Saturday, March 21, 2009

Croatia Online - Šolta Island: Orientation

After six years exploring and writing about Croatia, even the most carefully chosen adjectives can start to sound clichéd, and sparingly used superlatives begin to feel well worn.

It's a relative luxury for us to spend three days on one of Dalmatia's islands, albeit with a working objective. Šolta, at just 19 kilometres long, and 4 metres across at its widest, may be one of Croatia's smaller inhabited islands but it has plenty to keep discerning visitors engaged, even outside the summer season.

Like most of Croatia's gems, Šolta has a fascinating and eclectic history, under a background of subservience to its masters in Split. It too has plenty to show from the seemingly never ending battles between the various great powers that have fought so hard for control over Croatia's precarious and strategic position between east and west.

Like many of its island and mainland neighbours, the oldest settlements and arguably the best of Šolta's heritage, is displayed in the inland towns of Grohote, Donje Selo, Gornje Selo and Sredne Selo. These grew up around the most fertile regions and, despite the never ending battle to clear the terrain of vast quantities of stone and rock, the small quantities of nutrient rich topsoil allowed agriculture to thrive. The olive tree has long been a hero of Šolta - it's one of the few species of flora that can thrive in the rocky terrain, mediterranean climate and on an island where there is nothing other than rain as a water supply - the porous limestone rock sees to that. You can read more about Šolta's liquid gold in our next posting.

Apart from the olive groves and abundance of rock, mostly neatly stacked in dry stone walls, inland Šolta will strike you with its old stone built houses, the smell of rosemary, a lush green vista of woods and bushes, settlements that appear tiny as you drive past them on the main road but hold a wealth of treasures in the narrow streets behind, and the magnificent views of the coast. The highest point, Vela Straža, at 237 metres, provides perhaps the best viewpoint of all.

For wow factor views, Maslinica is a strong contender. Facing west and looking out over a few small islets, the sunsets are hard to beat. Maslinica also has a very special man made asset - its Baroque castle now transformed into an elegant deluxe hotel, Martinis Marchi, after painstaking renovations that have brought it back to its original splendour and design. Here the latest technology required for modern and luxurious living, blends tastefully with an important part of Šolta's heritage, and here you can dine in style on the best of local and international cuisine.

There are no settlements on the south side of Šolta - the rugged and heavily indented coastline, doesn't make it an inviting place to live or prosper. However it hides some of the best and most deserted beaches, ideally reached by boat, but also through the olive groves, on tracks which aren't too hard on car tyres.

On the north side lies Rogač, the main ferry port, linking Šolta to Split four times a day in the winter, and with at least six services in the summer, more on demand. As Šolta is under-rated as an island, so Rogač is under stated as one of its coastal settlements.

Rogač is also the home of one of the islands leading local entrepreneurs, Ivo Bezić, who appears to have the only accommodation suited and open for all year round visitors, Villa Solta (English pages to follow). Ivo also owns one of only two restaurants we found on the island that was open last week, the other being Konoba Picerija Gajeta at the head of the bay in Maslenica. Ivo's hotel and restaurant are a short walk up the hill as you head out of Rogač. The reasonably priced modern accommodation includes large bathrooms, underfloor heating and internet access, and there's ample parking. It sleeps up to 24 in total, in a variety of rooms and apartments of various sizes, but when asked about larger groups, Ivo maintains that he can accomodate any number of people through friends in the village and elsewhere on the island. He's also planning to add another floor to the hotel accommodation when time and finances permit. The restaurant serves up the best of ingredients in traditional Dalmatian style and has a similar menu to the other part of Ivo's empire, Konoba Saskinja in Maslenica which is only open in the summer (for now!). Ivo has also just about completed the renovation and refit of his traditional boat which will accomodate 40 people and has an engine capable of getting to Brač and Hvar in good time, just as easily as pootling around Šolta on a fish picnic.

Elsewhere on the north coast there's Nečujam, once just a bay that was home to Emperor Diocletian's fish pool, with a couple of houses including the island retreat of Marko Marulic, the father of Croatian literature. Now it's rather overshadowed by an out of character resort development, Tourist Village Necujam Centar, complete with outdoor swimming pools and disco bar, though there is a lovely unspoilt bay next door which is a favourite for a swim on fish picnic tours from Trogir. There's also a small private hotel, Sv Petar, towards the end of the east side of bay. Nothing was open during last week's visit.

Stomorska also has its charms - the long narrow bay hosts a number of wooden cruise ships waiting for summer action, and is ringed by pizzerias and konobas about to be made ready for this year's tourists. Meanwhile Gornja Krušica and Donja Krušica, at opposite ends of the island's north coast, provide the base for a number of summer houses, some for let, around small bays and are, no doubt, just biding their time until the secrets of Šolta are truly discovered.

For visitors that need to be entertained, Šolta is probably not the island for you, though the short distances to Trogir, Split, Hvar, Brač, and even Vis, make it an ideal retreat for a day of rest from partying. For those that really do want to discover the Mediterranean as it once was, and take a break from the pace of 21st century living, it's hard to beat. If they enjoy style, comfort and luxury as well, Martinis Marchi is the ideal base. For those on a tighter budget, there's maybe not a wide choice but it's there.

Visitors by boat can read more about nautical matters on sister site
Croatia Cruising Companion

Today's photo is a rather giddy view showing the ubiquitous Šolta stones and rocks being put to good use yet again - this time they are marking the path to the island of Vis.


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