Gulet Libra and Captain Marko Offer a Unique Croatian Experience

Gulet Libra at anchor. Photo by Pearl Macek.

Everyone who meets Marko Mrcic falls in love with him, no matter who they are.

His smile is contagious and his enthusiasm for his boat, his work and his country is admirable. If all boat captains were like Marko, the charter industry would run smoothly at all times.

Marko has been the proud owner of Libra for six years, and was a skipper on catamarans and other boats ten year before that. Libra is a typical Turkish gulet that is a common sight along the Dalmatian coast.

Antonia, Marko and Antonijo on Libra. Photo by Pearl Macek

These boats are ideal for charters, as they are equal parts motor and sailboat and generally have tons of room both above and below deck. Libra is a more traditional gulet than those that were built in recent years, but it adds to her charm. She is 34 metres long (112′) and can sleep up to 12 guests in her six cabins.

Marko said that it was “love at first sight” when he set eyes upon Libra. “When I saw Libra and it’s beautiful lines, lots of space on deck and beautiful middle lounge area, at that moment I knew she was a perfect boat for charter,” said Marko.

Libra and other gulets at anchor. Photo by Pearl Macek.

Marko always has three additional crew onboard, including a chef.  The team he had when I was onboard offered impeccable service throughout the charter. Nikola, Marko’s brother, was first mate, and these two worked seamlessly together. In fact, Nikola and Marko are co-owners of Libra.

Antonia Buktenica is chief stew and has worked for Marko for several years. She always seemed to know what you wanted before you yourself even knew.

Antonijo Misicin, the chef, cooked up amazing dishes that incorporated the delicious Croatian olive oil with fresh ingredients and made me want to never leave. He cooked up everything from  beef bourgignon to fresh fish as well as preparing deliciously light salads of lentils and fresh yoghurt.

Libra and other gulets docked in Zaton, near Dubrovnik. Photo by Pearl Macek.
Choosing crewmembers

“For me it’s important you have ambition to learn from me and my way of work, and that you’re a really, really kind person,” Marko said. “Those two things are most important to me,” he continued.

All the crew worked seamlessly together and they really seemed to genuinely love and respect one another.

One big, happy family

“We really are like a big family. It’s the best part of our job,” said Marko.”We always help and support each other. Croatian maritime history is really long and on every island people, fisherman and sailors, we are always helping each other. We learn that from childhood. It’s normal for us.” He continued.

Which definitely seemed to be true, not only among the crew on Libra, but between the captains and crew on the other boats as well. Maybe it is because a lot of the gulet charter boats are owner operated, or maybe because Croatians understand the true definition of camaraderie. Whatever it is, it makes for a truly enjoyable charter experience where you feel more part of a family than a charter service.

Libra and other gulets stern-to in Korcula. Photo by Pearl Macek.

At every port, Marko offered advice on where to go to eat. He was always more than happy to talk about the good and bad parts of Croatian history (their history is long and therefore has many parts), and he always had this genuine air of being so happy to do all of it.

“I really like my job and  I’m still not sure which part is the best,” he said.”I like boats, sea and interaction with people.”

Not your average gulet

While some of the other, more modern gulets may provide more luxurious layouts and electronics, the experience you get on Libra gives you this true feeling of authenticity: both in service from her crew and her being a truly traditional yacht.

She is not all old school: she does have some of the typical accessories that guests look for, including paddleboards, skis, snorkeling gear and fast Wifi.

And what you receive in terms of a stellar crew is incomparable. I looked at the guestbook and it contained pages upon pages of glowing compliments toward Marko and his crew. It was easy to see just how much everyone enjoyed themselves by the descriptive lengths they went to in order to express their gratitude.

“I’m trying to make Libra the nicest and most popular wooden sailing boat on Adriatic,” said Marko. I would say he is definitely on his way.
Gulets tied up stern-to in Hvar. Photo by Pearl Macek.

Personalized Scuba Trips Offered By Aqua Safari Adventures

David Ochs, owner of Aqua Safari Adventures in Boynton Beach, Florida, grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City, which is not really known as a great scuba diving spot. “As a kid I was always a little bit afraid of the water,” he said as we spoke on the phone, him in sunny Florida and me in rainy Newport, Rhode Island.

He later went on to have a career in the corporate world in Chicago, but in 1993, he changed his mind. “I’ve got very supportive parents,” he said with a laugh. He was telling me about when he told them that he had decided to become a scuba instructor. He said, they were supportive, however a little surprised at his new career choice.

Before his dramatic career change, Ochs had taken a trip to Australia and although he didn’t dive there, he saw how much fun his friends had doing it. He became intrigued. When he returned to Chicago, he started to train in a pool. As soon a he put that regulator on for the first time and submerged himself, “a whole new world opened up.”

Once Ochs was certified, it didn’t take him long to start his own dive business in beautiful Boynton Beach. “I’m really blessed to have a job that I love,” he said. “The diving in Palm Beach is absolutely incredible,” Ochs said. He said that during turtle mating season, he once saw 23 turtles on just one dive and that virtually every type of tropical fish can be seen in the area. The proximity of the Gulf Stream provides an important nutrient source to sea life. This means that visibility can sometimes be reduces due to the abundance of nutrients, but it also means there are plenty of things to see.

Ochs not only offers diving in the Palm Beach area. He offers personalized diving tutelage and guidance wherever you may be vacationing in the world. “People hire us to go on vacations with them,” he said, almost incredulous that this is in fact his job.

Some of Ochs favorite dive spots are in The Cayman Islands, Cozumel, Bonaire, Saba, and the British and U.S. Vigin Isands. Ochs offers his expertise to those who have been diving for years, and the complete novice.

He will often meet his customers wherever they live to do their pool training with them and then will meet them at the charter boat or destination that they have chosen to do their scuba trip. The great thing with going to the client is that they often get to see dive spots that few people get to experience.

“It’s not just the uber wealthy,” said Ochs about the clients that hire him. It’s a wide array of clients who just really enjoy the concierge style of service. According to Ochs, Aqua Safari Adventures has a “very loyal” customer base who keep hiring him and his crew to come assist on dives.

Currently, Ochs has a total of four scuba instructors and guides. He ensures that all of them are fully capable to handle any situation that might arise. “I have to trust them with my loved ones,” he said. That is the rule. And, “you have to be a fun person,” as well, because, after all, you are on vacation with these people and it has to be fun.

Ochs not only ensures that his employees are fully capable of taking care of people both above and below the water, he also trains them to go on to on to start their own business. He said that two out of every three instructors goes on to start their own business. “That was fundamental to my business model,” he said.

Ochs felt that by motivating his employees to start their own companies, they would be more motivated to do the best job that they possibly could do for him. And this part of his model hasn’t hurt his business. “We just continue to grow at an impressive rate,” he added.

For more information on Ochs and his team go to www.aquasafari.net.

Motor Yacht Ariadne: A Unique Luxury Experience

Ariadne at the Newport Charter Show in Newport, Rhode Island.

What is in a name?

Ariadne is a motor yacht unlike most others. Much like the Greek goddess she is named after, Ariadne is reminiscent of glory and a time nearly forgotten. The 124 foot (37.8 meter) was built in 1978 and refitted in 2018. She is a veritable definition of luxury.

According to Chief Stew, Amanda Weyers, the owner wanted to create an experience reminiscent of the old, luxury cruise liners that he used to travel on when he was a child. In fact, the Ariadne was the first cruise liner he traveled on.

The dining room offers a luxurious experience from times past.

A timeless experience.

“It’s not your standard yacht,” Amanda said. “It’s more like an elegant home,” she continued.  The interior is Art Deco, with a modern flare. According to Amanda, the owner wanted to capture a “timeless elegance,” with her interior design.

It seems every aspect of the experience has been thought out by the owner, down to entrusting the crew to use his Grandma’s linens for dinner service and even the hand towels have her initials on them. “He really enjoys the finer touches,” Amanda said.

An old dinner menu from a cruise liner.

Old meets new.

There are even original menus from old cruise liners in the dining room, from which the chef and crew are planning on recreating a few dishes for guests. There is even a dinner bell to summon guests, as well as a gold, Art Deco cocktail cart for aperitif drinks. Guests are encouraged to dress up for dinner and fully partake in the luxury experience of times past. “It should be a memorable experience,” said Amanda.

The glass relief of Greek goddess Ariadne.

The living room is cozy with it’s impeccably varnished paneling. And a glass relief of the Greek goddess Ariadne perfectly illuminated with back lighting.

The main salon onboard Ariadne.

The rooms are just as luxurious with cloth wall paper and perfectly varnished woodwork. The bathrooms are impeccably grandiose, but not is a bad way at all. Each bathroom has a color-coded (they match the wallpaper) BVLGARI shampoo, soap and conditioner set. Now that’s luxurious!

The master room onboard Ariadne.

The aft deck is a great spot for enjoying meals when it is nice out. The second-story deck not only offers the perfect space for sunbathing, but also there is a good sized Jacuzzi for anyone looking to relax after some water sports.

There is plenty to enjoy on the second level deck.

There is also an additional bar up here as well as a barbecue and dining area.

Kaitlyn is the second stew, sometimes chef and deckhand. She basically can do it all. She is extremely warm, and in a very genuine way.  Both Amanda and Kaitlyn are extremely knowledgeable about the boat and its history. Their can-do attitude is contagious and they are a pleasure to be around.

Ariadne includes all the typical watersport toys including kayaks, SUPs and snorkelling equipment. Diving excursions can also be arranged.

The rooms onboard Ariadne are comfortable and luxurious, but not ostentatious.

 

Ariadne is available for charter in the Northeast for the summer of 2019 and then will return to Florida for the winter season, where she will be available for charters in the Bahamas and surrounding areas.

 

 

Star Flyer Cruise Review

Star Flyer Cruise Review

Cannes to Cannes

Living an hour and change south of Orlando, Florida in the coastal hamlet of Sebastian, allows us the opportunity to use the nearby Melbourne International Airport for most of our flights to Europe. The airport is small, within 35 minutes of our home and the lines are refreshingly short. Generally, we use Delta Airlines for most of our flights to Europe which requires a connection in Atlanta with further connections depending on our destination. For this vacation, we started and ended our Star Flyer cruise in Cannes, France. Nice is the closest major airport located 35 to 55 minutes by car. Our flights were Melbourne to Atlanta, to Amsterdam and onwards to Nice returning the same route. As with multiple connections, one delay can have a major impact on a trip.

Although we pray it never happens, it did, with a one-hour delay from Atlanta to Amsterdam that resulted in catching a much later flight from Amsterdam to Nice and landing four hours after originally scheduled. Apart from a long day, the timing was perfect, as Karin arrived from Germany just an hour later and we were able to drive together to our hotel in St. Laurent du Var, the town next to the airport and three miles from Nice. Karin flew on Vueling Airlines from Stuttgart via Rome, but, alas, her luggage stayed behind. The airline representative sheepishly explained that this is a common occurrence during the summer months, so Karin smiled, looked at the glass half full, and went shopping in Nice and Cannes at the height of the season. What joy!

Our hotel the Mercure Cap 3000 (Cap 3000 is a large shopping mall in St. Laurent du Var) was comfortable, offered free Wi-Fi, breakfast and easy access to the airport and mall. The mall is substantial with an Apple Store, multiple telecommunications stores, an excellent supermarket with a food court offering Greek, Italian, French, Chinese, and other freshly cooked cuisines. We enjoyed lunch there on Saturday after going to the airport the following day to see if Karin’s suitcase had arrived (it had not). The baggage representative was very helpful and promised to have it delivered to one of the scheduled ports for the cruise. Three days later, the errant luggage arrived at Bonifacio, Corsica by taxi from Figari Airport. The representative was true to her word and it should be noted that the Ship’s Purser, Marina, and the agent ashore were very helpful.

Without a doubt, our vegan dinner the first night at Dame Nature in St. Laurent du Var was a culinary highlight of the trip.

With the time constraints and lost luggage, we missed touring Nice and instead drove straight to Cannes to check-in at the port by 4 p.m. If you take to the wheel yourself, it’s good to know that France’s highways and rest stops are in very good condition, and traffic for us was lighter than expected. The roundabouts took some getting used to, along with driving a manual shift, which was a nostalgic flashback. We took the scenic route to Cannes… missing the exit for Cannes and taking the next exit (sortie) that brought us to a picturesque road along the Mediterranean Sea. It was a festive scene with stunning blue water, rocky beaches (or should I say ledges) and loads of people walking, or riding scooters and bicycles, cars parked along the beach and music playing. The colorful tableau was framed by blue sky, warm temperatures and a nice breeze with Cannes in the distance and a plethora of yachts at anchor. It felt good to be here.

We had the perfect vantage point to see yachts coming, going and at the dock, as boarding the Star Flyer was by tender. A warm crew greeting at the top of the stairs was followed by registration in the library, where we were given boarding cards (used to exit and enter the ship), cabin keys and instructions on the safety briefing before being escorted to our cabin 133. Its excellent, compact layout includes a king-size bed, plenty of storage and a comfortable combination shower/toilet. We changed quickly, grabbed our life jackets and headed to the main deck and our assigned emergency station for the crew’s extensive safety briefing.

We like that onboard the Star Flyer there is open seating for meals so we never felt rushed to make it to dinner. Monjal, the Cruise Director, introduced us to the Hotel Manager, who introduced us to Maître’D, Paul, who promised to make sure our plant-based/vegan dining requirements were met. We were delighted to learn that there were vegetarian options on the menu every evening, which worked well with a few modifications. Breakfast and lunches were equally easy with a wide assortment of fresh fruit, preserved fruit, bread, salads, vegetables, and grains. The chef also prepared lentils for at least two dinners.

Ship’s highlights:

Accommodations: Cabin 133

Cabin 133 was a comfortable stateroom with a porthole. Creative use of the bathroom space with the shower curtain wrapping around to keep the toilet dry, allows two people to simultaneously use the bathroom. There was abundant storage for our luggage and a safe in the closet. Television was available for music and few shows; however, we never used it and instead were either sleeping, changing or relaxing. There simply was no time to watch TV, as a live show was happening all around us on deck.

Activities

There was various live entertainment and music every evening starting at about 9:30 p.m.; however, in the beginning, we retired early after full days and lively dinner company sometimes until 10:30 p.m. One evening we enjoyed the talent show, games night and musician, Bela’s, entertainment. We started each day with an organized workout class from 8 to 8:30 a.m., which was equally popular with our fellow passengers.

Highlight

My highlight was the ship’s bridge being open to passengers when the harbor pilot wasn’t onboard. If he were on board, we could still stand outside and view all the action through the open door.
Another highlight was that Star Flyer raised its sails every time we left an anchorage or port to enjoy the unadulterated freedom of sailing. Leaving Sardinia, we enjoyed 29 to 30 knots of wind on our way to Elba, with a glorious three to four hours or sailing under a setting sun. On other occasions, we had 15 to 18 knots. I never expected such a large ship to sail, so it truly made my trip. Star Flyer was remarkably stable under sail and at anchor. Water ballast was used to stabilize her and was extremely effective. At anchor, there was no roll, and going windward she sliced through the waves like butter. We could see white caps, but the only time we really needed to be mindful was when there was swell while boarding the tender. On board, all was stable, as Ukrainian Captain Yuri did a masterful job. Coming into Bonifacio was an incredible experience and leaving Bonifacio was extremely special. The pictures tell a story.

The Crew

The entire crew, from Captain Yuri, First Officer Andreas, Second Officer Valdym, Cruise Director Monya, Purser Marina and all staff provided excellent service and were always accessible and tremendously helpful. They work tirelessly, especially with same-day turnarounds when there is little time to rest. A special shout-out to Monyal, who was fantastic.

Shore Excursions

We did one shore excursion, the Walking Tour of Monaco, and enjoyed discovering the impressive Principality, with million-dollar cars at every turn. Monaco was clean, organized and had a picturesque Market. As part of the tour, we had a snack at one of its restaurants, savoring pizza, sandwiches, water, lovely fruit pie and the atmosphere. The ice in Europe is curious, as it takes an inordinate amount of time to melt. In fact, I place some cubes under my cap to cool off, and they were still there more than an hour later. While we considered other offered tours in Calvi, Bonifacio, Costa Smeralda, Portoferraio on Elba, and Cannes, we chose to independently explore the towns instead.

Weather

The weather was outstanding with clear blue skies during the day, cooler temperatures at night. Onshore it was very warm with low humidity.

Star Flyer Ports of Call:

Cannes, France

This fashionable and chic town has all the high-end stores, restaurants and hotels you wish to experience, with a busy beach to boot. We enjoyed the Cannes beach and refreshing Mediterranean waters on the last afternoon while staying at the Grand Hyatt Martinez, whose beach club is excellent, offering lounge chairs, service on the beach and showers.

Calvi, Corsica

Part of the Samnium historical region, Calvi was better than I expected, with its ancient castle, old town, waterfront, shops and restaurants providing a rich experience. I read that it had an industrial feel, however, this was not the case. The beach at the end of the promenade had coarse sand, water sports rental shops, and lots of people enjoying the warm weather and sea.

Figari Beach Stop, Corsica

This was a fun morning stop, tendering into a long, sandy Corsican beach. The water was cool and refreshing against the hot sun and warm breeze, and we loved every minute of it.

Bonifacio, Corsica

Bonifacio, a commune at the southern tip of the island of Corsica, was one of the highlights of our trip and a truly wonderful surprise. If you didn’t know it was there, you would sail right by the harbor, which is reachable through a narrow passage between two limestone cliffs, then opens into a wide and deep harbor. Caves are visible on each side as you enter the harbor, and so close at times, you could seemingly touch the sides of the cliffs. We passed a few beautiful bays with small strips of white sand and blue water, then docked at the Government dock beneath The Citadel castle that stands sentinel high on the hill overlooking the harbor and town. After Karin’s suitcase arrived, we climbed the castle’s 1000 stairs and explored with a self-guided tour and headphones rented from the tourist office. Dramatic scenery, beautiful views, shops, restaurants, people, cobblestone streets, alleys, and scooters all unfolded before us. I would recommend doing this tour if you crave an independent experience. Bonifacio is an overnight stop so we enjoyed a late-night walk along the dock, absorbing the scenery, yachts and colorful ambiance of diners in the restaurants. It was an exceptional trip, punctuated by the 6 a.m. departure through Bonifacio’s dramatic passage. I was up at 5:30 a.m. to view the unforgettable sail away.

Costa Smeralda, Sardinia

Costa Smeralda in Sardinia was our first stop in Italy and the place Karin felt most at home with the Italians’ energetic language and warm personalities.
In terms of onshore appearance, the fishing and commercial port to which we arrived were the most basic; however, the anchorage was beautiful with views of the different bays and beaches. We hired a taxi and enjoyed a picturesque three-hour tour to Port Cervo, the Italian seaside resort, and Costa Smeralda, a beach village closest to the port, which is vying to become another Monte Carlo. Many high-end stores in the harbor vie for attention with exotic cars on display and mega yachts docked in the marina. Exclusive villas were faintly visible behind vegetation and high gates, hinting at unimaginable riches. The landscape around Costa Smeralda is well groomed, lush and green in comparison to the other areas we saw which were sparse and a bit dusty off the beach, evidence of low rainfall during dry summer months. We enjoyed a wonderful coffee and lemonade at a waterside restaurant, just two minutes from the dock while waiting for the tender to return to the Star Flyer. On schedule at 7 p.m., we hoisted the anchor, raised sails, said “Ciao” to Sardinia and headed to Portoferraio, Elba.

Portoferraio, Elba

Elba’s largest city has a beautiful harbor at which the Star Flyer docked on the picturesque waterfront. We started our daytime journey stepping onto the pier to explore the town, first taking a 30-minute trolley ride, then a walking tour of the castle, overlooking Napoleon’s villa on the hillside below. This took us approximately 2 ½ hours, with abundant history, beautiful scenery, charming alleys, and lots of stairs up and downhill. We enjoyed a café break for some water and lemonade then Karin returned to the ship to relax by the pool while I tried to source a data SIM card for Italy. After having no success, we resolved to purchase the ship’s internet plan at a cost of 18 Euros for four hours, which we did not completely utilize. Before leaving, we enjoyed a wonderful chocolate gelato, croissants and water at a gelateria across the street from the pier. An added bonus was watching the loading and unloading of the Star Flyer, as this was a resupply port. Our time at Costa Smeralda came to a close as we departed at 6:30 p.m. for Santa Margherita Ligure, the town next to the famous town of Portofino.

Santa Margherita Ligure, Genova, Italy

Santa Margherita Ligure replaced the initial port stop of Rapallo, as it was right next to Portofino and is a much more charming port-of-call; a good decision by Star Clippers. We took a 15-minute water taxi from Santa Margherita to Portofino along the coast, passing beach resorts, villas on the hillside and yachts at anchor. As you may have seen on countless watercolors, Portofino is right out of a postcard, with its small harbor and colorful houses nestled on the hillside. Naturally, it was busy with locals and visitors exploring all there is to see. We had a site inspection at the Belmond Splendido Portofino and first went to the Splendido Mare (small) hotel in the town to confirm the transfer, a seven-minute drive up the winding hill. Cars are not permitted in Portofino’s charming center, so we met the shuttle at the entrance to the town across from the bus stop and outside the pharmacy.

The Belmond Splendido Hotel is the premier luxury hotel in Portofino and is a historical site sitting high on the hillside with breathtaking views of the sea below. Ms. Maurizia Maino, the events manager, guided us on a tour of this classic hotel. We were fortunate to see a few of the suites, junior suites and standard rooms, which were all very different and well-appointed. The boutique spa was intimate with just two or three treatment rooms. The pool area overlooked the sea and had a charm all its own, while the terrace restaurant offered sea views and a cool, fragrant breeze under an arbor. We walked down the hill from the hotel with the intention of catching the bus back to Santa Margherita Ligure; however, the bus was late so we made the scenic, windy three-mile journey to Santa Margherita Ligure on foot. It was picturesque looking down from the cliff to the rocky beaches below where people were swimming, yet a relief to finally arrive in town and be out of the heat. All that trekking works up an appetite and Karin had a craving for pizza so we enjoyed Pizza Marianna and apple pie at one of the sidewalk restaurants, along with some requisite slow-melting ice cubes to cool my head. Once again, I kept the ice on my hot head for more than an hour before it melted away; would love to know the secret of this amazing Italian ice! Returning to the Star Flyer, we relaxed and enjoyed the sail away from Portoferraio at 3 p.m., heading to Monaco, for which we’re truly excited. The picturesque sail took us along the Italian coastline past Genoa and many other beautiful Italian towns.

Monaco (Nouvelle Digue)

As we approached Monaco we could see an impressive cluster of high-rise buildings, many mega yachts at anchor and a few marinas. I could not wait to see the streets of the famed Formula One race, and I was not disappointed. We embarked on a three-hour walking tour of Monte Carlo, visiting the celebrated Casino and Café Le Paris, past the top hotels such as the Hotel de Paris, the Hermitage and the Fairmont Monte Carlo. and discover some of the famous Formula One corners and tunnel of the Monaco Grand Prix. The Formula One drivers must have nerves of steel, as the streets are rather narrow. We also saw more luxury cars in one location than ever before. It is an impressive town that is highly organized, clean and a top tourist attraction. After a wonderful snack in the market, we visited the Palace, the aquatic museum and walked to the port for the tender back to the Flyer. Our departure from Monaco for the short sail to Cannes was at midnight so we could theoretically have spent an evening at the casino or enjoyed a fine dinner in the glamorous principality; however, we preferred to be onboard relaxing under the stars and seeing Monte Carlo’s lights glittering from a distance.

Antibes, France

A resort town between Cannes and Nice on the French Riviera, Antibes is home to Billionaires Marina, among others. After disembarking from the Star Flyer, which we did with a heavy step, we took a short taxi ride to the Grand Hyatt Martinez hotel for an overnight stay in a Sea View room on the first floor. It was well-appointed and spacious, with a separate toilet, a large bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub and stand-alone shower; all in all, a comfortable layout. After dropping our suitcases, we left the Martinez crossed the street and took a 27-minute ride on the local bus from Cannes to the center of Antibes. We made our way to the water then to the striking Picasso Museum; however, our stomachs were rumbling and we asked one of the attendants if she knew of a good vegetarian restaurant nearby. “Sure!” she said. “There is one a short walk from here and you should go now before touring the museum as they will close for siesta.” Thus, we meandered the alleys and streets of old town Antibes and finally found the very charming La Taille de Guepe restaurant. It was worth the multiple directions that all included, “it’s not far. Make a left, then another left, then a right through the alleys.” Though we weren’t familiar with the area, it was a short, four-minute walk from the Picasso Museum. The setting was charmingly elegant, and the cuisine was delightful, especially the dessert of rose, violet and jasmine-flavored ice cream and strawberry soup. Even though we avoid dairy, this was not to be missed. It was a long lunch by American standards, as traditional French lunches are spent lingering over the food, conversation, and ambiance, which was well-received. We met the chef and thanked him for a delightful meal and the best ice cream ever, then returned to the Museum and told the attendant that we thoroughly enjoyed her recommendation, and suggested she try their ice cream, which she astoundingly had not yet experienced! The museum was magical. We could have spent three hours there instead of the two hours we’d allotted. Leaving there, we walked the town and took the train back to Cannes. These towns are very easy to navigate and Cannes was becoming more familiar. We had time to enjoy the Hotel Martinez beach before changing and heading out to a light dinner at the Le Vesuvio Café on La Croisette. Karin was in the mood for Italian cuisine, and the restaurant didn’t disappoint, seating us at a sidewalk table with a water view. This was our last night in Cannes and we took turns sharing memories and listening to the band playing at Martinez’s beach club, before calling it a night, as our wakeup call was at 3:30 a.m. for a 4:15 departure to the Nice airport. Our spectacular journey was coming to an end.

Overall Cruise Impression

I enjoyed this cruise and would certainly do another with Star Clippers in the future. In fact, we are now reviewing itineraries and mulling over possibilities. Venice to Rome is a viable option, as it is a smaller ship with the ability to interact with the crew and fellow guests, and be as close as possible to the sea and wind.

Why Your Next Flight Should be to Croatia

The town of Dubrovnik.

Croatia is a country not to be missed. The clear, turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea are comparable to anything you would experience along the Côte d’Azur of France. The generous, proud people throughout the country are inspiring, especially since many of them were witnesses to a war that wreaked havoc to their economy and country not that long ago. Then there is the food. Oh the food. A delicious mix of fresh produce, olive oil, seafood and pasta. What’s not to like?

In recent years, the country has seen an increase in tourism. In part, thanks to both Dubrovnik and Split playing an important backdrop to many scenes in the hit series “Game of Thrones.” Yet, it still remains somewhat unknown as a must-see destination, especially for North Americans. Perhaps it is the long flight(s) that puts people off, but that is changing with more frequent and easier ways to get there. Especially now with direct flights from Philadelphia to Dubrovnik. So, even for Americans, there is really no excuse not to go.

A Little Bit About the History of Croatia

Geographically, Croatia has always been an important country ever since us humans decided trading and conquering lands was a thing. With its miles of coastline nestled between Italy, Turkey and Greece, what is now known as Croatia has always been important to those seeking access to trading routes and power in Europe and the Middle East.

Croatia’s history is long and filled with conquering forces. After Croatia was settled by ancient tribes the Greeks moved in, quickly realizing the area’s geographical importance for their expansion.

The Roman Empire spread to the area after that. Byzantine rule took over after, then the Ottoman Empire. Hungary and Austria laid claim to the region, then the Venetians. It later became part of Yugoslavia. The Croatian war for independence started in 1991 and ended in 1995.  In 2013, she became part of the European Union.

Cuisine

Needless to say, all this mixing of cultures created an incredible gastronomic experience. Delicious pasta and seafood dishes are found in most parts of Croatia, but especially along the coast.

Before describing just a few of the delicious Croatian dishes that I was lucky enough to try, let me talk about olive oil. Honestly, it is the best olive oil that I have ever tried. It is rich and hits you in the back of the throat. I would be quite happy finishing out my days just eating bread dipped Croatian olive oil, perhaps with some of their balsamic vinegar mixed in too from time to time.

Crni Rizot

One of the most famous Croatian dishes is a black risotto called Crni Rizot in Croatian. The risotto is colored by the squid ink that it is cooked in. It is rich and quite fishy, so you have to really like seafood to eat this one. Make sure not to smile too much after eating this dish unless you brush your teeth!

Soparnik, a typical Croatian flatbread.

Soparnik is a typical Croatian flatbread that is filled with Swiss chard or onions and topped with chopped garlic and olive oil. It is absolutely delicious. What I said earlier about just eating bread and olive oil? Well, I think I would be pretty happy just eating Soparnik for the rest of my life.

Typical Croatian cuisine.

Due to it’s geographical proximity to Italy, a lot of the desserts are similar to what we think are typical Italian ones, like cannolis, cured fruits and custard dishes.

Arancini, otherwise know as sugared orange or lemon peel, is very popular dessert and/or a pick-me-up snack.

For dessert,  try rozata,  a dessert native to the Dubrovnik area, which is similar to a custard or flan.

Geography

Croatia’s geography is diverse. Near the Bosnian and Herzegovina border, some of the mountains in the Dinaric Alps reach elevations of up to 6,000 feet (over 1800 metres). The flat lands of Slavonia are where the Danube, Drava, Kupa and Sava rivers cross the country. The coastline offers thousands of islands and inlets, perfect for cruising in and out of. Many parts of the shoreline rise dramatically from the vivid blue waters, where thousands of stone walls criss cross the landscape. It is incredible to look at those walls and think that they have been there for hundreds, and perhaps some cases, thousands of years.

Biodiversity

Zaton, near Dubrovnik.

Croatia has a wealth of flora and fauna, with new species discovered in recent years. The climate along the coast is mild and usually with plenty of sunshine. Unfortunately, when I was there, there was unusually high rainfall that lasted several days, but even in the rain, it was still beautiful. The waters along the coast offer tons of scuba and snorkeling spots. There are also many forests inland and thousands of caves to explore. In the winter, there are mountain ranges to ski, although from what I heard, many Croatians prefer to travel to Bosnia or Switzerland for ski trips.

The ancient wall surrounding Dubrovnik’s old city.

Economy

Croatia’s economy is considered a “high income economy” by the United Nations, although it is a relatively cheap country to visit for westerners. Tourism is an important sector of the economy, and has been since the end of the war in 1995. In recent years with the added fame of the Game of Thrones Series being filmed in Dubrovnik.

Tourism

Marine tourism, meaning boat charters and cruises, are especially popular. There are many beautiful islands to explore including Hvar, Vis and Bisevo, which has a famous, partially underwater cave that glows blue known as the blue grotto.

Hvar is an island that provides a little bit of everything. There are beautiful beaches, a vibrant nightlife, vineyards, olives and a history dating back to the ancient Greeks.

The town of Hvar is a popular holiday destination and offers great nightlife, beach clubs and shops. Stari Grad, on the other side of the island, offers a more historical experience as it is one of the oldest towns in Europe. Founded by the ancient Greeks in 384 BC, the town is located in at the head of a very protected bay. There are numerous restaurants to choose and a stroll around the harbor is an absolute must.

The town of Starigrad on the island of Hvar.

Korčula is the sixth largest island in Croatia and, it is alleged that the famous explorer, Marco Polo, was born on this island.

Its town is known as “Little Dubrovnik” because of its medieval buildings. A walk up a very narrow staircase in the city’s church will provide you with breathtaking views of the city surrounds and the channel between the island and the mainland.

Looking out from the bell tower of the old town of Korçula’s main church.

There are numerous restaurants and bars, especially along the waterfront.

Currency

The Croatian Kuna is the official Croatian currency. Although Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, there hasn’t been much movement toward switching to euros. There are .15USD to 1 Croatian Kunas and .13Euros to 1 Kuna.

Vivid blues and greens are typical of the waters along the Dalmatian coast.

Needless to say Croatia is a pretty cool place to visit with incredible places to visit, meals to eat and history to learn. Make the journey.