Posted by: croatianpropertymanagement | May 19, 2009

A swimming tour of Croatia

A swimming tour of Croatia

Swimming in the AdriaticCroatia has more than a thousand islands along its coastline. Some are limestone specks with craggy coves, others have sweeping arcs of white sand. Some are playgrounds for the rich and famous, others are uninhabited but for the occasional goatherd or sailor. Washing between them is the Adriatic.

For a week we island-hopped in various vessels – a 54ft yacht, fast catamarans, little boats, smaller water taxis and big ferries. We discovered Sipan, where Dubrovnik’s nobility once holidayed, and Palmizana, a tranquil, bohemian haunt on a lazy squiggle of an island. Finally, at car-free Prvic, we gave up on boats and started to swim.

In the UK, I thrash about in an indoor municipal pool, dodging old ladies and trying to avoid floating sticking plasters. Swimtrek offers a more advanced experience. It organises holidays worldwide, from the Bahamas to the Scilly Isles, leading keen swimmers on guided swims. A whole week spent swimming freely among karst islands (those shaped by the dissolution of a soluble rock such as limestone) in the wide Adriatic, warmed by summer’s sun, seemed ideal.

Our first morning was spent with 12 other tourists and two tour leaders: Gary, a sensible American swimming instructor, and Emily, a fun-filled young woman who has swum the English Channel. Together, we left Prvic in a small boat to motor for two hours out to Kornati. This string of sun-kissed, uninhabited islands is pure poetry. George Bernard Shaw said they were made “out of tears, stars and breath”.

Bobbing over waves, dazzled by sunlight, sipping coffee, we chatted and squinted in the glare. Emily slathered our necks and underarms in Vaseline to prevent chafing. We donned coloured caps for visibility and some struggled into wetsuits. It began to look ominous.

The captain stopped the engine and, in silence, we dived into blueness. We swam for 3km, following the rocky shoreline. Black fish fluttered about the island’s underwater limestone buttresses, like autumnal leaves blowing among tree roots. The temperature seemed almost wintry. Finally, more than an hour later, we clambered back aboard to mugs of hot chocolate. Swimtrek’s brochure states that the Adriatic is about 23°C in autumn, but that seems optimistic. When we were there, the north-eastern Bora wind had blown in and sapped the summer’s warmth.

After a short trek to the island’s low summit and a simple pasta lunch on the boat, we readied ourselves for a second expedition. This time I wore a wetsuit. It kept the chill at bay, but the buoyancy and restriction made what should have felt like new-found freedom seem more like an ungainly escape attempt. I was desperate to get out of the ocean. I didn’t bother again, preferring cold and liberty.

Days followed the same routine. I had imagined we would be marching into the waves from a beach and flopping ashore on a distant island, like evolving land-creatures, but this never happened. The swims were usually to and from the support boat. It wasn’t always in saltwater, though. One day, we visited Krka National Park on the mainland, where waterfalls tumble past the remains of one of the world’s earliest hydroelectric dams. We picnicked and splashed at the foot of the falls before swimming for more than 3km down river towards the estuary. Another day, some of us hiked through abandoned olive groves and learned of Prvic’s history as a wine exporter before disease killed the vines.

We spent evenings at local restaurants, where, over barbecued fish and squid-ink risotto, Emily told us about her Channel crossing. It made our final day’s swim – 2km along a shipping lane called the Sibenik Channel – seem like a splash in a paddling pool. We started quietly through an eerily dark tunnel carved into cliffs, known as “Hitler’s Eyes”. German U-boats hid here during the war. Our hushed voices echoed off cobwebbed brick walls as we breast-stroked in, first towards darkness, then light. We exited into blinding brightness and our last Adriatic swim.

After the gloom, the water was enticingly blue and warm. All seems well when the sea sparkles.

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