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.
 
 
 
 

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.