Sunday, 26 May 2019

Dalmatian Coast Islands | Croatia

     So if you haven't read my previous Croatia posts so far, first of all, go do that. But to summarise, I spent a week in Croatia, starting off with three days in Dubrovnik, and moving on to Split for the rest of the week. You don't need that many days to see Split itself, so I used to the time to do some day trips to other parts of the region, starting with Plitvice Lakes. For my second outing, which I carefully scheduled for the sunniest day of the trip, I headed off the mainland for a day of island hopping along the Dalmatian Coast.

Hvar Town, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia


     There are plenty of companies offering a range of itineraries for these day trips - again, I was glad to be there in May and not the middle of summer, when every location would just be jam-packed with tourists! After browsing options, I chose the Blue Cave & 5 Islands tour, which seemed to be the most thorough and popular full day option for getting my money's worth. And after checking TripAdvisor reviews, I went with Providenca Charter for it. The trip uses a speedboat for the day, as you do cover a fair bit of distance between each of the islands. That is definitely a thing to be aware of if you're considering this trip, you will spend more time on the boat than the islands themselves. I would have preferred a more relaxed, sailboat type experience, with a bigger boat to move around on in this case, rather than being restricted to staying in one seat the entire time. But, I understood it was necessary to do the itinerary on time - plus, all the sailing options were way more expensive! The skipper and guide were nice though, and played music throughout each leg of the journey, and raced or fooled around with the company's other boats out that day to keep things entertaining for us.

     Anyways, the day started at 8am, with a 90 minute ride to the first location, which was the longest journey of the entire day. My bum was definitely getting a bit sore by the end of that, more from lack of movement, than the boat and the waves though. And although it was warm, the boat goes fast enough that you get pretty chilly in the breeze, but they did provide jackets for us, which was much appreciated! We started at the Blue Cave itself, on the island of Biševo. This is a natural phenomenon, a waterlogged sea cave that glows blue inside because of the light coming in through a gap in the rocks. You have to enter on a small boat, ducking your head as you go through the entrance, so you can only go when the sea is calm, and the light only comes in at the right time of day, which is also why it has to be the first stop of the trip. There were plenty of other visitors, but the smaller boats are organised well to each wait their turn, and only two or three can fit inside at once. The local guides talked about the cave as well, explaining that once you could only entering by diving, until they enlarged the entrance in the 19th century. The visit is brief, but it's definitely worth seeing, floating around in the cool, blue light, secluded from the outside world.

     We sailed further around the coast of Biševo to visit the Monk Seal Cave, named for the seals that once lived there, but have been hunted away by fishermen, as they destroyed their nets. It is one of the longest caves in the area, over 160m, however only the first part can be accessed by boat. To go further, you have to swim through a gap in the rocks, into the darkness, so this was not a part of our excursion. We sailed into the entrance, and circled inside, using the boat light to look around, before heading out again. This wasn't my favourite stop of the day, as it felt a little pointless in all honesty.

      It was only a short ride from there to the next island, Vis, where we stopped at the fishing village of Komiža. This is like something out of a postcard, it's so picture perfect! Vis is also the island where they filmed Mamma Mia 2, and you can see why they chose such a beautiful location. The town is pretty small, situated around a harbour full of boats - they said there's actually more registered boats on some of these island than there are inhabitants! It's all little stone houses along narrow pathways, with green hills towering behind, and a pebbled coast meeting the brilliantly blue water. The harbour area has lots of cafés and restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating, so there was the option of getting a snack or coffee or such here. I wandered past all that, seeking a quieter corner away from all the other tourist boats. I ambled along until I reached the far end of the town - which only took about 10 minutes! - where the road leads down to a pebbled beach area. I sat here, soaking up the sunshine and savouring the view looking back towards Biševo, and just mentally switching off for a while - I was on holiday after all! We had an hour to spend here, before boarding the boat and heading back out of the harbour again, admiring the town view on the way past.

Blue Cave, Bisevo, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Blue Cave, Bisevo, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Blue Cave, Bisevo, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Monk Seal Cave, Bisevo, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Komiza, Vis, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Komiza, Vis, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Komiza, Vis, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Komiza, Vis, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Komiza, Vis, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Sailing around the Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

    We sailed around the coast of Vis to check out Stiniva Beach - voted as one of the best in Europe in the past. You can only access the beach by water, through a narrow gap in the cliffs, and during the summer months apparently they rope it off so the speedboats can only see it from a distance. As it was still May, we were able to go all the way inside, to see the white pebbles and perfectly clear water. The itinerary for the trip did say there would be time to swim and snorkel here, but we just drifted inside for a few minutes then left again. To me, it felt like another unnecessary stop as it was so brief, but I also wasn't really bothered about stopping longer - there's no way you could have relaxed here with boats coming in and out all the time, since it's so small.

     Our itinerary varied again at this point, at the suggestion of the guide. Officially, we were supposed to stop for swimming at the Blue Lagoon, off the coast of Budikovac, and then sail past the Pakleni Islands (or Paklinski as they're also known) just to view them and take photos - so it's worth noting that although you visit 5 Islands on this trip, you only step out onto four of them! However, the Blue Lagoon gets pretty busy, and the beach is pebbles again, and the boat can't stay close, so the guide suggested we stop for swimming at the Pakleni Islands instead. There we would also have more restaurant options, and it was closer to our last island meaning we wouldn't have to do a long ride while wet from the ocean, so we were all happy to go along with her. We passed by the Blue Lagoon, seeing how deep and blue the water looked and taking a couple photos. All the scenery throughout the trip was pretty spectacular, as the islands are quite mountainous, rising tall out of the ocean.

     We continued to Palmižana, a small beach inlet lined with boats and beach clubs. It's quite small, with a few beaches separated by piers and restaurants built on the hill leading up from the water. This was yet another perfectly picturesque location, with incredibly clear turquoise water, made even better by the fantastically sunny weather. I had a quick walk up and down the area, before settling on a beach spot - it was quite pebbly again, as the sand is only one one stretch of the beach in the middle, which was the most crowded area. I got fairly comfy though, and went for a quick dip in the water - there's no way I wasn't going in when it looked that good! It turned out to be pretty chilly, as it was still only May, but it was worth it to experience for a little while. I returned to the shore and dried off in the sun, taking in the scenery again, before heading back to the boat (we had about 45-50 minutes here I think).

Stiniva Beach, Vis, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Stiniva Beach, Vis, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Blue Lagoon, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Palmizana, Pakleni, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Palmizana, Pakleni, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Palmizana, Pakleni, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Hvar Town, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Hvar Town Riva, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

     The last island of the day was Hvar, one of the biggest and most popular island along the Dalmatian Coast. It's possible to spend multiple days island hopping around this area, staying overnight in different locations, and those who choose to do that typically spend a few days and nights exploring Hvar. We only went to Hvar Town, but we had two and a half hours, which was plenty of time to look around. The harbour was lined with everything from fishing boats, to speedboats, to ferries and cruise ships. Like most of the other Croatian towns I'd visited up to this point, it was beautifully photogenic again, all stone buildings with terracotta roofs arranged along narrow streets winding up the hillside. There were a lot of restaurants and shops around catering to tourists, which was another recurring theme in Croatia - it is very touristic in many of these locations! But you can still appreciate the history and beauty of these towns.

     I grabbed some lunch first, then set off to climb the hillside to the Spanish Fortress overlooking the town. The route involves quite a lot of stairs at first, then a winding path through a park area, so it is a little tiring by the time you reach the top, but far from the toughest hike I've done, and there was plenty of time to take breaks if needed as well. At the top, you can enjoy the view over Hvar Town, but it's partially obscured by the trees, so I opted to pay the 50 kuna entry into the fort itself to look around. It's not a big building, but it dates back to the 13th century, and saved the lives of many Hvar citizens during a Turkish attack in the 16th century. The prison was very cool to explore, descending down narrow stairs to tiny cells built into the mountain side, with narrow windows looking out over the town - pretty good view for prison cells! I wandered around the towers and turrets, passing by the cannons and defences, and soaking in the view over Hvar Town - it was absolutely worth the climb up, and I was glad yet again to have such sunny weather!

     I descended the hill again, and wandered through the streets for a while, browsing a few shops and picking streets to explore at random. I emerged again by St Stephen's Church on the main street. I continued along the coast, wandering down the Riva where the cruise ships were moored, and with a plethora of restaurants along the waterfront. I carried on all the way to the next inlet, where there's a small pebbled beach. I went as far as the church on the corner there, before deciding to sit on the beach for a while, as I only had half an hour or so before it was time to leave again anyways. I definitely spent a lot of the day sitting on beaches and soaking in the views, but it was all just so scenic and beautiful, especially in the sunshine! From Hvar, it was another hour or so on the speedboat to return to Split, getting there at around 6pm, and getting some good views of the city as we approached from the sea.

Hvar Town, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Spanish Fortress, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

View of Hvar Town from Spanish Fortress, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

View of Hvar Town from Spanish Fortress, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Prison in Spanish Fortress, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Spanish Fortress, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Spanish Fortress, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Hvar Town, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Hvar Town, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

Hvar Town, Hvar, Dalmatian Coast Islands, Croatia

     The weather absolutely made this day worthwhile - the speedboat would have been so cold and miserable if it had been raining! As I've mentioned, there were a couple of stops I probably could have lived without, but overall I did enjoy it all. Some people would perhaps prefer to spend multiple days exploring the islands, spending longer on each one, but with the limited time and unfortunate weather I had, this was the best option for my trip. And of course, like most of the Dalmatian Coast, the islands are all pretty touristic, but you can see why when they're so scenic. I generally enjoy spending time on the water, on boats and islands and going swimming, so I was glad to have been able to do that on this trip!

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