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Cruising Croatia on the Adriatic

The Southern Explorer Cruise with Katarina Lines, Croatia

The Southern Explorer Cruise with Katarina Lines is a delightful cruise visiting ports in Southern Dalmatia. Visiting Split, Makarska, Mljet, Dubrovnik, Šipan/Trstenik, Korčula, Hvar, Bol and back to Split. With expert guides and a friendly crew, this is a restful way to explore the culture and delights of the Southern Coast of Croatia. We enjoyed this cruise in May 2023 and share our experince and some dining suggestions. You can see more fabulous cruises in Croatia on our Croatian cruises page.

Day 1: Split to Makarska

If the 3 R’s, rest, relaxation and rejuvenation, are your priorities for your next vacation then cruising the Adriatic Sea in Croatia with Katarina Line is a good choice. My daughter and I are most fortunate to have been on board the M.S. Spalato for a 7-night cruise from Split called the Southern Explorer which has a varied itinerary stopping each night in a new spot to give you a full flavour of the Croatian coast. 

Katarina Line Cruises is a well-established cruise company offering smaller and friendlier cruise (and hotel) experiences for a range of travellers. From the younger budget traveller looking for a party experience on board, to the more discerning traveller seeking a special deluxe experience, Katarina Lines cruises does cater to all options. We joined our Katarina Line cruise in Split on board the MS Spalato, one of the Premium Superior category Katarina Line vessels. We had a twin cabin below deck which was surprisingly spacious. Our single beds were very comfortable and welcome for the glorious snooze we had that afternoon. The linen was crisp and white and fresh towels for the wonderful shower.

Our first night on MS Spalato with Katarina Line Southern Explorer 7-night cruise was in magical Makarska. Tanya, our excellent tour manager, gave us an interesting overview of this beautiful seaside town which was inhabited as early as the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. Watching protectively over Makarska’s waterfront from a tranquil forested vantage point, is a statue of St Peter, erected in 2009, well worth the 20-minute stroll in late afternoon, a most serene spot with a great view over the town. Makarska’s fine selection of restaurants made the choice of where to dine difficult. While there are plenty of options to eat on the sea front, we decided to wander the back streets of Markarska and discovered the delightful @gastro_diva_ where we sat in a gorgeous little square under the stars. We started with the most tasty broccoli soup with goats cheese and local breads. For mains we had the falafel burger, perfect for a vegetarian with a delicious nutty flavour which could only be described as comfort food away from home. It was embraced in a delicious vegan sauce with layers of fresh tomato, cucumber, lettuce and rocket. The Zagreb style schnitzel was a delicious chicken and mozzarella parcel with a ham pate and tasty potato salad and rocket on top. We finished the evening with some soothing camomile and mint tea respectively. An easy stroll back to the boats moorings, and we turned in for our first gently rocking sleep on board.

Day 2: Makarska to Mljet

We set sail early on day 2 of our 7-night Southern Explorer Cruise on the MS Spalato with Katarina Line to Mljet but not without a delightful stop off anchored in a bay off Korcula island for a swim and snorkel off the back of the boat. Then onto Mljet, an exquisite island known for its two salted lakes, Veliko and Malo Jezero (Large and Small lake) and the rich marine life easily spotted in the clear, clean water. Miljet also has a reputation for its fine white and red wine, olives and goat’s cheese. An unspoilt island covered by lush green forests, the protected Mljet National park is a short walk from the port where you can purchase a ticket for the park which includes a boat trip on the large lake to church and Benedictine monastery on the island of St Mary’s. A fairly gentle walk up and then down some graded steps was easily manageable for most on our tour, including some of the older participants. The solar-powered boat makes regular departures from the area near the “small bridge” where you can also rent bicycles or kayaks. The exquisite turquoise blue water of the lake can be enjoyed from a number of vantage points by plunging into the water for a swim, renting a kayak or bike to take you around the lake or from the vantage points on the well sign-posted walking trails. After we returned on the walking trail, we had a delightful sundowner drink at Hotel Odisej Mljet in the port to round off the day before a delightful dinner at @konoba.barbar where the mussels were pulled up fresh from a basket in the sea. Of course the local red wine was a wonderful rounding off of the day with new international friends and lots of conversation under the stars.

Day 3: Mljet to Dubrovnik

An early morning sail on day 3 of our 7-night Southern Explorer Cruise on the MS Spalato with Katarina Line was a short sail from Mljet to Dubrovnik across the channel from the idyllic Mljet island. We docked mid-morning in the picturesque “Pearl of the Adriatic”. Exploring the castle and a cable car ride to the peak offering the best views of Dubrovnik and the surrounding area, a must when visiting this tourist destination, with a rich history and culture, magnificent architecture, picturesque landscapes and of course the sites of many a “Game of Thrones” scene. Dubrovnik Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers plenty of spots to browse the varied shops and enjoy a meal. Our local tour guide for the Old Town was arranged by Katarina Line and she ably guided us through the squares and side streets sharing fascinating information from methods of democratic government employed in the local senate house in older times as well as the tit bits about the local filming of Game of Thrones scenes.

We spent the early evening enjoying the jazzy sounds, food and wine with our newly found cruise friends at Troubadour Jazz Brasserie in a sheltered square of Old Town Dubrovnik where you can enjoy a drink with a giant teddy bear in your party. Another fabulous spot for a drink is Buža Bar, a women-owned business you enter through a hole in the old town wall to be greeted with a wonderful view of the sea, passing boats and Otok Lokrum island. Of course, the obligatory daily scoop of gelato was enjoyed in one of the side streets before returning to the boat.

Day 4: Dubrovnik to Trstenik

Day 4 was another quick morning visit to Dubrovnik Old Town where we went into some of the places of worship and explored the sobering exhibition of the lives of the men who died in the Croatian War of Independence and Yugoslav wars. It was extraordinary to see the pictures of real destruction and damage of such a beautiful historical place and culture of determined and enterprising people. A quick sea swim at a great swimming spot, Porporela, next to the port wear you can board tourist boats to the islands, was a refreshing culmination of our Dubrovnik visit. We headed back to the boat after warming up from from our dip in a coffee shop up the steps of the Old Town.

After the tourist bustle, our day-4 stop on the 7-night Southern Explorer Croatian Cruise on the MS Spalato with Katarina Line was Trstenik, a quiet fishing village with a lovely curved beach. A welcome respite from the busy tourist track. Time in this town can be spent taking a stroll up to the little church on the hill for views of the town or relaxing in one of the harbour front tavernas. This area, the Pelješac peninsula, is famous for its wines and is the birthplace of the Zinfandel grape made famous in California’s Napa Valley. The Plavac Mali is another delicious cultivar to enjoy within a minute’s stroll from the dock at the local wine cellar owned by the Živkušićor family or by heading up the local road to the winery (open in high season). Trstenik was the evening location of the Captain’s Dinner enjoyed on board the MS Spalato under the gracious host of Captain Zoran, a bustling yet casual affair enjoyed by all in the salon. We escaped for another delicious glass of Plavac Mali and a restful cup of chamomile tea under the stars in this quaint fishing village.

Travel note: Remember to check your food and drinks bills are accurate before paying as we noticed incorrect and more expensive billing more than once in Croatia.

Day 5: Trstenik to Korčula

Next stop on the 7-night Southern Explorer Cruise with Katarina Line was Korčula, Dubrovnik’s smaller twin and the birthplace of Marco Polo. An impressive walled city with a reputation for fine cuisine and local wines. We enjoyed a quiet afternoon drink at @aterina.korcula, a local restaurant that prides itself on the fresh local ingredients and creativity. The local cocktail of white wine, soda and sage syrup was most refreshing. Our evening meal @servantes_korcula_croatia was exceptional and the carafe of red house wine extremely palatable. There are many tapas bars to enjoy a late-night cocktail and one in the tower wall @massimo_sunset_bar worth a visit at sunset with the stunning views but not for those who suffer from vertigo as it is a steep climb up a ladder to access the rooftop bar. A delightfully picturesque island to drop anchor for the night. We joined the local walking tour of the old City with the most delightful guide arranged by Katarina Line. Our guide’s stories were rich in history, intrigue and a bit of humour as we heard about the significance of the Venetian influences, the importance of Korčula, built on a large outcrop of rock on this essential sea trade route and even learnt the origin of the term “stinking rich” from the wealthy who would have their own chapels in which to worship, and bury their demised relatives under the flag stones. A view of Korčula from over head would highlight it’s unusual urban planning with the streets in a fishbone pattern to allow for cooling winds to blow through the streets in Summer and protect the inhabitants from chilly Bura wind in the winter.

Day 6: Korčula to Hvar

How far is Hvar from Korčula, you ask? Well Hvar is not far, an easy sail to the next island on the 7-night Southern Explorer Cruise with Katarina Line. Guests on board are free to relax on the top sun deck of the boat or enjoy a drink and chat in the seating areas near the boat stern. It was fascinating to see the many vineyards planted on the steep slopes of the Croatian islands and pass by the villages with some notable “renovators’ paradises” higher up on the hillsides, with the very attractive waterfront properties inviting one for another relaxing holiday in Croatia.

Hvar is the so-called “party town” in Croatia with many a celebrity enjoying the summer night life. Our very helpful and trustworthy Katarina Line tour manager, Tanya, took us on a short tour to Hvar town square, the largest in Dalmatia at 4,500 m2. Observing the grandeur of the Venetian tower alongside the church, it’s clear from the larger indentation on the church step, that the local populus, who had to enter the door on the left, frequented church far more than the nobility who would enter at the larger, more ornate door on the right. A stroll in the westerly direction takes you along a tree-lined promenade, past some local stalls selling lavender, olive oil and curios, to all the trendy beach resorts which typically open at the beginning of June 2023 when a lounger or even cabana @beachclubhvar will see you relaxing or partying amongst Hvar’s trendiest visitors. Or wander a little longer to @hulahulahvar beach bar and restaurant for slightly more relaxed vibes by the sea.

Well worth the graded climb for astounding views, the Fortica, Hvar’s Spanish Fortress, or Španjola, as known to the locals. was built before 500 BC and is situated on a former Illyrian settlement. After taking in and photographing the views, you can enjoy a snack and coffee break at the terrace café before returning down the winding path to the town.

For evening dining, the seafront is an obvious choice, and we enjoyed a glass of prosecco with our new-found cruise friends with a view of the yachts and boats of the port. But it’s wandering the back streets and cobbled lanes of these gorgeous Croatian Island towns that, I think, brings you the most culinary delights. We ended up enjoying some Asian food al fresco @silkstreetfood with its imagination grabbing “Sex, drugs and spring rolls” neon signage. After a short stroll and some street dancing in the laneway the vibey @kivabarhvar, we decided to end the night with a cocktail and laid-back live music at Central Park Club @hotelparkhvar.

Day 7: Hvar to Bol then Split

After a choppy night rocked us to sleep on the boat, an early sailing to avoid bad weather found us in the town of Bol on Brač island, on the final full day of our 7-night Southern Explorer Cruise with Katarina Line. Bol is the home of the most beautiful, curved beach, Zlatni Rat, or Golden Cape beach, which changes shape with the tides and is situated about 2km west of the town. Even the overcast and slightly inclement weather on the day did not deter people who were still enjoying the beach for some Instagram-worthy pics in the turquoise blue water. If you aren’t into upping your step count for the day, you can take the little tourist choo-choo train to see the sites along the coast to this gorgeous beach. On the promenade, you can also rent buggies and bikes. Instead, we decided to relax in the town and enjoyed some great coffee and a virgin cocktail at @varadero.bol and reboarded the boat for our afternoon sail back to Split.

On arrival in Split, we took a walk to Bacvice Beach for a swim before heading into the Diocletian Palace to see it’s historic architectural marvels and cuisine. we were delighted to catch a view of the Emperor himself and his gladiator guards marching through the central square.

Day 8: Split

Our final morning on the MS Spalato 7-night Southern Explorer Cruise with Katarina Line was an early breakfast on board in the salon, and farewell to the amazing crew and swapping contact details with our new friends from all over the world. We were able to very easily check our luggage into a left luggage facility across the road from the dock, to free us up for a last wander around the Diocletian Palace and enjoy a coffee and croissant at a Bobis in the large square. Finding our “land legs” again was fun and strangely soothing to reminisce the relaxing bob and sway of the boat. An easy stroll back to the port enabled us to collect our bags, have one last Croatian beer and board the reasonably priced airport bus at the port-adjacent bus station to take us back to Split Airport.

We booked our flights through Computravel who got us great deals via Lufthansa along with the Croatian airlines and Swiss Airlines code share back to Dublin, our next stop on our European May visit.

Coastal Croatia and the Adriatic are an inspiring, relaxing and picturesque destination for all travellers, from friendly, low-key budget travellers to those seeking a luxury sail or stay. Could Croatia be your next fabulous holiday destination? Let us Compucruises help you with your next travel itinerary to the turquoise waters. You can see more fabulous cruises in Croatia on our Croatian cruises page.

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