Thursday, June 12, 2014

Croatia In May–A Traveller’s Report


Today’s posting and photos are from Jon Dunn who we “met” on Twitter [ @cromercanary ]  and loves Croatia as much as we do. Jon has just returned from a trip around one of the most unspoilt parts of Dalmatia and was kind enough to let us post the first part of his travel report. Please note that opening times, ferries and bus timetables vary according to the season and you might be hard pushed, for example, to find any boat to take you up the Krka River if you go there in February!


North and Central Dalmatia, May 2014.

Hi, I’m Jon, from Cromer in Norfolk in the U.K. For several years now (since my first visit to Istria, in fact) I’ve had a “thing” about Croatia. That time, I was based in Pula, but had visits to Rovinj, Poreč and surrounding areas.

In 2012, I was diagnosed with cancer of the epiglottis, which was caught early and treated successfully - fingers crossed. So in May last year I had recovered enough to travel to Dubrovnik and Korčula, which were (and still are, I assume) both fantastic. Looking at the map, I saw there was a massive chunk in the middle of the country where I’d never set foot - something I was determined to resolve this year.

So the organising began in earnest. Where to fly to, stay, what to see and do, etc. These two websites were invaluable in helping this planning stage :-

Croatia Ferries

Croatia Bus Timetables

So, anyway, I eventually sorted out an itinerary that looked feasible - and great fun. First stop Zadar airport from London Stansted. From there it was straight down to Šibenik to spend four nights in my first ever Airbnb accommodation (more of Zadar later).  Šibenik is built on the side of a steep hill, so is quite demanding, seemingly never ending flights of steep steps. But boy, if you have appropriate walking boots on, it’s great. My rented room was perched high above the city, yet only five minutes walk from the waterfront. As it was getting late I settled for a pizza, from Pizzeria Fontana, Kralja Zvonimira 17a, 22000, which for 30 Kunas, was fine.

The early morning views across the sea from my balcony were to die for! St Ante’s channel and the islands of the Šibenik archipelago gleaming in the morning sunshine :)

There’s a helpful tourist office on the ‘riva’ (seafront promenade) just a few doors down from the Jadrolinija ferry office, which had brochures in several languages and a good city centre map. So, primed with a couple of macchiato coffees and some fritules (doughnuts) it was time to wander, get lost, discover forts, monasteries, medieval Mediterranean gardens, a beautifully kept cemetery (St Ana’s) and an endless supply of churches.

One of the main reasons for opting to use Šibenik as a base - it’s not the prettiest city in Dalmatia, with respect - was Katedrala sv. Jakova (St James Cathedral) which is totally stunning and benefits from UNESCO heritage status. It’s unique in as much as it’s constructed totally from stone, limestone quarried locally and marble  brought in from Brač island. No bricks or timber were used.

The intricate carvings at the main and side doors were just staggeringly ornate, featuring massive Venetian lions but the quirkiest feature is the 71 life sized carved human heads forming a frieze around the outside. Who these people are/were is not certain, but they all manage to look in different directions and are a photographer’s dream!


Some more wandering for photos and a refreshment stop - the local red wine Babić became a pretty good friend and some of the best is produced in and around Šibenik – and I jumped on a bus to visit the picture postcard peninsula town of Primošten, which is charming and compact, but doesn’t warrant more than a couple of hours, in my opinion. Once again it’s a photographer’s paradise, especially if you carry on heading south and look back at it from there. The best Babić vineyards are just outside the town, so it would have been rude not to!

Back to Šibenik on the next bus, interestingly this bus service was run by Autotransport d.d. Šibenik (white buses with blue writing) and was literally half the price of Autotrans for exactly the same journey? Go figure.

By now I was starving. My ‘Rough Guide’ had mentioned konoba Tinel as a good place to eat and having tasted my first ever Pašticada with gnocchi, I have to agree with them. Tinel is tucked away a bit, opposite St Chrysogonus' Church (Galerija sv. Krševana - number 14 on the free tourist map) with a lovely raised outdoor terrace and comfortable indoor seating on two floors. Excellent.

The other reason for choosing Šibenik as a base is it’s proximity to Krka National Park. There’s a local service every morning from the bus station to Skradin at 9.00 I think, with a bus back at 17.00 ideal for a full day excursion to this stunning park. Skradin itself is worth a wander and apparently some of Dalmatia’s top wines are from there, but not enough hours in the day, sadly :(

From Skradin - there’s a reception and visitor centre in Skradin where you buy tickets for boat and park admission combined (90 Kunas adult) - hourly boats head up the Krka river to the end of that navigable stretch, Skradinski Buk waterfall. Forget all the photos, just go and see/feel/experience the thunderous wall of water spilling all around you! Spectacular is an understatement. There’s also a boardwalk of almost 2 km in length which the brochure says is a leisurely hour’s walk - I took more than three! Apart from the cascading water everywhere, there are numerous other attractions within the park, like weaving looms, blacksmiths, flour mills, even the remains of Croatia’s first ever hydroelectric power station. There are guides on hand to explain how it all used to work, and a woman weaving beautiful blankets on the loom.

In addition, as you make your way around the boardwalk, information boards telling you of all the rare and endemic plants, fish, mammals and birds which have been spotted in the park. There are additional boat trips further up the river to another massive waterfall, Roski Slap and a monastery on an island, but due to the timings of everything, you can’t really do it all in one visit, though there are places to stay overnight in the park and in Skradin. A fantastic and informative day for people of all ages.

Back to Šibenik and seafood risotto washed down with white wine - Istrian Graševina - delicious. (The plan was the black risotto with cuttlefish ink, but I had a change of heart - wimp!)

There’s only one regular Jadrolinija ferry service from Šibenik, to the ‘resort’ of Vodice, calling at the islands of Zlarin and Prvić en route. I wanted to visit a small, rectangular town called Tribunj, which is the epitome of cuteness. The ferry leaves Šibenik at 09.30 and returns from Vodice at 18.00, which again allows for a full day exploring. Tribunj is about four km from Vodice, but it’s a gorgeous walk along the beach path which is paved for most of the way. The marina is awesome, filled with some of the most luxurious boats I’ve ever seen. There’s a narrow causeway bridge linking Tribunj with the mainland, much like Primošten, and it’s a great place to wander. The old town on the islet is not much bigger than a football pitch, so you’ll be doing well to get lost! There are some cool waterside bars, such as Nautica, a great place to sit and watch the boats come and go, listening to some of the most chilled out music I’ve ever heard. Bliss!

The best vantage point and worthy of a visit is the hill behind the town, where you can find the ruins of a Venetian fortress and the lovely little church of St Nicholas.

Back along the beach path to Vodice for the ferry home, but not without a typically enthusiastic Croatian wedding taking place, car horns blaring, then a walk around the seafront with accordions serenading the happy couple :)


Many thanks to Jon for his report on the first part of his travels and I am looking forward to the next. Makes me rather homesick for Croatia - Šibenik was my home for several months and when we first went to Croatia, in 2002, to find a house to live in, we stayed right by Tribunj “Marina” for a week. There was no swish marina then, just the shell of an enormous building (that became the marina offices) abandoned half way through construction.

For more information on some of the places Jon describes, the following links will take you direct to a few of our earlier postings on this blog and sister blog, Croatia Cruising Companion:

Croatia On Line - Gastronomy Near Šibenik

Croatia On Line - Falconry Centre Near Šibenik

Croatia Cruising Companion - Šibenik In Winter

Croatia Cruising Companion - Šibenik Regatta

Croatia Online - Tribunj Revisited

Croatia Online - Vodice

Croatia Online - Primošten

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Under A Croatian Sun – A Real Insight Into Croatian Island Life


We were lucky enough to be sent an advance copy of this book, generally available today. It’s fairly unique in terms of insight into ex pat life in Croatia and a thoroughly good read. Jane Cody, Croatia Online’s editor, tells us a bit more about it.


I have nothing but respect for author Anthony Stancomb and his wife Ivana. I thought I was brave going to live in Croatia in an age when most of my friends still couldn’t quite place it on the map. However we made a base on the mainland, in the fairly cosmopolitan town of Trogir, and our social life was mostly geared around the handful of other ex pats within a fifty kilometer radius and a few well travelled and cosmopolitan English speaking locals. So I can’t say we really “integrated” or indeed thought we ever would. The most we hoped for was to be recognised as residents rather than tourists, albeit we came to accept that we would never be anything else than “foreign”!

Anthony and Ivana, on the other hand, were pioneers and plunged themselves directly into traditional Croatian culture, on one of Croatia’s most remote islands, at a time, I imagine, when ex pats were only just rediscovering Dubrovnik. It helped, I’m sure, that Ivana is Croatian by birth and that Anthony learnt the language, but as Anthony illustrates in his book, it does not really matter whether you come from ten or ten thousand miles away - if you’re not from the village itself you’ve got a battle on your hands being accepted. And being accepted in Vis is probably the biggest challenge of them all – not only is it a two hour ferry trip from the mainland (Split) but Vis, with its military strategic importance, remained isolated for quite a long time after the Second World War and was at the sharp end, through the ages, of many attempts by a number of world powers to conquer and control the Adriatic.

But battle they did, and Under A Croatian Sun is an endearing tale of the roller coaster ride of gaining some sort of acceptance against almost impossible odds. Croatia is a proud, resilient and resourceful nation, long since used to playing host to foreign tourists. However, accepting a pair of ex pats into the everyday village life of an island culture, where everybody knows everyone else, and their detailed ancestry, is a very different kind of challenge.

Anthony relates, with great candour and some hilarity, their many different attempts to win the hearts and minds of the villagers, some more successful than others. In true British style, he becomes the only resident to have a lawn in his garden when all his neighbours are growing fruit and veg. Being seen clipping the edges, he soon realises, is rather detrimental to his status amongst such machismo males, and finding a lawnmower on the island proves impossible. Ironically, perhaps, Anthony’s attempts to build a cricket team on the island, after a slow and difficult start, are infinitely more successful and culminate in a decently matched fixture with a visiting MCC team.

What I like most about the book is its honesty about the challenges with Croatian bureaucracy and Anthony and Ivana’s indomitable spirit in not letting it grind them down. As a visitor to Croatia, you’ll hardly be aware of it but, if you decide to live there, you will come across it every day and it can sap the spirit. However, as Anthony explains, its not foreigners that are singled out; locals have exactly the same problems too. Though they may often have the advantage of cousins in the right places to oil the wheels, locals have the disadvantage of a psyche that has been worn down by bureaucracy over many generations and, worse, distant memories of the communist era when the Secret Police could make life very difficult for those who rocked the boat. Anthony and Ivana’s hard fought victory against bureaucracy in one area, particularly after bashing their heads against a brick wall in quite a few others, was not just a personal victory for them but one for the whole village and perhaps gave the locals a little more optimism for the future.

Under a Croatian Sun gives a rare and enlightening insight into what living in a small village on a Croatian island is really like for a couple that does not, by right, “belong” there in the same way that almost everyone else does. Now that Anthony and Ivana are well on the way to “acceptance”, I hope their neighbours will forgive the more colourful portraits that have been painted of some of them. The characters are all infinitely believable and Anthony is just as colourful and frank in relaying some of their less favourable impressions of him, along with plenty of Ivana’s frustrations! It’s difficult to imagine a sharper contrast in backgrounds and all credit to the Stancombs for making such earnest attempts to understand the history and circumstances which explain, for example, just why Croatians have come to prefer modern concrete buildings over old stone houses, and lino coverings over old wooden floors!

Most of all it’s very clear that the prize is worth it – a beautiful old house, right by a crystal clear sea, surround by vineyards and olive groves, amidst people that still celebrate a culture of traditional Mediterranean values, enjoy (reasonably!) healthy lifestyles and value the simple things in life.


You can find out more about Anthony and the book on his website