Monday, July 14, 2008

Croatia Online - Falconry Centre

As far as birds of prey are concerned, it's a meeting of minds for Emilio Menđušić, founder and manager of the Sokolarski Centar in Dubrava, near Šibenik. He and his small but equally dedicated team are passionate about Croatia's falcons, owls and buzzards but are also well in tune with what's happening in the international falconery world.

It's the only centre of it's kind in Croatia and we're saving the full story for next year's edition of Time Out's Visitors' Guide To Croatia. However those with a passion for wildlife, an activity that's over 5,000 years old, or who just want to see how this team is making a difference to the survival chances of Croatia's birds of prey, follow the link above to the website or keep an eye out for the new site which is in the course of construction. Individual visitors are welcome, as well as groups, but call ahead the day before so they're ready for you and be prepared to be fascinated!

Thanks to Emilio, Victoria, Emil and the rest of the team for their time and hospitality, and for allowing us to share their insight into these most glorious and regal creatures. Good luck to them with all the various linked projects that continue to ensure there's never a dull moment for them and a much more hopeful future for Croatia's wild birds of prey. The trained birds in their care already know they're onto a good thing!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Croatia Online - Beaches

Croatia, quite understandably, takes its beach tourism very seriously. Known for its crystal clear waters, it's rightly proud of the number of Blue Flag beaches and marinas. Interestingly, though, the Blue Flag award does not require marinas to provide a waste pump-out service for boats even though government legislation (mostly ignored) does.
If a classic beach holiday is your thing, there are a number of websites that will help:
Follow Blue Flag for details of all Croatia's beaches and marinas with a Blue Flag award.
Link to Croatia Online - Beaches in Croatia - for an earlier posting with details of a great website that list beaches by category and provides lots of other useful information.
The Kastela Tourist Board site has an interactive map showing the sea quality in Kaštela Bay, near Split.
For those of a technical bent, the Croatian govenment commissioned a study on sea water quality in 2007 which can be found by following this link Sea Bathing Quality in Croatia in 2007
The increasing pressure of nautical and beach tourism will hopefully not put too much of a strain on the Croatian Adriatic's ecological systems. Beach tourists can do their bit by cleaning up after themselves; nautical tourists can make a bigger difference by putting pressure on marinas and charter companies to provide facilities for the environmentally safe disposal of marine waste. At the moment most of it is dumped at sea and, in such concentrated form, can do significant damage to the eco system. See our sister site Croatia Cruising Companion - Nautical Waste Pump Out Facilities for progress in this area - all to slow at the moment.
Today's picture is of Bačvice beach in Split - a lovely sloping sandy beach overlooked by a number of good restaurants, near to Hotel Park, and great for families.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Croatia Online - Split Hotels Update

We last reported in detail on Split hotels in April 2007 (Croatia Online - Hotels In Split) and it wasn't too long before that when the travel and tourism world was complaining about the lack of good quality hotel stock in Split. That's all changed in the last few years as Split has recognised its true status in Croatia, as a leading destination in its own right, rather than just a transit town for visitors to the popular islands of Brač, Hvar and Vis. Change continues at a steady pace and here are just a few recent morsels of news:

Hotel Globo, in the heart of the city and just a 10 minute walk from the ferry port, has recently added 7 new rooms to give it a total complement of 5 triples and 28 doubles, all recently refurbished. It also now has hi speed internet connection throughout.

Villa Dobrić, located close to the Riva, fish market and main shopping street Marmontova, opened last year under the same ownership as the small and exclusive Hotel Vestibul Palace. Even smaller, with just 4 rooms compared to Vestibul's 7, and just as exclusive, Villa Dobrić's stone building dates from 1890 but the rooms are as modern and stylish as you would expect from a new four star.

Only a few paces from Villa Dobrić is the brand new four star Marmont Hotel which opened last week. The website is still under construction but has contact details and some soothing music. Also small and classy and in a nice peaceful square though still in the heart of the old town.

Today's photo was taken just by Villa Dobrić and demonstrates another aspect of Split's new found purpose as a tourist destination - no more wandering around blind alleys searching for the shop or venue you want: now you have tasteful plaques at the end of streets indicating exactly what you can expect to find in them!

Croatia Online - UNESCO News

Regular readers will recall that Croatia Online's Editor had the privilege of writing a superyacht owners' guide to the best of Croatia, for Boat International, a couple of months ago - see Croatia Online - Superyacht Owners' Guide for more details. One of the sections of the book was UNESCO in Croatia, which touched on the huge and notable array of natural and cultural heritage deemed of world importance.
In the "UNESCO in Croatia" section we reported on two examples of the 16 items on UNESCO's tentative list for Croatia, and are pleased to report that one of them, the Stari Grad plain, was amongst 27 new sites inscribed onto the World Heritage list on 8th July 2008. Follow this link to see what makes it so special to UNESCO - Unesco - Stari Grad Plain. Below are the relevant highlights of the text in Boat International's guide.
UNESCO takes a special interest in Croatia too, with 6 World Heritage Sites, considered as having outstanding universal value. Croatia has another 16 sites on the tentative list and Klapa music is a strong contender to be included on the new Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage being drawn up in the next two years.

Meanwhile, for “tangibles” Croatia has 5 cultural sites and one natural site. The old city of Dubrovnik, Split’s Diocletian Palace and Plitvice Lakes National Park were first on the list in 1979, followed by Trogir’s old town and the Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč in 1997, and finally Sibenik’s lovingly restored Cathedral of St James, in 2000. All but one are included in our specials section which leaves Poreč’s Euphrasian Basilica which is thought to be architecturally unique. The complex itself is one of the most preserved and complete examples of religious monuments of its kind and the site of Christianity as early as the 4th century.

On the tentative list the only surprise is that there aren’t more. Below are brief details of two of the less obvious sites. The more obvious one’s include elements of Zadar, Ston and Korčula; the natural splendour of Kornati, the Velebit mountains and Telaščica; and inland Motovun and Varaždin.

Hermitage Blaca (Tentative List 2007)
Originally a cave shelter for two monks who came to the south coast of Brač from inland Poljica in 1551, Hermitage Blaca developed and flourished as a monastery until the last monk, Niko Miličević an acclaimed astronomer, died in 1963. The telescope remains as one of the most powerful in Croatia and the 11,000 books in the library, many of them from the 18th century, are preserved in the museum. The monks also acquired large estates and the monastery was steadily expanded throughout its life and twice reconstructed: once after a fire in 1724, and again in the 19th century to include a 2 metre thick fortress wall encircling the complex. The monastery is considered to be a living time capsule recording the harsh reality of the difficult and varied eco system of the area as well as the history of the times and people it served.

Stari Grad Plain (Tentative List 2005)
This site probably deserves a book in its own right, but its listing as the biggest fertile field of any Adriatic island is just the start of its remarkable attributes. Prior to the last ice age experts believe Hvar island was a mainland mountain and that the cold dry north east Bora wind deposited the sediments on this area that made it so fertile. The old dry stone walls, built to demarcate territory, are amongst the best preserved of their kind, and date back to around 384 BC when Greeks from the Aegean island of Paros colonized the island. This area also features round, dry stone walled, kažuns, used for shelter, and the Roman water cisterns used to preserve rainwater. The history of civilization in the area can be traced from the 5th century BC and the lack of development has preserved a depth of archaeology that tells a full and fascinating story.

© Jane Cody/Boat International

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Croatia Online - Tribunj

Tribunj has a very special place in our hearts. When we first decided to move to Croatia, over 5 years ago, we went to look for somewhere to live before driving over a couple of months later. Our first stop was Trogir, where we quickly found our apartment; our second stop was Tribunj, where we soon found somewhere to stay but realised that central heating and winter lets are not that common in Dalmatia!

In 2002, Tribunj was a quiet fishing village with a great big unfinished concrete building and several fishing boats. The building became the focus of what is now an extremely smart marina, and the fishing boats remain in the outer part of a marina now filled with, mostly, very posh yachts. Back then, Restaurant Tople, open all year round, seemed a little out of place - more of a formal dining experience than a casual konoba, but with an owner in tune with progress who just happened to have an apartment to let 5 plus year's back, and who now, has just sold his small hotel accomodation, Villa Diana, to a Russian owner who plans to take it up market.

For those in the know, Tribunj is a gem of a destination. The old town is on a tiny oval island, connected to the mainland by a small stone bridge. Most of the north east side of the island faces the marina; on the south west side are several bars and cafes and municipal boat moorings. By the bridge are the tourist office and post office, and restaurants are scattered all around the area, on and off the island. As if that's not enough, the more cosmoplitan tourist town of Vodice is a lovely 40 minute walk away along the blue flag beach linking Tribunj and Vodice, and the tranquil area of Sovlje, with it's secluded beach and beautifully situated restaurant Plava Vala, is a 5 minute drive away.

Onshore Information and Highlights

Tourist Office and Post Office - on the right just over the bridge on a street called Badnje. Both tend to open for a few hours in the morning and again late afternoon/evening. Hours on the tourist office door were 8am to 1pm and 5pm to 9pm, except Sundays - 8am to noon.

Ice Cream - don't miss Amfora, by the church and car park in the old town. All the ice creams are made fresh daily and decorated by the owners wife. The flavours are superb and so is the presentation.

The Movie Resort Hotels and Apartments - with pages in English if you look hard enough. Gone are the days when the only accomodation in Tribunj was the plethora of summer apartments to let. This is a stylish hotel with an adequate beach and an interior full of character, themed on the film industry - that means plenty of film star photos on the wall and an old movie camera as part of the decor. To find it, drive past the marina and it's on the left, just past Restaurant Tople (see above) and the last pier.

Villa Diana - Definitely one to watch for next year. The gardens and restaurant decor are already lovely, though the restaurant just does pizzas at the moment (from 4pm onwards). It's only just come under Russian ownership and there are plans to refurbish all 15 rooms this year to take it upmarket from its current, somewhat harsh, two star status. Just before Tople on the marina road (Jurjevgradska), no website as yet.

Plavi Val -, though unfortunately only pages in Croatian, Italian and German as yet, which suggests something about Tribunj's normal clientele. This superbly located restaurant in the Sovlje area of Tribunj also has 7 apartments to let and offers a free taxi service to diners in a 10 mile radius - call 098 337 154. The menu covers all the Dalmatian favourites with a large choice of fish and meat dishes. Prices are perhaps just a little above the Dalmatian norm but not signicantly so. Apartment prices seem very reasonable though we didn't look inside. All major credit cards accepted and opening hours are from 12 to 12 in the summer season - check for opening dates direct.

Konoba Palma (pictured) - don't be hoodwinked by the understated nature of this bistro from the outside - the plain wooden tables at the front hide an airy and welcoming "interior" of fishing nets, trinkets and delicacies. The owners are from Slavonia, inland Croatia, where they return to a ranch in the winter to prepare some of what gets to your table, such as the Slovenian smoked ham (misnamed Dalmatinski Prsut) and the Slavonski Kulen (a spicy, all meat, sausage). Both are delicious though the smoked ham is quite diffierent from its Dalmatian cousin - not surprising as the latter is dried in the Bora rather than undergoing a smoking process amidst plum trees that gives a texture that is more moist, and a flavour that is equally intense but quite different.. Other treats are breakfast with omelettes and/or sausages, Coquille St Jacques, salmon, and home made apple strudel. Prices are reasonable, Mastercard, Maestro and Visa cards accepted, opening hours noon to 1am daily between late April and early October. The same owners also run Buffet Škver in Tribunj's old town. The menu has yet to be translated into English. You'll find it on the same road (Jurjevgradska) as Villa Diana, Tople and The Movie Resort Hotel.

Konoba Simun, Old Town - lovely inside and out, though you get the sense that the ambience is verging on the snooty. The lyrics from a song from the famous local singer, Arsen Dedić, opens the menu in the same arty style as the swirling italic writing, and manicured small garden outside. Prices are a little bit above average too: mussels buzara - 60 kn, Lobster sailor style - 500 kn per kg, bifstek - 115 kn, pork with mushroom sauce - 80 kn and house wines - 110kn per litre.

Tribunj has much to recommend it as a holiday destination and let's hope that it's sensible enough to leave mass tourism to Vodice and retain its intrinsic mediterranean charm. Visit our sister site Croatia Cruising Companion for an update on Tribunj's nautical facilities, which includes the discovery of a substantial boat building yard tucked away in Sovlje.