October 19, 2022
Wrapping up our Summer Story Series, Katie Self, Senior Marketing Coordinator, finishes with a week of traveling several Croatian islands on a 56' Ocean Lounge catamaran. In addition to departing from Split and ending in Dubrovnik, the islands included Brač, Vis, Hvar, and Korčula.
From Rome, we made our way to Split, Croatia where we stayed for one night before boarding our catamaran. Personally, I was unsure of what to expect in Split, let alone the rest of the islands, as these were types of places I had never visited before. My only European experiences prior to this trip were Dublin, Ireland and Paris, France - both very different from the island beach vibes of Croatia. But in Split, we were welcomed to a mix of mountains, and areas with a small village feel with a California-like boardwalk. The weather was all over the place: warm, then cold, sun, and the threat of rain. But we're from the Midwest, so it didn't shock us too much.
The main city centre was teeming with tourists without being too crowded. We apparently made a wise decision booking the end of high season while most children were back in school, and holidays and vacations were over. Our group split up choosing between a hike to the top of the city and lunch, lounging and people watching. We had an amazing dinner at Restaurant Fantazija Kitchen & Wine and paid a visit to a local watering hole before heading home to get ready for the next day.
We boarded the Ocean Lounge from the marina in Split. While the boat itself sleeps 10 (plus two crew), we opted to cap our group at 8 to enjoy more space, which worked very well. Our first stop that evening was in Brač (pronounced "Brach") where temps dipped rather low, and most of the ladies ordered soup for dinner. It was a quiet town and the group made its way back to the boat for an early night.
From here, we sailed to one side of Hvar. The island of Hvar is on the large side, over 40 miles long. Our first stop, we anchored in the sea overnight. Our skipper, Marko, and hostess, Iris, made a reservation for us for dinner at a small local restaurant reachable by a tender boat. We feasted on fish caught that morning, fresh veggies and incredible wine. If anyone had told me Croatia had the best dry white wine, I would not have believed you, but here we are.
The following morning, we had a swim in an amazing bay with crystal clear waters. We snorkeled and paddle boarded until it was time to move on to Vis. The sail between islands was roughly an hour and a half which gave us time to relax on the sun deck.
Vis was next, and arguably one of my favorite days of the trip. We sailed to the Green Grotto where we, somehow, had the cave to ourselves for a solid 20 minutes before small boat tours began taking their turns. Marko and Iris set up a small tender boat to drop us at the entry of the cave where we snorkeled, swam and really took in the beauty of the natural surroundings. This was, by far, one of the neatest experiences I've been fortunate to have.
We moved on to our next overnight anchor in Vis. This evening, Marko & Iris arranged a private dinner on the most famous European beach, Stiniva, for us. Once again, we were transported via tender boat, this time through a narrow opening between two rock formations, to a small rocky beach with our table perched on a raised slab. Tavern Peruka hosted us for a wonderful dinner of fresh swordfish, meats and sides, fresh bread and more of the famous Croatian wine. Thanks to the rock formations, the silence was remarkable - a far cry from the city sounds we're used to. We spent some time at the tavern afterwards before being taken back to our catamaran in the pitch black of night with nothing but galaxies of stars above.
Vis is also where part of the group experienced a military tour. I chose to relax while some ladies visited a local winery.
We returned to Hvar the next day, this time visiting the other side of the island. By a mile, the most bougie, luxurious and ostentatious part of Croatia we'd seen. The boardwalk was glitzy with hints of Cannes or Nice. Yet again, Marko and Iris managed to reserve us the single most premium spot to anchor in the marina - smack dab in the middle of this boardwalk. Unlike anything I'd seen before, we were sandwiched between mega yachts, and witnessed nearly every person crane their neck to see exactly who was on our boat. One assertive man welcomed himself on board while asking which of us was dating an NBA star. We wish!
I was able to shop, grab a light lunch, and snack on gelato and more pizza, but mostly people watch. There was nothing better, for me, than relaxing on the boat and watching people from all walks of life walk past.
From Hvar, we made our final stop in Korčula, an island that housed some of the largest mega-yachts yet. The town was quiet, but truly had some amazing wineries, an old castle turned bar where your drinks arrive up a pully, and quaint hotels and restaurants. This is the most convenient place to hop on the ferry back to the mainland. Our group opted to do this rather than sail back to Split, so we could visit Dubrovnik. We said our goodbyes to Marko and Iris, and thanked them for the absolute best hospitality, providing us top notch services, planning excursions and reservations, all while making sure we were safe and maximized our time. The interior of the boat was spotless at all times and Irish completely wowed us with her culinary talents. The service was unmatched, and we were so grateful.
Our final stop on our Croatian journey was Dubrovnik on the mainland. For fans of Game of Thrones, this is where the majority of the show is filmed. Part of our group took a Game of Thrones tour, visiting the site of some of the most famous scenes. I personally have not watched the show, so it was VERY confusing to me to see a "Shame Cocktail" served at small bars along a set of stairs. I assumed it was a bad translation until I was told about the scene from the show. Being from the Midwest, the "I Closed Wolski's" bumper sticker stood out to me right away.
We traveled up to the top of the city via cable car that gave us the most awesome view, right at sunset. After cocktails at the panoramic bar, we experienced dinner "under the iron bell" at Konoba Dubrava. It felt as if we traveled back in time, only we didn't eat with our hands. It was easy to taste the time and effort that went into each dish. Afterwards, our host took us on a "tour" of the kitchen where we were able to see the process of cooking under the bell (I expected a full sized, medieval bell but in reality it was a very small mechanism for cooking.) He was genuinely happy to show us around and it was obvious they were passionate about the food we were served.
Our served surprised us with a toast of rakija, a brandy type liquour, both at the beginning and end of our meal. Because in Croatia, the cheers goes "you finish the way you start", and who are we to argue?
The ending of this trip was truly bittersweet. After two weeks, I was certainly ready to return home. But the experience was something I wish would never end. I will forever miss the quick dips in the most incredible waters, Iris' fresh juice of the day each morning, the uncertainty of what the next island would bring, meeting people from literally all over the world, and most importantly, creating more memories with a group I'm lucky to call friends. I'm beyond fortunate that I have people who are not only willing, but want to explore and travel. Friends who, after three years, were determined to make this trip happen.
And my team here at Epstein, allowing me the time to unwind, unplug and reset myself. Two weeks away, truly unreachable, is a long time in the corporate world. And it's not lost on me that I work for a wonderful company that recognizes the need for a mental health break.
I need to ask my friends where we're going next!