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Cruising the Adriatic
12th May 2023
As the Mediterranean summer season gets underway, Camper & Nicholsons explores the up-and-coming charter destinations in the Adriatic. From Croatia and Montenegro to Albania and Corfu, the region is best accessed and enjoyed by yacht. Discover the highlights that the region has to offer.

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Cruising the Adriatic

For the most part of the 20th century, the Adriatic’s beautiful cruising grounds were off-limits to yacht charters. An Iron Curtain closed over majestic islands and aquamarine bays from Slovenia in the north to Albania in the south. As the century closed, news focussed on conflict in the former Yugoslavia and foreign yachts stayed away.  

Andrija Šimic of the Simmor Agency, which organises services for superyachts visiting northern Croatia, remembers the days. “Even though the situation was completely calm from 1996, foreigners were not convinced to sail in our waters,” he explains. Italians sailing from Venice, a few hours sail west, were the first to explore. “After them, Austrian and German owners started coming,” continues Andrija. “The first superyacht arrived in the beginning of the 2000s and the rest is yachting history.” 

A host of new marinas have cemented northern Croatia as a yachting go-to. The newest is ACI Marina Rovinj, located in a red-roofed former Venetian port off the Istria peninsula. The city’s cuisine is a mix of ocean and hinterland: amberjack, oysters, wild asparagus, black truffles. There’s more to come: the far grander ACI Marina Rijeka will open just up the coast in 2025. 

One thousand Croatian islands lay scattered across the Adriatic Sea towards Montenegro, Albania and Greece. All are scented by carob trees, teeming with sea life and surrounded by vodka-tonic seas. Yet each island possesses an individual charm. Like a paragliding cliff on Bol. A Game of Thrones movie set on Lokrum. A Second World War aeroplane wreck dive off Vis.

Diversity is Croatia’s allure, confirms Captain Toni Vukovic. “We are always able to find a great bay with crystal clear water and endless possibilities for hiking, cycling, diving, rafting and wine tours. Sea and wind are much calmer compared to the South of France or Greece,” adds Captain Vukovic.

Captain Vukovic particularly recommends the Krka National Park. Guests may ride their tender up the Krka River, a fjord-like waterway beset with monastery islands and fortress castles. The reward is a natural aqualand consisting of 12 explosive waterfalls, where visitors may hike, bike, or dive right in. “The biggest advantage of cruising in Croatia is that many of the famous island destinations such as Krka, Brac, Hvar, Vis and Korcula are close together,” he says. “So, you can pack many experiences into one week.”

Korcula’s 200km coast offers lunchtime breezes that arrive in time for windsurf competitions, while sandy beaches tempt for sunset drinks. The island’s interior is a feast for the senses. Hiking trails link 1,000 olive oil farms with wild honey depots and only-found-here wines. 

Hvar’s care-free spirit (imagine Ibiza with oyster bars and waterpolo courts) is summed up by barefoot beach bars like Robinson. Try the house special of skampi na buzara — shrimps sautéed into an unctuous tomato and white wine stew. At sundown, the beach bar crowds reposition to Hvar’s pulsating clubs. 

Stacy Moss, charter broker at Camper & Nicholsons, says that “under-the-radar Adriatic experiences” have boosted Croatia bookings. “The charter market is mostly being driven by guests seeking big adventures after they have cruised in areas more familiar like the South of France or Italy,” she explains. Like Sestrica, an island with one jetty, one lighthouse and nothing else. Or Lastovo, an island off-limits during the Cold War, where guests can kayak inside a submarine base. 

The country’s latest yachting sight is the Pelješac Bridge, which opened in July 2022 to celebrate 30 years of Croatian independence. Six triangular spans, akin to giant white sails, cross the Adriatic Sea from mainland Croatia to the Pelješac peninsula. Sailing underneath is a humbling experience. The 80km-long peninsula is Croatia as-was: sea urchin shacks, farm lunches, swim-to islets, swim-inside caves, searing vineyards and what must be Croatia’s loneliest beach, Plaža Pržina, which points towards Montenegro, the next nation south. 

The Montenegrin town of Tivat was a Yugoslav submarine base until Peter Munk, a serial entrepreneur who specialised in developing abandoned military installations, flew above in an army helicopter in the 2000s. Former chairman of Camper & Nicholsons George Nicholson was drafted in to advise Munk. “The base was superbly placed and totally protected from bad weather,” recalled George. “Peter Munk bought it, and it is now Porto Montenegro.” 

Porto Montenegro lights up the Adriatic like a beacon for superyacht excess. The Eastern Mediterranean’s most fabulous marina is based around a 65m infinity pool. Yachts up to 250m may moor at one of 450 berths. A new heliport buzzes guests between Montenegro’s highlights. “Porto Montenegro is a great place to embark as it is located a ten-minute drive from Tivat airport,” says Vanessa Morlot, senior charter broker at Camper & Nicholsons. “Sailing out into the fjord-like bay of Kotor is breath-taking as yachts are encircled by 1,500m high mountains.” 

There’s magic everywhere, little of it discovered. Like the mysterious twin islands of St George and Our Lady of the Rocks. “Legend goes that sailors spotted an image of the Virgin Mary on a rock here,” says Vanessa. “So each time they had a successful voyage they added another stone as an offering as they passed.” So many rocks were deposited that an island eventually appeared. A photogenic little church with a blue-domed roof was built on top. A stone's throw from it, Saint George features a monastery surrounded by tall cypress trees.

Vanessa also recommends the mountain bike hub of Mount Lovcen and the kitesurf base of Ada Bojana island. “Sveti Stefan, with its terracotta-roofed houses, is another jewel on the coast of Montenegro,” says Vanessa. It’s now an A-list Aman resort where Camper & Nicholsons guests are welcome for an elegant seafood lunch at its fabulous Arva restaurant. 

Danilo Kalezic from Porto Montenegro has more to add. “Lake Skadar, close to the Albania border, is a wildlife haven and has attracted the Instagram generation,” he explains. The National Park looks like a watery fairytale. Here visitors can kayak through lily pads then dive through a canyon wearing safety gear. “Albania itself is becoming more popular,” adds Danilo. “Rather than ending in Montenegro, the Adriatic charter route is expanding.” 

Jelja Serani from Saranda Summer Tours has assisted the largest yachts visiting Albania. “In 2022 we had a good year,” she explains. “Yachts that visited us included Lady Britt (a landmark 63m Feadship) and La Dea II (a made-for-summer superyacht that has circumnavigated the globe).” Both are available to charter through Camper & Nicholsons. Jelja particularly recommends the Ksamil Islands. Imagine a sprinkle of the Maldives in the Adriatic: three sandy islets where Albanian chardonnay is served on sun loungers against lapping waves. Another hidden gem is Tongo island situated 300m off the Greek coast – the island has one sandy beach, a dozen trees and a population of zero. 

The Adriatic ends on Corfu, a ten-minute sail from Tongo and Butrint. Corfu’s charms include Odysseus’s Cave, where giant shrimp hide in a swim-through chamber 22m deep. And the Achilleion Palace, where guests can make a private tour of a rococo residence.

If you are planning to sail in that beautiful area, contact our specialists in the destination for a tailor-made charter.