Tag Archives: flotilla

ASA CROATIA FLOTILLA, DUBROVNIK TO MONTENEGRO, JUNE 8 TO 15, 2019

This Croatian Flotilla is organized by Sea Safaris in Chicago and ASA Captian Jean “John” De Keyser and his wife “Admiral” Mila. Follow along in this three-part series as they lead the way through the three-week journey.

Our first week sailing from Split to Dubrovnik behind us, it was now time to get ready for our next adventure: Dubrovnik to Kotor in Montenegro and back. Saturday morning was cleaning and turn-around time for our two yachts. 

New crew members had joined us:

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ASA CROATIA FLOTILLA, DUBROVNIK TO KASTELA (SPLIT), JUNE 15 TO 22, 2019

This Croatian Flotilla is organized by Sea Safaris in Chicago and ASA Captian Jean “John” De Keyser and his wife “Admiral” Mila. Follow along in this three-part series as they lead the way through the three-week journey.

The final week of our flotilla has arrived, and we will be heading back with new crew.

Skipper Joe C and his lovely bride, Anna, will be staying with us for this last week. On “Cetina”, we only have three souls on board: Admiral Mila, Thorsten J from Vancouver and yours truly. On “Tina”, we have Joe and Anna as well as Ron M, his wife Carol and their friend Richard D.

Tina, week 3 crew.

We also had a third yacht, S/V Lovro, with Skipper Alan T, his wife Cynthia and friends, Dave R, Susan S, Deborah S and Diana V. All from the Houston, TX, area.

The Lovro Crew

It took a long time for the charter company to have “Lovro” checked out.  We agreed that “Cetina” and “Tina” should leave the ACI marina in Dubrovnik as early as possible in order not to be charged for an extra docking day and that we should wait at anchor in the river for “Lovro” to depart.  The plan was to spend the night in the bay of Sipan island.  

Tired of waiting, Skipper Joe went ahead and left for Sipan, where we joined them later, once “Lovro” got released.

Sipan is a lovely small city at the end of a scenic bay.  “Tina” was already at anchor and we spotted a mooring ball but someone at a restaurant on shore yelled at us that the ball had been reserved.  We moved away from it and dropped the anchor. “Lovro” also dropped their anchor near us.

We lowered the dinghies in the water, mounted the outboards and went to shore to find a place for dinner.  One place really appealed to us with its patio surrounded by colorful hydrangeas. Marco, the owner, a friendly elderly gentleman got us a table for the “Lovro” and “Cetina” crews.  Skipper Joe and his crew had decided to eat on board.

Marco’s Restaurant on Sipan Island

We had a delicious meal at Marco’s restaurant and, of course, we were again the ones who closed the place down. We ferried the crews back to their boats on our small dinghies and soon were heading for our berths.  Mljet was waiting for us the following day.

We awakened to, again, a glorious and sunny day but not very promising wind-wise.  As soon as we headed out into the wide channel between Peljesac and the island of Mljet, the wind picked up and we had a great sail, tacking back and forth, all the way to the entrance of Polace where we docked again at our familiar restaurant, Sponga.  Soon all three boats were at the dock.

Sponga in Polace, Mljet

The owner of Sponga showed us the fish and lobsters that he kept in a net cage under his dock and six of us decided to share a seabass prepared in salt for dinner.  Others decided on a huge lobster. We opted to go to the lake and the Benedictine monastery island in the morning and we relaxed on our yachts waiting for dinner.

The seabass was paraded out of the kitchen with great fanfare.  It had been cooked in a thick salt crust which would have kept it nice and moist.  Unfortunately, the poor thing had been overcooked and came out dry and chewy as an old leather shoe sole.  We complained to the waiter who answered that this was the way they always cooked it. Poor fish!

The Ruins of the Roman Palace of Polace in Mljet

Monday morning, we went to the national park and the lake with the monastery and, around noon, we left Polace and headed towards Korcula.  The idea was to dock at the ACI marina but, when we got there, the place was a total zoo and we went for option number two, anchoring in the Uvala Luka Korcula bay.  We then took water taxis to commute to the city for a treat of gelato. Korcula is a lovely place with a very rich history. It is supposedly the home of Marco Polo and you can sense the Venetian influence in its architecture.

The scenic anchorage of Polace, Mljet.

While enjoying our ice cream, we were listening to a Klappa acapella group singing beautiful Dalmatian songs.  They were just a bunch of friends sitting at a table near a restaurant and they were performing just for the fun of it. They did not try to push CDs or get tips.  They just loved doing it for the art and the Admiral and I just sat there for half an hour taking it all in.

The water taxi closed operations at 11:00 PM so, not to miss it, we had to get to the docks to be transported back to our anchored boat. Tuesday was going to be a long sail to the island of Scedro, just south of Hvar island but, before we could leave, we had to go to the ACI marina and take on water for our tanks. We took advantage of that to do some additional provisioning and I bought a chocolate strawberry cake and a chocolate cake for the Admiral’s birthday which we were going to celebrate in the anchorage of Lovisce on Scedro.  Lovisce is a gorgeous little bay surrounded by pine trees and with three konobas (small restaurants) along the shore. 

We were given two mooring balls per yacht, one for the bow and one attached to the stern. That way, our boats could not swing in the restricted amount of space available.

Our three boats at the mooring balls in Lovisce Bay, Scedro

We had planned dinner on board but first we were going to celebrate Mila’s birthday on “Tina” with cocktails and appetizers and with the two cakes.  By the time we had consumed all these goodies, we were not hungry anymore.

“Admiral” Mila’s Birthday Bash

We had a very quiet night in Lovisce and woke up energized for our next stop, the island of Vis.  We just love Vis and it is almost every year on our itinerary. It is not surprising that it was featured in the movie Mama Mia II as the “Greek Island”.  During its history, Vis has always been of important strategic value and was considered the Gibraltar of the Adriatic. The British and the French fought there during the Napoleonic wars.  It would have been Tito’s last stronghold had Stalin invaded Yugoslavia. There are memorials to British Commando’s who, during WWII, fought the Germans here but our favorite place on the island is the Kod Magica restaurant of our friends Bise and Dennis Jerkovic in the vineyard about twenty minutes inland from the city of Vis.

This is where we take our crew members for a traditional Dalmatian lamb peka dinner and, again, we were not disappointed.  Sitting amid the vineyards with locally made wine and enjoying the delicious food prepared by Bise, her mother and their staff, you realize how lucky you are to experience this kind of cruising vacation. Dinner at Kod Magica is always the highlight of our sailing trips in Croatia.

Peka Dinner in Vis

Soon it was time to retire to our yachts for the night. Thankfully, the marina was very quiet at night, which probably had to do with the fact that there seemed to be less yachts than in the previous years.

What a View of Vis at Sunset!
Stari Grad Waterfront

Thursday morning, after refueling at the local fuel dock, we reluctantly left Vis and, after a brief stop at the so-called abandoned submarine base, we head towards Hvar but, instead of going to Marina Palmizana across from the city of Hvar, we opted for the city of Stari Grad on the northwest side of the island.  Stari Grad, which means old city, is indeed one of the oldest cities in Europe and it is located at the very end of a long bay.  

The first time we went there, about ten years ago, it was a drab and uninspiring place.  No flowers and no colors. Now it is a vibrant tourist town with flowers, palm trees, plenty of restaurants, a colorful market and an ever-expanding modern marina.  The idea was to dock there and to take the bus for a forty-minute ride to the city of Hvar but the crew members preferred to stay in Stari Grad which was too bad as Hvar is such a hopping place.  After a pizza dinner near the port and a gelato (who comes up with a flavor called Facebook? It has an unappetizing green color too), we went back to our boats and got ready for our last night of the flotilla.

And there it was, Friday, the last day of this three-week adventure.  We said our goodbyes to the crew of “Lovro” who would end up in Trogir whereas “Cetina” and “Tina” were headed for their base in Kastela.

Lazy lines dropped and dock lines hauled in for the last time and off we went back to the home base in Kastela. As I had calculated, we arrived there at exactly 6:00PM where we were checked out.  All our crew members left the boats, except for Mila and I who spent our last night on our “Cetina”. She had been our home away from home for three unforgettable weeks.

We can’t wait to be back.

Be on the look-out for the 2020 September Croatia program.  It will again be a blast!

Capt. Jean & “Admiral” Mila


ASA Croatia Flotilla, Split To Dubrovnik

This Croatian Flotilla is organized by Sea Safaris in Chicago and ASA Captian Jean “John” De Keyser and his wife “Admiral” Mila. Follow along in this three-part series as they lead the way through the three-week journey.

On Friday, May 31, our crew members for the first of three weeks of flotilla sailing in Croatia gathered at the Trogir Palace Hotel in Trogir near Split for the initial briefing and introductions.

Over wine and Dalmatian cold platters of prosciutto, cheeses, and tomato salads, we discussed what to expect during the upcoming week on our way down to Dubrovnik. There was an immediate sense of fellowship among the participants, some of whom were repeat flotilla sailors. Three boats were lined up for this trip. Veteran Croatian sailor Bob G from California had chartered a Sunsail yacht through his ownership program and would be joining us on Saturday night from the charter base in Trogir. The other two boats with Skipper Alan and I would be leaving from the Marina Kastela base. We had a total of 16 participants.

S/V Cetina, 46 Dufour: Capt. Jean and Admiral Mila De Keyser Dave and Dody L. from Illinois Minya M. from Illinois John G. from Illinois
S/V Tina, 53 Jeanneau: Capt. Alan W. and Iraida from Florida Josh V. from Illinois Eric F. from his assignment in Algeria Don S. and Yvonne P.

When we arrived at Marina Kastela on Saturday, we were surprised to see how quiet the marina was.  Normally on a Saturday morning, the place would be bustling with people. Prior week sailors getting off the boats, cleaning and repair crews getting the yachts ready for the new charter clients but, this time, there was no usual mayhem and our boats were ready at 14:00.  According to the charter company’s office manager, Petra, the season was off to a very slow start.

S/V The Moochers, a Sunsail 46: Bob and Cathy C. Dennis and Jennifer T.
Tina’s Departure from Kastela

After completing all the paperwork and having been checked out, we left for our first destination where we would meet up with “The Moochers,” in the Sesula anchorage on the island of Solta. It was rainy weather with a gloomy sky and, by the time we reached the anchorage, everything was soaking wet. 

Bob and “The Moochers” (sounds more like a rock band from the ’60s than a sailing crew, doesn’t it?), was already at the buoy there and we rafted up to them.  Skipper Alan on Tina soon joined our rafting party. These mooring balls are free if you have dinner at the restaurant that manages them. 

The place was called Sismis, Croatian for The Bats.  We had been here before and, in normal weather conditions, this place is just lovely.  In the dark with rain pouring down, not so much. To make things even more challenging, we hiked the wrong path to the restaurant.  With my busted ankle and crew member John G. who had problems walking over the rolling stones (nothing to do with the rock band) of a goat path, there were some scary moments and, by the time we had figured out how to finally get to the restaurant, we were cold, wet and miserable.   Thank Goodness for good heartwarming Croatian wine, food and hospitality! They made more than up for it. 

The weather was a bit better the following morning, Sunday the 2nd, and we set sail for the Pakleni Islands across from the historic city of Hvar.  We had reserved mooring balls in the Vinogradisce harbor on the south side of St. Klement island and the backside of Marina Palmizana. 

It is a beautiful anchorage from where we took a water taxi to Hvar where our crews went to discover the Spanjola Fortress overlooking the city and from where you have a stunning panorama of the Adriatic and surrounding islands.  Yours truly, with his busted ankle, wisely decided to stay behind and take a strategically located seat at the Kalavanda Bar to do people watching, sample some of the many concoctions the mixologist could come up with and learn some valuable life lessons as evidenced on the chalkboard of the bar.

Spanjola Fortress, Hvar

 Monday morning, we set sail for Korcula, according to legend, the home of Marco Polo.  It was a long 36-mile trip with a mixture of decent sailing and motor sailing. We had made reservations at the ACI marina. The wind had picked up (of course at the end of the day) and the wide channel between the Peljesac Peninsula and the island of Korcula was full of windsurfers and kitesurfers. Because of the windy conditions, several boats (not ours) encountered problems with the med-moor docking.  Two yachts made hard contact with our “Cetina” when they tried to dock. One got a big gash in its fiberglass when hitting our anchor, another ripped off part of the teak toe rail. It made for some intense moments.

Hard Contact

Our crew decided to have dinner on board as we had a plancha griddle on our boat. We prepared a culinary delight of fresh mixed Mediterranean vegetables, plancha-grilled tomatoes and the typical Balkan cevapcici, small skinless sausages of lamb and beef meat.  All this, of course, with the obligatory nectar of the Gods! The other crew members went for dinner in Korcula, a mini-Dubrovnik-like city which could be right out of Games of Thrones.

Korcula

The following morning, we had a late start towards the National Park of Mljet island.  One of our favorite destinations. We entered the picturesque harbor of Polace, which derived its name from the ruins of the Roman palace that still stands there and docked at the Sponga restaurant.  Docking and shore power were free if we had dinner there. Normally we would have gone that same day to visit the national park and the monastery on the lake, but we decided to stay put and relax. Dinner at Sponga was a fun event with all the crew members in good spirits and lots of wine free flowing.

Dinner at Sponga, Polace, Mljet
Benedictine Abbey on Mljet Island

A minibus was hired the following morning to bring us to the other side of the island for a visit to the cave of Odysseus. According to Homer’s legend, the Greek hero had been kept captive for seven years by the nymph Calypso.  If you ask me, that was a very plausible excuse to give your wife for not coming home right after the Trojan wars.

“Admiral” Mila playing Calypso at the cave

The hike from the main road to the cave was quite hard, especially for my busted ankle.  Fortunately, I had popped enough Aleve and had hiking sticks to help me get over the treacherous stones and rocks. Along the way, we picked wild herbs that we could use for cooking.  The scenery and nature were just spectacular. Josh V made several jumps from the cliffs in the water and swam into the cave but Calypso was nowhere to be seen. Good thing because we were not going to wait seven years for him. 

After that visit, we left the restaurants and anchored out in the Bay of Polace for another night there. Bob and “The Moochers” rafted up to our boat and I hung my hammock between the mast and the forestay for a long nap while the rest of the crew dinghied to shore and went to the lake and the Benedictine monastery. 

We prepared food on board and cooked hake fish on the plancha with some of the herbs that we had picked on the trail to the cave. 

Thursday, we bade farewell to “The Moochers” who were sailing back to Trogir while we continued our way to Dubrovnik.  Our next stop was a small anchorage on the island of Sipan where we had lunch and took a refreshing swim before heading for the new ACI marina in Slano. The facilities and docks were in impeccable condition and we went to the local village for a late dinner. 

It is amazing how fast a week goes by.  On Saturdays, when we start our flotillas, the next Friday seems so far away and, before you know it, we are Wednesday and then, forty-eight hours later, it is over. Friday had arrived and it was time to sail to Dubrovnik and end our first week of Flotillas. 

The sailing from Slano to towards Dubrovnik was very good but, in order to arrive on time at the marina, we had to fire up the iron genny and motor the rest of the way, under the huge bridge and up the river to the marina. 

Up the River in Dubrovnik to the ACI Marina

The ACI marina in Dubrovnik is by far my least favorite marina in Croatia.  It is overcrowded and way too large. We were told to dock at the end of a pier right next to the main channel and at least three incoming yachts hit our boat while heading for their slips. 

Some of the crew members had to leave that same evening and others decided to stay the last night on board and have dinner with us at the restaurant of the marina. 

The first week was over.  Tomorrow… Montenegro… 

JOIN US NEXT YEAR IF YOU WANT TO EXPERIENCE THE FUN! 

Capt. Jean De Keyser 


Exuma Islands Adventure: The New Sailor’s Perspective

ASA Exuma Islands Adventure Flotilla, April 2013

By Mary Clor
m & j in sea pearl
My husband, as part of his mid-life rediscovery, decided last fall to attend a weeklong sailing school. To entice me to enter the sport, he then signed us up for an ASA Flotilla to the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas. Knowing how much I love the outdoors, camping, and snorkeling/scuba diving, he saw this as an opportunity to combine his new passion, sailing, with the things I love. I knew nothing about sailing, and my only sailing “experience” had been as a passenger on a 4 mast, 440 foot long sailing cruise ship.

All of that was about to change.

We sailors arrived in George Town and were met by Dallas, owner of Out-Island Explorers, and our guide for the week. At our welcome dinner that evening, we met the rest of our crew – Brenda from ASA, and our two assistant guides, Chris and Anita. The next morning, with all our gear transferred from suitcases to dry bags, we were whisked away to the north end of Great Exuma, where we saw our little 21 foot Sea Pearls for the first time. From this point on, our adventure took place on the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

Our boats were laden with gear, food and libations were stored, and last minute details were settled. Our two Sea Pearls took us out of the tiny harbor of Barraterre for a very short sail to Rat Cay – just 20 minutes or so – to familiarize everyone with the boats and the use of lee boards: something new to all our sailors. Being my first time in a real sailboat, I learned what close-hauled sailing, and heeling, was firsthand. In a small boat, heeling can be very scary the first time, but I soon learned to enjoy it.

We then headed downwind to Norman’s Pond Key. We practiced wing-on-wing sailing: in this case it was slower than a deep broad reach. After successfully tacking to the sandy beach, and being thankful that the leeboard configuration allowed us to sail in shallow water all the way to the shore, we affectionately named our campsite “Three Palms.” We set up our tents under shady palm trees, shared a celebratory drink for our first day, and told tall tales of our sailing experience. With a total sailing distance of 7 miles, and 1 1/2 hours, it was a great beginning.

The next morning screeching seagulls started our day early. The boats were reloaded, and we checked out the charts to plot our course for the day. We headed to Lignonvitae Cay to lunch, then to Big Farmer’s Cay for two nights of camping. Another 3 1/2 hours of sailing experience for all.

At Big Farmer’s Cay, everyone got to practice sailing skills in the shallow sandy flats in front of our campsite. Brenda gave me some basic sailing lessons, using the sandy beach and a stick as our chalkboard and chalk. Then she took me out on the sailboat and had me tack back and forth until I was dizzy! Back on shore, over evening libations, our discussion led to the difference between training and sailing in a flotilla. Training teaches you the fundamentals through repeated practice, and when you’re sailing long distances for fun, such as in a flotilla, you use that training to execute certain maneuvers, such as tacking and jibing, efficiently when you need to.
sea pearls at beach
Our next campsite was Gaulin Cay South, about 8 miles or three hours downwind from our previous campsite. Getting into our campsite was a bit tricky, as the beach was just past the strong ocean currents coming in from the Dotham Cut. At this point, our sailors were becoming experts at handling the little Sea Pearls, and handled the challenge well. Again, we spent two nights here – all of us were grateful that we were spared having to tear down camp every morning. On our “free” day here, Dallas took all of us on an exhilarating tour in his powerboat so that we could see highlights of the Exumas far north of where we would be sailing. Seeing the private island and yacht of everyone’s favorite current day pirate (Captain Jack Sparrow/Johnny Depp) were the highlights.

Every day there were opportunities to enjoy the best of the Exumas and it’s abundant wildlife. We were able to get into our snorkel gear at least once daily (sometimes 3 or 4 times) and see colorful reef fish living below our sailboats. Little lemon sharks and stingrays would visit the waters near our campsites, and we had more than one sea turtle sighting enroute. We hiked into a cave, snorkeled in other caves, and fed the swimming pigs. At one campsite, we even set up our tents under the watchful eyes of dozens of iguanas. This was much more than just sailing: it was adventure!

Even inclement weather could not dampen the enthusiasm of our sailors. During an afternoon of heavy pouring rain, our assistant guide Chris cut small shavings of wood from the dry inner part of wet firewood to start a small fire. How wise he was to start this fire on a large board– as he added more wood and the fire took hold, he was able to move the fire out from under the fly. Meanwhile, we sailors sat in dry comfort.

On our last morning, we woke up to totally calm weather – no wind. Our take-out point was only 2 or 3 miles away in Staniel Cay, but it took almost that many hours to get there. With no motor to help us out, our “running” was slower than a peg-legged pirate’s walk! Eventually, we arrived at our beach site, helped to disassemble the masts from the Sea Pearls, and had our final lunch together. Then we found our wonderful hot showers and comfortable beds before a celebratory final dinner.

Join us on next year’s Exuma Flotilla, April 12-19th, 2014. For more info, visit www.asa.com.

ASA in Croatia: Sailing the Adriatic

vis harbor sunsetThis post is about ASA’s 2012 Croatia sailing flotilla. You can also read about the Top 5 Things to See on the Dalmatian Coast here, and a story of Croatia’s special cuisine here.

The Adriatic Sea was, for me, one of those places that always sounded incredibly far-off and wonderful, not quite real, a magnificent realm that I would probably never get to see. Its waters are steeped in history and legend. Strategically located between Italy and Greece, they were a focal point of the classical world, sailed by everyone from Odysseus to Julius Caesar to Marco Polo. Continue reading

ASA in Croatia: The Food of the Gods

croatian flag with ruinsThis blog is about ASA’s 2012 Croatia Flotilla. Dubrovnik to Split, September 2012.

“Every fish should swim three times,” goes a Croatian saying. “First in the sea, then in olive oil, and finally in wine.” The residents of the Dalmatian Coast live by this creed, and their cuisine, a divine fusion of Italian and Greek styles, demonstrates why.

Of all the delicious repasts we ate during the 2012 Croatia flotilla (and there were many), one stands out in my memory, not only as a meal, but as a unique experience that you can only get while sailing.

It began, as so many sailor tales do, with foul weather. We had made a long and exhilarating crossing through spitting rain and heavy seas from the island of Vis toward a town called Milna, where we planned to get a berth in the marina, take a long, hot shower, and open a few bottles of well-deserved local wine. But Neptune had other ideas–the storm had forced so many boats to Milna that the marina was entirely full, and a long string of boats was being turned away. We needed a new course of action, and with nightfall coming, we needed it fast.

I regret that I never set foot in Milna, which is supposed to be a lovely place, but where one door closes, another opens. Jean de Keyser, our skipper and flotilla leader, studied the chart and located a deep, sheltered inlet a few miles away. What a stroke of luck that turned out to be. When we arrived, the rain had abated and there were a number of mooring balls available, which immediately made our lives easier. There was also a young guy fishing from a small skiff. We didn’t know it yet, but this was Leo, and he was catching our dinner.

It was a beautiful, serene little cove of wooded hillsides, but there was nothing there, virtually no sign of civilization, except for a few stone shacks on the hillside, and a sign advertising a restaurant called “Smrceva.” No one traveling by ferry, tour bus, rental car, or even on foot would be likely to find this place. The only reliable access was by sailboat. I was skeptical, but what choice did we have? It was time to dinghy ashore and try our luck.
smrceva view from table
This turned out to be the best decision we made in the entire trip. As the only diners, we were greeted by a young man named Neno and seated in an open stone shelter with a view of the bay through pine trees. It was not a refined place. There was junk piled in the corners, and a family of kittens living in the disused fireplace. Neno explained that they had no menu–they would cook whatever was available and bring it to us one course after another, along with some local brandies and as many liters of wine as we could handle. “Okay,” we said, “bring it on.”

It began with baked scallops on the half-shell, and just kept coming: Risotto, grilled calamari, sauteed potatoes, and finally, the piece de resistance, the grilled fish that Leo had been busily catching when we sailed in. The fish had swum in the sea, it had swum in olive oil, and now it was time for that third and final voyage.
grilling fish
When the meal was over, Neno invited us into the nearby home to see their massive collection of family artifacts. He told us that Marino, the owner, had been a famous soccer star for Yugoslavia in the 1970s, and showed us pictures of him lining up to play Germany and shaking hands with Yugoslavian president Tito. (As he was talking, we could see Marino bustling around outside, keeping the place in order.) They even had us watch TV with them for a few minutes. The local Croatian news was on, and with minimal English they tried to explain the headlines to us through mime. I don’t think any of us understood much, but we appreciated the effort anyway.

It was pitch black as we returned to the dinghy dock, Neno lighting the way with a series of hand lanterns. By the time we were back on board, it was clear to everyone that things had worked out exactly right, and we had just had one of those special experiences available only to the cruising sailor. That’s the adventure of a flotilla–you have a plan, but when circumstances change, and you are forced to improvise, that’s when some of the greatest discoveries are made.

ASA in Croatia: Medieval Mysteries

This is a story about ASA’s 2012 Croatia Flotilla. For more info on upcoming ASA sailing flotillas, click here.

Photo by Doug Motley - Vis, CroatiaSailors (and tourists of all kinds) have beaten a well-worn path through the Mediterranean, particularly in places like Greece, Italy, and Spain. These are the world’s most ancient sailing grounds, and they richly deserve their reputations for beauty and splendor. But Croatia’s a bit different. Having only been open to tourists for about 15 years, following virtually 800 years of war and strife, you might expect the place to be a bit rough around the edges. But it’s actually quite the opposite–Croatia has a vitality, hospitality, and magnificence entirely its own.

You won’t find the bright colors and baroque flourishes of Italy, or the spectacular blinding white domes of Greece. Instead, as one local told me, “In Dalmatia it is all about the details.”

View of Dubrovnik from City Walls
Old Town Dubrovnik from the city walls.

You will encounter jumbles of cascading orange tile roofs, and walls whose masonry spans 2,000 years: Originally built by the Romans, augmented in the time of Marco Polo, given a few Renaissance touch-ups, and perhaps reinforced by a tradesman yesterday. Immersing yourself in this rich historical tapestry is one of the great pleasures of a visit to Croatia.

So, when it comes to the architecture and culture of the Dalmatian coast, what should you be sure to see? Here were my favorite highlights, discovered on the 2012 ASA Croatia Flotilla.

Dubrovnik City Walls: Nicknamed “the pearl of the Adriatic,” this is Croatia’s most popular tourist destination. And it’s not hard to see why. With a huge, well-preserved “old town” district dating to the 15th century, the streets are pretty much as they were when Dubrovnik was a powerful Mediterranean city-state, rivaling Venice. Walking the city walls is a must, well worth the 70 kuna price (roughly $12). From the battlements you’ll get numerous stunning views of the town and the sea.

korcula street
Typical street in Korcula.

Moreska Sword Dance, Korcula: “You sit here,” the usher said, guiding us to the front row, “maybe you get broken nose. Maybe you lose tooth.”

If you make it to the island city of Korcula, you’ve simply got to see the Moreska Sword Dance—it’s the only place in the world where you can. The performance is elegant, violent, and real—not for the squeamish. Swords clashed and occasionally their broken blades hurtled into the audience, hence the warning (or perhaps invitation?) about getting a broken nose. By nightfall, blood had been spilled by performer and spectator alike, though no one was (seriously) hurt.

The dance recounts the battle between two kings for the love of a beautiful princess, and performing in it is a centuries-old tradition among the youth of Korcula. Shows are held on Mondays, so plan your itinerary accordingly.

Spanjola Fortress, Hvar: Another place for astonishing views. Abandoned for centuries, left “for the fairies to dance in at night,” there’s a spooky thrill to exploring this hilltop fortress. The hike up takes some work, especially on a hot day, but you’ll be glad you did it. From the walls you can see all of Hvar Town, plus the almost tropical-looking Pakleni Islands and the sparkling Adriatic. They’ve got a cafe up there, too, so you can kick back and relax.

Dome in Diocletian's Palace
In Diocletian’s Palace, Split.

Diocletian’s Palace, Split: No trip to the Dalmatian Coast would be complete without this landmark, once the home of Roman emperor Diocletian. It lies at the very heart of Split, and the city has been growing around and inside of it for 1,700 years. The palace is an entire town to itself, and full of oddities from various time periods. There are sphinxes taken from Egypt, fully intact Roman catacombs, ramshackle medieval houses, and the world’s smallest Christian cathedral, in what was once Diocletian’s mausoleum. There are “klappa” singers who perform in the rotunda with the polyphonic voices of angels, frequently reducing their audience to tears.

There’s so much more to see, of course, and more details than I could possibly describe. This should give you a taste, but the rest you’ll just have to see for yourself. Stay tuned to ASA social media for news about our next Croatia flotilla!