The island of Korcula - an emerald jewel set below mountains of granite and skies of azure blue, but how do you transport yourself around this peninsula of beauty? By Jadrolinja ferries, of course. This whiter than white fleet of steel ships has been used by visitors since 1947.
Jadrolinja is a Croatian shipping company that operates mainly car ferries and some catamarans on domestic routes to the Croatian Islands as well as certain routes to Italy.
Having used the ferries a few times I always find the experience one that I never forget. The first time I used the service was from Korcula to Stari Grad which takes around 3 hours. This particular day was a scorcher and we were told to go to the quay at least 60 mintes before the ship was about to dock. As the quay was only round the corner from the hotel we were staying in I thought an hour before was a long time to wait in the sun. Every day we saw the ship sail into the harbour bang on mid-day so we knew it would be on time and the walk from the hotel took about 10 mins so we did what we usually do, took a chance and left about 20 minutes before embarkation.
When we arrived at the quay it was like an evacuation scene. I have never seen so many people at a quay. Mostly young backpackers but their snail like presence with heavy loads upon their shoulders was a sight to be seen. Suddenly a whistle blew and masses of people pushed forward to get on the ship. Being laid back as usual I couldn't understand what the rush was for. I mean we had all bought tickets so we were guaranteed a place.
When we eventually got aboard we went downstairs as there was no way I was going to sit on the top deck in that heat. Could we find a seat - nothing available, only backpacks and bodies everywhere. We went on the second deck and saw the same picture and on the third deck and so on. I really could not believe the sight of bodies, some laid flat out, curled in balls , sat upright, some milling around but the whole floor and seat space of every deck was taken up. There was no alternative but to go up on deck as I didn't fancy standing up for 3 hours.
Arriving on the top deck open to the sun and clouds, the scene was exactly the same. People like flies everywhere. Where there any folks left on Korcula? - it was as if everyone was fleeing from the plague or some other wild epidemic. Really, I am not exaggerating. I never exaggerate - might throw a bit of poetry in now and then but exaggerate I do not.
After pushing forward and hurling myself and bags I managed to squeeze us into a small space next to two hairy Italian bikers. They were both sat at a table drinking beer. Beer, drinks!! I hadn't brought any supplies for the journey and the queue for the small bar on deck was everlasting. We would have to do without but it was so terribly hot. Have you ever sat in the sun and just felt that your whole body was frying. This is what it was like. I was dripping!!!!
I didn't want to move talk or do anything , just sit and conserve my energy. I looked at the guys next to us and they had suddenly dropped off to sleep. The one nearest me - a big burly chap, tatooed, bald, wearing a torn vest showing his hairy armpits, and about 17 stone suddenly started to snore very loudly. He had his beer in his hand and gradually his head was nodding and moving slowly into the glass. He then had a quick jerk and his head fell backwards. Sweat was like a rivulet running down his head and face. I was transfixed. I know it is rude to stare but I couldn't help myself. I sat and watched the river of sweat cascade into his beer glass.
I was soon side tracked as an elederly nun came towards the part of the deck we were on. She must have been sweltering as she had the full gear on and woolly tights. Not one person offered their seat to this gracious lady of God only me. I will go to heaven one day - I hope so but I think not!
At this stage of the journey I was stood but gradually leaning into the next person. I thought, Sod this I am going to go and have a look again downstairs. Fortunately on the bottom deck a group of French school kids had dumped their backpacks on several seats and they were all sat on the floor playing cards, eating cereal and choccy biscuits. I asked one girl very politely if she would be so kind to move a bag or two so me and my husband could sit for the remainder of the journey and so she did. I thanked her kindly and rushed up on deck to whistle and gesticulate to my husband, like Hyacinth Bucket would do. 'Quick, quick, come on, don't hang around we have a seat!!!!
For the remaning 2 hours we were sat, looking at the sea and people watching while our sun drenched bodies cooled down and the sweat evaporated.
So from my little tale you may have gathered these ferries get unbelievably busy. The route from Split to Rijeka is also a busy route and this journey takes 11 hours so the Jadrolinja isn't for the faint hearted.
According to Wikepedia the fleet consists of 36 car ferries, 8 catamarans, 1 hydrobus and other conventional ships. To look at the ships look Balkan; strong and utilitarian looking. Not graceful in any way like some ferries can look. They are exceptionally white against the waters of the islands and on board the ship is smart and tidy.
I believe the cabins too are very clean and some of the ships have luxury suites but as most times I have travelled it has been so hot and packed I haven't really wanted to look around the rest of the ship.
There are the usual bars and restaurants offering food and wines of the area. On the night crossings entertainment in the form of live groups and dancing is arranged. For the very young there is a playroom.
As all ships have names the Jadrolinja fleet are no different. Names are Marco Polo (of course), Liburna and Dubrovnik.
Booking is a lot easier than it used to be as you can do it online using the Jadrolinja web site:
It is a very good website and is written in English, Croatian, Italian and Dutch.
Here you can look at the sailing schedule and the list of islands the ships sail to. Prices are also available.
If you don't want to book online you can book at the Jadrolinja office direct. These are usually situated on the bigger islands like Korcula, Hvar, and also on the mainland in Dubrovnik, Split and Rijeka.
A little History
Just to fill you in about this company, it was founded in 1947 in Rijeka which is situated in the Adriatic, in the north western part of Croatia.
The town has a history of maritime trading and has been used as a port for centuries due to it's natural geographical characteristics linking this part of Europe with numerous countries throughout the world.
There is a full price list on the web site and also a full list of all the routes available. To give you an idea this is what I paid:
Korcula - Stari Grad 12 euros each way/ per person
This price was in high season. It is cheaper in low season and there are lots of various reductions for children and groups. Obviously I went as a foot passenger so it will cost more with bikes, motorbikes, caravans, cars etc.
In their own way these ships are physically stunning to look at as they really dominate the waters of the islands. They are extremely popular and can be painfully packed so much that you really do feel like a sardine in a John West can.
All I can say is that it is the cheapest way of getting around in Croatia, not always relaxing but absolutely mind boggling and fascinating watching people.
Croatia wouldn't be Croatia without the Jadrolinja fleet of white ships sailing from jewel to jewel of the Adriatic sea.