TROGIR, KRKA AND SPLIT

The unexpected advantage of driving to Motovan in the teeming rain was that when we retraced part of our journey to get to Trogir, the scenery was completely new.

What an amazing sight! More mountains, tortuous ravines and eventually, glorious blue seas against a backdrop of crags, and a twisting coastline with trees dropping right to the water. Islands reclined in the bay and little boats puttered and sailed on the water.

We nosed the car into the town, across two bridges onto the island and squeezed through more narrow streets, up a steep climb until we saw our host waving to us from the veranda of our new home. Not quite as stylish but with a fabulous view of the sea. It also possessed, we later discovered, a bathroom that farted all by itself.

This was taken from the balcony on our last evening.

Our host, Darko (slightly uncomfortable about this name but he doesn’t seem to be), turned out to be a Canadian Croation. His English was fluent, as was that of his family.

We had checked the weather, and the following day, Tuesday, was set to be sunny with a high of 22 degrees, so when Darko told us that he offered days out on his boat and was free then, we booked his services. After dumping our stuff in the flat we tripped back down the hill for a look round and to visit the supermarket for picnic and breakfast food and something (pasta in the end) to cook that evening. We puffed back to our apartment.

The next day…

Breakfast next morning. Butter from Zagreb, bread and tomatoes from Trogir
Leaving Trogir for the islands

Foaming sea
A fair wind

Our first stop was on the island of Drvenik. Darko dropped us at one end of its natural harbour and recommended we walk round the water and back and he would wait as long as we needed.

The weather was warm and we seemed to be the only tourists. It was as if the local people were waiting for the summer to begin again. A couple of men sat drinking beer and a dog lay in the sunshine. Kittens pounced on bags of rubbish as we passed shuttered up holiday homes and peeped into crumbling buildings that must once have been used to process fish.

A statue, dated 1951 was of a Sylvester Stalone look alike. Naked to the waist and carrying a machine gun. Darko told us later he was probably a local partisan hero from the war.

At the end of the harbour, opposite the waiting boat, we stared up at another statue, a woman, gazing out to sea, clutching a handkerchief and weeping. This was to commemorate, according to Darko, the children, evacuated to Egypt during the German and Italian occupation (For more information, click here) (and here). I shared the woman’s distress as she watched her children wave to her from a clandestine boat, wondering if she would ever see them again.

We strolled back and climbed aboard the 20ft traditional craft, looking forward to the cool breeze on the water. Darko turned up the speed and the water splashed in over the sides. Our next stop, Solta, was slightly larger but equally empty. It felt as though it was there only for us. We sat at a table in an empty bar and ordered squid and chips and drank beer, that’s all we did.

Darko then headed for what he termed ‘a beautiful, blue lagoon.’  As he dropped anchor he asked if we would like to swim and then lay back under the prow of the boat while Whizz wriggled into his trunks. I hadn’t brought swimming gear with me – in fact I didn’t even have shorts, so convinced was I that the weather would be cloudy all week.

This was an excellent first day. We didn’t need to eat after our fishy lunch so the evening was spent in the apartment with wine and nibbles, planning our day at Krka National Park the following day.

Krka National Park

This jewel is an area of stunning beauty around a section of the Krka River. Its USP is the series of seven waterfalls that start at the top, with the highest, Manojlovaki Slap (slap is Croatian for waterfall).

There is no point in my reciting loads of facts and figures but have a look here.

All along the river are other spectacular falls, finishing at the bottom with Skradinski Buk and below that, an enchanting network of walkways over the water and between little cascades.

I’m getting bored of my own voice now so will post the pictures that  rather inadequately tell the story.

Fish in the water from a walkway
Map of the network of walkways
Skradinski Buck
Skradinski Buck
Skradinski Buck
A canyon in the park



Everything we have done so far has involved steep climbs. If you don’t like hills I suggest you find another country to visit.

Split

On our last morning we did a lightning tour of Split.

On his wall, Whizz has a picture, I think he bought from IKEA, of a reconstruction of Diocletian’s Palace in Split. I have looked at the picture nearly every day for the past 19 years and never realised that it was this place in front of which we Parked.

Diocletian must be turning in his grave at the cafes, stalls, shops and even hotels within the walls of his palace. That said, the area is very charming. The ancient parts bound together with more modern infill.

People live within the walls in tiny homes squeezed in where they will fit.

We drank coffee at a pavement cafe, expecting to be ripped off because of the location but it was cheap and good.

After absorbing the atmosphere for a bit longer we decided to follow the suggestion of Horace.

Horace was in Split a few weeks ago and recommended the climb to Marjan Park. She had already told us that it involved a climb of 300 or so steps but that was only half the story.

Walking from the Palace we found a narrow road that pointed straight up to the sky, and began to climb, and climb, and climb.  We arrived at the foot of some steps and climbed some more. Then we got to the 315 steps that led to the viewing point at the top. According to google we climbed for 3.3 km but it was a very steep 3.3 km indeed.

 

Croatia, through its membership of the European Union, has received a good deal of money to boost its economy and has invested it in tourism. The trunk roads, all subject to tolls, are new and fast, and at this time of year, empty.

While we were in Croatia, the colours of the trees to either side of the motorway had become even more intense.  The lowering sun casting it’s yellow light on the orange and gold trees was stunning.

As we crossed the mountains near Zagreb on that last afternoon, the world turned from gold to grey. A wind rose, and leaves began swirling across the motorway and whipping under cars, then it began to rain. This drew a line under our fabulous trip, preparing us for the coming winter, back home in England.

There is no doubt in my mind that we will be back.

From Istria to Dalmatia. Food, drink and toil.

October in Croatia is a must for foodies. This largely unexplored and unspoiled part of the former Yugoslavia is a jewel. Combine the beauty of a mountain-top walled towns with truffle season, local quality wines and oils and the glorious colours of Autumn and you have perfection (IMHO).

Our trip began in Zagreb, an elegant,  peaceful city with wonderful open air and indoor food markets, oh and a cathedral and other imposing buildings. We scooted through the market, past stalls loaded with fresh and bottled produce, to find somewhere for an early dinner and fell upon Kod Mike on Tkalciceva 59. It stood out from the pizza and burger restaurants around it, advertising local Croatian cuisine. It was busy. One waiter and one cook, who calmly dispensed food, one table at a time. Yes we could sit down but we would have to wait about 35 minutes. We were in no hurry and sat, watching the waiter scoot between diners, and the cook tinkle her little bell as dish after dish of delicious looking food passed our table, out onto the pavement or round a corner to another part of the restaurant. After about half an hour the young man got to us, a charming smile on his face and offered drinks. ‘I will bring you local beer,’  he offered and soon we were  enjoying bottles of Ozujsko and studying the menu.

Whizz chose a mountain of meat including locally produced sausages and much more,  more than one human should eat, but he is a trencherman of the first order and polished it off, pronouncing it good. I had something called Hot Kiss, which was diced steak in a spicy sauce, not unlike a Sechuan sauce, with gnocchi. It was not bad. The most enjoyable part of the meal, it has to be said, was the atmosphere.

The lady in the kitchen (and Whizz’s ear)

The next day we headed off for Motovun. The journey promised to be scenic but rain pounded so furiously on the windscreen of our little VW hire car that we could hardly even see the road. Intermittent tunnels implied mountains above, and provided momentary peace from the stormy beating on the roof.

‘The sea is over there,’ Whizz  informed me at one point, but there was nothing but mist.

As we neared our destination the rain let up and we were entranced by mountainous hills swathed in trees.  A carpet of Oaks and  Aspens in golds and yellows, offsetting the dense, dark green of Pines, and Cypresses, their tops poking out and flopping over in the wind like sorting hats. Every now and again we passed small clusters of houses clambering over each other up the steep slopes or teetering on the top.

‘Look,’ I pointed upwards, ‘Do you think this is it?’

It was. I think this may be the beginning of a love affair with Istria.

Only residents were allowed to drive into the town so our host, Hana, met us  just outside. ‘One can’t be too precious about the car, here,’ she told us as she negotiated the pitted and narrow streets, between houses that you could reach out and touch. We lurched through the forecourts of a couple of restaurants with tables to right and left, those on the right abutting a wall over which yawned open country as far as we could see. Hanna explained that we had arrived in truffle time. There had been a big truffle festival in the town the previous week and all restaurants and shops would be selling truffles (tartufi in Italian and Croatian) and truffle products. ‘You will notice that most people here own dogs – to search out the truffles.’

‘Do you do that?’ I asked.

‘No, it is hard work and muddy.’ She laughed a little self depricatingly, as if that was something to be ashamed of. Perhaps was, is in a community so united in its adoration of the mighty fungus. ‘Food is Italian influenced,’ she continued. And despite it being the Sabbath, ‘The restaurants will be open when you want to eat.’

The car lurched to a halt in the middle of a steep street. Hana helped us into a gloomy hallway with our bags, and showed us into our home for the next couple of nights.

The apartment was just below the city walls on the side of the city shown above. Inside, the floors were of shiny black and white tiles and the walls hung with local limited edition prints (furniture was by IKEA). There was a spacious sitting/cooking area, a dining area with bathroom off and a large bedroom that looked out onto the mountains.

The view from our window in the early morning before the mist had burned off.

We had decided on a simple meal that evening, with a wish for a quick turn-around after our journey, so after unpacking a few essentials, we toiled up the cobbled street to the restaurant area we had spotted on the way in. I thought my lungs would burst, so steep was the climb and so heavy my body.

There were two shops, and between them, two restaurants. Without really considering which to chose, we dropped in to the nearest restaurant. It was completely empty, well, empty apart from the staff, who sat round a table chatting.

Any hesitation about our choice was dispelled when an elegant man rose and led us to a table by the window, presented us with menus and insisted we drink a sparkling wine, produced in his own vineyard. Were we likely to refuse?

I chose ravioli with mushroom sauce and truffles, Dave had tagliatelle with white truffles. ‘You must try this next wine, it is very special. We won a gold award with it.’

He poured two glasses of golden wine. ‘It should be served at 50 degrees,’ he explained.

We sipped. Nectar. It did seem wrong at first to drink white wine so warm but it was deep flavoured and very alcoholic and we soon got used to it. The meals arrived as did two more glasses of the wine.

Dessert was some kind of eggless tiramisu, accompanied by a glass of Muscat – you guessed it – from his own vineyards.

By this time I was in love not only with Motovun but the restaurant and its proprietor. We stumbled home, replete.

The next day we hauled ourselves more easily up to the second restaurant and brunched on excellent pizza. We decided to forgo the truffle ones in favour of Siscillian and Istrian – the Siscilian was better and would have been ample on its own but a usual we scoffed both before setting off to explore – uphill.

A path atop the wall circumnavigated the square. In the square, we whispered into the small cathedral/large church and then followed a sign to the tower.  The tower was a separate building, seemingly locked. A man stepped like magic from the doorway of a house. ‘Would you like to go up?’ He asked in a soft voice. ‘It is 20 kuna.’

‘For us both?’ Asked Whizz.

He weighed us up. ‘Per person.’ We paid up, it was less than a fiver.

‘One hundred and twenty steps to the top.’

Why am I doing this? I wondered as I studied, not steps, but open wooden stairs. It would be a hands and feet job and I tried not to think about the descent.

‘In the bell tower you must climb across the hatch,’ the man told us. ‘Then  through a hole onto the roof.’ Now he tells us.

We set off to his final words, ‘Don’t ring the bell.’

The view from the roof was spectacular (so Whizz told me). The bell was very nice.

View from the roof
The pinnacle of my climb. A very nice bell.

 

I reversed back down and had a nice chat with the man, while Whizz studied the geography of the area, the route we had taken to get here, and checked out his shutter settings.

The man worked in Motovun in the summer. He lived somewhere else, I can’t remember where, and worked with horses in that other life.

We bid adieu  to the friendly/rip-off man and went back to the apartment, to collapse. Eventually we did the only lightweight thing that could be associated with us and changed into jimjams and went to bed at about 8pm.

The following morning with the help of Emil (stress on the Em), husband of Hana, and a friendly passing car, I was transported past Whizz and down to our hire car for the next lap of out journey, to Trogir, some five hours away.