Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Croatian Islands = Love at first sight

Hooray!!! This is the part I've been waiting for: Installment 4 of Croatia and by far my favourite! Drumroll please as we make our way into the Dalmatian Islands, starting with Korčula but featuring.....Lastovo!

Korčula town on Korčula Island was our first stop. 
It's a delight, and a great gateway into the islands.
Korčula is littered with lovely heritage buildings and is allegedly the birthplace of Marco Polo

Looking out for invaders

Vinko's family hails from the islands Lastovo & Vis, and I've been hearing about the beauty and magnificence of these places as long as I've known him. He wasn't lying. It is beautiful and I instantly loved it. The sea around the island is unlike anything I have ever seen. From the ferry coming in to the island you can see meters and meters deep; all the rocks, fish, sea grass, everything. It is incredible.

Would that face lie to you?

The landscape is stark but beautiful on the island's outer edge

There are a lot of beautiful old buildings in Lastovo town

This is the trademark of Lastovo - the Fumari chimney

Soon after settling in, we strolled through town and heard the most magical music coming from the church. We peeked in to see a young guy sitting at the piano, playing this amazing music as if he wasn't even thinking about it. This was the very talented pianist Marko Ivic from Zagreb, who was on holiday in Lastovo and decided to do a concert for free the next night. And there began our adventure, for Marko did not come alone...

The getalonggang: Ugi, Miljenko, Vinko & Marko
at the start of our epic day hike to the blue cave

Pre-sweat, pre-grump. It was a long, hard, hot hike...

...but we found zen and peace at the end by the lighthouse...

...and after a swim and a cold drink I managed to smile again...

...and we rewarded ourselves with a feast at the end of the day!

Lastovo is the last in the chain of the Dalmatian islands, and it does feel a bit like a faraway, forgotten place. Because of complicated, communist-style property laws regarding family homes on the island, most of the houses are legally owned by 16-25 people, many of whom have moved to the mainland or overseas. As such, so many of the houses have no clear ownership and hence no incentive for investment or upkeep, rendering them completely decrepit. It is such a shame because the town, the people and the whole island is fantastic. But maybe that is exactly why it is so charming: only the die-hard locals live here all year, and the few tourists that do make it this far can hardly be found outside of July and August.

The Undertaker's hut in the cemetery

Shot from the cemetery

Building: 0
Nature: 1
The permanent local community take very good care of their homes and gardens

This one might still have a chance?

The Fumari features everywhere in old town Lastovo

Feel like you're in another world yet?

How about now?

View from the Church of Saint Cosmas & Damian, the patron saints of the island.
They were twin brothers who were persecuted in the 3rd century under Diocletian

In front of the church

On top of the world

When the tourists do come, they generally stick to the coastal villages and again I can't blame them. It is gorgeous (I am running out of adjectives here...). I can sing praises and tell you about lazy days spent in the sun, great produce and homemade wine you will not find anywhere else.  Instead, I'll let the pictures paint the glory.

Lučica, a small fishing village I fell in love with.
If anybody has a house here that I can squat at, please let me know.

The bay of Pasadur, where Vinko spent all his summer holidays as a child

The vista from the island's highest peak (Hum) over Skrivena Luka Bay

I believe I may have mentioned before that it was dry...

...and beautiful.

Dry and Beautiful!
When we finally did manage to tear ourselves away from Lastovo, we headed to Hvar on the 4am ferry. Not by choice. There is only one catamaran ferry between Lastovo & Hvar daily (the others are super slow barge ferries), and life on the island really does revolve around this ridiculous ferry schedule. It was brutal, especially because we had to get up at 2:30am to tidy and close the house up for winter (involving multiple sheets of plastic and laundry pegs). Just proving to us again that the people survived here for so long by virtue of of early mornings and hard work.

Hvar's small craft harbour. At sunrise.

Vista over Hvar. It's known as a party place and lives up to its rep.
Check out the massive yacht (complete with bouncer keeping curious plebs off).

On the recommendation of our fantastic hosts at Villa Skanski, we hired a scooter and headed out to explore the island. The thrill of being on a moped (yes yes, creeping over the mountain at 20km/h is not exactly thrilling, but the concept and experience as a whole was engaging and free) was only second to the incredible scenery. Add to that a swim in the most beautiful bay I have EVER been in, and a fresh fried fish lunch topped off with local wine and life is pretty much as sweet as it's going to get. 

Hvar's castle/fortress looms over the whole bay

The bay of Dubovica. Surely this is where the gods came on holiday.

He has the right to look mighty chuffed. It's awesome.

Token canon at Stari Grad (Old Town), which was much less crowded than Hvar Town,
much friendlier, and less flashy & pretentious

I think I've made it pretty clear: the Dalmatian Islands are incredible.  It was the most spectacular way to end our 18 month long travels and I feel so lucky to have had Vinko showing me around, bridging the language gap for me, navigating me through the customs and generally being my "in" with the locals, many of whom remember him as a hyperactive little boy, and were thrilled that he had come back to visit after so many years. (If you've ever seen an old grandma-lady pinch a 29 year old man's bearded face and coochy-cooing him like he was a child, you'll know what I'm talking about here!). Traveling as "partial locals" made a huge difference in how we were received and how we will remember a place. And that, my friends, is why we are moving on to bigger and better things still!


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