Most groups are used to being driven around, but what if the transport wasn’t a minibus or a coach, but a 49-metre yacht? Sarah Holt shares her experience of a very luxurious cruise.
A tongue of talc-white pebbles, surrounded by Tiffany blue waters, Zlatni Rat is one of Croatia’s most famous beaches and it’s consistently rated as one of the most beautiful in Europe, if not the world.
To view it, most people catch the 50-minute ferry from mainland Split to Brač island or take a day-long sightseeing tour.
However, the ultimate way to glimpse it for the first time is from a frothy hot tub on the top deck of a luxury yacht, as I discovered on a recent cruise along the Dalmatian Coast.
My experience may sound like the stuff of dreams or the life of a lottery winner, but it’s not completely off-limits to groups.
Over the past couple of years, a company called Goolets has been slowly redefining the private yacht charter market in Croatia, making it more accessible to those without 10-figure bank balances.
To do this, Goolets has teamed up with local yacht captains to refurbish a collection of vessels to new levels of luxury – think master cabins with freestanding slipper baths, relaxation decks with firepits, and onboard cinema rooms.
While a typical 50-foot superyacht sleeps 12 people, these newly refurbished luxury cruisers sleep between 22 and 30, making the price, not cheap, but certainly less prohibitive – prices start at just under £3,500 per person per week.
There are some things that can’t really be costed up during these luxury yacht experiences, though. The memories you make on this type of trip can be priceless.
Groups can tailor their own itineraries with Goolets to explore anywhere between Umag in the north of Croatia to Cavtat in the south.
The list of top places to visit, however, includes Stupe, near the Dalmatian island of Korcula. This lilliput-sized island is home to nothing but a cocktail bar/restaurant, and it’s only accessible by boat.
Here groups can share platters of pillowy oysters from nearby Mali Ston and a bottle of Ostreum – a locally-made sparkling wine that’s aged on the seabed, so the bottles come with barnacles on.
Another should-see is the Stina Winery on the island of Brač, a short cruise from Zlatni Rat’s lick of land.
With its limestone walls and rust-red roof, Stina offers groups tours of its wine making facilities and cellar.
Its warmly-lit wine bar, meanwhile, is the place to try wines that you’d struggle to source in the UK – wines made from grapes that are unique to Brač and the neighbouring islands of Vis, Hvar and Korcula, like the rare white vugava and peppery red plavac mali.
Stina’s own brand wines come in bottles with blank labels and there’s a sign in the bar that says ‘fill your paper with the breathing of your heart’. Customers are encouraged to put their own designs on the bottles they buy and send them back to the winery once they’re done – the best are featured on the wine bar wall.
During my time on the yacht Ohana, my group and I passed an evening after dinner laughing as we decorated our own label. I’ve not sent it back to the winery. It’s in my memories box instead.
On the island of Hvar, a walk up to the Medieval castle that crowns the hilltop behind Hvar Town is highly recommended.
Set off as dusk begins to descend and you’ll make it to the summit in time to see the limestone buildings of the town blush and blacken as the sun sets. Then you can watch as, one by one, the street lamps blink on, giving Hvar Town a jewellery box glow.
Alternatively, you can visit Hvar between June and July, to see the lavender fields in bloom and to learn how the flowers are distilled into the lavender oil that’s infused into everything from soap to salt on the Dalmatian coast.
Of course, memories are made as much of time on the yacht as off it on these types of trips.
The Dalmatian coast is scalloped by coves and bays that can only be reached by boat and groups can season their itineraries with swim stops at these unpeopled places.
Once anchored, any adrenalin junkies in your group can use the yacht’s water toys like jet skis, seabobs and – in the case of Ohana, flyboards – while the rest of the party bobs in the Perrier-clear water of the Adriatic on rubber rings.
Mealtimes are also a highlight on these luxury yachts. As with the itinerary, groups can tailor their food and beverage packages to suit themselves.
Across Croatia, restaurants get busy in high season, with some eateries unable to accept bookings for more than two people at a time.
A yacht gives groups a dedicated dining space where they can choose to eat anything from buffets to three-course meals together.
During my time on Ohana, the chef prepared everything from American-style barbecue ribs and fillet steaks to platters of salty local sheep cheeses and bowls of black cuttlefish risotto. The latter two are specialities of Dalmatia, along with olive oil, honey, black truffles and smoked ham.
And a platter of Dalmatian ham and a bowl of smoky seafood risotto was how I ended my time in Croatia, after the Ohana had decanted us back in Split.
If your group chooses to follow a similar itinerary to me, I’d encourage you to do the same. Just take a 20-minute walk east, along the coast from Split Old Town, and you’ll reach Dvor, a fine dining restaurant with an outdoor terrace where the white linen-draped tables look out over the sea.
The combination of view, food, service and local wine list quality makes Dvor the ideal place to ink a full stop in on a trip full of A-list experiences.