Cruising the Croatian islands aboard a luxurious yacht is a fantastic way to explore the delights of the Dalmatian coast, writes Anna Leask.
"How cold is it?" we asked the captain.
"About 20 degrees," he replied, a mischievous gleam in his eye.
We dropped our towels, took a breath and dived off the back of the boat into the iridescent water, the warm spring air suddenly vanishing as the biting chill of the water enveloped our bodies.
It was beautifully clear, stunningly fresh - and bloody cold.
We surfaced, gasping to get back the air sucked from our lungs as we plunged into the Adriatic Sea, and scrambled around in the water trying to decide whether to flee back to the boat or embrace the salty water.
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The water was nowhere near 20 degrees, it was barely even 10.
On the back of the yacht, the captain laughed heartily.
"Welcome to Croatia," I thought.
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This was our first swim stop during an eight-day jaunt around the Croatian coast on board Mama Marija.
We'd departed from Split less than two hours earlier, the bright warm sunshine and the glorious sea views lulling us into a false sense that the water would be tropical.
There's nothing like a dip in icy water to welcome you to the first day of your holiday, and what a holiday it was.
Cruise Croatia offers a raft of different yacht trips around the Dalmatian coast. I've been on boats before, but this was going to be my first time travelling on - and sleeping in - a yacht.
From the moment I approached Mama Marija, I knew the experience was going to be fantastic.
The vessel is near-new having been on the water for just over a year.
Accommodating up to 36 passengers in 18 spacious cabins, each with an en suite, Mama Marija is a place you can definitely unwind and relax.
From the sun deck with loungers - perfect for escaping into a book with a crisp Croatian lager at your side - to the saloon with couches where you can sit and spin tales late into the night with other travellers, and the fresh and locally sourced meals served on board at least twice a day, you feel like you're in another world.
And you really are - one of breathtaking views, endless exploration and rich history and culture - as you meander through the ocean exploring the islands off mainland Croatia.
The mainland was where our journey started, in Split, a coastal city more than 1700 years old where tradition meets modernity and old-school charm meets the demands of tourism with magnificent balance. We ended in Dubrovnik.
As well as cruising between islands, the itinerary allowed time to explore on land, with walking tours of most destinations and plenty of free time to soak up the Dalmatian delights - and tastes.
The weather wasn't kind to us in parts, we skipped a couple of islands entirely due to high seas, which resulted in high seasickness for most of the boat, but the places we did get to did not disappoint.
One of the first stops was Trogir, known as the Little Venice of Croatia because it's an island but connected to the mainland by a bridge.
It's a place great for watching the locals do their thing, finding obscure nooks and crannies for the best photos and taking in the old-world atmosphere. The medieval architecture, sweeping views, and strong cocktails make it worth a stop.
A highlight was definitely walking the promenade to the bell tower and climbing up to survey the area, bathed in spring afternoon sun.
From atop the tower, I got my first glimpse of the view you imagine when you think about Croatia, the terracotta-coloured roofs offset by the stunning blue water, the white shutters, the blackening of the old bricks.
Trogir is also a great place to sample some classic Croatian fare and we found ourselves at a delightful restaurant called Toma, which serves pasticada - a stewed beef and gnocchi dish - and crni rizot, or black risotto, jam-packed with cuttlefish and its ink, which is added to the dish just before it's finished to give it a deep velvety colour.
The next day we breakfasted as we moved through the ocean towards Bol (on the island of Brac) and Hvar, my favourite stops on the trip.
I could regale you with tales of Dubrovnik and Zagreb, but it was the smaller places, the more intimate visits that left their mark.
I'm a born and bred small-town girl so I'm always more comfortable away from the hustle and bustle, and there's no way you cannot be utterly romanced by the quieter parts of a country like Croatia.
With flavours of Eastern Europe but also a very distinct personality, it fast became one of my favourite holiday destinations.
And as we charged towards our Bol stop, past the iconic Zlatni Rat, which regularly tops lists of Europe's most beautiful beaches, that opinion was even further cemented for me.
Even from a distance (from my lounger on Mama Marija's blissful sundeck with my crime novel in one hand and my crisp Ozujsko beer in the other) I was stunned by the beach.
It seemed to light up out of the water, the gleaming white sands merging into the lush greenery beyond and that azure Dalmation water lapping up against it.
It was a short stop, but we had time to stroll around the village and get a closer look at the beach. Some of the group were even brave enough to take a dip - but given our earlier experience of Croatian spring swimming, the majority were happy as onlookers.
As we left Brac we lunched on board the vessel - the crew serve up three courses each day consisting of local dishes both traditional and modern matched with carafes of moreish wines - as Mama Marija glided towards Hvar.
Hvar is a place that's been on my travel bucket list for a long time and it did not disappoint. We were there ahead of the busy summer tourist season, and it was a delight to be able to walk around the streets taking in the sights without the noise and chaos of thousands of others doing the same thing.
We walked through the old town - another day, another tour with a local guide - and we oohed and aahed at the beautiful buildings, churches, and scenery.
The Hvar fortica, a Spanish-style medieval castle, stands high above Hvar town and to get to the pathway you only have to scale 200-odd steps.
On the way up, stop and check out a Benedictine convent that has been operating since 1664 - with nuns still in residence making intricate last from fibres meticulously pulled from dried agave leaves.
We climbed, we counted and we worked up quite a nice glow as we puffed our way to the top. Then we ambled further up a winding pathway to the fortress.
Croatia is known for its Game of Thrones-esque scenery, the ancient brickwork, the looming towers, the steep vantage points from which you feel like you can see the whole kingdom.
The fortica is no different. It was completed around 1551 and is a multi-level fort that has been resplendently restored over the years.
It's grand, it's dripping in history and being able to descend into the old prison, peer into the tiny cells and get a taste of what it must have been like for offenders, dissenters and rogues is pretty damn cool.
The jaunt up and around the fort worked up a bit of an appetite so we headed to Dva Ribara, a short walk from the plaza around the port.
It's a family-run restaurant offering up absolutely divine seafood - fresh anchovies and fish pate, which is a must-try in Croatia alongside a healthy serving of crusty bread.
The last of the highlights for me on my week aboard Mama Marja was the quaint island of Korcula - where we possibly had the best guide of all.
She was funny, smart, and kept us on our toes with her witty-yet-informative banter about a town she is clearly proud to be a local of.
She entertained us with tales of Marco Polo - Korcula is his birthplace - and local tales of grandmothers peering out of windows and knowing every possible thing about every possible person.
We weaved up and down through the tiny pedestrian streets of the old town, taking in the charm, the tradition - the laundry drying on lines strung between second-storey windows, the old shuttered windows, the beautiful churches and the bells that rang out to mark the time as we were led on our tour.
We berthed near the town's main gates and because the weather was bad and another stop was cancelled, had extra time to visit and wander, taste and see and enjoy.
I took a morning walk around the waterfront, up and around a hill with gorgeous views of Korcula and beyond. Then, back through the narrow streets, down the cobbled stairs and into Korcula to see what more I could find in the sleepy town.
Like the other stops, there is a lot to see if you're happy to just wander and take it all in - and I am told that in summer it's intensely busy and the atmosphere is absolutely humming so I'd recommend making a stop there if you can.
When it comes to food in Korcula, you cannot, and must not, go past Restaurant Filippi, which we stumbled upon as we roamed around.
It's simple, it's a great mix of traditional and modern and it was full of locals - which is the best sign in a small town.
For a cocktail or glass of something made in the area, head to Massimo where you get to climb a ladder and emerge through a trap door to a roof terrace and watch the sunset and time tick by, something that's easy to do in Croatia.
Cruise Croatia has more than 50 itineraries and 300 departures on about 50 different ships recently released for the 2020 season. The One Way Discovery itinerary is aboard the MS Mama Marija, a deluxe vessel that was launched in 2018. An eight-day cruise is priced from $2310pp twin-share, with numerous guaranteed departures between April and October. There are currently some great deals on offer for deluxe eight-night cruises that are valid for sale until December 31.