Croatia 2021

Split Second Timing

Forms, tests and apps. The new essential travel aspects for late summer 2021. But worth it to finally be in Croatia again and taking the airport bus to the city on a rainy afternoon.

The first part of the holiday was our 3 night city break in Split and we had opted for an Airbnb in the Veli Varoš district. Convenient for the city’s charms, also a residential area.

The only niggle was the late night and early morning rattle of wheelie cases on the cobblestones outside. Otherwise, quiet and spacious with a terrace for breakfast.

Dinner in nearby Articok.

Roaming Split

The rain cleared as we explored the local food markets and had coffee on the riva.

We were both reading a book by an American who married a Croatian girl and enjoying his insights into traditions, norms and culture shock. We leaned into the laid-back Dalmatian vibe, the fjaka feelings of summer on the coast. Split is a city of glistening white cobblestones (slippy), tiny old ladies, pigeons, nuns, ice cream shops and, (even in 2021), cruise ship crowds.

The narrow alleys around Diocletian’s Palace were busy enough to be avoided and we dodged around them waiting for the Mothership to sound its horn and call the passengers back to the monstrosity in the harbour. Then we had some peace to explore again.

Sometimes Split feels as though it has pocket time warps of 1978. Such as the Playboy magazines David was offered in the barber shop, the scarves of the grannies and the musician in the restaurant who was fond of John Denver.

Dinner in Zinfandel’s Wine bar. Did the zinfandel grape variety get to California via a Croatian immigrant wine grower?  Probably not, said the wine bar owner as he put together a selection of pours for us. But Croatians love a good story.

On the Marjans of the City  

The great green hill of Split stretched upwards from our apartment and was an area we had only touched on in previous trips. Memorably by Segway. Today we went more conventionally and by following the coast along rather than the more usual climb up the steps to the viewpoint.

The coastal path took us past the superyachts in the harbour. Small ones today. Then a large water polo stadium and after this the path feels more rural. We stopped for a coffee at the family beach, Obojena but then went on to have a lunch at the more Ibiza-esque Joe’s beach bar on Kašjuni. Busy mainly with local families but enough space to spread a towel and enjoy a swim.

Dinner in Chops Grills, close to the apartment.

Brač Island life

Stage 2 of the trip was 5 nights on the island of Brač with R and A. We hired a car from Nova at the harbour and easily located the villa in the tiny village of Splitska.

We had no trouble finding the house on the riva as the riva is practically the only street. It reminded us of our beloved Lumbarda on Korčula,  but is perhaps only a third of the size.

Toni and his wife lived in the lower part of the house and were excellent hosts. The house was everything we expected from the listing and more with the most idyllic outdoor spaces that were hard to leave.

We had 5 days of bliss with a mix of exploring nearby towns and enjoying the peace of Splitska and the house. We had a morning coffee and chat at the restaurant Vila Marija each day and ate there alternate nights. Mornings were the time for the hummingbird moth although they are too speedy to photograph.

Supetar

We liked to go out in the car in the mornings, have a coffee in a pretty town and then a swim somewhere in that vicinity before relaxing at our villa in the afternoons.

This took us to the Olive Oil museum of Škrip and the beach of  Lovrečina , the stone -carving town of Pučišća and the manicured town of Sutivan.

Sutivan has a statue of a girl pointing to the cat in the church tower, a local legend.

We tasted olive oils, sought out ice creams, ate squid ink pizzas and risottos, floated on a pink flamingo called Domingo, swam in the warmest, bluest seas you can possibly imagine and just chilled. We ate a lot of paprika crisps and watched the waves lap below the villa in the mellow evening light.

As R said in Pučišća , how can a place so pretty be so quiet in the summer season?

We gave Bol a miss having been there once on a day trip from Korčula .The famous Zlatni Rat had not charmed us. Too busy and windy and a Yacht Week vibe.  The north of Brač island is more peaceful and even our 5 days were not long enough to properly see all the little towns and soak it up.

Toni the villa owner bought fish and cooked a Croatian style barbecue for us.  A memorable meal and a chance to hear about life on Brač . We aired our only grumble, the Splitska church bells which rang every half hour to torture us through the night. Toni shrugged. The parish priest lives in Supetar and it does not bother him. The Catholic Church still has much influence in rural Croatia.

Flavours of Zadar

Zadar and northern Dalmatia was new territory for us. Our Splitska host had told us that things are different up there, but was vague as to exactly how.

On the way up we had a mooch around  Primošten with the aim of a lunch by the sea. It is impossibly pretty in the drone pictures with the perfect walled town and the church in the middle. On the ground it was nice enough, but not an awful lot to see in the town for a day trip and I suspect it is more the nearby beaches that captivate for longer.

Zadar was more of what we call a “real town“, where the tourism seems more an additional role than the main point of it. It is famous for Maraska cherry liqueur, cravat ties, seafaring, basketball and sunsets that impressed Alfred Hitchcock. There were Roman ruins, a proper market, boat trips to book. Best of all, the Sea Organ Steps and the Salute to the Sun.

Our holiday rental was an apartment in the modern Villa Franica.

Recently built on the very edges of the developing city and a fairly long walk down into the walled Old Town.

We quickly learned that while a 30 minute walk downhill in the evening was fine, a metered taxi back was a very bad idea indeed. Ripped off once to the tune of 290HRK for what should have been 60-80 HRK by booked radiocab or Uber.

For daytime exploration, we eventually learned where we could park without paying and went back and forth over the bridge several times each day. There were walls with the winged lion of Venice on carvings and plenty of Roman pillars scattered in the centre.

Sweetcorn was being roasted on stalls that were not those of boat trip sellers and we had chances to talk to locals again, especially the women who sold us our boat trip. They were teachers, like our waitress one dinner or our tour guide in Korčula . Teachers who could no longer teach due to pandemic online learning, lack of jobs with no connections or because tourism is simply better at paying the bills.

 Knights of Ni(n)

Nin is a small town about 20 mins driving from Zadar. It is famous for salt production, medicinal black mud and a stroppy medieval bishop who took on the Pope in a battle of ideology.

The salt pan gift shop was a useful source of local information. Beware of the mud, we were told most sternly. It is very strong medicine and must be only applied to the part of the body which hurts. By a nurse, ideally. Luckily such nurses apparently hang out at the Queens’ Beach and we were given directions on where to find one. Lived experience proved otherwise.

Similar to what happens when a GP pitches up at a nursing home, no nurses were to be seen.

The marsh to the left of the broadwalk contained people coating themselves with the sticky black mud, before baking in the sun. Some were even filling plastic bags for the takeaway option. The mud flat behind the beach had to be approached carefully as you could find yourself falling into a hole dug by someone previously. We amused ourselves with the mud and a swim. It was certainly a unique spot.

Dinner back in Zadar at 4Katuna

The Tears of Plitvice

A 2hr drive up to the famous national park. It is an interesting drive, through countryside that is more like Alpine valleys and hills. Stalls display roasted pigs or sell local honey and cheese, abbreviated often to “Med Sir“. This is also country which suffered badly in the Yugoslav wars and we passed several memorials and burial grounds. People were burned out of their houses and did not return. The scars still survive.

We thought that the pandemic and early September would mean a quiet park but it was busy and a steady stream of people on the paths. We did circuit C which took around 4 hours with a picnic break.

Red, red wine…

Plenty of places to explore from a Zadar base and we spent one beach day in Bio Grad. Good beach facilities and a small Old Town.

In the evening we had cocktails in The Garden Lounge, the famous Zadar bar founded by two members of UB40.

Olives and the Sea

Having checked out all the options on the stands, we took a private boat tour for €140 for 4 hours. Better than a whole day on a party boat.  

Our young skipper spoke excellent English. He said did various jobs, including harvesting his family’s 50 olive trees and taking the 2.5 tonnes of product to the local mill by boat. This needs two boats and they are in danger of sinking as they are so weighed down. He preferred to soak half the olives in brine for a number of days then mix in some unsoaked olives to give a less bitter taste than that of extra virgin oil. Each family has its own recipe. They return with around 200 litres of oil which they use on everything and give away to friends etc.

We sailed to the small island of Ugljan and the town of Preko.  Opposite this is a Franciscan Monastery on the islet of Galovac. The locals send their children over to the Monastery for a blessing on a certain feast day. Many swim the short stretch across which must ruin their Sunday best.

Then Otak Ošljak, the Leper hospital island. Less developed than Spinalonga in Crete but a similar original purpose.

An amusement in the harbour in Zadar on return. The neighbouring craft was called “Something of the Seas“. Clearly a joke based on the Royal Caribbean Cruise ships that many Croatians work on and perhaps end up with enough savings for a small boat in Zadar harbour.

Dinner in restaurant La Bruschetta for our final night and final splendid Zadar sunset.

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