highly regarded for making top of the line wines. Then the island was devastated by Phylloxera which wiped out all the vineyards. Most of the islanders fled in order to rebuild their lives elsewhere. Eventually some came back bringing olive trees. The island is now covered in olive trees and wine vineyards once again. Our guide told us they have a local saying….the olive trees are like your elderly mother, you visit her once a year, and she will give you everything she has. The grapevines are like a mistress….you don’t visit one time, and she leaves you. We thought that was pretty funny 😂 It was an awesome 3 hour tour, and we were all thankful we had chosen this adventure.
While we all thoroughly enjoyed Vis and would’ve loved to stay and explore longer (so much left that we didn’t see), it was time to get moving to our next location. Next stop….the island of Hvar….the best known island tourist destination in Croatia (geez, that was a mouthful). This was a four hour journey making our way back north. Since the waterfront of Hvar is a VERY popular nightlife scene (and a frequent stop of mega yachts loaded with people ready to be “seen,” we opted for a little less crazy mooring field, across the bay, in the Pakleni Islands (the cost to tie up to the quay in Hvar is also outrageously expensive….$250 per night….dollars, not kuna!) We played in the mooring field the rest of the day, swimming and SUPing in the rain. After, we set about making our plans for our visit to Hvar. This time we decided to rent a car and tour the island on our own, as well as visiting a few wineries. The next morning, a water taxi arrived to whisk us off at high speed to the town of Hvar. We wandered around the quiet waterfront (I’m sure the all night revelers were still fast asleep) before making our way to the rental car. Eventually, we were on our way. We stopped at a scenic overlook to take in the views before arriving in the town of Stari Grad (translation = old city) It was a quaint little village (I’m sure you are shocked by that at this point 😜) with a horseshoe shaped quay running through the middle. While our friends set off to explore the charms, we of course bee lined to the harbor master to find out about the facilities and docking our boat here when we pass through again. It will definitely be on our list.
We continued on our way to the town of Jelsa (pronounced Yelsa) where there was one particular winery Dan had been wanting to visit for the last 6 years. Six years ago, we were visiting Hvar with another couple. We had stopped for a sunset dinner on the upper terrace of a restaurant overlooking the waterfront of Hvar. It was a magical evening, and we had shared a bottle of red wine that everyone was enamored with. When we got back to the states, Dan searched for this wine everywhere….including calling wine distributors in places like NYC. No luck! He even followed articles on this up and coming young wine maker of the wine he loved so much. Needless to say, he was hell bent on visiting this winery. He had tried calling repeatedly over days and was never able to get through, so we just drove there. It was a little difficult to find as it was hidden away and lacked any signage. We wandered up, and Dan finally found someone to talk to. The man asked if we had a reservation (uh oh) and explained that they are very small and take limited numbers of visitors. If you know Dan, you know that he has some amazing powers of gentle persuasion. The man told us to come back around 4 or 5, and he would see what he could do. So, off we went to another winery. This one was far better known and had more of a commercial quality to it. We checked in to Tomić winery and were led down a beautiful marble staircase to a very elegant tasting room. The room was a replica of the dining hall of Diocletian’s Palace in Split. It was breathtaking! We tasted 4-5 very nice wines and made a few purchases.
We had some time to kill, so we wandered around the town of Jelsa. This was yet another quaint waterfront town, and we of course had to go get the scoop on bringing our boat here. It was finally time to head to Duboković winery. Dan was so excited. When we arrived, the man we had spoken to was nowhere to be seen, and the others seemed completely confused by our presence (you knew it wasn’t going to be that simple, didn’t you?) After a bit of scrambling on their part, the owner/winemaker himself asked us to wait a little bit, and they would make room for us. As we walked into the cellar, it was pitch black with a faint glow of candles. There were the hushed whispers of the 3 small groups (11 people total) discussing the nuances of their tastings. We were ushered to a table for standing only. The owner repeatedly apologized, but we assured him just how grateful we were that he was willing to squeeze us in. First we were brought bread, cheese, and four flavors of olive oil produced here as well. Yep, super yummy. From there, we tasted 9 different wines with repeated pours if we wanted to go back and visit a specific wine. Since everyone else was nearing the end of their tasting, we ended up being the only 4 there and had the complete attention of the winemaker who spoke with us at great lengths. It was definitely one of those unique experiences that won’t be forgotten. We had a thoroughly enjoyable day exploring by car with our friends. We arrived back to Hvar at sunset and the deluge of mega yachts and rafted pocket cruisers (small, intimate cruise ships….maybe 50 people). The waterfront was packed, and people were dressed to the nines. It was a far cry from the quiet of our morning arrival. Tomorrow we would be underway to our next location.