Bulls and wells of Svilaja

The weather this October was truly beautiful with mild temperatures and lots of sunshine. One day we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and visit a fairly remote place in the heart of Zagora- Svilaja mountain is one of the iconic mountains of Dalmatian hinterland but I visited only few times. It is easily accessed by car as the road Drniš – Vrlika takes one across the mountain but that is not a proper visit. One really has to walk to experience the mountains and nature.

Svilaja

Svilaja

The main reason for me going there was to finally visit one remote field with several interesting wells. The satellite images show 7 nicely positioned wells in the middle of nowhere. I simply had to see them in real life!

The wells

The wells

So, we boarded the Defender and headed to Ogorje Donje and up Svilaja. The dirt road was not in the best shape after all the rains we had during the summer, and we did not have the proper tires so we had to stop at one point and continue on foot.

Rocky hillside

Rocky hillside

A very rocky road

A very rocky road

Svilaja is a beautiful mountain but, like other mountains in the region, with not so many woods. Mostly rocky plains with some wooded areas.  It is only about 30 km in length and its highest peak is Bat at 1508 meters. It is also a very pleasant mountain for hiking and walking and abandoned stone huts prove that there was life here not so long ago. Actually, one can see several modern huts and houses that people still use. Some of them grow cabbage, some have cattle…

Cows on pasture

Cows on pasture

We also saw several signs for land mines warning of recent war activities in this area as Svilaja was right in the middle of unfortunate events. As we later learned, the signs are positioned much closer to the road than the actual mines are, just to warn the potential hikers of the dangerous zones.

Scenic landscape and dirt roads

Scenic landscape and dirt roads

And then we reached the wells.

The valley of the wells

The valley of the wells

The valley, or vrtača as this would be in Croatian, is quite spectacular and off the main road so not so easy to spot. It is also much. much bigger than I assumed looking at the satellite images! The descent is not so easy as the slopes are very rocky and one has to be careful. But once at the bottom, it is a huge and flat field.

One of the 7 wells

One of the 7 wells

The wells are quite interesting with sides made of nicely positioned blocks of stone. Some blocks look quite ancient but, as we later learned, the story goes that 7 families each built one for their cattle some 300 years ago. It was always puzzling why 7 and not one but I guess it is easier to manage one’s cattle by one’s well and not get in conflict. This is a rugged land and the people had little finesse in dealing with each other.

We spent some time next to the wells soaking up the serenity of this ancient place and then, as the clouds were slowly moving in, we decided to go back to the car.

Modern Svilaja cowboy

Modern Svilaja cowboy

On our way back, we saw quite a noisy bull being chased away. We immediately moved from its path as it did not look happy! Ante, the modern Svilaja cowboy, was chasing this young bull as he keeps bothering his bulls on a daily basis. And always gets his butt kicked. So it is not so smart to stay on its way when he is frustrated and angry going back to his herd…

Ante was happy to join us part of the way. It is not so often that he meets people up in the mountain. He is actually from Split but works with his cousin in the hillside for summer months.

Picturesque pastures of Svilaja

Picturesque pastures of Svilaja

We learned a lot from Ante: about the actual mine situation, history of the wells, local bull fighting, wolves… He was accompanied by his faithful dog that, according to him, is a proper menace to all the wolves of the mountain. And there are plenty of wolves!

We also saw Ante’s bulls – gorgeous animals all belonging to ancient and indigenous cattle species called buša.

Timeless image of Svilaja

Timeless image of Svilaja

Buša (busha) is also known as the Illyrian cattle and some scientists are saying that it has been in these areas from the Stone age. In the 19th Century, Busa from Croatia and Bosnia ( Austria-Hungarian Empire at the time) were crossed with an Austrian breed. This cross is larger than the original busa and it is exclusively grey in color while original busa is brown.

The bulls are not so big and up to 450 Kg in weight. There are only about 900 busas left in Croatia and it is somewhat protected with cattle breeders being subsidized for raising this very special cattle.

As the dusk was catching up with us, we decided to hurry up and say good bye to our new friends.

The dog did not want to let us go!

The dog did not want to let us go!

Dried flowers

Dried flowers

Svilaja is one of those regions well of the beaten path. Only few mountaineers, scarce dirt bike drivers, hunters… come up here. It really deserves more visitors for the hikes are great and easy.

Travel to Croatia

Tours in Croatia

Bepa – Seafood fast food

One of my favorite places in Split, that opened this summer, is Bepa. It is basically a seafood fast food. It is based on local seafood tradition but one can also get a quality pršut  sandwich or, like at this very moment, to have an interesting pumpkin dish or two. Unusual but quite interesting and quite tasty!

Bepa is located on the main square (Pjaca) and has several tables outdoors and few less inside the actual place. However, if sitting inside, please be aware that the ventilation is not the best and you will most definitely smell of fried fish…

I love their tuna burger, chilly sardines and their most amazing blueberry pie. Even though the menu is not typically local – although the owners are claiming promoting Dalmatian  street food traditions – the quality of the food and  the very design of all the elements, make Bepa a success.

Shrimp burger, tuna burger and chilly sardines

Shrimp burger, tuna burger and chilly sardines

Chilly sardines

Chilly sardines

Menu on the wall

Menu on the wall

Bepa is my first choice when I don’t want to wait for food too long!

Almost a decade ago, a similar project was attempted. It was called Srdela Snack and it failed… The problem was that it was not as modern as Bepa and the food was not as good. It was more traditional but that simply did not work in the age of MacDonald s and other fast food chains. Bepa covered the design and the menu perfectly and I wish the franchise picks up soon in other parts of Croatia!

Learn more on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BepaSplit

Veli Rat Lighthouse

Veli Rat lighthouse is one of the most iconic places on all of the Croatian coast. Dugi Otok island is (to me) the most beautiful of all of our islands but it lacks press coverage, good accommodation options and more historic towns to have travelers visiting. Of course, the peak season is crazy but that is only about 30 – 40 days. The rest of the year is quiet and peaceful. I remember few winter visits and fantastic coastal drives from Telascica bay to Veli Rat lighthouse… Will have to repeat it soon.

Veli Rat lighthouse

Veli Rat lighthouse

Veli Rat lighthouse is the oldest (1849) and the tallest lighthouse on the Croatian coast (42 m). One of the most popular curiosities is that, for its yellowish facade, 100 000 egg yolks were used.

Standing tall since 1849

Standing tall since 1849

It was built back in the days when Austrian empire decided to protect increasingly important trading routes leading all the way to Northern Adriatic ports of Rijeka and Trieste. Along with Veli Rat, numerous other lighthouses were built and all of them are still standing and in use. One cannot imagine our coastline without these beautiful “monuments” and they are an essential part of our maritime heritage. Of course, many other places have had less impressive, much older “lighthouses” and one still survives on Murter. Probably from the Roman times or even earlier Some of the used to lure the unsuspecting ships to disasters…

The surreal interrior

The surreal interrior

In total, 189 steps lead to the top. Looking down, it is almost surreal and quite abstract. The same with the side windows.

The windows

The windows

Once you reach the top, beautiful views of the coastline open up…

Pantera bay and Veli Rat camp

Pantera bay and Veli Rat camp

The crystal clear seas

The crystal clear seas

The chapel of St Nicholas in the lighthouse courtyard

The chapel of St Nicholas in the lighthouse courtyard

Although many lighthouses have been abandoned and new, automatic lights have been installed, several will keep their crews due to their importance. Veli Rat is one of them and there is always one family living here. Its well known white light can be seen over 20 miles away and for many sailors and fishermen, is the first light of our home coast.
We met Zvone, current lighthouse keeper who is actually from Slavonija and lives here with his wife and two children. He is known for his 1980s Mel Gibson styling and is a great guy to hang out with!

Zvone on an August maestral wind

Zvone on an August maestral wind

If you are looking for a special accommodation option, Veli Rat lighthouse is quite popular although the two apartments offered can be much nicer and there is quite a bit of traffic in the peak season. But still, it is a very special holiday.

The bedroom

The bedroom

Veli rat is not as peaceful as it was while I was visiting as a kid, before the war, but it is still very special place to see and to visit. No matter if you are just coming here on a day trip or visiting in style as the guests on this monster:

Roman? Is that you?

Roman? Is that you?

We had a special privilege to organize a stay here for one of our royal clients on a very unique helicopter journey down the Adriatic coast.
Veli Rat lighthouse and sheer beauty of Dugi Otok  is equally impressive for royalty and commoners alike.

Veli Rat lighthouse

Veli Rat lighthouse

One can clearly understand why is there an ever increasing number of escapists applying for a job of a lighthouse keeper. Running away from the madness of modern way of life, this looks like a perfect job place where one can enjoy a good book (or hundreds of them) and to raise a family.

And am so looking forward to my winter visit!

Tours in Croatia

Travel in Croatia