Based in Croatia’s balmy waters, 48 metre Freedom may not be a traditional superyacht, but her crew’s knowledge of the coastline and tantalising culinary scene makes her a real head-turner. Georgia Boscawen steps on board a new type of charter
The cobbled limestone streets and calm walkways of the Croatian island of Hvar glimmer in the afternoon sun. It’s as if the limestone here is polished each morning before the next boatful of visitors meander around the complex network of narrow avenues, taking in the town’s curious architecture, which is typically Dalmatian – a synthesis of the Renaissance and early Baroque styles. Balconies fit for Juliet are crammed with flowery shrubs that spill down onto the awnings of the shops below, or dangle over the tables of eateries squeezed into nooks off the town’s complex network of passageways.
Life here is unflustered and slow – perhaps because everyone in Hvar has arrived by boat, many of which sit stern-to along the palm-tree-lined Obala Riva, the town’s marina. Many boats, that is, except for ours – which is too big.
At 48 metres, Freedom is anchored off the small cluster of islands opposite Hvar, awaiting a radio call from our accompanying crew. The yacht makes its way over to us, drawing alongside the remaining stretch of the harbour wall before a small gathering of onlookers. One person sidles up to the crew and asks, “How big is she?” while we step aboard.
It’s a superyacht-worthy reception, but Freedom isn’t your typical superyacht. With 11 cabins for 22 guests, the 2023 charter fee starts at €100,000 (£85,580) per week or under €5,000 per person, excluding extras, which is far more economical than your typical 50-metre superyacht. Fresh out of the shipyard after an extensive refit that saw a reduction in the number of cabins and a more polished design, Freedom has been elevated from a cruise option. She now offers an experience that bridges the gap between the two industries – a conduit that captures the integral elements of a typical superyacht charter in Croatia. Goolets, one of Croatia’s leading charter companies, manages the yacht, working to ensure that all the crucial elements of a superyacht charter manifest on board Freedom.
Croatia teems with superyachts in peak season – 126 metre Octopus and 88 metre Zen have recently been spotted cruising the region – and it’s not surprising, with more than 1,000 islands strewn along its Adriatic coastline. Vestiges of competing influence permeate the country, which has been occupied by Illyrian kings, Byzantine emperors, Venetian rulers, Ottoman sultans and Habsburg monarchs. A borderland with a tumultuous military history, Croatia today is a remarkably peaceful country that deserves a spot on your charter bucket list.
As Hvar vanishes into the distance, we congregate on Freedom’s aft deck for lunch, which turns out to be akin to a banquet. The meal kicks off with a light yet rich foie gras with port jelly and fig chutney, followed by a veal risotto served with duck liver – a famous dish here in Croatia, originating from the small town of Skradin and taking 12 hours to prepare. An hour later and we’re only getting started, as course three arrives – a perfectly pink duck breast, lying on a bed of potato cream laced with rosemary, chicory cooked in orange juice and a punchy demi-glace. I like to think it was at this point that the chef sat back and pondered, “How can I possibly make this more decadent? Lava cake, of course!” Expertly cooked, and served with homemade tonka bean ice cream, these flavours are far beyond a cruise offering, securing Freedom’s culinary prowess in the superyacht sphere.
Feeling suitably stuffed, I stagger up to the sundeck to catch the sleepy island of Vis shifting into focus. Lying 28 nautical miles from Split, the terracotta roofs pop against the sandy 17th-century Venetian buildings, which are surrounded by steep green hills and a flotilla of sailing yachts, gently chiming along the harbour wall. The beauty of the island hasn’t gone unnoticed after being the location of choice for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, representing the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi.
Small casual groups of punters have begun to congregate outside the understated bars along Vis’s harbour quay, demonstrating the far more subdued atmosphere here on the island. Scratch the surface, however, and you’ll discover a thriving culinary scene on Vis, including restaurant Boccadoro, well known for its catch of the day and home-grown ingredients served in its green-fringed courtyard.
An integral part of the island’s draw – like much of Croatia – is wine. After fishing, viticulture is the second most dominant trade here on Vis. It’s a hangover from Ancient Greek colonisation, during which time Croatia’s very first vine was planted on the island, and its entirely autochthonous industry was established. On board, exclusively local Croatian wine pairings demonstrate the country’s sublime assortment of deep reds and rich honey whites, which are often overlooked across the rest of Europe.
The word tranquil may encapsulate the island of Vis, but that certainly couldn’t be said of all of Croatia’s islands. Hvar, for example, is world famous for its thriving nightlife, as is Bol, with its string of bars along its unusual and ever-changing beach front. In Croatia, you get it all – a condensed taster of all the best elements of a charter, all conveniently close to each other. There is no need for overnight cruising here, just a silent cruise at breakfast or lunch to discover the next adventure.
“It’s called the Golden Horn,” says Goolets’ onboard concierge, Ivan Ramljak, describing the spit of land two kilometres west of Bol. “The most famous beach on the Adriatic, and you can never visit the same beach twice.” It’s true – the spit at the end of the long stretch of cobbles of the Golden Horn, more formally known as the Zlatni Rat, are swept along with the tide, which constantly pulls at its distinctive form throughout the year.
Having moored at Port Bol and walked along the Put Zlatnog Rata – a tree-lined waterfront walkway that leads to the famous beach – I’m delighted to discover that it’s not only a great spot to swim, but one that’s full to the brim with beach bars and restaurants. With its distinctive sculpture of a pair of three-metre hands at the entrance, drawing you in, Auro cocktail bar is a difficult spot to stroll past without calling in for a drink. As I sit drinking a mojito with the sun beating down, it’s easy to see why Croatia is such a popular superyacht destination.
Though the draw is not exclusively for cocktails and culture, quiet anchorages with gleaming swimming spots away from the crowds are where Freedom comes into her own. Huge storage and deck space means that there aren’t many toys and inflatables left off the list. In a bay on the island of Čiovo, they are all launched with the yacht hitched up to a tree in a novel set-up. Guests zip around the yacht on Seabobs, hydrofoil boards, jet skis and electric surfboards with an extraordinary rocky backdrop and waters that appear more Caribbean than Croatian: gin-clear and wonderfully warm. Čiovo is a quiet, almost deserted spot with long stretches of coastline and just a spatter of other yachts along the cove, giving us plenty of room to frolic in the balmy waters.
Freedom might not quite be able to pass as a superyacht but, in terms of on-board experience, she ticks all the boxes. Designed to be taken as one charter, rather than individual cabins, the food, the cocktails and the scenery would impress even the most discerning critic.
She certainly makes an entrance in any of the Croatian harbours, with a team that knows the islands better than anyone else, as Freedom only resides here in these waters. So, if you want to get a taster of what a fully-fledged superyacht charter in Croatia is all about, Freedom is what you’re looking for. She captures the very best parts without scrimping on the detail. Freedom is available to charter with goolets.net
First published in the September 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.Shop now