Friday, October 20, 2006

Dalmatian Islands: the new hip destination

A string of little paradisiac islands can be found off the South Dalmatian coast in Croatia. It's an ancient, naturally luxurious corner of Europe: the beautiful, sun-drenched island of Hvar has a wealth of architectural gems, while nearby Vis boasts fishing ports that have remained intact over the centuries.

The line in front of the ice cream bar in the harbor is lengthening by the minute. Moored at the quay opposite is a big blue yacht registered in Newport, Rhode Island. There are some people on deck, drinking Champagne. Visitors come from far and wide to drop anchor in the old harbor of Hvar, which has in recent years become the Saint-Tropez of Croatia. The town's inhabitants are not a little proud to list the jet-setters whose yachts are based here in the summer: Kimi Raikkonen, Bill Gates, Bernie Ecclestone, Tom Cruise, the Benetton family. Even Prince William of England lover Hvar. It's amazing; prices have doubled in five years. You can't buy anything in town for less than 500,000 euros any more. Only foreigners can afford it."

History and nightlife

You only need to take a short walk through the town to understand its appeal. A maze of red-tiled roofs and little streets tumbles down toward Saint-Stephen Square, which is paved in dazzling white stones. The 16th century cathedral is among the most beautiful in Croatia. Renaissance facades stretch toward a harbor basin packed with small craft. Farther along the coast, the campanile of a simple Franciscan monastery overlooks a pebble-stone cove dotted with yachts. The harmony of nature and architecture here is so perfect that not one element could be removed without without spoiling the effect. Centuries of history have fashioned this landscape. Sardine fishing and salting turned Hvar into rich and powerful town, and also a model of democracy. The next stop the little Renaissance theater. In 1610, the commoners obtained political equality with the nobles. The theater was built two years later, and lords and fishermen alike has access to it. Those who couldn't pay would be admitted for two fish. The theater is soon to be renovated but it's not what the foreigners are looking for. Visitors come to the island for a different kind of show: the first act is played out on the bench; the second on the cafe terraces, sipping cocktails to the sound of DJ mixes; and the final act is performed at a former monastery converted into a nightclub, the Veneranda.

Preserving tradition

Yet Hvar mas many other charms: the family-friendly Stari Grad harbor, the quiet quays in Vrboska, the liittle streets of Pitve and excursions inland. In the Brusje area, the landscape is reminiscent of a Cubist painting , crisscrossed with ancient drystone walls. This dry, stony land yields some of the best Croatian wines. Vineyards carpet the cliff face on the southerncoast. In the village of Sveta Nedjelja a new restaurant and wine cellar opened up, it is the only one in the world that's below sea level, with a window to see the fish! People compare Hvar to Saint-Tropez. They have no idea. Saint-Tropez is a fishing village that became famous because of a starlet. Croatia has a thousand years of history. That is its wealth.

Unspoiled Vis

Perhaps, then, the true Croatian Saint-Tropez is on the nearby island of Vis. Komiza is a simple fishing port nestled in a shelthered cove. It has the easy-going atmosphere of a place that isn't geared to tourism: no music, no yacht engines- just the sound of the wind, a fisherman whacking an octopus against the pier to tenderize it, the chime of the Venetian bell tower. Vis seems to have escaped the march of time. The Yugoslav army contributed to its slow progress, banning access to the island to tourists until 1989 to shield its military base from prying eyes. You have to adapt to the world. Fishermen continue to fish in winter, but in summer, they take foreigners for rides at sea. They never know if you'll bring back fish, but you can be sure there'll always be more visitors! People come here for a taste of the unspoiled Adriatic coast, the pleasure of swimming alone in one of its countless desert bays. It's a place where you can experience an authentic lifestyle, hardly affected by the modern world.

1 comment:

krobinson said...

Dalmatian is a splendid coastline region in Croatia. It has a number of islands in its vicinity; the place is popular for its calmness and serene atmosphere. This is one of the place which is gifted with diverse natural beauty. There are many alternates to enjoy this place like by cruises, sailing and yachts and sailboats. This is the perfect destination for travel loving people who want to make more of their visit.