When you drive onto The Island of Pag, you are greeted with a desolate and barren landscape. It feels as though you have arrived on a different planet, with no sign of life, apart from the occasional car whizzing by. But the scene is spectacular – the rugged white limestone cliffs dive dramatically into the sapphire blue of the Adriatic Sea. And not to mention the imposing, yet awe-inspiring Velebit Mountains, set as a backdrop. The scenery on Pag is breath-taking – these photographs below fail to do it the justice it deserves. Unfortunately, many visitors to Croatia stick to the ‘regular’ tourist route of sailing between Split and Dubrovnik, visiting the islands of Hvar, Brac and Korcula, missing northern Croatia and what is has to offer. Ok, I could be a bit wrong with that final statement, many people do visit Pag. For all those party animals and music festival addicts, Pag is known as the Croatian Ibiza. Thousands of people flock to Pag, namely Zrce, located in the bay south-east of Novalja, to spend their summer partying 24/7 if they wish. But Pag is much more than a party island. It is an island steeped in history and tradition, and offers some of the most amazing scenery in all of Croatia. I have been lucky enough to visit Pag on every trip to Croatia – my mother was born on the island, in the town of Povljana, and we still have our original family house there, which has become a holiday house for me, my brother, aunt, uncles, cousins and many of our friends.
Throughout the country, Pag prides itself on its well-renown talents of cheese making, crotched lace and salt manufacturing. You cannot visit Pag without sampling some of its cheese. Known as Paski Sir, Pag Cheese, it is a hard, sharp cheese from sheep’s milk (my grandfather always likened it to Italian Romano cheese, but it wasn’t quite the same). Many people on the island, women especially, made the cheese at home and sold it to tourists at a high price due to its quality and unique flavour. The cheese was so valuable that it even took the place of money in transactions between friends and neighbours. Today however, the older generation are become too frail to spend their days in the fields looking after sheep, so Paski Sir is now predominately manufactured on a large commercial scale and now available in many supermarkets around Croatia. But if you’re lucky enough to bump into a local who still produces their own cheese at home, be sure to buy some. And if you can, as them for the curds too, if they haven’t thrown it away. Spread on crusty bread, it is to-die-for. I remember one summer visiting my great-aunt and gorging on the stuff (and I also remember the putrid smell of her house – it just smelt of cheese).
Pag is also renown for it delicately hand-crocheted lace. Centuries ago, the French aristocracy came to the island to purchase their lace from the women of Pag. Aside from selling their craftwork to European aristocrats, the women of Pag crotched lace for their homes and particularly for special occasions, such as lacework for bridalware. Like Paski Sir, Paska Cipka (Pag Lace) is of the highest quality and craftsmanship, making it very expensive. Even today it fetches a high price. Unfortunately, it has become a dying art, with the younger generation being disinterested in learning the craft. Luckily, a school as been established in recent years at the Benedictine Convent in Pag town (I’m not 100% sure if it is still open today), to ensure that the traditions don’t fade away. When you visit the town of Pag, you are to see old women crotching in the streets and displaying their art for tourist to buy.
Pag is also know for its salt. You don’t actually need to go to Pag to sample its salt, as it is sold in almost every supermarket in Croatia. Paski Sol (Pag Salt) is the most popular table salt used througout Croatia. It comes from the Pag salt flats, which can be seen on your left-hand side as you drive from the southern end of the island to Pag town. Salt has been extracted from these flats for generations, working with the tides and the dry summer heat. The Adriatic is quite a salty sea, when the tide rises, it fills the salt flats with sea water, which is then held in bays until the water evaporates and the sea salt remains.
I spend all my summers on Pag in the small town of Povljana, being the birthtown of my mother. Orginally a small farming village, with the primary industries being sheep hearding and the growing of wheat, fruits and vegetables, the town has boomed in the last 20 years, becoming a tourist destination for many foreigners, partiularly Germans, Czechs and Italians. In winter the town has a population of about 700 people and this explodes to around 5,000 in the summer. The newer, more recently developed part of the town, near ‘Dubrovnik’ beach, is overrun by a multitude of multicoloured monstrousities – three or four storey houses, usually with colourfully painted exteriors, which are usually divided into numerous apartments for the use of tourists in the summer months. In contrast, the original centre of town remains quite rural – these is a nice walk from the centre towards ‘Stara Povljana’ (Old Povljana – where the original inhabitants of the village lived. Unfortunately there are no ruins left of this settlement – most of stone from the buildings would have been used to create stone walls which criss-cross the island, separating one person’s field from another’s). This walk takes you through the cultivated fields of Povljana, passing the beautiful 14th century church of Saint Martin, and ends at a beautiful secluded beach. Occasionally during the summer, this becomes the site of some crazy beach parties, organised by Oliver, the owner and host at Caffe Bar Kampanel (the ‘in’ place to party during the summer). If you take this walk in the early morning, you’ll bump into many locals on their way to the fields, usually on make-shift motorbikes or tractors. Or even run across an old lady and her flock of sheep walking along side you.
For those history lovers out there, Povljana is an old town which is thought to have been inhabited since Roman times. A few decdes ago, the ruins of Roman tombs were found in the shallow shores of Povljana. There is even an old church, located above the old beach, known as The Church of Saint Nicholas (Sveti Nikola), which is thought to date from the 9th century BC. There is a small old graveyard infront of the church with only a handfull of tombs, one of which belongs to my great-gransparents.
Although Povljana appear to be a sleepy old town, it is the perfect place to spend your summer days soaking up the sun and your nights partying into the early hours of the morning with the locals.
Like every small town in Croatia, there is a plethora of private accommodation available in Povljana during the summer. I’m not too sure if you’ll readily find accommodation in the winter, as not many tourists venture here in the colder months – you might even have difficulty getting to the island, as the bridge is often closed when the bura (the icy wind from the Velebit Mountains), blows with all it’s force. Visit the local tourist office (turisticka zajednica) for information about private accommodation.
Snoopy’s Pizza: This alfresco dining place has become a bit of an institution in Povljana. Again, only open in the summer months, it serves up a fabulous selection of pizzas. Available in three sizes, small, medium and large, don’t go by the sizes we have in Australia – the large is the size of the table top and could easily feed a football team. Try the Paski Sir pizza, which has a great combination of local prsut (similar to Italian prosciutto) and paski sir. And for all those sugar heads out there, they have an interesting selection of sweet pizzas – try schwalzwald (chocolate and cherries) or the fig jam and cream one. Yummo!
Drink at Kampanel: This little bar located near the town centre, across the road from the Church of Saint George, is a mecca during the summer months. If there’s only one place to be, it’s Kampanel. Run by a local man called Oliver (at 50 years of age he parties like a 20-something year old) it attracts both tourists and locals alike. The small premises is usually empty, with everyone sitting outside in front of the bar, in the street or even on the church steps. Oliver has a great selection of music, and drinks for that matter, and is happy to play tunes by request.
There are buses every few hours from Zadar to Novalja (Pag) – if you wish to get off at Povljana, the bus drops you off on the main road where a little shuttle bus collects you and drives you the rest of the way (See the timetable at Zadar bus station, also available online – I think there are two in the morning and three in the afternoon). Again, getting back to Zadar, a shuttlebus will pick you up from the drop-off point in Povljana and take you to the main road where you wait for the connecting bus. Like I mentioned in the last post, hiring a car in Croatia gives you more freedom and flexibility.