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Petite wonders: Ideal destinations for small superyachts

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Istria-Croatia
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Istrian peninsula

Croatia

A heart-shaped former segment of Rome in the shimmering Adriatic Sea

Istria was once Roman. At Pula they left a 23,000-capacity amphitheatre where, more recently, Jamiroquai and Placido Domingo sang in the night air. Venetians came next. Their legacy includes campaniles, red-roofed villages and gelateria, plus an addiction to spumante and seafood. Finally, Yugoslavia enclosed the peninsula during the 20th century. The socialists disavowed superyachts and tourism in place of naval emplacements and Leninism along Istria’s 500-kilometre coastline, until Croatia became independent in the 1990s.

“According to my fellow sailors’ advice, any yachtsman dropping anchor on the Western Istrian coast should start in Rovinj,” says skipper Srđan Pantović of the Istrian Tourism Board. The red-roofed town is a little Venice completely surrounded by water. Alas, the small marinas south from here seldom possess the attractions larger yachts are looking for, with necessities as simple as water and power hard to find when moored against an old quay. Draught is another issue for bigger boats, although unlike southern Croatia between Dubrovnik and Split, this area has rarely seen a luxury yacht. “Crveni Otok in the Rovinj archipelago is an established first stop for swimming, birdwatching and much else,” says Pantović, noting a wealth of picture perfect islets, “although larger boats cannot be too careful when navigating between the 20 main islands due to the shallow waters.”

The Brijuni islands, a former presidential retreat where Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito welcomed visitors as diverse as Muammar Gaddafi and Elizabeth Taylor, have similarly crystalline waters. “The port is well protected from winds and offers all the services one might need for yachts up to 35 metres,” continues Pantović. However, the 14 islands are preserved inside a national park, so you will have to tie up in Brijuni’s ancient harbour then hire a golf buggy or local boat.

The rest of Istria is all about topography and clients’ needs. Truffle hunting, e-biking, wreck diving and vineyard visits are all recommended, but searing summer afternoons make them morning activities. Similarly, short distances allow smaller yachts to set sail at dawn, followed by a Croatian breakfast of Dalmatian prosciutto and Italianate frittata in a completely new location.

Eastern Istria has a softer, more fragmented coastline that explodes into caves and tiny islands. “For example, Cape Kamenjak has dozens of caves and is excellent for a paddleboard workout,” says Pantović. “Then the nearby beach bar at Ceja Island is nautical perfection.” On outlying islands like Losinj and Rab, yachts under 20 metres can moor side-to in antique harbours. Both have sandy beaches such as Losinj’s Pržine and Rab’s Sahara, an attribute that sailors won’t find in southern Croatia.

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