Good Reads

Many of our guests ask about sources of information and books we recommend.  Here are some fiction and non-fiction books, which we think help one understand the area, culture, history & psyche (also good reads):

  • Black Falcon & Gray Lamb by Rebecca West – the classic travel book about Croatia up to WWII
  • The Bridge over the River Drina and other works by Ivo Andric – one of our favorites 
  • The Cello of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
  • Love thy Neighbor: A Story of War by Peter Maass 
  • Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugresic
  • The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic
  • Croatia: A Nation Forged in War by Marcus Tanner
  • Cafe Europa: Life After Communism by Slavenka Drakulic
  • On the Edge of Reason by Miroslav Krleza
  • Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History by Robert Kaplan
  • Croatia: A History by Ivo Goldstein & Nikolina Jovanović
Websites and articles with worthwhile historical/cultural/political content:

 

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Exploring Istria in a few days

I was recently asked for our recommendations for what not to miss on a few days stay during July in Istria.  After agonizing over the many possibilities, here are our conclusions for what not to miss on a  short stay in Istria:

In general

  • Pula amphitheater – the largest amphitheater outside rome – well preserved and interesting. Stroll along the sea and lunch in Pula harbor. On the  July 7th, there will be a concert of traditional folk music & instruments starting at 7:30 pm
  • Wander beautiful Rovinj – sparkling sea, teaming port, alluring colors, wonderful farmers market, many restaurants to sample Istrian cuisine, truffles & wines
  • Motovun hilltop town – a medieval hilltop town, unspoiled and nice to stroll, have a coffee of lunch – best place to try truffle recipes and Teran wines
  • Cave exploration , especially Lim & Marmornica
  • Biking trails – I suggest riding through the archeological sites and wine road
  • Truffles & cheese – try different indigenous dishes at family konobas & road side cafes
  • Wine tasting – be sure to compare Teran and Malvazija indigenous varietals

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Some Favorite Restaurants

  • Monte Mulini (Rovinj) – probably the best restaurant in Istria with indigenous dishes and carefully selected international & Croatian wines
  • Meneghetti Estate (Bale) – one of the top chefs, beautiful setting, traditional & progressive menu – of course good wines
  • Barba Danilo (Rovinj) – traditional Konoba (trattoria) style – specialize in sea food dishes – mediterranean style with a creative Istrian twist
  • Restaurant Blu (Rovinj) – on the sea, lovely location
  • Mondo Restaurant (Motovun) – local Konoba – try one of the truffle dishes

Some Favorite Wineries

  • Meneghetti wine estate in Bale – beautiful winery, good wines & olive oil tastings
  • Kozlovic Winery in Momjan – traditional
  • Matosevic Winery in Svet Lovrec – modest winery with excellent wines – a truly Istrian wine family
  • Roxanich Winery in Kosinožići – modest winery with aged wines – good for vertical tasting – interesting orange wines
  • Kabola Winery in Momjan (uses amphorae to age the wine) or Cuj winery in Umag – family winery where your can also try local olive oil tasting
  • Coronica Winery in Koreniki – we especially like their Malvazija wine

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Rovinj

The heart and soul of Istria

If you want to be engulfed into the heart of Croatia, the cultural heritage, the magical coastline, the unique architecture, Rovinj will captivate you from the moment you first glimpse the sparkling sea, teaming port & alluring colors of this hill town on the.  Visit the upper and lower old towns, and don’t miss: 

  • Open market in Valdibora square
  • Bridge square
  • Carera street
  • Main square
  • Grand square
  • St. Benedict’s square & church
  • Trivio square
  • Jewish ghetto
  • St. Euphemia’s church
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Olive Harvest on Brac Island

The 2015 olive harvest on Brac is in full swing with a bumper crop. The weather is clear & mild and the trees over-laden with fruit.  The first pick is in, pressed & bottled for delivery to local restaurants and tables at home . . . and it is delicious.

Brac Olive Oil – from the olive fields overlooking the sea to your table at Uje Oil Bar in Split

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Day Trip to Hvar

Hvar island is easily reached from Milna on Brac for a fabulous Day Trip.  The speed boat goes every morning from Milna Harbor and returns in the evening from Hvar Town.

After wandering Hvar town, visiting the fortress and cathedral, a taxi ride away will bring you to two of our favorite wineries in JELSA (a charming village on the other side of the island from Hvar Town). There are also several good restaurants  in the pretty harbor.

Dubokovic Winery is a real garage winery with some of the best wines in Croatia.  Owner Ivo Dubokovic is engaging and passionate about his winemaking.   Be sure to make reservations in advance.

Tomic Winery is a traditional family winery with very nice tasting room and architecture, lovingly designed by Andre Tomic, one of the best master vintners in Croatia.

Jelsa restaurants – Me & Mrs Jones is right on the water, charming and very good – Dalmatian cuisine. The pizzeria in the town square is also very good and has other dishes in addition to pizza.

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Other or our favorite towns on Hvar if you have more time:

Vrboska – charming small village with cobble stone streets and quaint bridges.  Not the best restaurants.
Stari Grad – also charming village – we like Bistro Kod Damira Restaurant – fresh, interesting local menu – don’t miss the lavender lemonade & the chocolate-lavender cake.

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Or you can take a taxi boat from Hvar town to Palmizana Resort, about 10 minutes by boat. Palmizana Resort is charming, has a pretty beach and several restaurants.  Our favorite restaurant is the original family restaurant on the hill – with great organic menu, terrace overlooking the bay and filled with a large collection of Croatian art, collected by the owner over the last 50 years.

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A visit to Korcula

I was recently asked what to do around Korcula Island.  After some thought, here is what I recommend:

  • Visit Orebic and go wine tasting in Peljesac peninsula – favorite wine experiences as rated by our guests:
              St Hills Winery – try a wine & food pairing, they make a very nice tasting
              Korte Katerina – pretty wine estate, right in Orebic
              Milos Winery – one of the oldest and best wineries in Croatia 
              Bire Winery – premium “eco” wines, always highly rated by our guests
  • Combine wine tasting with a visit to Ston, which is where Milos winery is and which is famous for its oysters, fortress and stone wall (said to be the longest stone wall after the Great Wall of China).
  • Wander Korcula town, of course. The Marko Polo Museum is a little silly but fun. Korculans love to claim Marko Polo was born in Korcula.
  • Vela Luka is a good mooring place with swimming in quiet bays, restaurants & markets.
  • Visit Lumbarda, where some of the oldest grapes in Croatia are found (dating back to the 3rd century BC). Lumbardia also has pretty beaches and the best wineries. Be sure to try Grk wine and to visit Bire winery.  You can take a day trip from Korcula town – there are lots of agencies with sign boards out front.
  • A day trip (by boat)  to the island Mljet is a nice quiet respite with great hiking in the nature preserve.

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The great wine debate

In an interesting article entitled “the Wrath of Grapes”, sNY Times, May 28,2015, Bruce Schoenfeld could have been talking about Croatian producers’ approach to winemaking when he describes Rajat Parr’s Domaine de la Côte releases:

“. . . grapes grown in a different vineyard, struck me as so diverse that I never would have known they were made by the same winery. One seemed to taste more like minerals than fruit. Another was light and refreshing. A third seemed virtually flavorless, as if the wine wasn’t even ready to drink. It would be entirely possible for a customer to be entranced by one, yet find another actively unpleasant.”

The article also goes into depth about questions discussed regularly among Croatian Wine Makers.  Croatia is small market with an intimate group of mostly low production wineries with an ancient history of winemaking going back 2000 years, diverse terroir  and climate ranging from cool mountain to hot & sunny coastal.  Many are using natural and biodynamic methods with no pesticides, additives or chemicals.

The new generation of young wine makers are blending traditional methods with innovative techniques and ideas & controls they have learned outside Croatia (mostly in France and the US).  These producers are dedicated to developing indigenous wines, which reflect the uniqueness of their terroir, and which provide a niche market for Croatian wines.  Many are also beginning to grow international varietals (Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet), and so the debate.

These days, the bottles that fill lists like Santoro’s are ranging further and further from the Parker-­sanctioned standard. They are likely to be made in some corner of Italy that isn’t known for wine or from a tongue-­twister variety of grape in Croatia or the Caucasus Mountains. They might be bottled without sulfur, which is used by a vast majority of winemakers to ward off bacteria, or aged underground in amphorae. They might look cloudy, or have a slight carbonation, or still be undergoing fermentation. In short, they’re just the sort of quirky (and occasionally faulty) beverages that Parker believed he had driven from the earth, or at least from American wine shops. “The kinds of wines,” says Lulu McAllister, who has developed a cultish following as the wine director for the San Francisco restaurant Nopa, “that my customers are looking for.”

At any wine gathering, you can be sure to hear the direction Croatian producers should take being hotly debated.

Schoenfeld writes,  “At its core, though, the debate is about the philosophical purpose of fine wine. Should oenologists try to make beverages that are merely delicious? Or should the ideal be something more profound and intellectually stimulating? Are the best wines the equivalent of Hollywood blockbusters or art-house films? And who gets to decide?”

I side with the art-house films and would venture to say most Croatian producers are passionate about it.   The fun part about witnessing the Croatian Wine Renaissance is watching an emerging wine industry headed by world class winemakers deciding their future.

For now,  if you want distinctive Croatian wine, you’ll have to come to Croatia.  The exported wines are more apt to be of the garden variety.

Bruce Schoenfeld’s article is entitled “The Wrath of Grapes“, The NY Times, May 28, 2015.  Schoenfeld writes frequently about wine and other controversial topics.

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A special find in Istria

We were wandering around Istria about a month ago (in April) doing some filming and visiting places we had never been.  It was one of those lazy trips, where we really didn’t expect much.  Spring was still eluding us, it was still too chilly to sit outside at restaurants and still too early for tourists.

We were waiting for our cousin from Opatija to meet us and decided to stop at the first open cafe we found.  So we pulled into a Cafe Bar in Loborika, a village of about 800 people, less than 10 km outside Pula on Route 66 (yep, really, like Route 66 of Americana repute).

From the outside nothing differentiates Cafe Bar & Pizzeria Vesna from other roadside cafes.  It has a terrace close to the large parking lot, no view and is not in a special location.  It appears to be a typical cafe-bar like those seen in every village, where local residents gather regularly, chat about local matters, complain about the weather, play cards & wait for something to happen.  To liven things up someone may break into song from time to time and eventually the others join in the familiar ballads.

We sat outside (with sweaters wrapped around us, faces to the sun).  Our cousin found us easily, the coffee was very good and the owners very friendly.  I sauntered inside and BINGO – found an impressive selection of local cheeses, olive oils, home cured prsut (Croatian prosciutto), truffles & other Istrian delicacies – nicely presented and packaged to take home.  Much of their selection was from their own farms and the owners were happy to let us do some tasting.

We bought a kilo of goat cheese, truffle cheese, white truffles and a sampling of Istrian olive oils.  The treats made a nice compliment for our annual neighborhood Bond, James Bond martini cocktail party in Duboka Bay.

This is one thing we love about Istria – you never know what you might find, but it is sure to be delicious.  An ordinary day turned into a special experience.

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TOP 10 (+1) Things Not to Miss

Another question I get a lot is “. . . what should I do if I really want to experience the essence of Croatia in just a couple of weeks”.  A very hard question to answer!  But if I were to create an itinerary and had to pick the  “Top 10 Things Not to Miss in Croatia”, I would say the following (actually 10 +1 because I failed to reduce it to 10):

Sail – world class sailing rivals anywhere else in the world
Spend at least a day sailing. Sailing among the 1,000 islands in the clean, clear waters of the Adriatic is a unique experience, whether you are a seasoned sailor or want to try it for the first time.   If you are limited in time, choose the Split Archipelago.  If you have a week or more, sail between Split & Dubrovnik.  It is the best way to experience the diversity of Croatian culture, history & lifestyles.   Each island is different, from the beautiful national park, Mljet, to the buzz of Hvar and everything in between.   For people who like active holidays, you can enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking and water sports on the islands along the way.  And the sailing is wonderful – with great winds, few obstacles and lots of choices for anchoring in deserted bays, mooring on a buoy near a seaside restaurant or staying in full service marinas.

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Discover Croatian Wine – journey through the heart & soul of Croatia
I would not miss a chance to visit some wineries while you are here.  Not only because there is a wine renaissance happening & Croatian wine makers are making interesting and unusual wines.  But also because visits to the wineries take you through the heart and soul of Croatia – its geography, people, history and culture.  The winemakers are happy to share their stories, they are hospitable & you get a glimpse into local life.

Drive the coast from Istria to Dubrovnik – quaint trip to a bygone century
If you have time, a slow drive along the coast is spectacular – beautiful sea and a string of quaint towns makes you feel like you have gone back 75 years in time.

Wander Istriabucolic slice of the best Croatia has to offer
Istria is beautiful  –  with rolling hills, tiny villages and beautiful ports.  The cuisine & wines are taking their place with world distinction.  Don’t miss:

  • Rovinj, Motovun & Pula
  • Wine, truffles & cheeses
  • Tour of wineries – these 3 will give you a diverse experience and you will see a experience quintessential  Istria along the way:
    Roxanich
    Meneghetti
    Matusovic

Hike in Plitvica National Parkbreathtaking even to the seasoned traveler
Truly a natural wonder, it earns its place as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Spend a quiet day wandering the pathways, lakes & waterfalls, you will be glad you did.

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Stroll the Split Esplanade 
one of Europe’s most beautiful & historic port towns
Split is truly a romantic city and the emerging epicenter of the Croatian Renaissance – a living example of the blending of old and new, city sophistication and island casual, European fashion and tradition.  Split is the key to the Adriatic –  gateway to Dalmatia, the islands & the sea.  Don’t miss:

  • Wander the old town, its markets, the underbelly of Diocletian’s palace & the palace walls – you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time a couple of thousand years
  • Sit along the promenade for morning coffee and watch the yachts and ferries come and go.  This is a local Split pastime
  • Dine in an open air restaurant and bask in the warm summer evenings
  • Visit the fish market (before 10:00) and of course the open air market on the east end of the Promenade

Brac islandunspoiled island where they say “. . . they came for a moment and stayed for a lifetime.”
Brac is dotted with small villages, each with its own character and dialect.  People from one village claim not to understand those from another.   Scattered with hidden bays and unspoiled coastline, the water is clear and pure & the swimming some of the best anywhere.  The beautiful Brac limestone has been used in palaces around the world, including Vienna and the White House.  Brac was voted second in the world’s best islands to live on.  I am going to guess because it is easy to get to, yet remains clean, beautiful and unspoiled.  No high rises or big hotels.

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Hvar island Hvar is glamorous & trendy but behind the glitter – charming, old-world, unspoiled
Hvar town is the glamour spot of the Dalmatian coast and definitely work the visit.  Hvar Town harbor is a charming mix of lifestyles –  traditional local lifestyle, glitterati and international trend setters.

We also love the other side of the island – especially Jelsa, Stari Grad & Vrboska – all charming, all different, all well worth a visit.  In the middle of the island are the famous lavender fields  – an amazing site with the purple flowers contrasting with the white stone.  The steep slopes of seaside vineyards are also stunning – they say the sun shines 3 times on the vines on Hvar – directly from above, the reflection from the sea and the reflection from the white rocks.

Pakleni Islandswhere pirates chased merchant ships headed for Venice
Just off the coast of Hvar, the Pakleni Islands (literally hell’s islands) are where pirates hid to attack passing merchant ships and where merchant ships hid to escape pursuing pirates.  The many hidden bays, inlets, coves and passages were perfect for hiding.   Today the water, the sun, the unspoiled string of islands make for heavenly sailing.

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Korcula Island  the spirit of Dalmatia
If Dubrovnik is the heart of Dalmatia, Kocula is the spirit.  Claiming to be the birthplace of Marco Polo, whether it is or is not, it still should not be missed. The spirit of the explorer lives on and charming cafes line the fortress, port and waterfront – perfect spot to while away a clear morning, sleepy afternoon or romantic evening. With its narrow cobbled streets glimmering from the bright sun and reflection from the sea, Korcula town just might be my favorite Dalmatian village.

Wander Iconic Dubrovnikthere is a reason Dubrovnik is called the Pearl of the Adriatic
Dubrovnik has been a vital commercial center for centuries, shuttling goods between Byzantium and the east and Venice and the west.   Today the city is a graceful testament to its past greatness and wealth, and the influences of east and west – the medieval architecture, the cobbled streets, the fully preserved fortress and city walls, even the newer parts, sloping elegantly to the sea, are in keeping with the ambience of the ancient city. In summer the city sparkles, from its broad ancient promenade to the original narrow streets. The cobbled squares host cultural events, theatre, music and open air cafes and restaurants. On summer evenings the sound of classical music and jazz waft over the walls and infuse the town with the magical feeling that you have gone back in time to the days of the Venetian empire.

Dubrovnik lives up to its reputation as an international hot spot and lively cultural center.

 

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1000 islands to discover . . .

I am often asked which islands to visit –  a challenging question because they are all beautiful and are alluring for different reasons.  So, I have thought long about the question and here are my thoughts:

Brac. . . a great island to stay on with pretty villas, secluded bays and gateway to island hopping in the Split Archipelago
Cres . . . a chance to step back in time to traditional island lifestyle of fishing, sun & sea
Hvar. . . Croatia’s most famous island, where the glitterati gather in the lovely summer evenings
Kornati Islands . . . adventurous sailing through virtually deserted islands
Korcula . . . walk through history, where the footsteps of the ages echo in the cobbled streets of the old town
Lastovo . . . witness 15th & 16th century Venetian influence on Croatian culture and architecture
Mljet . . . the island to discover why Croatia is known for its natural beauty & clear water
Pag . . . emerging International party destination for the young and the restless
Rab . . . visit the old byways of medieval merchants and ancient romans
Vis . . . enjoy a quiet retreat, secluded and preserved for decades

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Meet the Vinters

We recently had the fortunate opportunity to travel coastal Croatia and attend the Vinocom Wine Festival.  Along with filming the harvest, vineyards and wineries from Istria to Peljesac, we spoke with some of the leaders of the Croatian Wine Renaissance at the annual Vinocom Wine Fest, which meets every year in Zagreb after the harvest.

The Wine Fest is a time for the vintners to get together with each other, with old friends and with attendees who are really interested in learning more about the Croatian Wine Industry, up close and personal.

Check out our video interviews of some of the vintners who are leading the Croatian Wine Renaissance.

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Essential Dalmatia

Friends and guests often ask what I would do on a holiday to Dalmatia – what are the quintessential elements that make Dalmatia unique. My answer –  what is truly special about Dalmatia – is its vibrant lifestyle, the spectacular sailing, the unspoiled villages, the emerging wines, the friendly people and the culture & history preserved in the villages scattered over its 1,000 islands.

  • Split:  Walk through the narrow cobbled streets and squares of the old town, stopping in the cafes to absorb the ambience of its culture & history.  Spend an evening strolling along the harbor front, the traditional pastime of locals since the founding of the port of Split in the 4th century BC.
  • Sailing: Spend at least a few days sailing around the islands, it is the best way to appreciate why Dalmatia is so special – the feel of the sea, the air, the traditional lifestyle & the unspoiled villages are inexhaustible.
  • Seaside Konobas:  Eat at family owned seaside konobas (Croatian Trattoria), of which there are many in the quiet coves and hidden bays – you won’t find them by land.  You’ll get traditional dishes, true island hospitality, fresh food & a totally authentic experience.
  • Stone Masons on Brac:  Visit 16th century Blaca Monastery and the stone masons & carvers on Brac island – the stone carving school in Pucisca is a good start.  Discover what is so special about the quality of the natural stone and why it was chosen for use all over the world, including the White House in Washington DC.  Visit the myriad carved bell towers, ancient cemeteries & stone ruins scattered across the island.
  • Island olive harvest:  If you can come in the fall, join the olive harvest on Brac island – the weather is still fine and the sea still warm.  Time stands still on Brac during the picking season.  The picking is done by hand in the time honored method.   The trees are gentle and the field feasts at the end of the day are an unbeatable experience.  Don’t miss the pressing – each village has its own olive press.
  • The hidden side of Hvar:  Spend a day or two exploring Hvar island, with an evening in Hvar town.  But don’t miss a visit to the boutique wineries & the port towns of Stari Grad, Jelsa & Vrboska.  The tiny villages on the south side of the island are breathtaking.   Don’t miss the lavender fields, specially around the tiny village of Velo Grablje.  The lavender harvest & pressing is a treat to experience.
  • Wine country:  If you are a wine & food lover, the Peljesac Peninsula is fabulous – a wide variety of wineries from boutique to larger production to tiny family wineries, which produce only a few, but great wines.  And the town of Ston is a must for its oysters, seafood, medieval fortress and grand stone wall.
  • Inspiring Korcula:  Korcula town is lovely.  Claiming to be the birthplace of Marco Polo, whether it is or is not, it still should not be missed.  The spirit of the explorer lives on and charming cafes line the fortress, port and waterfront – perfect spot to while away a clear morning, sleepy afternoon or romantic evening.  With its narrow cobbled streets glimmering from the bright sun and reflection from the sea, Korcula town just might be my favorite Dalmatian village.
  • Iconic Dubrovnik:  Finally Dubrovnik is truly the classic icon of Croatia and the Balkans.  This graceful city embodies the history of commerce between east and west.  A walk along its wall, facing the sea, transports you back to medieval times.  Be sure to spend an evening strolling the old town and dining in one of the many excellent restaurants featuring new Dalmatian cuisine (an emerging fusion of fresh ingredients & traditional dishes prepared in a new creative style).

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Pirates of the Adriatic

This summer we followed the Pirate routes along the Dalmatian coast – among the inexhaustible inlets of the Pakleni Islands, through the hidden bays of Brac and down among the protected coves of Korcula to the Merchant capital of Dubrovnik.

The pirates of the Adriatic raided merchant vessels passing through the shipping routes from the Levant to Europe, particularly those headed to Venice.  The narrow channels, numerous bays and safe harbors of the islands off the Dalmatian coast make it simple to hide and escape pursuers.  Easy ambushes and enthusiastic cooperation  from the Dalmatian islanders made it an enriching business from the 1st all the way to the mid 17th centuries.

Today, you can visit the merchant villages along the coast and the oldest villages inland, where the steep hills and high vantage points offer expansive views of the coastline all the way to Italy, made for good protection from the marauders.

We made an unforgettable family holiday on a Sun Odyssey 509 to celebrate our daughter’s graduation, sailing from Split through Splitska Vrata (Gateway to Split), then along the south coast of Brac, around the southeast coast of Hvar to Korcula.  On the way back we sailed around the south side of Hvar then on to Vis and returned to Split.  We made stops along the way to visit the wineries on Hvar, Peljesac & Korcula islands, hike on beautiful Mljet island and visit Tito’s caves on Vis island.

A memorable 10 day adventure with everything – the hot Croatian sun, midnight swims in hidden bays, wine tasting and a glimpse of medieval culture and historic sites, including a visit to the birthplace Marko Polo, who has been an inspiration in my life since I can remember.    korcula06

 

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Day trip to Peljesac

Diana, a guest from San Franciso asked what to see on their drive from Split to Dubrovnik.

Regarding stopping on the way to Dubrovnik from Split – absolutely the Peljesac Peninsula is worth a visit. Ston is a medieval town, with reputedly the longest fortified wall outside the Great Wall of China. They are famous for mussels in Ston and for wine in the peninsula. Depending on how much time you have, you can drive all the way to the end, Orebic, then take a ferry to Korcula and from there to Dubrovnik. But this makes for a very long day.

For wineries in just 1 day, it is hard to pick, but I would suggest the following best of the area:

Milos Winery – a small winery in Ston, which produces only a couple of varieties, but best in class
Saint Hills winery in Oskurosno – do the tour and lunch – be sure to try the Dingac
Korte Katarina  in Orebic – we like the rose and Posip white particularly

There are lots of good family Konobas to try the local oysters & clams and beaches along the way from Ston to Orebic, the nicest are in Orebic. If you feel adventurous and want to stay overnight in Orebic, look for signs for Sobe – this means room for rent. We do this a lot and have always had a good experience. You should be able to find a place, which has a nice balcony, on or near the sea. Ask to see the rooms and take your pick. Most will not have pools, but will be in old Croatian style, which we find charming.

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Getting around Split & Dubrovnik

Kathy from London asked about what to do on her 5 day visit to Dalmatia.

A few days in Dubrovnik, then drive up to Split sounds like a good plan.    There are lots of things to do in between and day trips from both Dubrovnik and Split, which it sounds like you will enjoy.

To answer your question about distances, here are some relative times & distances and things to see around Dubrovnik and Split:

— Split to Dubrovnik – 250km – 3 1/2 hours by car – I highly recommend the coastal route, it is so pretty and really not much longer than the inland highway.
— Split to Plitvice – 250 km – 3 hours by car – Plitvice is amazing, check out the pictures from our hike in Plitvice.
— Split to Trogir (a World Heritage sight) is 30 minutes by car. The airport is between Split and Trogir.  Trogir is a great place to spend an evening or overnight if you have an early flight from Split airport – very convenient and several nice boutique hotels with easy transport by bus or taxi in the morning.
— Islands within a day trip from Split – Hvar, Brac, Vis, Solta – all accessible by taxi boat or ferries.
— Places to visit within a day trip from Dubrovnik – Kotor, Monte Negro (about 100km); Mostar (about 140km); Sarajevo (about 240km, 4 hours – slow road)
— Peljesac Peninsula between Split & Dubrovnik is a must see if you like wines. There is also a famous medieval fortress and stone wall (in Ston), said to be the longest outside China. Might also have been built to keep the Monghuls out – they did invade Croatia in the 13th century.
— Korcula island is interesting – the birthplace of Marko Polo and very well preserved medieval center – it is just off the tip of Peljesac Peninsula

Have a wonderful trip!

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Private tours from Split area?

Matt from New  York asked about private tours around Split.

Here are some ideas for private “tours”. The guides will be directed by your instructions at the time, to be sure that you get to do and see what you want. You can also rent bicycles and/or arrange hiking on any of the islands – either self guided or with a guide. You will need to make reservations about 90 days prior to your arrival to be sure you get what you want.

The prices mentioned below are estimates, they do not include transport to the islands. A day trip to Hvar from Split will cost about €750 to €1000, depending on how many people for a private sailing yacht or motor boat. There are also group tours, which go out of Split harbor and cost €50 to €90 per person.  Public ferries cost about €5 per person.

Island tour of Brac with a local driver will take you to:
—- the stone masons, including the workshop, where you will see everything from start to finish – huge stone slabs, cutting of the slabs into workable size, polishing and hand carving.
—- small family winery, Senjkovic winery, to meet the owners.
—- bell towers of Brac – each village has its own beautiful bell tower, complete with local stories about their design and construction
—- Vidova Gore national park – a beautiful park in the middle of the island with spectacular views of Hvar and Vis islands
—- hike to 16 century Blaca monastery – a very interesting working monastery, hidden for centuries among the hillside.
—- you’ll drive through the olive orchards, villages and vineyards of the island and the famous “Golden Horn” beach in Bol.

Kayaking, biking and hiking tours – privately guided or self guided are also available on Hvar and Brac islands.

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Island tour of Hvar with local driver will take you to:
—- Visit the small wineries, meet the owners and see the famous seaside vineyards and UNESCO plains – especially the town of Jelsa on the sea.  I suggest including Dubokovic garage winery (possibly our favorite in Croatia) and Tomic, the grandad of Hvar vintners.
—- Hvar town, built in the 13th century, with its beautiful harbor, stone walls, hilltop fortress and of course St. Stephen’s square
—- Lavender fields in the hilltop villages with cobbled streets and stone farmhouses

A visit to Peljesac Wine Region with a local driver will take you to the best small and larger wineries, a tour of the famous mussel farms and Ston, where the Great Wall of Croatia is – the longest fortified wall outside China.  Visit the fortress and the oyster/mussel beds in stone – great chance to try the seafood and wine.

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A few days in Split

Barry from Texas asked what to do during their few days in Split.

Split is rapidly becoming a trendy place to visit and is a great blend of old and new.  It is easy to sink into the local cafe culture, wine bars and restaurants of the old town.  The nightlife centers around trendy nightclubs, outdoor concerts near the harbor promenade and the main square.

There are also lots of good day trips along the coast as well as nearby islands, very doable in a day.

My list of Essential Split includes:
— Step into history in Diocletian’s palace, cathedral and city walls
— Traditional a cappella street singers (called Klappa)
— Take a walking tour with one of the local tour guides – well worth an afternoon or evening
— Vist one of the Wine & Cheese Bars in Split old town
— Ancient Jewish Synagogue and cemetery
— Walk through expansive Marjan Park
— Peruse the fish market held daily
— Wander the mediterranean style open air market
— Play at Bacvica beach with its promenade, restaurants, nightclubs and live music
— Stroll along the Split Harbor promenade where the fashionable go for an evening stroll or morning coffee
— Mestrovic museum and villa
— Wander the alleyways and hidden backstreets of the Old Town
— Game of Thrones walking tour
— Day Sailing to Hvar, Brac, Solta, the Pakleni and Vis islands

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For some fabulous day trips in the Split area:
— Wine tasting with food pairing at Bibich Winery in Skradin (about 1 hour drive from Split)
— Day trip to Skradin and Krk National Park. Skradin is a quaint village on the water, very pretty and right at the entrance to Krk National Park – a beautiful park, about a 1 hour drive from Split.
— Rafting on the Cetina River – about 1 hour drive from Split
—  Visit to Trogir ( a UNESCO Heritage site) about 1/2 from Split – a lovely old medieval town to explore – you could do a walking tour of Split and Trogir in the same day.
— Family kayaking or hiking on Brac island
— Hike to Blaca Monastery on Brac island
Wine tasting in Jelsa on Hvar island

For restaurants and interesting bars in Split and around the nearby islands, check our on page about Trendy Split.

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Visit to Blaca Monastery

Our long postponed hike to Blaca was worth a thousand times the effort – actually a  lovely 45 minute walk.  This amazing enclave, nestled between the sea and the sky on the hillside of a hidden ravine, was once a refuge for Glagoltic monks fleeing the Turks on the mainland in the mid 16th century.  Occupied for over 400 years until the early 1960s, Blaca became the thriving heart of culture, agriculture and commerce on Brac.  Today you can still see the original furnishings, living quarters, kitchen with large hearth, church & out buildings.

Known for their learning, the monastery was a respected center of education, animal husbandry, agriculture, music and astronomy.  Today you can still see the observatory, original telescope, ancient weapons, antique clocks, library and music room with its original piano and gramophone.   The library houses over 8,000 original texts in ancient slavic Cyrillic and roman script as well as more modern scientific texts.  The library also houses a well preserved printing press where the monks printed one book annually,  setting the type with individual lead letters.

The monks also produced olive oil, honey and wine in large quantities as well as herding sheep and goats.   They even had a small fleet of ships to carry their goods to the rest of the Venetian empire.   You can see the grape press, cisterns and olive presses still today.

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When we returned home, we had dinner with an old friend, who has lived on Brac his whole life and has a wealth of stories and legends.   He told us perhaps the most interesting stories of Blaca Monastery, which shed some light on the almost mystical feeling we got from being there.  Apparently Blaca is located at the crossroads of European ley lines connecting Stone Henge and the Pyramids.  According to the geomancers, this creates an area of neutral energy, which intensifies emotion and spiritual states.

Another well kept secret is that there are actually 5 other hermitages between Blaca and Bol on the slopes above Mrvica and below Vidova Gora, the highest peak on the islands.  It is said the first monks came to what is known as the “Dragon’s Cave” in the mid-15th century.  Dragon’s Cave takes its name from the Dragon carved into the wall.   Today you can see the ruins and carved facades of all 5 of these hermitages.   Blaca was actually the last one built but is the best preserved today
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The continent of Brac

Contributed with permission by:  Mila Hvilshøj, journalist, wine connoisseur & sailer. Frequent contributor to Total Split, Taste of Croatia and Lonely Planet research.

THE GIANT ISLAND OF BRAČ FLOATS ACROSS THE ADRIATIC WATERS FROM SPLIT.   BEYOND ITS AZURE BAYS AND STONE QUARRIES HIDES A MYRIAD OF DISCOVERIES FOR THE PALATE.  WE VENTURE ONTO THE ISLAND TO UNCOVER THE CULINARY DELIGHTS OF THIS JAGGED ISLAND CONTINENT.

The landscapes of Brač reflects a hardworking history of laborers; shaved hillsides by quarries, trimmed olive groves and geometric Plavac Mali vineyards by farmers, fishermen’s villages and aromatic pastures for a shepherd and his sheep.

Despite the island’s impeccable natural beauty and rich history, it is often overseen by tourists and recognized mainly as a destination reserved for beachside lounging. Brač is referred to many as a continent, and for good reason. The island’s many bays, villages and valleys all bear a distinct history and culture of which many can be discovered directly on your taste buds. Brač has an opulent gastronomic identity with many specialties and ingredients autochthonous to the island.

The Foundation of Brac Cuisine
Since the Venetian Republic, Brač was also a haven for olive cultivation and today over a half-million trees dot its pruned groves producing reputable oil from the oblica and the rarer mastrinka variety; no wonder why every dish from the island is drizzled with this liquid gold. Formerly inhabited by laborers, Brač’s staple ingredient was the affordable and easy-to-cultivate broad bean and many worker lunches were based on this nutritious legume, prepared in every imaginable way. Particularly famed are the lamb from Brač who have not yet tasted grass, but only their mother’s milk who has grazed off salty open pastures with sage, fennel and other aromatic herbs. Procip is another local favorite, a less than 24-hour fresh sheep cheese that is baked in caramelized sugar.

Five Indigenous Dishes
As the lengthily procedure of firing a lamb on the spit begins, vitalac is prepared to nibble on as you wait. Vitalac is an ancient dish of lamb’s offal fired on a spit, then wrapped in caul to be further grilled. Eating innards may be for an acquired palate and a mental block will probably stop you from even trying but if you dare to delve into this culinary discovery, you will uncover a bacon-crispy sensation revealing a tender stuffing.

Another quirky specialty from Brač is the dormouse (puh in Croatian), once a favorite appetizer amongst Roman emperors. They are hunted just before winter hibernation, then skinned, grilled and simply served between two slices of bread.

More peculiar bites include the Bročki spuži, high-altitude forest snails from Vidova Gora, the highest peak of the Adriatic. The spuži are salted and grilled and once they stop squealing, they are ready to be forked out and dipped in a concoction of vinegar, olive oil and pepper.

The tranquil village of Dol in the hilly hinterland is the home of the mighty Hrapaćuša cake. This hearty sensation consists of two layers; an almond sponge cake soaked in Maraschino with orange zest, topped with coarsely chopped almonds and walnuts folded in sugar and egg whites. This rich cake is prepared for special occasions only and its name, meaning ‘rough,’ is inspired by the craggy stone caves in the area, a similar texture to the cake.

Brač is after all an island; so many dishes are obviously based on the freshest catch from the Adriatic. Other than simple grilled fish, there is the Brujet od sipe s varenikom, a cuttlefish stew flavored with a sweet reduction of grape must, varenik. Brač even has a festival in October devoted to varenik and its importance in local recipes.

So hop on to this well-connected island and unearth a whole new continent of culinary discoveries.

Source:   This article was first published in Dalmatia Hotspots Magazine.

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Visit to Peljesac

Peljesac is the Napa Valley of Croatia.  We had a lot of fun and have been really impressed with some of the wineries we visited this winter.   Among those we visited are 3 distinctively different wineries:

Milos: Frano Miloš, master vintner, is one of the pioneers of the emerging boutique wineries, even though he produces less than 10,000 bottles a year. His family has been producing wine for over 500 years from the southern slopes of Peljesac – the perfect climate for Plavac Mali grape. A small winery just outside the medieval town of Mali Ston, he is producing only a few labels. His basic Miloš Plavac comes from grapes in the middle section of the hillsides while his Stagnum wines use only grapes from the top position of the vineyards. Frano Milos makes robust Plavac Mali reds, very drinkable summer Roses and a lovely sweet Stagnum.

One of Milos’ secrets is his use of large Slavonian wood barrels. He ages the wines first in the barrel then for a long period in the bottle, before he puts them on the market.

The 2006 Stegnum bottling has just been released. Wines: Plavac (P) and Stagnum (S).

Korta Katarina: Korta Katarina was started by an American family, who fell in love with the beauty of the vineyards, the sea and the islands of southern Dalmatia and especial of Peljesac. Korta Katarina is also a Grand Cro winery. Today the master winemaker and all the employees are Croatian. KK vineyards believes in environmental responsibility and is dedicated to natural farming techniques. They also adhere to traditional farming methods in the belief that the old Croatian ways will ensure optimum grape quality. And they must be right, because their Posip & Plavac Mali wines are some of the best in Croatia – winning awards around the world. The winery itself is large and modern, yet graceful with its indigenous architecture, local materials and design detail. Contrasted with the traditional wineries, Korta Katarina is more along the lines of what you might see in Sonoma Valley, California. The winery produces only a few labels (4 or 5) and less than 50,000 bottles a year. Wines: KK Plavac Mali, Posip, Rose Plavac,  Reuben’s Private Reserve.

Matusko: Mate Violic, owner and vintner, may be the bad boy of the Croatian wine industry, but his winery is one of the largest in the Peljesac area. Matusko bottles about 500,000 per year and produces nearly 20 labels of Dingac, Superior Cuvée Barrique, Plavac Mali, Posip, Rosé and Rukatac, including some really nice blends.

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Matusko signature Donkey wines are great table wines – consistent and a good value.  Be sure to try the Royal Dingac – big flavor, strong, full bodied, and fruity – let it breath before tasting.

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Zagreb Wine Fair 2013

We are setting off next week to meet the vintners and enjoy some good wine, good food and good times with friends in the industry.  The Zagreb Fair has become the place to meet to celebrate the end of  harvest, meet the players in the industry and discover the dozens of emerging garage wineries, who are bringing great new wines and ideas to the Croatian Wine industry.  Last years participants read like the Who’s Who in the industry.

We are inviting the winery owners to bring a couple of bottles of their favorite wine and tell us about them in a video production – so stay tuned for some great suggestions, direct from the makers.  Come visit us – we’ll be the ones filming and interviewing.

The annual International Festival of Wine & Culinary Art  is held at the Esplanade Hotel – a classic Zagreb Hotel reminiscent of Zagreb’s Central European roots.


Zagreb Winefest 2013 

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Visit to Senjkovic winery on Brac

Harvest at Senjkovic was hard work and lots of fun.  Sasha, the owner and master wine maker, left his Plavac Mali until late this year.  The Shiraz and Cabernet (a new experiment for this young family) was harvested earlier, in September.  We were surprised to meet friends who wandered in from all over the island to help with the harvest.

 

Sasha and Magdalena are a new breed of passionate and inventive vintners.  They are solving indigenous problems with ingenuity and innovative approaches.  Brac is a rocky island with very little soil.  Senjkovic has come up with a fascinating approach and even invented the machinery to layer the rock and soil to preserve moisture and take advantage of the white,  rocky top layers.  The results are paying off – they are winning awards for their Rose Spoza and Bosso wines.  Their new Dita holds great promise to be among the best reds in Croatia.

Magdalena’s enthusiasm is contagious.  She is really excited about this year’s harvest – expecting great results.  After the filming, Magdalena treated us to a tasting of their flagship wines (Rose Spoza, Brocko Ric Plavac Mali and famous Bosso Plavac Mali) paired with a sampling of her creative cuisine.  She is taking local, traditional ingredients and producing marvelous delicacies – among them; fish pates, home made breads, fresh fig crostini, profiterole pastry made with the black ink of cuttlefish & stuffed with crab and green olives prepared with her secret ingredient (fresh fennel).

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But there is some not so great news for all of you lovers of their famous Rose Spoza – most of this year’s bottling is already sold out.  They promise, however, to hold back some for the visitors who come in ever increasing numbers to sample the wine and enjoy the famous hospitality of Magdalena and Sasha.

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Harvest on Hvar

We just returned from a fabulous trip to Jelsa on Hvar island, where we filmed the harvest in the fields of Dubokobic and met with Ivo Dubokovic and Andro Tomic, two of the leading vinters on Hvar. The harvest is a family affair – friends and family turn up sooner or later to help pick and enjoy a hearty meal at the end of the day, with plenty of wine and laughter. Ivo is doing some great whites, roses &, of course, Plavac Mali.  It looks like he can hardly keep up with demand.   With Ivo wine making is a labor of love.  He takes risks and experiments to get the absolute best wines he can.  Producing just 20,000 bottles a year, you must come visit to find these very special wines.

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Andro Tomic, one of the grandfather’s of the industry,  was a treat to meet and speak to.  His big reds are eclipsed only by his big personality – hospitable, enthusiastic and full of history and anecdotes.    His cellar and winery are a testament to the new industry and the old traditions.  It was fun contrasting the new technology and equipment at Tomic with the garage wine pressing at Dubokovic.

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