Dubrovnik & Trogir, Croatia

It is truly as beautiful as everybody says it is. And it attracts more tourists than anywhere else in Croatia for a reason. There is something magical and other-worldly about Dubrovnik. Some essence that cannot be found elsewhere in Dalmatia. Dubrovnik is a world unto itself. Located at the southern tip of Croatia, for centuries was an independent republic, similar to the Venetian republic of the same era. Originally known as the Republic of Ragusa, it remained an independent state for centuries, boasting strong maritime trade links throughout the Mediterranean. Today it has become part of Croatia, and perhaps its greatest gem. Although, some old people of Dubrovnik still consider themselves are unique from other Croatians.

The majority of visitors to Dubrovnik tend to stick to the old town centre (from the Renaissance Era) and the surrounding beaches. Walking down Stradun (the main street, and orientation point, in the old town) is surreal feeling – the stone pavement is so wore from centuries and centuries of people walking its length, that it glistens in the midday sun. The imposing bell tower tolls on the hour, ensure that you don’t lose track of time as you wander through the labyrinth of narrow streets and lanes. If it’s not too hot, I recommend paying the 70 kuna (approximately US$12) and walking along the outer walls of the city – from this vantage point you get a bird’s eye view of the city. Try to avoid doing this on a hot summers day, or at least go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, as the summer sun is blisteringly hot and there is no shade to hide beneath along the wall.

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I also recommend that you try to get up early in the morning to experience the city under the warm light of a summer morning. Dubrovnik looks just magical at this time of day, with its white limestone walls and red terracotta roofs shining through the dawn mist. The entire town is still and quiet, without the humdrum of tourist every which way you look. Take a walk out of the old town and up the hill through the residential streets to experience the spectacular view below. From this outlook, you can see the beauty of the old town floating on the magestic blue Adriatic Sea. I also took a walk out of the old town and along the seaside. Through the haze, people are fishing or taking their morning swim, or taking advantage of the stillness of the morning to sail out into the horizon.

The evening is another great time to explore the city. You’ll be greeted with a completely different atmosphere from that in the early morning – as the sun goes to sleep, Dubrovnik awakens. People fill the streets, walking up and down Stradun in the cool evening breeze. All the alfresco restaurants are full of people eating and socialising, and the caffe bars overflowing with people enjoying a drink or two, whilst watching the world pass them by. The evening is also a great time to peruse the boutiques in Dubrovnik – out of the harsh midday sun, dusk is the perfect time to enjoy an ice-cream and wander through the lanes full of retail outlets which are open until about 9 or 10pm.

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During my travels around Croatia this year, I visited Trogir for the first time. I hadn’t originally planned to visit this town, but having a few hours to spare before catching a flight from Split, I decided to wander through the streets of this medieval UNESCO world heritage sight. Located just 15 minutes from Split airport, it is the perfect departure point for those heading to the northern Adriatic coast – head to Split if you’re heading south. Having just an hour or two to explore, I wandered around the cobblestone streets, browsing the stores and sampling some ice-cream. There isn’t much to Trogir, except for its exquisite old town centre, which is rather small in comparison to that of Dubrovnik. Some attractions to see in the centre include: the 15th century fortress of Kamerlengo, The Duke’s Palace and The Cathedral, both dated from the 13th century. Trogir is an extremely old town, research suggested that it was first inhabited by Greek colonialist in the 3rd century and developed into a major port during the Roman period. The history and affluence of the town is evident can be seen in the beautiful limestone architecture of its narrow lanes and important civic buildings.

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Essentials:

Stay:
In Dubrovnik, staying in the historic centre is usually more expensive than if you stay outside of its walls. But if you decide to stay outside the centre, have a look on a map before you book anything – some places are located up on the hill, and although you have a magnificent view onto Dubrovnik, it can make for a hot and tiresome 30-45 minute uphill walk in the sweltering heat. We booked last minute (not the wisest thing to do in the middle of August), but managed to find a reasonably priced and well located hostel, just a 5 minute walk outside of the centre. We spent a night at Hostel Villa Garden. Although it was nothing to write home about, it was clean and tidy, the manager was very helpful, and it was well priced considering its close proximity to the old town centre (although we got a little lost and frustrated trying to find it, as there is no signage at the front). When booking accommodation in Dubrovnik, don’t forget to ask if they offer parking. Parking is scarce in Dubrovnik, or ridiculously expensive. If your accommodation doesn’t offer you parking, you either have to walk a fair distance, and probably park illegally, or pay at the 24 hour metres which can do a bit of damage to your wallet.

Eat:
There is no shortage of restaurants in both Dubrovnik and Trogir. In Dubrovnik, we ate at “Moby Dick”  http://www.moby-dick.hr,  located in the first street running parallel to Stradun, on the higher side. It is a typical, tourist focused seafood restaurant, with prices being higher than in other parts of Croatia – but hey, it’s Dubrovnik. Ask for an outside table for the atmosphere. We ordered a seafood platter which had a selection of grilled fish, fried whitebait, squid and skampi, with a side of octopus salad. It wasn’t the best meal we had in Croatia (my brother thinks the boys at “Ferali” in Tisno do a better seafood platter), but we polished the whole thing, even soaking up the excess oil with crusty bread.

Getting there:
I’ve only ever driving to Dubrovnik, but there are buses departing ever couple of hours from Split to Dubrovnik. The bus trip is approximately 4 hours. If you drive there, go straight along the Jadranska Magistrala (the main road running the length of the Croatian coast) and just follow the signs to Dubrovnik. It’s almost impossible to get lost. Unfortunately, the freeway from Split does not yet reach Dubrovnik, but when it does, it should cut the travel time by half. It is also possible to fly into Dubrovnik, with its airport located near Cavtat, about 15km from Dubrovnik. Flights in and out of Dubrovnik are usually more expensive than if you go to Split, so to save a few dollars, fly into Split and get the bus to Dubrovnik.
As for Trogir, the town is located along the Jadranska Magistrala, with adequate signposting directing drivers to the town. There is metered parking just outside the old town walls. Split airport, located in Kastel, is only 6km from Trogir. Take bus No. 38 from the airport (the bus doesn’t actually turn into the airport – you have to go outside onto the main road, where you should see a marked bus stop on the side of the road heading north – the bus will stop there). Buses arrive every 30 minutes.

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Povljana & The Island of Pag, Croatia

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Essentials:

Stay:
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.

Eat:
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.

Getting There:
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.

Tisno & The Island of Murter, Croatia

Settled on the crystal clear waters of the Dalmatian Adriatic, balancing itself half on the mainland and half on the island of Murter, is the little known town of Tisno. My second home. This small town, with a population of a little of 1,000 inhabitants, is the hometown of my father, and my favourite place to spend the Europen summer. I was also furtunate enough to spend a year in this town (I began a blog about my experiences in Tisno –  http://dalmatinka-malakretova.blogspot.com.au – check out the blog for information about the culture and history of the town) experiencing the traditions and simple life of the poeple of Tisno.

Although I had so many places I wanted to visit on my travels this year, I spared a week of my itinerary to visit old friends, and new friends (many of my friends had had children since I was there last) in Tisno. August is also a great time to visit so you can experience some of the traditional summer festivals, such as The Tisno International Donkey Race (usually the second weekend in August) and Velika Gospa celebrations in Jezera (on the night of the 15th August). In Tisno, and on the Island of Murter, there is a lot to do to occupy your time: spend your afternoon lazying about at one of the many beautiful bays, hire a scooter or a boat for the day and explore the island, or just sit back and relax in one of the many caffe bars, gossiping with the locals and watching the world go by.

Jezera, Croatia

Jezera

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Jezera, Croatia

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Here are a few of my favourite places to go and things to do on the island:

  • Spend the afternoon lazying at the Bay of Jasenovac. This beautiful bay, located on the western side of the island, is absolutely spectacular. The bay can only be reached by sea, on foot from the Bay of Kosirina, or taking the long and windy unpaved road. Don’t try riding your bike there as I did one day in the sweltering heat – I’d forgotten how long the road was and how difficult it would be to navigate by push bike – part of the road is covered in loose pebbles, making bike-riding near impossible. About 10 years ago a father and son from Jezera, who owned the land by the bay, opened a little restaurant/cafe overlooking the Adriatic. It’s a perfect place to have some evening drinks or an evening meal as you watch the sun set into the sea. The food it basic, but if you want something amazing ask for lamb (janjetina) or octopus (hobotnica) “ispod peke” – baked under hot coals. You have to order a day in advance and the “peka”, as it is called, is to die for. If it’s not too hot, spend a few hours walking from Jasenovac to the Bay of Kosirina. This picturesque sea-side walk is a relaxing way to spend the day, get in a bit of exercise and soak in the beauty of the island. A word of warning, there are many nude bathers along this path.
  • Chatting to the locals. There is always some gossip to hear or something to laugh about, a conversation with someone from Tisno is never dull. There will be laughter, crazy hand gestures, insane ideas thrown about, some bizarre story told – although it’s a small town, life never seems to be dull.
  • Party the night away with the locals in the caffe bars. Three of the most popular in Tisno are Caffe Bar Crni, Caffe Bar Kole and Kasiopeja, each with their own cliental. Crni’s attracts the younger crowd – the university students party all night long, every night of the week, soaking in their short-lived summer holidays. Kole’s has the older, more sophisticated crowd – drinking their wine and critiquing the passers by. And finally Kasiopeja, with its ‘alternative’ crowd, entertaining themselves with personal jokes and gags. Wherever you go, you’re bound to have fun if you hang with the locals.
  • Swim at Sveti Andrija (Saint Andrew’s) Beach. Hidden away at the southern end of Tisno, on the island side, is this little protected beach. Although the water is usually colder at this end, Sv. Andrija is one of my favourite beaches, as the water is always crystal clear and you are free from the hoards of tourist you find at Jazina Beach on the opposite side.
  • Festa time! Everyone loves a good festa. And the people of Tisno know how to party. There are many festas (festivals) organised in Tisno during the summer. These are huge outdoor parties, with both local and well-known Croatian bands coming to town to give free concerts. The night usually consists of copious amounts of drinking, singing along to songs in the loudest voice possible, catching up with old friends from other parts of Croatia, Europe or the wider world, and dancing together into the early hours of the morning before staggering home – staying until sunrise is not uncommon.
  • Concerts at Cigrada. Found on the western side of the island, just before you reach Murter is a signpost on the left to Cigrada. This little bay is often the site of concerts in summer, with well-known Croatian artists coming to perform. With only one street in and out of Cigrada, these concerts usually have an entry charge. Many people avoid this cover charge by going cross-country through the shrubbery, trying to avoid organisers searching for them with flashlights.
  • Eating figs! I just adore figs and they grow almost everywhere in Tisno. Take a basket when you go for a walk and collect them as you pass. Just make sure no one sees you – some of the locals might be a bit disgrunted if they catch you ‘stealing’ their figs (even if they themselves aren’t eating them, and they are rotting away on the tree).
  • Summer Festivals! As of this year, Tisno is home to a number of well-known European summer music festivals. This year, and for the following few years (I think a five year contract has been signed), Tisno was home to The Garden Festival, Stop Making Sense, Soundwave Festival, and Electric Elephant. These festivals are held in the Bay of Rastovac, located just outside of Tisno. There is camping onsite, but if you want to true local experience, many of the locals rent rooms and/or apartments in their houses over the summer. So if you like 3 to 5 day music festivals, dancing and listening to amazing music all day and all night, there is no better place than Tisno in the summer. And the scenery is just amazing – there aren’t many places in the world that are more beautiful.
  • I have to put this one down, as all my friends in Tisno tease me about my Linolada obsession. This stuff is amazing. Similar to Nutella, but it’s a half hazelnut and white chocolate spread, it is a necessity when making palacinke (Croatian pancakes, similar to the French crepes).

 

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Essentials:

Stay:

There is plenty of private accommodation in Tisno and around the island. Many locals rent out rooms and private aparments during the summer to tourists. Prices and standards vary. Ask at the local tourist bureau (turisticka zajednica) for a current list of vacancies. They’ll usually call the host (which could range from being an old grandmother to a young barman) who will pick you up, take you to your room, and usually stuff you with local delicacies of cured ham, cheese and figs. People’s knowledge of English will vary, from knowing nothing to being almost fluent, but through a range of hand gestures, you’ll hopefully be understood. Either way, you’ll have a true local experience.

Eat:

Ok, so I’m going to be a bit biased here and mentioned the restaurants of a few good friends (but they are great restaurants).
Ferali: Run by twin brothers (who don’t look alike), this restaurant is one of my favourites. Roko in the kitchen always serves up great local cuisine and his brother Krste is an enteraining host. My brother swears that they do the best lignje na zaru (grilled squid) in Croatia. He has tried the dish in almost every restaurant we’ve eaten at in Croatia, and he rates Ferali’s as the best without a doubt. Located in the centre of town, as you cross the bridge to the island side, turn left and they are about 50 metres along the waterfront.
Prova (http://www.apartmani-restaurant-prova-tisno.com): Also run by two brothers, Ante and Marko, this restaurant with its beautiful waterfront terrace is located a little out of the centre, towards the bay of Jazina. They have a wide range of local specialities and you must try their pizza – they were the first restaurant in Tisno to serve up pizza on their menu, nicknaming the family “Pizza”.

Getting There:

Like many small towns in Croatia, public transport connections can be a bit irregular. However, Tisno is reasonable well connected to Zagreb, with a few direct connections daily. Just check the route of each bus, as some go direct via the autoput (motorway) taking about 4 hours, whilst others go via Rijeka or other cities, taking 6 hours or more. To get to other parts of Croatia, you usually have to go via Sibenik, being the capital of the county. There are a number of connections to and from Sibenik, the first one being at about 5:30am and the last at about 9:30pm. Hitching rides from locals is commonly done, if the train timetable doesn’t suit. Many people hire cars whilst in Croatia, making travel easier and more convenivent, especially in rural areas.