Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Bol and Zlatni Rat - Croatia's Most Popular Beach

Fourteen times a day, during the high season, the car ferry arrives at Supetar from Split. Cars and foot passengers pour off and disperse all over the island of Brac with a great many heading up over the hills and across the island to the popular coastal village of Bol and its famous beach, Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn).  We decided that we just had to go and see what was drawing the crowds, especially as we had been told that Zlatni Rat was the most beautiful beach on the Adriatic. Fortunately for us we arrived at the bus station early securing seats on the bus.  Within minutes of a ferry arriving the queue for the bus grew and grew so that at departure a number of people were left behind.  HINT: If you are busing to Bol get to the bus station well ahead of your departure.

It is 39 Kilometres from the north coast town of Supetar to the south coast town of Bol, a very scenic trip through some small villages, with occasional orchards and vineyards scattered among the rocky,  but surprisingly green, countryside.  Don't expect to see much in the way of farm animals, you will be disappointed, there weren't many. Before meandering its way down to the village the road comes out high above Bol with spectacular views out over the ocean and down to the coast.

Dating back to Roman times Bol is the oldest coastal village on Brac. It is charming with narrow stone streets and wide, shady piazzas. A wander through the town takes you to the 11th century church of Saints Ivan and Tudor and to the 12th century Bishops Residence.  You can also see the remains of Roman Baths and Graves, the 15th century Summer palace and the 15th century chapel of Our Lady of Grace where you can view Tintoretto's Madonna and Child with Saints, behind the altar. It is a busy town, crammed with tourists in summer, the shore humming with cafes, bars and numerous small cruise boats coming and going.

We sat on the waters edge, soaking up the atmosphere, before moving to a cafe for cool drinks and then taking a leisurely wander through town.

Above and below: Bol

 Zlatni Rat is located 2 kilometres from the village along a promenade lined with pine trees, sculptures and gardens.  With two children in tow, and because it was a very hot day, we chose to get there aboard one of the the small boats, enjoying an attractive and relaxing trip along the coast.

Zlatni Rat is an unusual beach. Shaped like an arrow head it changes shape from time to time depending on the winds and the currents.  It is pebbly, as are all the beaches on Brac. Popular with yachties and wind and kite surfers the water is crystal clear and although cooler than the beaches on the north coast still very pleasant for swimming. Mountains sweep down to the coast here and the beach is backed by groves of pines fragranced with the scent of rosemary and thyme and,  ahem, hot chips. Unfortunately there are a number of fast food outlets scattered among the pines rather spoiling the ambiance but, I guess, a necessary evil when you have large crowds spending a day at the beach. I paddled in the sea and went for a wander through the pines while my family enjoyed a swim and a snack before we took the return boat to Bol.

Above and below: Zlatni Rat

So, what did I think of Zlatni Rat? Well I did not  particularly enjoy sitting cheek by jowl with hundreds of other people and to be honest I was a bit underwhelmed, but, hey, I come from New Zealand where we have hundreds of kilometres of golden sand beaches, often almost deserted, so I am pretty hard to impress when it comes to beaches. Maybe I'm not the best person to ask. And who am I to knock the many thousands of people who flock to Zlatni Rat? I'm glad I went there but had enjoyed the small beach we swam at  in Supetar more.  

Right: Stina wine cellar, Bol

Above and below: two of the pretty villages we passed through on the bus trip

Back at Bol we visited the wine cellar of Stina Wines and enjoyed a glass of Croatian wine beside the harbour's edge. Very pleasant, as was the bus trip home taking a different route and passing through some lovely villages along the way. To sum up, Bol is well worth a visit.  It is a lovely, historic village and while you are there you should also visit Zlatni Rat, because, why not? and you may just love it.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Olive Oil Museum, Skrip, Brac, Croatia - A must!

My whole family loves olives and olive oil, that luscious, grassy, peppery, viscous liquid which makes nearly everything taste better. It was, therefore, a no brainer that we should take the short 9k trip from Supetar to the village of Skrip to visit the Olive Oil Museum. There is no bus service to Skrip but the taxi service is cheap. It takes only 10 minutes through lush countryside where the trees have been bent by the famous winter winds that sweep the island. (Note: We took the taxi driver's phone number and he returned for us when we called.)

Skrip is a tiny, sleepy, picturesque, village (pop 173), perched on a hill overlooking a deep valley. It is the oldest settlement on the island. Sleepy indeed, we didn't see a soul about as we drove between ancient stone houses to the museum. Not a fan of crowds I was loving it already.

The museum was originally a wine producing factory founded by the Krstulovc family in 1864. It was handed down through the generations and kept producing wine right up until 1963 when the cost of new technology became prohibitive. In 2013 Kruno Cukrov, the grandson of the founder, restored the mill, installed new technology and began producing oil again, opening up the old mill as a museum.

Left: The Olive Museum
Above: My son sharing a joke with our lovely guide
Below: Inside the museum

What a warm welcome awaited us! There was a small group of tourists already having a tour but that didn't matter, we were given complimentary myrtle liqueur, soft drinks for the children, olive oil and bread and led up to the atmospheric loft to enjoy them while we awaited our turn for a tour. It is a tiny museum, interesting, nevertheless.  I enjoyed hearing about the history of the building and the oil making process and the children were delighted to be invited to turn the old fashioned press.  A novelty for a minute or two, a daunting thought to spend hours doing it.  Apart from olive oil the museum shop sells many delicious products produced by the family.  How could we resist? Happy with our purchases of oil, liqueur and jam we set off for a walk around the village promising to return for lunch.

Above and below: The original mill equipment

Although small this village packs a punch history wise. The Illyrian town walls date back to 1400BC.  The Romans lived here using slaves to carve out large blocks of the beautiful white stone the island is famous for to be shipped to Split for the building of Diocletian's Palace.  Incidentally, the white stone from Brac was also used for the building of the White House, home of American Presidents, although I'm pretty certain no slaves were involved then. :-)  A  Roman mausoleum lies in the base of the 16th century Radojkovic Tower which was built for defense and now houses an excellent museum displaying artifacts and crafts from throughout the town's history.

The 16th century tower and barracks now houses the Skrip museum. St Helena's spire in the background
The Cerinic Castle tower and the window
The children were enthralled by an old woman who was calling to us from a glassless window high in the wall of the 16th century Cerinic Castle.  She was inviting us in but when we went through the gate to the castle she had gone and the only way she could have got up to that window was by a ladder, there was no floor. Were we imagining it? Was she real? We'll never know the mystery of the castle in Skrip.

The 18th century church of St Helena overlooks the village and the village square.  Legend has it that Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, was born here. With the Angelus bell ringing midday we strolled the few and narrow streets. An old woman sitting in a door way beckoned us to join her for lunch. That would have been fun but we had already promised the museum.

We wandered the grave yard, once again seeing the familiar surnames of people we know in New Zealand. Near the cemetery is a look out with a stunning view over the valley where you can look down on large olive plantations.

It was time for lunch so we headed back to the museum. The owners were delighted and surprised to see us and welcomed us like old friends.  Lunch was served in the loft, the original owners' home, and it was wonderful - bread, olive oil, olives, tappenade, fig and melon jams, cheeses, dried figs and wine, so much that we couldn't eat it all.  Delicious and cheap and authentically Croatian.  I was in heaven.  This is what I had come to Croatia for, to be sitting in an old stone attic, under the watchful gaze of ancestors photos and religious paintings, eating local food, and enjoying amazing warmth and hospitality. We lingered, happily soaking up the atmosphere and reluctant to leave.

Happiness is sharing a Croatian lunch in an olive mill
You get a glimpse of the loose stone roof, an unusual feature and a dying art
I loved the fact that we saw very few people the whole day - no seething crowds of tourists jostling each other, no souvenir shops or mass produced trinkets, just genuine history and authenticity.  For me this was the best day of our whole trip to Brac and a memory I will always treasure.

Note: As we waited for our return taxi an old woman approached us selling embroidered sachets of lavender.  We declined to buy any partly because we didn't need them and partly because I would not be allowed to take them into New Zealand due to strict bio security laws. Later My son and I deeply regretted not buying them and we still feel badly about it. Many people in these small villages scratch out a living and we could easily have bought some and left them at our accommodation. We didn't think it through, hopefully we have learnt from it.