Monday, October 24, 2016

Croatia’s Griffon Vulture Rescue Centre

Croatia Online - Griffon Vulture Centar - Bird
It was with some surprise, as I worked my way south along the coast road from Senj, that I saw a sign for the Griffon Vulture Centar, more officially known as the Birds Of Prey Conservation Centar. I’d got to know it a little, seven years ago, when  I was living in Croatia and wrote a feature on birds in Croatia for Time Out.  Follow the link below to go back to earlier postings on this:
Croatia Online - Birding In Croatia

At that time the centre was located on the island of Cres, an island that had become synonymous with the birds it protected. However, it seems that the somewhat unregulated tourist attention that ensued from the ecological success of the project, the introduction of wild boars for hunting, which disrupted the already fragile eco-system, and a number of other factors, forced the centre’s  founder, Goran Sušić, to relocate to the mainland.
Croatia Online - Griffon Vulture Centar - Sign
Unfortunately the Griffon Vultures have a number of other challenges, not least the fact that there are not so many dead carcasses around any more and certain drugs, used by farmers on their livestock, are toxic to the birds. Goran and his team have helped the numbers in Croatia go from 80 to 140 but they are now going back down again.

Nonetheless, and despite being somewhat dispirited by the ups and downs of their pioneering work and particularly the politics that surround it, this small group of conservationists continues to do its best to rescue and care for injured or orphaned birds and return them to the wild.

The centre itself is a fascinating place and I was lucky enough to get a one on one guided tour from Marin, the founder’s son.  One of the most interesting things he told me (and there were too many for my overloaded memory to handle!) was that the  Griffon Vultures from Cres are the second heaviest in the world, only beaten by those from the Himalayas. The reason is obvious once you think about it: at the high altitude of the Himalayas, a bird needs plenty of weight to cope with the violent winds and weather. In this region of Croatia, the fierce Bora wind, from the north-east, blows more strongly and more frequently than anywhere else in Croatia, and a bird needs plenty of muscle and power to manoeuvre in its mighty gusts.

Croatia Online - Griffon Vulture Centar - Marin
Apart from the rescue, care and release of the birds, the centre is also involved in the science of trying to protect this highly endangered species. One vulture has GPS “onboard”, many are ringed and from this conservationists learn much about their struggles. They tracked one pair taking it in turns to make a round trip to Italy every day, in order to feed their young, because there was no food in Croatia and, apparently, the centre is not allowed to set up a feeding station. 

The centre also helps in the education of children and adults alike and the rooms and outside spaces are peppered with innovative quizzes, visual displays and information areas. Of course the centrepiece is the convalescing birds themselves, kept in an enormous netted area with a hut and viewing area at one end. The vultures are happily oblivious to all the interest they arouse as they are viewed through one way glass – you can see them but they can’t see you!

Croatia Online - Groffon Vulture Centar - Centar
For more information go to Griffon Vulture Centar At the time of writing the website was not available which we trust is just a temporary hitch, perhaps caused by a big Bora wind!

Facebook pages are mostly in Croatian Facebook – Grifoncentar

GPS co-ordinates are 44°53.06’ N 14°54.72’E and opening times are 11 to 6 from 1st May to 30th September. However, certainnly outside the main summer period, it’s probably best to ring ahead to the mobile to double check someone is going to be there when you want to visit + 385 ( 0 ) 91 3357 123.

The tour costs 30 Kn but all donations are most welcome and you may be lucky enough to be given a small souvenir.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Žrnovnica, Near Senj

Croatia Online - Zrnovnica

After the various unsolved mysteries of Sv Juraj, or St George, as it translates into English, we did manage to solve most of the mysteries of the next place we stumbled upon as we continued our drive south along the coast road from Senj.

From high up on the hill we spied a narrow bay with a breakwater on either side leaving just a narrow gap in the middle. Our interest was piqued as we thought that it must provide good and rare shelter for yachts, from the Bora wind that blows from the north-east very fiercely in this part of Croatia. Indeed there was a yacht moored well inside the breakwater.

We decided to inspect further and parked the car in a few different lay-bys to get a better view. It looked like a huge private residence for someone with plenty of money but, as we got a wider view, we saw other buildings also looking as if they were quite newly built. It didn’t have the look of a small village and we deduced that the owner must be very rich and that the other houses were for staff!

Croatia Online - Zrnovnica Outbuildings

We didn’t really fancy the steep descent to investigate more closely and suspected that, anyway, we’d probably be given short shrift so we left any further research for our return home.

It turns out that this is “Veladrion” – according to the website “a private haven where your intimacy is protected froom prying eyes…” aimed at the corporate market as a venue for meetings and events.

It does look like a lot has been invested in it and I would imagine it has all the latest mod cons. Landscaping, and what looks like a pitch and put, are well on the way and I’m sure the owners have thought about providing a pier or beach so that, after a hard day’s work, conference participators can relax and have a swim. Visit the website - Veladrion -and you’ll find an array of exclusive facilities for work and play!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sveti Juraj, Near Senj

Croatia Online - Sv Juraj Ruins

I’m sorry to say that, despite my best endeavours, Sv Juraj still remains something of a mystery to me. If I’d seen the statue of St George, at the time I was having my coffee,  then I would have asked the waitress a lot more questions!

However part of the fun of blogging my trip when I get back home is that I get to delve into what is now quite an extensive library on all things Croatian and find out some obscure fact relating to an unsolved mystery arising from my travels. This time I have drawn two blanks: not only do I not know what the connection is between Sveti Juraj and its namesake saint, St George (see Croatia Online - St George Slays Dragons All Over Croatia), but nor have I been able to establish the exact history of its two sets of ruins.

The ruins in the main picture above are on the mainland and the other, smaller, mound of stone is on the tiny nearby islet of  Lisac – see picture below.

Croatia Online - Sv Juraj - Lisac Islet Ruins

The best I can offer is the paragraph below from thee Senj Tourist Board site

On the old graveyard by the sea you can see the St Juraj church and abbey, and nearby there are the remains of St Filip and Jakov church. People have been living here continuously since Roman times.

So, if anyone reading this can help me solve the mystery of St George and the ruins, please add a comment.

History aside, Sv Juraj is a typical example of “The Mediterranean As It Once Was”, the slogan now dumped by the national tourist board.  Everything flows around the small harbour and there’s a pizzeria, café, shop and harbour master’s office. It’s a lovely little place that I would imagine retains its soul and character throughout the year  and doesn’t see too much of a tourist invasion in the summer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Epic Croatia Road Trip – Day 8

Croatia Online - Island Shots

I’m hoping this photo gives you just an idea of why I spent most of my six weeks in Croatia gawping at the stunning views and worrying about the sheer drops in equal measure! On Day 8 of our very memorable road trip we covered just 43 miles but a vast array of locations.

After checking out Nehaj Castle in Senj, having reluctantly dragged myself away from one of my all time top ten campsites, we had a coffee in Sveti Juraj, a peek at Autocamp Raca, investigated a very private looking and secluded estate, stumbled upon the Griffon Vulture centre, not realising it had moved from its former base on the island of Cres, took a ferry to Pag island, drove to Novalja and finally parked up for the night at Camp Straško in Novalja.

Our constant backdrop was the stunning and ever changing view of the Kvarner islands – Krk, Rab, Cres, Lošinj, Goli Otok, Prvić and Pag to name but a few. So, apart from all the stops to check out bays, campsites and villages, it was impossible to resist stopping in almost every layby to drink in the views. That’s something we never got tired of and though it made the days a lot longer, trying to fit everything in, it made them very full. No wonder it took most of the evening to download the day’s photos and transcribe my notes, and no wonder it’s taking me so long to report properly on the trip! Still, working through the images and events of the day is the next best thing to being there!

The next few postings here, on Croatia Online, feature Sveti Juraj, Goli Otok, a very exclusive resort in Žrnovica and the Griffon Vulture centre, where we were lucky enough to get a one on one tour from the founder’s son, Marin Sušić.  Meanwhile on Croatia Camping Guide we’ll be looking at the campsites in more detail and on Croatia Cruising Companion, the ports and navigational considerations.

In the meantime, we’ll leave you with some more of those jaw dropping views.

Croatia Online - Prvic

Croatia Online - Rab, Goli Otok & Sv Grgur

And finally, does anyone else think that Pag looks like a lobster?! Twitter Pic - Pag

Friday, October 07, 2016

Croatia’s First Resort Development

Croatia Online - Brizenica Bay5

Yesterday afternoon I became completely distracted trying to pin down the location of Croatia’s first new resort development – Brizenica Bay, on Hvar island. Extensive searches saw it mentioned a few times on tourist pages in relation to beaches accessible by boat, and in connection with the proposed development, but it was not named on any one of my maps – nautical or otherwise. Nor did the developers think to include the exact location on a map on their website. Even my detailed maps of Hvar island, which name almost every coastal indentation, were silent on Brizenica Bay.  I guessed it would not be far from Stari Grad and I also deduced it must be part of the Kabal peninsula that stretches north west from Stari Grad and so, eventually I found that some obliging member of the public had pinpointed  it on a google map. And then, lo and behold, I zoomed in, in a slightly different place, on my electronic navigational sailing charts, and there it was, spelt slightly differently.

In order to avoid readers having the same challenges, and to share the benefit of all those hours spent solving the mystery, I thought I would reproduce the results of my research and have pinpointed the location in the main picture above. I have used the tourist board map of Hvar for this, which I trust is within the terms of use – please note that copyright in it is with Kartograf. The lable and boxes, and extraction of the boxed out area on the map, are my work. Please do not reproduce the photo without permission from the copyright owners,  just in case.

Having pinpointed the location, and after checking the latitude and longitude with the notes I made on photos taken on a recent boat trip in the area, below is a photo of what I am pretty sure is the right bay.

Croatia Online - Brizenica Bay Boat trip

You can see the spine of the Kabal peninsula, rising behind it, and, as you’ll see from the map, the peninsula is a narrow y-shaped and heavily indented piece of land with a “b” road running along the top, with steep narrow tracks down to some of the bays.

Of course the locals would have known where it was instantly. Brizenica Bay, along with others on the Kabal peninsula  such as  Žukova, Zavala, Tiha and Digidaga, are favourite “secret” retreats from the summer hoardes. Barely accessible by car, easier to get to by boat, these bays and beaches, hidden amongst pine forests and olive groves, make for a pleasant peaceful contrast to the busier beaches nearer Stari Grad itself, but perhaps not for much longer?

Four Seasons Resort Hvar, covering 17 hectares around Brizenica Bay,  is expected to open in 2019. Arqaam Capital, a  specialist emerging markets investment bank, head quartered in Dubai, has entered into a partnership with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts to manage and operate the luxury mixed use resort.  

The development will feature a 120-room Four Seasons hotel and a luxury residential community including 60 Four Seasons private residences ranging in size from a one bedroom residence to a five bedroom villa.  The resort will also feature  several swimming pools,  a spa and fitness centre, top end restaurants, cafes, bars and boutiques, as well as conference and banqueting facilities. The sales blurb also suggests private docking, though I would imagine that might not be all year round, since the bay is not particularly well protected, especially from winds from the north-west. It is, however, quite a deep bay and I would imagine it will need plenty of imported gravel if the designers want to incorporate a gradually sloping area of beach. The media pack also mentions multiple daily seaplane flights from Split to nearby Jelsa  - hopefully the developers and other interested parties can bring some pressure to bear to resolve the current impasse between ECA, who run the flights, and the authorities, who have suspended flights after, allegedly, reports from a disgruntled employee criticising maintenance and other matters. There is a link to an article about the suspension below, reporting on a statement made by ECA on 3rd October 2016, but, at the time of writing, the ECA website itself has no news update since August 2016.

I suppose, as far as the march of progress goes, this new resort project is a really positive development for Hvar, and Croatia as a whole. If it’s going to get developed then better to “go” 5-star than anything else and there aren’t much better brands than Four Seasons. However there’s just a part of me that is a little sad that this will be another part of “the Mediterranean as it once was” that won’t be again. And I fear that this resort development, classy and pioneering as it is, may just be the start of the taming of the whole of the wild, rugged and dramatic Kabal peninsula. Thankfully, however, there are still plenty of wild, rugged and dramatic parts of Croatia left,  and Stari Grad deserves the best, so let’s celebrate progress and trust in the developers and the authorities to make sure this enormous project does full justice to its location!

For more information, try the following links:

Brizenica Bay.Com

Stari Grad Tourist Board

Slobodna Dalmacija - Aerial Shot Of Bay

Arquaam Capital

ECA Suspend Seaplane Flights In Croatia

European Coastal Airlines

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Senj, Kvarner, Northern Croatia

Croatia Online - Senj

Nestled close to the Velebit mountains, and the largest town between Rijeka, to the north, and Zadar, to the south, Senj has long enjoyed huge strategic importance and has a chequered history.

The settlement started on the hill more than 3,000 years ago and was an important trading stop. Gradually, as elsewhere in Croatia, development gradually focused closer to the shore.

In Roman times it was one of the most significant ports and cultural centres in the region but was largely destroyed, by the Barbarians, in the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries.

In 1537 the Turkish government made a treaty of non agression with Venice  on condition that the Uskoks left Klis. Many Uskoks (literally “fugitives”) came to Senj and helped the Austrian governor with the fight against the Turks. The well preserved Nehaj Castle, overlooking the town, was built in the fifteen fifties and located so as to have a good vantage point for sighting approaching ships.

Croatia Online - Nehaj Castle Senj

However when relations improved between the Austrians, the Uskoks took up piracy, threatened the new peace and so were moved inland.

Peace and economic prosperity returned to Senj as it became an important trading post again, particularly for the import of salt, grain and wood. It also became a significant cultural centre again, with many of the country’s great poets coming from Senj and now commemorated by having with their busts placed in Senj’s Poet’s Park.

However, in 1873, the building of the railway line between Rijeka and Karlovac cut Senj off from the progress it brought, and Trieste and Rijeka, with better connections, started to flourish as ports at Senj’s expense. Inhabitants started to leave in the late 19th century, a process which accelerated after the Second World War when the town suffered heavy bombing.

One of Senj’s other claims to fame is that it is the windiest place in Croatia. The Senj Bora (north-east wind) is a weather phenomenon both feared and feted by its inhabitants. The wind builds high up on the Velebit mountains and then blows directly down the Vratnik pass to Senj. The part of the island of Krk directly opposite Senj is bare – nothing can grow there against the onslaught of the Bora.

Croatia Online - Bora Senj, Krk

Apart from generating hurricane force winds every now and then though, the Bora brings some advantages producing exceptionally “clean” air once it has blown through and generally heralding clear skies and sunshine.

Senj is a more traditional kind of town as far as tourism is concerned. Following its isolation resulting from the new railway line, the building of the motorway has also cut it off the main road transit route. However it’s a great place to visit with a good museum in the castle, another one in the town and plenty of shops, banks, restaurants and bars.

Croatia Online - Senj, view from castle

And it has one of the best located and best value for money campsites we stayed at in our seven week trip, very close to town and with its own great little beach – for more details go to  Croatia Camping Guide - Kamp Škver, Senj

For more information on the town itself, link to Senj Tourist Office

Monday, October 03, 2016

Croatia Ranks Second For World’s Best Beaches

Croatia Online - Vinisce

There’s never a shortage of interesting Croatian news stories on Croatia Week and today is no exception. Sister site, Croatia Camping Guide, will shortly be reporting on Croatia’s campsites in the news, but, for this posting, we’ll be featuring Croatia’s beaches as one of them has made number two in Skyscanner’s list of 10 of the World’s Best Beaches.

Lovrečina beach is between Postira and Pučišća on the north coast of Brač island. It’s one of Croatia’s fairly rare sandy beaches and it stays shallow until the very end of the bay. It’s well protected and a similar shape to the bay pictures above – Vinišće – which is one of my favourites. You can read the full story and see Lovrečina bay in its full glory on this link - Croatia Week - Croatian Beach Named 2nd Nicest In The World. And you can find out a little more about Lovrečina beach on this link Croatia Gems – Lovrečina

If you want to go back to the original skyscanner top ten, follow this link - Skyscanner - 10 Of The World's Best Beaches. It was written in 2013 so maybe there’s a new one coming along with a few more Croatian beaches in it?!

We’ve found so many great beaches, on our various travels around Croatia, that it’s very difficult to rank them. However we’re trying to do just that as we go through the photos of our epic, early summer, road trip. Vinišće, above, makes it because it’s such a peaceful settlement and a great place to get away from the masses in summer. Zlatni rat beach, near Bol, on Brač island, pictuted below, probably has to feature too as the most photographed beach and one of the best for water sports.

Croatia Online - Zlatni rat, near Bol

Wherever you go on the Croatian coast , though, you’re never very far away from a great beach, or even a seclection of beaches with something for everyone.

For some of our earlier postings on beaches check out the following links:

Croatian Beaches & The Art Of Picigin

Beaches in Croatia (2008)

Beaches In Croatia (2006)

Sadly, the website we featured in the 2006 posting is no longer around. It was brilliant, way ahead of its time and there’s been nothing to match it since. However there are plenty of  other  websites with sections on beaches around and below are just a few.

Croatia National Tourist Board – Beaches

Visit Croatia - Famous Beaches

Telegraph's Top Five Croatian Beach Resorts