Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Swimmy June 3: Swimming holiday in Croatia

This year I went to Croatia on another Strel swimming tour after an enjoyable time in 2013 on their holiday in Lake Powell, Arizona. Sid, my husband, decided to come too. He’s not a keen open water swimmer but likes the odd dip - and what’s not to like about being on a boat all day in a beautiful setting? I’d heard so much about Croatia and the wonderful swimming from Australian friends who went on the Strel tour there in 2012.

Sponge diver in Hotel's museum 
I booked the first trip of the season, starting 15 June, to avoid the intense heat of summer. We flew to Split then travelled by road (and ferry) to Krapanj Island using the hotel’s transfer service. The tour is a one-week stay at the Spongiola Hotel on Krapanj. The name Spongiola comes from, as you might have guessed, the word for sponge. Diving for sponges was big business in Krapanj a long time ago and there is a sponge diving museum in the hotel.

The hotel was four stars and comfortable . We had twin rooms, nicely airconditioned and with a fridge in the room. The hotel has a small indoor pool and a gym. They also offer a massage service.  The hotel has its own beach and provides a free ferry service to the mainland - it’s very close, about 100 metres, and some people defy the rules and swim it.

Krapanj is a small traffic free island. It doesn’t take long to walk round the island (longer to swim round!) There’s a local shop selling all sorts but specifically for the Strel Swimmer sun-tan lotion, sweeties, snacks and beer. There’s also a nice ice-cream near the hotel.  

We arrived on the 15th and met in the hotel for a briefing and dinner in the evening. We were nine people on the tour: four couples and a single man. Of that group two were non-swimmers. We had two swimming coaches and tour leaders, Nina Strel and Maja Cizmic. 

Some of the islands we swam to
Nina is is the well known Martin Strel’s daughter and Borut Strel’s sister. She usually lives in Phoenix Arizona near her dad. She, like her brother is an ex-champion swimmer and a very experienced swim supporter She supported Martin on some of his epic river swims such as the Yangze. Maja is a dual national, She was raised in the UK of Croatian heritage  and moved to Croatia her adopted county. She speaks the language and knows the area like the back of her hand. So we were in very safe hands.

The next day we all swam off the hotel’s beach so Nina and Maya could assess our respective abilities. We were then put into three groups according to swimming speed: Gavin and Rod in the fast pink  hat group,  me and Andy in the orange hat  group and then Michael and Fiona in the green hat group. The hats made us easy to spot in the water.
Swim assessment

Our group

The water really is wonderful in this part of the Adriatic: warm, calm and crystal clear. There were no nasty things in the water. No jellyfish. No sharks. No threat from jet skis. No strong currents.
Crystal clear water

The rest of the swimming was off the Strel boat, which was big enough, had shade and a toilet. We jumped into the water from the boat and got back in using a ladder. The trip typically included two swims a day of around 2km, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Nina and Maja provided excellent water safety, following us closely in inflatable dinghies and providing drinks during the swims. Lunches and snacks were provided on the boat and for us vegetarians (Sid and I) this was the best food we got on our whole holiday. Croatia is a fishy sort of place. The itinerary varied based on the weather, specifically wind speed and direction. On the second day we were videoed while swimming. In the evening, back at base in the hotel, we got to view the video clips and were and given feedback. Watch that drooping elbow Lindy!

The Strel boat

As well as swimming we had a couple of hikes to beautiful places. One day we hiked to, Krka Falls, bathed in the waterfall and then swam down the river. We also had dinner together in Sibenik, crossing first on the ferry and then getting a bus into this a beautiful old town. It has Croatia’s only Michelin-starred restaurant – which we saw, but dared not enter. Our trip coincided with Children’s Week, with self-portraits of the schoolkids posted in the streets of the town. I particularly liked Mate’s.
Krka Falls

Maja (back) and Nina (front) our guides, Sibenik
The children's self-portraits, Sibenik

The highlights of the trip for me were the island hopping (swimming from island to island), swimming in Hitler’s Eye (a tunnel where U-boats were kept hid in World War II) and the 3.4-km round island swim on the final day.
Hitler's Eye
Sid kayaking

The coaches were fantastic. Maja is so enthusiastic and loves her work. Nina has a wealth of experience in looking after open-water swimmers. They were very attentive and lots of fun. Nina took loads of photos which she shared with the group every evening.

We really liked Croatia – friendly people, efficient and keen to show off their heritage - and we are discussing next year’s trip.
Diocletian's Palace, Split
The trip cost £899 plus flights. This included accommodation (twin share) and all meals except for three evening meals. (If you tire of eating in the hotel, there is a shop on Spongiola that sells provisions). The hotel can arrange transfers from Split or Zagreb. On the way back to Split we shared a mini-bus with six of the group –15 euros each.

The local currency is the Kuna and this is the preferred currency. Credit cards are not widely accepted. We had to pay for our accommodation in Split in cash. But there are lots of ATMs and we had no trouble using them with our British debit cards.

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