I have never liked capers much. But they are used extensively in Croatian cooking and so I thought I’d give them another go and am pleased to say I was converted. Pretty much everything in Croatia is excellent. The coastline, the cuisine, the climate, the courtesy of its people. Despite being a relatively small country it has a wealth of holiday and travel opportunities. It has no less than ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites and there are over a thousand islands, of which around forty seven are inhabited, of which I visited just five! The highlight of my trip was a rare sighting of a family of bottle-nosed dolphins who came to play briefly alongside our boat.
The island of Prvić
I don’t usually go on organised tours but in this occasion I chose to do a swim-trek with a company of the same name. We convened on an island called Prvić, a 45 minute boat trip from nearby Šibenic. I stayed with the group in the well-positioned family-run hotel Maestral at Prvić Luka, one of the island’s two towns. It’s not the cheapest option, however, and there are a number of AirBnb choices available too at a lower rate. The Maestral also hires out kayaks by the day, half-day or hour so you can either explore the harbour or do a trip round the whole island.
Prvic is a sleepy car-free island. Its main claim to fame is the bishop, inventor and polymath Faust Vrančić who has a new museum dedicated to his work, largely courtesy of EU funding. Amongst more spectacular engineering feats involving complicated bridge structures, he also invented the rubber ring (for swimming) and the parachute! The museum is fascinating with lots of working models and detailed explanations in English.
It is possible to walk around the island in a few hours on a coast path as well as over the top through olive and pine groves. There are a couple of sandy beaches towards Šepurine, a twenty-minute stroll away. And at the second, a van selling fritule (tiny doughnuts) and drinks.
There’s a good selection of restaurants to discover too, all of them along the sea front. I’ll recommend just Punta, overlooking the point of the port, simply because of the excellent time I had there one windy night when I was the only diner. I’d eaten fish there earlier in the week but hadn’t been able to manage the platter of three local cheeses. This was to be my main course this time. The first, a soft cow’s cheese made in a factory by Trappist monks, the second a famed mature sheep’s cheese from the nearby island of Pag and finally Livanjski, made from the milk of both sheep and cows who graze on grass and medicinal plants on a private estate! I know all this because my waiter Nik paid me lots of attention as he was probably a bit bored or may have felt a bit sorry for me dining alone (although it was actually my choice to have a break from the group for one evening). Nik went on to recommend the most delicious dessert I may ever have tasted. I’m not a fan of sweet things at the end of a meal and yet the hot wild sour cherries on home-made vanilla ice-cream was sublime. And the highlight was not the obligatory glass of pear grappa but a demonstration of how to turn an ordinary paper napkin into a delicate flower, which was presented to me by my attentive waiter. Another C for Croatia – chivalry!!
Most people flying into this part of Croatia arrive at Split. There are various expensive options to transfer into the town but the cheapest is to leave the airport building, cross the road and turn left where you’ll find a number of unmarked tourist coaches which hang about till they are almost full before setting off. I waited twenty minutes and paid only 5 Euros.
Split is also a transport hub for the many ferries leaving for islands and other towns up and down the coast which make for a pleasant alternative to buses.
The town was heaving in late June, mainly with twenty-somethings, and it was noisy too. But the students are gone by September which is a great time to visit. As I only had a couple of nights in Split I stayed in a single room at the minimalist Design Hostel Goli & Bosi. I’d booked ahead which was just as well as it was full. It’s in the old town a short walk from the bus station, on a lovely square with two restaurants, and just around the corner from the seafront.
This UNESCO World Heritage old town is the main reason to visit Split and well-documented.
I am partial to sculpture and a bit of architecture and was delighted to discover, a mile and a half north of the town along the coast, a gallery showing the works of Ivan Meštrović, a renowned Croatian sculptor and architect who built the elegant summer house which now houses many of his works in the spacious rooms and gardens. The villa was built between 1931 and 1939 to his own design. There’s a small café there too.
A hundred metres or so further along the road, and included in the price, is an entirely different modest building – the Kaštelet-Crikvine, a restored chapel that houses a set of wooden wall panels carved by Meštrović. If you don’t want to walk back a bus passes every hour or so.
I also enjoyed the twenty-minute walk up the town steps towards Marjan Hill park where lies the peaceful Old Jewish Cemetery and a restaurant/café with extensive views over the town and coast to the south. You can’t miss it!
I’d done my research and heard that the Uji Oil Bar was the place to dine. The octopus and shrimp were indeed very tender, but the experience was marred by the nod to modern international trends to garnish everything with rocket and fat chips and dipping bread albeit with a selection of excellent local olive oils. This detracted from the experience and I could have been anywhere.
Much better, I discovered, was Villa Spiza at Ul. Petra Kružića 3, 21000, which does not compromise real Dalmatian cooking. A tiny space tucked away in an alley, it accommodates only 15 people at a time, seated at the bar and bench tables inside where you can watch the cooking, and two tables outside. It’s cash only & you cannot book, so a wait is inevitable but worth it!!
I also passed through Šibenik and only then realised that, it too has UNESCO World Heritage monuments in St James Cathedral and St Nicholas fortress. It’s a stylish and happening town, small enough to wander round easily and large enough to be of interest for a few days at least, and a great base for visiting the islands and the Krka National Park. There’s an extensive programme of events in various genres including the Festival of Old Wedding Customs, the Summer School of Organs, a Medieval Fair, the English Brass Academy Summer Festival and an International Children’s Festival, to name but a handful. Jazz and Dance also play a significant role.
I arrived at Pansion Šibenik, a simple place centrally located up a narrow cobbled street, on a Sunday morning as the sound of plainsong echoed through the quiet streets from a nearby chapel .
I also want to mention a local speciality from Skradin, the gateway to Krka National Park. Skradin Cake is made without flour, instead using ground almonds and walnuts. It’s simply delicious!
Finally, I met a lovely woman who, in addition to being a private guide and storyteller, also offers massage treatments for a very reasonable sum (I took two!). Contact Karmen Bezbradica on her local number 091 73 17 116 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org She speaks excellent English.