In Croatian islands, small is beautiful
and restful, friendly and inexpensive
By Carol Pucci
Seattle Times travel writer
CAROL PUCCI / THE SEATTLE TIMES
A village woman repairs a fishing net on the island of Sipan off the Southern Dalmatian coast of Croatia. The island is part of a chain known as the Elaphites.
LOPUD ISLAND, Croatia — I left my husband sitting on a bench near the ferry dock as I followed the woman along a stone path toward a house hidden among a grove of orange trees.
"Deutsch?" she asked. The look on her face was hopeful. "No," I said. "I don't speak German. English?" I asked. She smiled and shook her head "no." She had a room to rent. I understood that much, and my husband and I were looking for a place for the next few nights as we explored a trio of small islands in the Adriatic sea off the coast of Dubrovnik.
We walked the next couple of seconds in silence as I tried to remember my phrasebook Croatian.
"What's your name?" I finally asked.
"Ane!," she beamed, throwing her arm around my shoulder and giving me a hug. "You speak Croatian!" And then she told me in halting English that she has an uncle in Texas.
We reached her house, a concrete bungalow, and walked to the second floor. She led me into a bright, simply furnished room with a balcony and two white plastic chairs positioned to take advantage of the sea view.
CAROL PUCCI / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Lopud Island, part of the Elaphite chain of islands, is steeped in history, such as this early Croatian chapel. Cars are prohibited. (see photo at the top)
"How much?" I asked. I wasn't sure I understood her answer, so I asked her to write it down. It sounded like she said $30. She did.
The islands off the Southern Dalmatian coast in what was part of the former Yugoslavia brim with Venetian-style architecture and sandy swimming beaches. Attracted by prices half of what they are on the other side of the Adriatic in Italy, European tourists flock to Croatia in the summer. Guidebooks point travelers toward well-developed Hvar, Brac and Korcula, but locals favor the quieter Elaphites, or Deer Islands, 13 smaller islands that curve along the Adriatic coastline, none more than an hour and a half by ferry from Dubrovnik.
Carts instead of cars
Lopud, the second-largest of the Elaphites, is the most developed, but "development" here translates into a handful of restaurants, one store, two hotels and no cars. Only the occasional motorbike or electric cart interrupt the sounds of birds singing and church bells ringing.
With about 400 residents, Lopud measures just three square miles — two hills, each with a beach, connected by a rocky valley shaded by Cypress and pine trees — small enough to cross on foot from one side to the other in less than an hour.
It took me five minutes to walk back to the waterfront to fetch my husband and our suitcases.
Ten minutes later, as we were unpacking, we heard a knock at our door. Ane appeared with a platter of pancakes filled with homemade jam and glasses of orange juice. We drank the juice, but saved the crepes for later, and went in search of lunch.
Following the scent of honeysuckle and lemons, we climbed a wooded path above the ferry dock to Konboa Peggy, a seafood restaurant with a shady terrace and a view of a Franciscan monastery built in 1483.
Lopud was the regional headquarters of the Republic of Dubrovnik in the 15th century, and nobles built their summer villas here. Scattered around the island were 24 churches and two monasteries. The ruins of many remain.
Lunch was a platter of crunchy, fried sardines translated on the menu in English as "little fish," a salad of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, cheese marinated in olive oil and two beers, all for about $7.
CAROL PUCCI / THE SEATTLE TIMES
The bell tower of a parish church dominates a panoramic view of Sipanska Luka on Sipan Island, part of the Elaphite chain, off the Southern Dalmatian coast of Croatia near Dubrovnik.
(see photo at the top)
Afterward we followed a concrete walking path that cut through pine forests and olive groves to a beach on the opposite side of the island at Sunji Bay.
A few days earlier, when we had been in Dubrovnik and taken a day-trip to Kolocep, the smallest of the Elaphites, we discovered the meaning of "FKK" (an abbreviation for the German word "Freikörperkultur," meaning Free Body Culture) when we saw the letters painted in red on a shed near a rocky cove. "Stop! Place for Nudists," was written in English on a stone pathway.
We spotted the FKK sign again, this time on Sunji, and followed it to a stretch of sand where several people were sunning their nude selves and snacking on calamari from one of the beachfront cafes.
The next morning, while waiting for the early ferry coming from Dubrovnik, we learned more about what it means to live on a secluded island.
The owner of Lopud's one store was waiting on the dock with a red wagon. So was the waiter we recognized from the Konoba Peggy and a moustached man from the cafe near the nude beach. Once the ferry docked, everyone rushed to unload their booty. Off came rolls of toilet paper, garden hoses, bags of fertilizer, loaves of bread, bottled water, a keg of draft beer, boxes of lemons, heads of lettuce, sacks of potatoes and two potted plants.
The job was completed in 10 minutes, and the ferry took off again on schedule for Sipan, the largest of the Elaphites, about 45 minutes by boat from Lopud, and the only one of the three islands that allows cars.
Nature and peace
Two settlements on Sipan, Sipanska Luka and Sudurad, are connected by a road that cuts across 10 square miles of cow pastures, lavender fields and olive groves. We got off at Sipanska Luka, a quiet fishing village tucked into a horseshoe-shaped bay flanked by limestone hills. Our plan was to look for a place for lunch, then hike across the island about three miles to Sudurad where we could catch a late afternoon ferry back to Lopud.
"We get a lot of people but not a lot of commercial tourism like Lopud or Dubrovnik," explained Tanja Brajovic, owner of the Placa Shop. Tourist season was still a few weeks away, and hers was the only shop open.
We bought tiny bottles of brandy made with local cherries and olive oil extracted with ancient stone presses. A flask of red liquid contained an herbal potion for clearing up scars. Like the other Elaphites, Sipan enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate, ideal for growing lavender, elder, sage and other aromatic herbs. "People come here who love nature and peace," said Brajovic.
It was a lazy, sunny afternoon, but the possibilities for lunch around the harbor at first looked disappointing. There was a bar that served pizza and a hotel restaurant near the ferry dock. Then we looked across the water on the other side of the bay, and spotted the white umbrellas outside a cafe called Konoba kod Marka.
Marka Prizmic greeted us in work clothes, a hammer in his hand. "Are you open?" I asked. Things were slow, so he was using his spare time to make a few repairs. "If you want, I can prepare you something," he offered.
The wind had kicked up so he sat inside near an open window and motioned to a side table filled with dozens of colored bottles of local liquors and brandy. "Help yourself to anything. It's free."
Then he went to work in the kitchen no bigger than a walk-in closet. Soon the restaurant was filled with the smell of garlic and shrimp sizzling in olive oil. He brought a plate of cheese in oil we had first sampled on Lopud and two glasses of white wine.
"It's nice, huh?" he said glancing out the window at the bay where he likes to gather sea urchins. "Yes," I said. "You must love it here."
"I'm very happy." So were we, especially with our $15 bill.
A farewell gift
Rain was in the forecast for the afternoon, but the showers held off until we hiked across the island to catch the return ferry at Sudurad. We were back on Lopud in time for dinner and one more sunset.
Thunderstorms and lightning woke us the next morning. The ferry back to Dubrovnik didn't leave until noon, so we sat on the bed trying to decide whether to make a break for breakfast on the waterfront.
Then Ane knocked at the door.
This time she brought a plate of hot fritters dusted with powdered sugar, a pot of coffee and a pitcher of warm milk. She pointed to her watch to make sure we knew what time the ferry left. Then after we packed, she insisted we come into her living room.
She went to a cabinet and took out what looked like bottled water. "Benzine," she said, rubbing her stomach. Benzine? My Croatian phrasebook failed me this time. She filled two shot glasses. "Just a little, just a little," she insisted.
"Water?" I asked. "No water, no water," she smiled. I put the glass to my lips, and then I knew. It was 10 a.m., and we had just been offered a shot of homemade schnapps. It would have been rude to refuse.
Ane took my hand and kissed it, and we picked up our suitcases and stepped out into the rain. I looked back. Ane was standing in the doorway, waving goodbye.
Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company
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