Luxury Croatia cruise on Emerald Azzurra - Cruise International

Luxury Croatia cruise on Emerald Azzurra

By Sue Bryant | 24 Oct 2022

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Dubrovnik. Laszlo Toth via Unsplash

What better way to explore the Croatian coast than by superyacht? Sue Bryant reviews new luxury vessel Emerald Azzurra on a Croatia cruise.

I’m standing at the highest point of Rovinj, in the shadow of the baroque Church of St Euphemia, looking down over the terracotta rooftops of the medieval Croatian town.

Distant islands shimmer in the heat haze and the Adriatic sparkles invitingly, although only a few swimmers are braving the still-cool water. A superyacht is anchored in the bay, a helicopter parked on its foredeck.

Far below me, I can see people milling around on the quayside, gazing in awe up at my own superyacht, Emerald Azzurra, docked just below the Old Town. Well, not exactly mine, but as close as I will ever come to living the oligarch lifestyle.

Emerald Waterways

Emerald Azzurra in Dubrovnik

Review: Luxury Croatia cruise on Emerald Azzurra

With just 100 passengers on board, cared for by 68 crew, Emerald Azzurra has many of the trappings of a private yacht but without the price tag. The ship is ultra-modern, with sleek lines and an inviting infinity pool on the aft deck.

Extensive, padded lounging areas beckon from beside the pool and the oversized Jacuzzi on the Sky Deck at the top of the ship. The vessel’s cool, stylish interiors, with colour schemes consisting of grey, stone, taupe and lots of chrome, are softened by leafy banks of plants.

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Emerald Azzurra. Credit: Pompei Luca

There’s nothing else really like Azzurra. A ship this smart and this small that won’t break the bank is a new phenomenon – and clearly a successful one as a second yacht, Emerald Sakara, is launching in 2023. Our fellow passengers, mainly from the US, Canada and the UK, are curious. They’re almost all experienced cruisers prepared to pay for luxury, but can live without the butler service and open bar offered by the more expensive lines.

What comes up again and again during this week-long sailing from Dubrovnik to Venice is the bliss of the ship’s small size. This is the perfect vessel for exploring Croatia’s island-specked coast, where the best ports are often the smallest and we can tuck in neatly alongside.

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Aqua Pool, Emerald Azzurra. Credit: Pompei Luca

Everywhere we go is buzzing, as Croatia gets into the swing of the first big summer season since the pandemic struck. My partner, David, and I mooch around Dubrovnik, whiling away a sunny afternoon with a platter of cheese and air-dried ham, washed down with a chilled local white.

There’s plenty of room on the Stradun, the smooth, limestone-paved promenade that bisects the glorious Old Town. I’ve been to Dubrovnik before when you could barely get through the gates in the massive ramparts, let alone stroll along the Stradun, an experience that does nobody any favours.

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Deluxe Balcony Suite Bathroom, Emerald Azzurra. Credit: Pompei Luca

To the locals, business isn’t quite back to normal yet. “The Americans aren’t back in the numbers that they were before,” says Lucija, our tour guide. “The Australians certainly aren’t – and none of the big Asian groups have come at all this summer. Sometimes it’s too much, but we would like a balance.” Not so great for Croatia but, selfishly, ideal for us.

As if to illustrate Lucija’s point, Korcula has a wonderful stillness when we arrive the next day. It’s Sunday, and the locals are in church. I hang around the door, letting the soothing choral music waft over me. The town’s many art galleries are just beginning to open. Restaurants are serving brunch: flaky burek meat pies, frittata, fruit platters and coffee, which is drunk very, very slowly.

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Zadar archipelago. Credit: Shutterstock/Xbrchx

Nobody is in a hurry here. It’s a reminder of how much things have shifted, culturally, during lockdown, as if we’ve forgotten how to enjoy the pace of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Some rather high-maintenance types on our cruise struggle just to let go and relax, wanting constant stimulation. The Croatians look at them in bemusement.

Once the church service is over, David and I climb the bell tower. This is a dizzying experience: narrow, extremely steep and something of a scramble at the top. It’s worth it, though. The views out over the rooftops and the glassy bay are dreamy, the only ripples formed by a group of kayakers. Emerald Azzurra is moored right next to the gates of the walled town, so we head back for a lazy lunch on deck.

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Statue of Gregorius. Credit: Shutterstock/Photosmatic

Meals on board are a very pleasant experience, as we manage to get a table outside at La Cucina, the ship’s main restaurant, most of the time. This space on the aft deck accommodates almost half the passengers and Croatia is a wonderful place in which to enjoy it, as we often stay late in port, soaking up a fiery sunset as the first glass is poured and the menu arrives.

The food is mainly Mediterranean, with dishes such as fried calamari, chicken parmigiana with polenta cake and a delicious lemon risotto on the daily-changing menu. Breakfast and lunch are buffets, while dinner is waiter-served. Lighter options are available at the Aqua Pool Lounge for breakfast and lunch, including a whole menu of flatbreads, which are a light but satisfying alternative to pizza.

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Mediterranean breakfast of burek. Credit: Shutterstock/Viktoria Hodos

I feel justified in tucking in at mealtimes, because despite the temptation to spend all day lounging around the yacht, we fill our time in port with plenty of activity. An excursion is included in most ports, with others available from around £85 upwards, which proves to be worth it for a walk in Krka National Park, a place of almost otherworldly beauty, located near Sibenik.

On its way to the sea, the Krka River cascades over dozens of limestone rock shelves, some of the waterfalls more than 45m high. We wander along wooden boardwalks through forests of pine and fig, stopping every few minutes for jaw-dropping views of different falls tumbling into aquamarine pools. Dragonflies in electric blue hover over woodland streams.

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Krka National Park. Credit: Unsplash

We try out the ship’s e-bikes in Zadar, cycling right around the enormous bay, whizzing past marinas, fishing boats and leafy waterfront parks. I’m very taken with my bike and investigate the make and price online. I’m shocked to see I’ve been riding around on £3,400-worth of equipment. There’s certainly been no expense spared in kitting out Emerald Azzurra.

In Split, we join a hiking group to ascend Marjan Hill, a wooded headland that rises out of one end of the bay. The two-hour climb takes us through the medieval part of town, once considered an undesirable place to live but now all spruced up, pretty well every house an Airbnb. Out of town, we climb up to a viewpoint through scented pine forest, the hillsides covered with giant agave cacti and yellow broom in full flower. Below, tiny ferries, like bath toys in the distance, buzz to and from the many islands.

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Amici Lounge, Emerald Azzurra. Credit: Pompei Luca

Once per cruise, Emerald lays on a special event, billed as EmeraldPLUS. In Split, it’s a visit to the magnificent Diocletian’s Palace, a town-within-a-town that was built for the eponymous emperor in 305AD and which is still inhabited today.

We descend into the cool gloom of the Roman foundations and cellars for a private klapa performance, the traditional a cappella singing that’s typical of Dalmatia. A male quartet regales us with melodic tales of love, life and loss, wonderfully atmospheric in this silent substructure with its perfect acoustics.

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Balcony Suite, Emerald Azzurra. Credit: Pompei Luca

That night, moored up in Split, there’s a party on the Sky Deck after dinner. Evenings on Emerald Azzurra are generally low-key, apart from a couple of lively quizzes, but this one is different.

Cocktails flow as disco classics thump out into the night and the middle-aged crowd goes wild, high on the moment and the knowledge that while we’re probably way too uncool for Split’s legendary nightlife, we can’t think of anywhere we’d rather be than the top deck of our very own yacht.

Getting there

Seven nights’ full board on identical new sister yacht Emerald Sakara, launching in 2023, costs from £3,970 per person on a cruise from Dubrovnik to Venice, departing on April 22, 2023, including flights, drinks with meals, tips, Wi-Fi, and some excursions. Find out more or book at emeraldcruises.co.uk.

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