On birds and history of Pag

The forecast for last weekend was almost summer like and it was no time to stay at home. I had some places  to see on Pag Island for business so we decided to go there for a day trip. Our friends joined us and the first stop was the interesting and picturesque fortica tower on the very tip of Pag island: just across from Pag bridge.

Fortica - Pag island

Fortica – Pag island

I wrote about it a while back: https://secretdalmatia.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/fortica-at-pag-bridge/ This time we visited as my friend, who is an architect, is in charge of the current restoration works. He gave us a brief overview of what is being done but also of some curiosities they encountered. The fortress will not be restored in full, of course, but it will be quite  presentable once done. We took some aerial shots and then it was time to move on.

To Veliko Blato ornithological reserve.

Some basic details: where to buy a ticket

Some basic details: where to buy a ticket

Not sure why buying a ticket for something like this but I do expect a service when I pay for something. Not a guide or ranger in sight, cafe, parking… So we just took a walk on our own.

Velebit in the distance

Velebit in the distance

And it is a great place to test my new telephoto lens: Canons 70-200 mm f4 IS USM – all the goodies for taking some great photos of wildlife! We did not get  there in the best time for bird-watching. And it was fairly hot in the sun. But, the place was still quite alive from the moment we got there.

Egret in flight

Egret in flight

We also got to see a very rare black winged stilt (vlastelica in Croatian). There are only 50 pairs nesting in Croatia so it is important no to disturb.

Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)

Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) – Siva čaplja

We also saw a lovely flock of Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) or Mala prutka in Croatian. This is quite common bird in our marshes.

Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Overall, a pleasant surprise and quite impressive number of birds. I am planning a separate trip one early morning to get the most of it. It was time to continue and we decided to visit tiny Povljana nearby.

On the road to Povljana. Typical motives of Pag island

On the road to Povljana. Typical motives of Pag island

Povljana is tiny. Actually, it was before the 90s when it got completely overrun by apartment buildings. I skip that part of the visit as it is usually either making me sad or completely angry. Or both. Croatians don’t need enemies. We will ruin our coast better than anyone. What better evidence for that then this:

???

???

Are there words to describe what kind of a loser you have to be to build something like this??? What kind of a special idiot you have to be to actually give permit for something like this to be built??  What about the “architect” who planned these atrocities? Is he/she f*** blind??? I will stop here as these low lives don’t deserve any other words…

There is also a church of St Nikola right on the beach. It was built from 9-11th century and later restored in the 15th century. The church is built on the earlier Roman villa rustica.

Sv Nikola - Povljana

Sv Nikola – Povljana

There is a beautiful sandy beach in front of the church!

Sandy beach of Povljana

Sandy beach of Povljana

Then it was time to continue to Pag town – the best example how TO build a town.
Medieval Pag was erected near the salt plantations where the abandoned Old Town used to be. According to historical documents, the name Pag was mentioned for the first time in the 10th century. In 1443 the new town was built according to new principles of town-planning. The plans were developed in Venice which ruled the region at the time. The longitudinal and the transversal streets, intersect at a right angle. Something Croatians have not been able to replicate even in 2015…

Street of Pag

Street of Pag

On the main square, Church of the Assumption of Mary is located. It is quite impressive and it is still the heart and soul of this quite lovely town.

Church of the Assumption of Mary

Church of the Assumption of Mary

Pag town is known for the great tradition of lace making and that has been implemented in the very rosette on the main church.

The lace of Pag

The lace of Pag

The whole town is filled with nice historic details and especially impressive was Skrivanat Tower. The only existing of nine towers that defended the town back in the day. It was built in the 15th century and has been preserved in its original form.

Skrivanat Tower

Skrivanat Tower

Pag town offers quite a few interesting details:

—and few strange travelers :)

Holding tight!

Holding tight!

Pag is a great little town! Very charming. Lots to offer to a traveler looking for culture and history but also surrounded by very memorable landscapes fro those interested in outdoors activities. The island is famous for its cheese, salt and lamb but we decided to move back to the mainland to have something special for lunch. In our next post…

Croatia Travel

Saints Hills Vinaria

Peljesac peninsula is one of those regions that is considered to be  one of the “wine countries” of Croatia just like it is Istria or Plješivica… Famous for it’s rich bodied plavac from Dingač and Postup appellations, this region is simply a must for any serious wine lover. In 1961 Dingač became Croatia’s first recognized appellation with “Protected Geographical Origin”. It was followed in 1967 by a neighboring area, Postup.
The wines coming from the peninsula had their ups and downs and the quality is not exactly consistent. However, there are several great producers but also several new stories developing in the region.

One of the latest great enterprises is definitely magical Vinaria of Saints Hills.

Vinaria from the air

Vinaria from the air

Founded by Mr. Ernest Toljthe Saints Hills winery produces some unique wines from a number of different localities. Some of their most popular wines include Nevina, a blend of Malvazija and Chardonnay that originates from Saints Hills vineyards at Radovani in Istria. Saints Hills’ quite interesting Dingač is aged in barrels for 18-24 months while their Sveti Roko plavac is made with grapes from vineyards at Komarna. Mr. Tolj wanted to get the best out of his wines so he formed a special oenological team led by World known French specialist Michel Rolland.

Entering the cellar

Entering the cellar

The property at Oskorušno is nothing short of impressive. The traditional old house was transformed to state-of-the-art cellar and tasting facility. From the moment one sees the property from the road, it is already clear that there is some serious love (and money) invested. No expense was spared in making this at par with similar properties around the world. From the equipment of the cellar to the design, Vinaria is simply breathtaking!

French oak barrels

French oak barrels

And the architecture of the typical Peljesac property has been respected to the maximum without any silly, tasteless interventions.

Behind the main building

Behind the main building

The main building

The main building

There are few apartments for guests to stay over as well.

The apartment at Vinaria

The apartment at Vinaria

And then there is the main tasting room.

Tasting room

Tasting room

Besides great wines, Saints hills offers a superb tasting menu as well! The young chef masterfully prepares some Dalmatian classics mixed with various influences. Of course, all the dishes are perfectly paired with Saints Hills wines.

When on Peljesac... Ston oysters with lemon granita

When on Peljesac… Ston oysters with lemon granita

Escargot a la Peljesac

Escargot a la Peljesac

Shrimp risotto with edible 24 karat gold

Shrimp risotto with edible 24 karat gold

The five course tasting menu ends with one of the best chocolate souffles I’ve ever had!

chocolate souffle

Chocolate souffle

In general, Saints Hills Vinaria is one of the finest properties on the coast. Offering the highest standards in both food and wine, it is a perfect getaway for any foodie! And there was something that took me right away when I got there: it is a product of love. You can clearly see that this belongs to a person (family) that lives with their wines and wants only the best for both their wines and guests. Highly recommended stop if in the region.

A quick tour of Brijuni National Park

Last week we were in Istria exploring possibilities for some new tours due to increase in bookings we have for this truly magical part of the country. One of the places I wanted to visit was the Brijuni National Park. Last time I was there was in elementary school some 30 years ago :) Many things have changed since and Brijuni are even no longer in the same country, so it was time to visit.

There are few ways to get to the NP but guests usually come by the big boat from Fažana. The picturesque seaside town is just perfect place to start the visit with its cafes and restaurant lined along the main promenade. The office of the NP is just across from the big pier and that’s where you get the tickets.

From Fažana to Brijuni

From Fažana to Brijuni

The boat is quite spacious and it is a smooth ride to the main harbor of the National Park.

Brijuni Main Harbor Brijuni Main Harbor

The story of Brijuni is fascinating! One can literally make a movie about these beautiful islands:

The Brijuni Islands had been used for their quarries up to the late 19th century. The islands belonged to Venice from the Middle Ages, and stone from the islands was used to build the palaces and bridges of the city. Parts of quarries can be seen now in the main harbor area.

Since 1815, the islands became part of the Austrian Empire, which later became Austria-Hungary and they have built a impressive Fort Tegetthoff as well as several other fortresses on other islands of the archipelago.

The Austro-Hungarian Navy abandoned the fortress in 1893 and the Viennese business magnate Paul Kupelwieser bought the whole archipelago and created an exclusive resort. First class hotels, restaurants, beach resorts, a casino and a yacht harbor …made Brijuni a very popular destination of the most important people of Austro-Hungarian empire as well as aristocracy of the entire continent.

In 1918 after World War I Brijuni became part of the state of Italy. Karl Kupelwieser, the son of the founder of the estate tried to maintain the former splendor, but after the economic crisis following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the estate went bankrupt and Karl committed suicide.

After World War II, Brijuni became part of Yugoslavia and President Josip Broz Tito made the Brijuni Islands the State Summer Residence of Yugoslavia. Almost 100 foreign heads of state visited Tito on his islands, along with film stars including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren, Carlo Ponti, and Gina Lollobrigida. Tito died in 1980, and by 1983 the islands were declared a National Park of Yugoslavia.

Today, we can just image all this splendor…

Our vehicle of choice

Our vehicle of choice

So after a short boat ride, we got to the main harbor and went to rent a golf cart to drive around the island of Veliki Brijun. This is the only part of the park officially open to public and it holds most of the interesting spots for general visitors.
Golf cart was much better option for the three of us then renting a bike but that is a great alternative as the flat roads are asphalted and with lots of signs.

Mali Brijun island in the distance.

Mali Brijun island in the distance.

First stop – Safari Park

Safari park

Safari park

Push the button and the doors open. I still remember all those animals seeing as a school kid. It was quite impressive back then as most of the wild animals we saw for the first time.

African ostrich

African ostrich

Brijuni Safari Park is home to a variety of exotic animals which were given to the park by the diplomatic partners of Tito. The Nilgai, Zebu and Asian Elephant were donated as a gift from Indira Ghandi, Plains Zebra and Mountain Zebra were given by Ahmed Sékou Touré from Guinea, Waterbuck came from Ethiopia… We did not get to see Lanka, the only elephant remaining after Sony died 5 years ago, but we saw plenty of other animals peacefully enjoying their pastures.

Peace on Brijuni

Peaceful coexistence on Brijuni

Next stop was a very impressive Byzantine castrum.

Byzantine castrum

Byzantine castrum

Dating back to 5th century, this is not a typical castrum (a military fortress) but it is a mix of civilian buildings and military barracks and walls. The settlement was abandoned probably in the 8th century.

The gates of castrum

The gates of castrum

Driving through the pine forests, Brijuni kept revealing an amazing wealth of sites for such a small island. Some historic, some recent, this place is just a treasure trove of both historic and natural wonders.

Ruins of a huge Roman villa

Ruins of a huge Roman villa

Mediterranean garden

Mediterranean garden

One of the must see animals of the park is a 60 years old kakadu parrot Koki who was not so cooperative when we visited.

Koki relaxing in the back Koki relaxing in the back

And Brijuni are the home of 1600 years old olive tree. One of the oldest in the Mediterranean!

Brijuni olive tree

Brijuni olive tree

Like so many places in Croatia, Brijuni National Park is another “potential” nowhere near used to it’s maximum.  I am glad that there are no longer big cats cramped in small cages and that’s all I care about. Brijuni are a pleasure to visit for families, historians, nature lovers, couples, golfers… One can spend days staying in the hotels there and explore each site in detail or, one can do a quick 2-3 hour visit just to enjoy a unique atmosphere of this amazing archipelago. And then plan the second visit!

Tours in Croatia