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Kvarner Riviera, Croatia

KalipsaOnce the favoured
holiday haunt of
the aristocrats and
wealthier merchants
of the Austro-
Hungarian Empire,
Croatia
s Kvarner
Riviera has a wealth
of features to
recommend it.
Especially when
explored by boat
...”

WE FLEW INTO TRIESTE with Ryanair and headed south into Croatia, crossing the Istrian Peninsula before arriving at the seaside resort town of Opatija. Such is the opulence of the grand hotels and sumptuous villas built in the 19th century that you would have been hard put not to believe it to be the French Riviera at Cannes or Nice. It was once de rigueur for the aristocrats and wealthier merchants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to spend their holidays here. However, we had broader horizons namely to set sail for a cruise amongst the islands off the Kvarner Riviera…

Mention the Mediterranean's Adriatic Sea and Venice immediately comes to mind. Take a look at the map and you will be drawn to the eastern seaboard that is strewn with islands and dotted with unfamiliar named towns — or are they villages? Each one has a fascinating and long history, many dating back to Roman times. Travellers, traders, conquerors, raiders as well as the local population have all left their mark to create a delightful mix of styles which provides an endless stream of changing vistas with surprises at every turn.

Small cruise boats are a great way of touring and exploring off the beaten track in a fairly civilised manner. You have none of the hassle of packing daily, catching ferries and frequently changing hotels. And your longer than just lunchtime stop is usually in a deserted cove, and swimming off a boat is much preferred to sharing a crowded beach.

Choosing the right boat is crucial; some are dire and over-generously described as 'Adventure Cruises'; in other words, 'uncomfortable and overcrowded'. We sailed with Katarina Line which has a large choice of vessels (and numerous itineraries) cruising the length of the coast and islands down to Dubrovnik.

They offer a choice of standards but, importantly, all their vessels are well maintained and very clean. Their second tier 'A' Class vessels are offered at a keen price (which obviously precludes using the word luxury) but they are more than fit for purpose.

Our temporary home afloat was Kalipsa and she provided some twenty guest berths in en suite twin cabins served by five multilingual crew members.

Kalipsa

Kalipsa
proved to be very stable, and speedy enough to cover our undemanding but well-balanced itinerary. There was enough time to go off-course quite a long way as we followed, and were in turn followed by, a school of dolphins — all parties enjoyed the encounter as they swam and frolicked around us.

A typical lunch-time anchorage would involve; a quiet cove, a swim for most people, happily unsuccessful octopus hunts by the snorkellers, a few taking a stroll along the shore and, of course, lunch.

Our first anchorage was in a rocky cove on Pag Island, famous for its sheep's cheese — even if on this occasion the sheep proved somewhat elusive on this sparsely-populated island. We did see a small fishing village fairly close to as our skipper took the scenic route rather than the direct line to neighbouring Rab Island. The approach to Rab town (actually more a rather large village) indicated that this was somewhere special.

On arrival we found no less than four elegant, historic Venetian bell towers surrounded by a cluster of old buildings. And we were not disappointed when we explored the little streets. Throughout the summer there are numerous festivals and other events to celebrate; our visit coincided with one — young and old from across the island mingled and danced the night away.

Each place had something to be remembered by and Mali Losinj was no exception. All along the lengthy quays were palms and flowering shrubs and the private gardens in the surrounding alleyways and streets were some of the best we have seen in the country. Someone has even opened an 'Aromatic' garden and the friendly resident donkey in this inspired setting made his regular contribution, but we were highly amused by the little notice alongside his enclosure that informed us he visited his girlfriend every six months!

I am sure the skipper only stopped off at Ilovik Island so we could enjoy local ice creams on a particularly hot afternoon on this small and quiet island. Needless to say, we appreciated both the ice creams and the flexibility shown by our captain.

The final port of call was Cres — notable for having the smallest inner harbour and, possibly, the greatest potential for aspiring holiday home seekers. The harbour was virtually enclosed by a charming cluster of houses, one of which was only a little wider than the front door, and these were mixed in with rather grander buildings. Along other narrow streets were to be found classic Venetian and other houses, all ripe for restoration. In Mediterranean terms, it is one of the least commercially exploited areas. What better reason to return to this picturesque area? — Bonnie and Tim Stevens

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