Five Islands, a Ghost Kitchen and a Luxe Floating Vacation – Cruising the Croatian Islands on a Super Yacht

Vis by night ©Meryl Pearlstein
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If you’ve never cruised on a super yacht, you might want to take a look at the variety offered by Goolets, a company based in Slovenia and the premier charter agency for more than 100 sailing vessels in Croatia. I hadn’t heard of them before I took this trip, but now I’m a confirmed fan of their crewed charters. In times of pandemics or even when everything is perfectly normal, this may just be the best way to travel – relaxed, indulged and swimming in luxury.

Freedom ©Meryl Pearlstein

I began my Goolets adventure sailing from Split, Croatia aboard the super yacht Freedom. The gorgeous yacht, 158-feet-long with four decks, has everything you could want for a blissful holiday without the crowds. Great food, amazing service, comfortable and spacious accommodations, and a well-curated and organized schedule. But, Goolets, always stiving to anticipate guests’ needs and wants, has plans to top all that: the yacht is being upgraded this spring, adding a spa and gym, massage salon, cinema and sauna, and renovating its staterooms, swimming pool and lounge areas. 

Welcome cheese and fruit platter on board ©Meryl Pearlstein

The itinerary was a cruise among five islands, Brač, Hvar, Korčula, Vis and Vela Stupe. We started and finished in the historic port of Split, well known by fans of “Game of Thrones,” with a shoreline Riva the perfect place for a celebratory cocktail. 

Split harbor ©Meryl Pearlstein

With only 11 cabins and a maximum of 23 guests, the yacht prides itself on having a 1:1 staff to stateroom ratio. Captain Ivan, “super host” Ivan, and culinary-service team Tash, Toni and Tomislav ensured that service was anticipatory and flawless, and the group quickly became my new best friends as I embarked on a socially distanced, floating trip on the Adriatic Sea.

Tomi with the brandy ©Meryl Pearlstein
Wine at Moro ©Meryl Pearlstein

Personalized in a way that even a five-star hotel can’t always achieve, service is the order of the day on Freedom and is always carried out with a smile. I merely mentioned that I wanted some crackers in my cabin for late-night snacking and the next day a package of Croatian chips appeared on my dresser. I hinted that I wanted to try a flight of pošip or malvazija instead of a single glass of Croatian wine at dinner and Tash Pericic, the amazing “can do” server/hostess/coordinator, was there to make it happen. When I stopped at the bar for an after-dinner cordial, Toni and Tomi had it at the ready: a spot-on, fig-like Travarica rakija that changed the way I thought about grappa forever. And Dominik and Captain Ivan kept the yacht on a steady course as we cruised along the Dalmatian coast. 

Dining on Freedom courtesy Goolets
Local cuisine ©Meryl Pearlstein

There wasn’t exactly a “ghost” kitchen, in the current use of the phrase, but the two unseen geniuses in the kitchen turned out dishes to meet every gastronome’s whims. Breakfast buffets with fresh fruit, Pag island cheese, waffles and eggs; lunches of risotto (ni rižot), langoustines and pizza-like soparnik; and dinner extravaganzas with truffles, rack of lamb, seafood from any of the neighboring isles, and, of course, Croatia’s famous olive oil and wines were presented with panache and simplicity. A humble bow and hello at the end of the cruise introduced me to the cooks behind the curtain, Ivan and Silvija. (A side note, everyone seems to be named Ivan, so if you forget someone’s name, call out Ivan and someone will always respond!)

Daily briefings by Ivan ©Meryl Pearlstein

The yacht matches its high level of service with understated, anticipatory luxury. Each of the spacious cabins has a comfortable bed, oversized windows, a closet with a safe large enough to store a laptop, and a well-designed bathroom with rain head shower or handheld unit. Toiletries are from high-end range Rituals from the Netherlands. Other thoughtful touches include a Goolets after-sun moisturizer, outlets for both plugs and USBs, and a rain poncho. Hot water is plentiful, important after a day of soaking up the Adriatic sun or swimming in the salty water. 

Biking on Brač ©Meryl Pearlstein
A dalmation in Dalmatia ©Meryl Pearlstein

I chose to spend my on-board time in a mix of massage, hot tub, lounging and swimming indulgences. The waters are crystalline azure-green and it’s hard to resist jumping in, even if the temperature might seem chilly initially. Freedom provides plenty of water toys to keep you amused including a jet ski, two SeaBobs, floats, a kayak and a paddleboard. You can swim right off the back of the yacht when anchored, but the cruise also takes you to secluded and impossibly beautiful beaches like Stiniva where a small tender or swimming are your only means of access, or to the Blue Cave on Biševo island entered through the tiniest of openings. If you’ve seen Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, you might recognize some of the scenery. 

Blue Cave ©Meryl Pearlstein

Non-sailing scheduling included guided visits to five of Croatia’s more than 1200 islands and islets. Within the circumference of the Split roundtrip, we first visited Brač, a gem of an island known for its gorgeous white-pebble Zlatni Rat beach and the town of Bol with numerous cafes and wine bars. Our second stop at Hvar, one of Croatia’s liveliest yachting destinations, offered a thirteenth-century fortress, a cathedral and a beautiful shore lined with bars and cafes. Just steps from our docked yacht, the celebrity-frequented Gariful restaurant was a dream for seafood lovers. A starter of octopus and oysters perfectly set the mood for the evening on the patio overlooking the harbor. There’s a reason why Bon Jovi, Beyoncé, Demi Moore and others love this place run by the humble Ivan Gospodnetic. If you look down through the clear floor indoors, you’ll see a flotilla of small sharks looking back at you. But it’s more likely it’s the gracious servers and the edible gold dotting the food that are the main attractions.

Brač’s Zlatni Rat ©Meryl Pearlstein

For some 13th-century historical amusement, in Korčula I took a tour led by Lady Franceska, the purported mistress of Marco Polo said to have been born and buried on the gorgeous island. In Korčula’s Old Town, with its narrow stone-paved streets that lead to a privileged glimpse of the waterfront and a view of beautiful sunsets, I meandered through centuries of history regaled by tales of good and bad behaviors past. Capturing the perfect tone of the island, De Canavellis restaurant has a choice location by the water, serving Dalmatian classics and Croatian wine within the island’s historic walls.

Freedom approaching Dubrovnik courtesy Goolets
Lady Franceska in Korčula ©Meryl Pearlstein

On the topic of privilege, everyone should visit at least one island that’s truly off-the-beaten path, in my opinion, one where you might find yourself the only person there. For me, that island was Vela Stupe, appearing like Mont Saint Michel in the middle of the Adriatic. There, a solitary bar and restaurant, Moro Beach Stupe, serves up fresher-than-fresh oysters on an outdoor deck overlooking nothing but the endless blue water. A proprietary white wine has been “cured” in salt water under the sand, adding a slight gustatory patina to its crispness. The barnacle-covered aqua bottles are unusual as well and, if you like, you can purchase them for a rare gift. 

Cafe life in Vis ©Meryl Pearlstein

My favorite of the islands was Vis, where scenes from the second Mamma Mia movie were filmed in the gorgeous town of Komiža. An archeological tour best shows off the multi-faceted nature of this island. From Goran Spilski, I learned about the small-town nature of Vis where everyone knows everyone and where history is preserved with reverence. On this island, an abandoned World War II airfield is a reminder of Croatia’s former Yugoslavian history. It’s also close to a dramatic lookout peak for catching one of Croatia’s sky-filling, red-streaked sunsets.

Tash always ready with a smile courtesy Goolets

Onboard, we celebrated our final gala evening, plotting out the remaining islands and towns still to visit, like Dubrovnik and nearby Mljet Island, and planning for a return cruise. Goolets founders Mitja and Alenka Mirtič were there to chime in, the charming, hospitality-focused duo practicing the motto that they preach: “Life Is Good.” On this last magical night of yacht cruising, impromptu karaoke gave way to serious dancing under disco lights, a fitting precursor to the next day’s yoga and meditation sessions on the upper deck in preparation for our return to reality. 

Hvar ©Meryl Pearlstein

For more information on the variety of crewed yacht charters available for cruises through Croatia, Italy, Greece, Turkey and more, reach out to Goolets at www.goolets.net. They’ll help you customize the best option for you and your group. For information about the port of Split, Visit Split is a great resource, www.visitsplit.com

Freedom at dusk ©Meryl Pearlstein

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