Restaurant Apolon, Stari Grad, Hvar Island

Recently, we have been invited to inspect Hotel Apolon in Stari Grad on Hvar Island. It was a pleasant surprise over a year ago when I first visited but, what intrigued me even more, was the restaurant that everyone was raving about. So, we used the opportunity to visit and taste some of their favorites.

Hotel restaurant Apolon, Stari Grad, Hvar

Hotel restaurant Apolon

There are several great hotel-restaurants in Croatia but not so many in Dalmatia which is a pity considering all the riches we have: from seafood to fruit, from herbs to meat. But, several attempts are already making a big difference. One of them is Apolon.

I have to admit that, when I first saw their menu, I was not impressed. Used to modern cuisine in better restaurants, their offer looks sort of boring with only typical classics you can find in, pretty much any tavern or regular seafood restaurant.

Apolon menu

Apolon menu

But I was seriously wrong…

The manager Rico explained their/his philosophy and he is spot on! Why reinventing something that is so superb? Dalmatian cuisine has it all and all it needs is a modern touch and someone creative to put it on the table. Of course, there are GREAT chefs all over the coast that are bringing that fresh air to our culinary scene.

We started with a bruschetta and every single dish was nothing short of superb! Not only in their taste but also in quite creative presentation by young chef Duje.

Apolon bruschetta

Apolon bruschetta

Cold seafood starter

Cold seafood starter

Squid stew

Squid stew

Deconstructed apple pie

Deconstructed apple pie

Some will immediately notice similarities with Grašo restaurant (in Split) menu. The chef spent some time cooking there but everything at Apolon is seriously better that at Grašo. Somehow feels fresh and modern while the tastes are superb! Everything is simply delicious and each one of the dishes that were brought out is worth coming back. Seafood, of course, is the main reason to come as it is very fresh. Most of the vegetables are grown in the restaurant garden or they buy them from organic producers on the island.

Chef Duje

Chef Duje and manager Rico

Needles to talk about the wine list as Apolon is on Hvar; famous for Tomić, Duboković, Plenković… and many other great wine producers.

Again, a VERY pleasant surprise and well worth stop on either your cruise or a getaway from Hvar town crowds. Stari Grad feels like stepping back in time. Thanks to Restaurant Apolon, not in culinary way.

Culinary Tours in Croatia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Underwater archaeology in Croatia (with Secret Dalmatia)

Over a year ago, I was talking to my good friend Mato Ilkić, an archaeologist with Zadar University and authority on antique coins and underwater archaeology, how there is so much to discover and not enough funds. With our economy in gutter, archaeology gets only peanuts… There are excavations of course, but very limited.
It is simply frustrating that there are so many places that still hold important secrets! So, I asked Mato if it was possible that I donate money and then we choose where to dig. He liked the idea and we worked out all the details. All the funds I donated (20 000 Kn) went to University of Zadar which got all the necessary permits. Mato Ilkić Ph.D, Martina Čelhar Ph.D, Dario Vujević Ph.D, Mate Parica Ph.D, Marko Meštrov and Maja Kaleb teamed up for this interesting expedition. All great folks!

There are dozens of locations that I would love to see excavated but Mato suggested that the money goes to a week long underwater exploration and sondage of a known pre-historic settlement near Ričul. Right by my home town of Turanj. I agreed and, almost a year later, the crew got together and it was agreed that they start excavating on one of the most promising spots.

Location of the excavation

Aerial shot of Ričul, heart shaped Galešnjak, Tukljača cemetery near Turanj and “x” marks the location of the excavation.

One can clearly see the underwater structures on the aerial shots and, it is known from the records, that the region was part of the village of Tukljaca. The village was abandoned and slowly sunken underwater during the Ottoman–Venetian War (1570–1573). All that remains are some walls that can still be seen outside the cemetery on the mainland… Back in the 70s, some archaeological reconnaissance has also been done but no sondage and actual underwater excavating have been done. Until now.

Getting ready to dive

Getting ready to dive

I have also provided a small boat to carry the water dredge and all the necessary equipment. First, the archaeologists decided on where to dig (pump out the sand) and the area was  only 4 square meters. They assumed that they would test few spots and get some results. But, by the end of day one, they realized that the location was far richer in finds then they could have ever dreamed of! Thousands of pieces of broken pottery, bone tools, wooden tools… have been found. We decided to leave the finds and equipment in my front yard where they filled the big containers with fresh water to start the process of desalinization.

Samples of finds: pottery, bone tools...

Samples of finds: pottery, bone tools…

Already, the ancient wooden pylons started emerging. I helped prepare one for C14 analysis so we will have the exact dating in few weeks. The archaeologists are assuming that they were forming the harbor of the ancient Liburnian settlement and that all the finds are about 3000 years old. We will know exactly soon! The sheer number of pylons shows the significance of the place as it obviously required a  serious number of workers to get the work done. The wood is likely to be holm oak (crnika) and it is extremely hard!

Piece of ancient pillar that will undergo C-14 analysis.

Piece of ancient pillar that will undergo C-14 analysis.

Although the sea is shallow (2,5 – 3 meters) the current is fairly strong and made the working underwater challenging at times. But the wealth of artifacts and interesting structure being discovered, made everything much easier. Another value of this location is that no Roman remains (or any later) have been found so far and it looks like the village was abandoned before the Roman conquest (like many other places in the region)

Broken handle of ancient pot

Broken handle of ancient pot

Clearing sand between the pillars

Clearing sand between the pillars

In action

In action

So people ask me why I gave money to something like this. Because I like history, wanted to be an archaeologist when I was younger and I just like a good, true mystery. Nothing beats a huge underwater settlement from Bronze Age! And it is always good to give back to the community. Very proud that I can be the first local business that actually financed an archaeological expedition!

We are already making plans for new donations and projects in 2015! Also, happy to see if anyone else wants to join in giving  funds to something like this. I plan to support various cultural projects around Croatia and, as one can see, a small donation can lead to a big and important discovery. And there are PLENTY of those all over our beautiful country!

 

There is also a unique opportunity to join these exciting excavations for all Secret Dalmatia clients!

 

Travel in Croatia

 

Buhač or amazing Dalmatian chrysanthemum

Now this is one amazing flower! Buhač is its the name in Croatian or, in English, Dalmatian chrysanthemum

Dalmatian chrysanthemum

Dalmatian chrysanthemum

If you want to test a local on his/her knowledge on Dalmatia and looking for a good question, just ask them what Buhač is and if they an recognize it in the wild.
So what is so special about it?
Dalmatian chrysanthemum (Tanacetum cinerariifolium) is a native flower from Dalmatia and it looks like an over sized daisy with stems that can grow up to one meter in height. Buhač is economically important as a natural source of insecticide. The flowers are pulverized and the active components, called pyrethrins, are mixed in water or oil, or used as a powder. Pyrethrins attack the nervous systems of all insects, and prevent female mosquitoes from biting. Pyrethrins are harmful to fish, but are far less toxic to mammals and birds than many chemical insecticides. They are considered to be the safest insecticide for use around food.

INSECTICIDE D.F. PYRETHRE BLANCHE de DALMATIE

INSECTICIDE D.F. PYRETHRE BLANCHE de DALMATIE

The story of buhač starts in 1840 in Dubrovnik when Anna Rosauer realized that there were dead bugs next to the bouquet of buhač flowers she picked few days prior to that. She immediately started experimenting with pulverizing the flowers but the work on getting a right formula was finalized few years later by a local doctor Anton Drobac. The years that followed were full of experimenting with soils and specific plants to get the best solution for cultivating. All that led to first exports to European coutries and, in 1859. to US. The production reached it’s peak in 1925 with 2560 hectares of buhač planted all over Dalmatia!  Even my mom remembers how people were still picking buhač right after WW2 when everything slowly moved to agriculture to industry…

Buhač

Buhač

But buhač is not easy to grow. The quality of active matter varies greatly on the region where it is grown and it is often considered that it grows best in areas of Dalmatia where”one can see the sea”. Also, the active substance (pyrethrin) is not easy to keep stable and many challenges were imposed to a growing industry. Thus, some started experimenting with buhač in different areas of the world  and the best areas to grow it are in Africa and Australia with Kenya producing about 90% of World’s production. There was an attempt to reintroduce buhač back in Dalmatia back in late 1990s but it failed as no one was interested in working in the fields despite good prices… I also heard a story of a guy in Solin who managed to get the percentage of the pyrethrin to an unbelievable level but our government was not interested. Typical…Another great natural potential not being exploited.
Still, quite pretty in May when it blossoms!

 

Travel to Croatia