Discover the Wines of Dalmatia at Dalmacija Wine Expo in May

Plavac Mali grapes, such as these from the vineyards of  Caric in Svirce, are finding their way into bottles of wine all over the world.

The wines of Dalmatia are becoming increasingly well known on the international stage, and global interest in some of the 130 indigenous grape varieties of Croatia is increasing.

Wines from the region are now being exported to countries as far away as Canada and China, as more wine enthusiasts become interested in the ‘new’ wines from Croatia. There is nothing new about the wines, however, as the wine-making tradition in the region dates back several centuries BC.

Leading the pack in terms of interest is the noble Plavac Mali grape, a relation of the better-known Zinfandel, but other varieties such as Pošip are winning gold medals in international competition.

An increasingly important wine fair for the promotion of the wines of the region is Dalmacija Wine Expo in Makarska, which will this year be held on May 3 and 4, with a party of journalists from the event then heading to Hvar on May 5 to visit the island’s wineries. In the words of the official Dalmacija Wine Expo website:

“Dalmatia Wine Expo will once again provide visitors with the opportunity to try the best wines and gastro specialties Dalmatia has to offer. Apart from the winemakers, exhibitors from other parts of Croatia and abroad will also participate in the Expo. Dalmatia Wine Expo has undoubtedly become a place where real wine and gastronomy lovers gather, offering a true overview of Dalmatian wine and gastro scene. This year’s festival will be the home of over 150 producers of wine, specialties and olive oil, some hundred representatives from top restaurants and hotels, culinary stars and numerous esteemed guests from the business, cultural and political world.”

The Makarska fair has some influential and enthusiastic supporters:

“I salute the efforts of the organizers who, with their dedication and effort, managed to bring to life a significant enogastronomy event. Being acquainted with one of the leading enogastronomy festivals in Dalmatia, I have decided to become the patron of the festival.”
IVO JOSIPOVIĆ, President of the Republic of Croatia

“This festival is very significant to promoting the wine culture of Dalmatia.”
MIKE MILJENKO GRGICH, renown Californian-Croatian wineproducer

For more information, check out the official website (there is a section in English).

Authentic Dalmatian Tourism: Eco-Ethno Villages

Velo Grablje on Hvar, home of the annual lavender festival in June

Dalmatia is rightfully famous for its stunning coast, plethora of islands and fantastic beaches, but the region has a lot more to offer to the visitor interested in exploring more of the local traditions and culture.

With its picturesque stone villages and close affinity with the land, Dalmatia has some fascinating and truly unique customs and heritage, which local authorities are now trying to promote as an integral part of the regional tourism offer.

At the heart of this strategy is the rise of the eco-ethno village, where locals and tourists alike can appreciate the beauty of the past through the preservation and promotion of some of Dalmatia’s hidden treasures.

The development of the eco-ethno villages concept is an important one for rural tourism in Croatia, and there are several important components at its core: the preservation of nature, architectural heritage, promotion of traditional Croatian products, the return of inhabitants to abandoned villages, the revival of traditional crafts and goods, the renovation of traditional Dalmatian stone houses, schools and churches.

The abandoned shepherd’s village of Humac in central Hvar

The most developed villages for this type of tourism currently are on the island of Hvar, with the abandoned shepherd’s village of Humac, 6km east of Jelsa, being the most striking example aesthetically. In terms of what has been happening in the almost abandoned village of Velo Grablje, however, progress has been impressive.

Once the centre of lavender production for all Dalmatia, the pretty village lies just a few kilometres from the glitz of Hvar Town, but it is a world away. Nowadays, there is a full-time population of just five people in Velo Grablje, a shadow of its glory years.

The younger generation from the village decided to do something to address the decline, and they formed an association (Udruga) called Pjover, with the stated aims of reviving the traditions and heritage of the village, with the lavender theme at its heart.

In a very short space of time, the transformation of the village has been impressive. This June will see the fifth Lavender Festival in the village, Croatia’s most aromatic event and one which is attracting increasing international attention. Apart from celebrating the lavender itself (including a demonstration of the distilling process), there are many related events to village regeneration, such as dry stone walling and traditional methods for baking bread.

Such festivals and visits to authentic places are becoming increasingly popular with locals and tourists alike – unique events and locations in an increasingly globalised world.

The importance of eco-ethno village tourism was underlined at last year’s GAST trade fair in Split, where there was a headline presentation on the subject, including a presentation from Central Dalmatia Tourism Board director Joško Stella, and this video presentation by Otok Hvar on the projects in Velo Grablje.

The full list of places involved in the eco-ethno village project is below:

1. Općina Baška VodaTopići

2. Općina Baška Voda

3. Grad Hvar

4. Grad Hvar
Malo Grablje

5. Grad Hvar
Velo Grablje

6. Grad Hvar

7. Općina Jelsa

8. Grad Komiža

9. Grad Omiš
Tugare Ume

10. Grad Omiš
Čažin Dolac

11. Općina Postira

12. Općina Proložac
Gornji Proložac Podi

13. Grad Solin

14. Općina Šolta

15. Grad Trilj
Podi Grab Bugar.

16. Grad Trilj Gornje Voštane i Grubišići

17. Grad Vrgorac

18. Grad Vrgorac
Veliki Godinj

19. Općina Zmijavci

20. Općina Bol

21. Općina Podstrana
Gornja Podstrana

22. Grad Split
Lolić i Mijanovići

23. Općina Podstrana
Stara Podstrana

24. Općina Lećevica
Brdaci (Zec)

25. Općina Lećevica

26. Općina Lećevica

27. Općina Prgomet

28. Općina Lokvičići

29. Općina Dugi Rat

30. Općina Dugi Rat

31. Grad Stari Grad
Mala Rudina
32. Općina Brela
Bekavci Kričak

33. Grad Trogir
Rušinovići (Drvenik Veliki)

34. Grad Trogir
Drvenik Veli (Kačine)

The Colourful Lakes of Imotski and the World’s Most Unusual Football Pitch

Water is never far away from a typical holiday in Dalmatia, and with the region’s stunning coastline, beaches and islands, the Adriatic Sea is by far its most popular water attraction. Look a little further, however, and discover some of the most popular day trips from places such as Split – Krka waterfalls and Plitvice Lakes.

Look a little further, a little more off the beaten track, and discover something truly magical and unique – the Red and Blue Lakes at Imotski. Imotski is a fascinating hilltop town close to the Bosnian border, about 90km and an hour and a half drive from Split, relatively undiscovered in a region full of surprises.

Where else in the world, for example, does a deep lake become a football pitch?

The Blue Lake (Modro Jezero) on the edge of town is a fascinating natural phenomenon of a lake with a depth of up to 147m (in 1914) which completely disappears in the summer, leaving a base dry enough so that the annual football match between the Elves and the Werewolves can take place on the flat lake basin on a dry, solid pitch.

The deep blue of the lake has its own magic, and it is guarded by a large crater which is up to 800 metres long and 500m2 wide. It is the natural swimming destination for the local people, a place to enjoy and respect nature.

As the summer wears on, the water level reduces and eventually becomes bone dry, at which point the lake is transformed into a stunning hiking destination with spectacular views all around. The depth of the lake from the upper rim is some 220m and a helpful hiking trail was built in 1907. To get a flavour of the dry lake, the video below filmed the football match at the bottom of Blue Lake.

The lake remains dry until the snow melting in the Spring, and the underwater springs begin to fill again, raising the level of the lake with its gorgeous blue.

In stark contrast to the fluctuating wet and dry spells of the Blue Lake, the Red Lake has an entirely different feel and history.

The first recorded description of the Red Lake is attributed to the Venitian military commander, Ivan Zuane Franceschi  in a letter to a friend, after the liberation of Imotski from Turks in 1717:

I think I was more terrified and impressed when I saw the second abyss (first, was Blue Lake, auth. Remark). On, almost flat top of the hill, in living stone, as if the hand of an artist carved a big circle, with sound of hammer and chisel, and dug it vertically like some very deep well. Crater has more then half a mile in circumference, it is cut downright in volume with no bottom. It is a red stone, with no bush or sprig to give comfort to these dreadful cliffs. When you see these chasms, you ask yourself in fear; how did they become? Were they made like this from their first creation, or is it some underground volcano, now at rest, with its mouth wide-open spewing lava and underground rocks? (La Dalmazia, 1846, no. 10)

According to local legend, Gavan’s estate collapsed into the lake after an angel – dressed as a beggar – warned Gavan’s wife about righteousness and charity, to be met with the reply:

“I don’t have need for your God, while I have my Gavan!”, and refused to give him alms. At that moment, the ground shook, and Gavan and his estate fell in the abyss. The abyss filled with water and the howling of evil supernatural beings can still be heard today. The legend was recorded in 1937 by Friar Silvestar Kutleša, and there are local folk songs related to the event.

A more scientific explanation for the appearance of the lake is attributed to the collapsing of underground water caves in a region which suffers from occasional earthquakes. The first geological research of the lake was conducted in 1937 by Academic Josip Roglić, but it was not until the 1950s when Milivoj Petrik discovered the lowest part of the lake at just 4.1m above sea level, and the highest point at 274.5m. It is one of the deepest speleological caves in the world, of Dinarides karst, and was placed under protection in 1964.

Both lakes are stunning natural attractions, and just some of the surprises which await the visitor interesting in exploring inland Dalmatia. There is plenty more to discover in the Imotski region, just a short distance from the coast and a world away from the crowds. Why not find out for yourself, starting with the Imotski Tourist Board website?

The Fortresses and Legends of the Cetina River

Central Dalmatia is rich in historical treasures, and a cursory glance at the region’s turbulent history gives an indication of the rich and diverse heritage waiting to be discovered by the adventurous tourist.

The perception of the region’s past is perhaps dominated by the Roman era, best preserved in the mindset by the magnificent palace of Emperor Diocletian, whose Adriatic retirement home remains the very heart of Split to the present day.

Take a drive a little south to the stunning town of Omiš, however, and a very different history is waiting for you to explore, a history of fortresses, legends, Turkish invasion and pirates. For long after the Romans had departed, Dalmatia’s inhabitants had to prepare themselves against raids and invasion from the Ottoman Turks, pirates and other enemies over the centuries. The result for the modern-day tourist is a collection of impressive and imposing fortresses and legends at strategic points along the Cetina river – eleven in all. We begin 110 km north of Omiš, far up the Cetina river.

1. Prozor

High above Vrlika, a fortress was erected and its earliest documentation dates back to 1406 as a gift to Hrvoke Vukicić Hrvatinić, Duke of Split from King Ladislav of Naples. Ownership quickly passed to Duke Ivan III Nelipic.

Prozor fell into the hands of the Turks in 1523, and remained in their possession for  more than 200 years. Of the many characters to grace the fortress, folklore remembers best the brutal Suli-Ma Muli-Hodzić, kidnapped a virgin bride at her wedding, put her on his horse and rode to his villa.

The distraught groom, shamed and dishonoured, wanted revenge and climbed up the outside wall using the thick vines to hoist him up, where Suli-Ma was consumed with lust for the naked virgin. The groom plunged a knife into the bey’s chest, kissed his bride and dived into the abyss. The rock where the groom died is covered with heather each spring.

To reach the fortress from Vrlika church, drive for 1.5km towards Maovica, followed by a 25 minute hike along a dirt path.

2. Glavaš

Known also as Dinarić in older maps, Glavaš is an impressive fortress from the 14th century, constructed on the way to Unista. It was frequently attacked by Ottoman forces due to its easy access to Bosnia.

Inhabitants of Vrlika had other dangers to contend with apart from the threat of invasion by the Turks – thieves after their very clothing!

The traditional Vrlika costume was embroidered with gold coins, which may have looked very pretty, but they also attracted plenty of interest from thieves and rogues, as one old lady explained:

“It was during the Great War. Having separated from the convoy, a small grey car ascended to just below the fortress. Two soldiers with large bags got out of the car and went inside. Not long after, there was a lick of flame and a shot. One of the soldiers jumped into the car and drove off. I peeked inside the fortress. There was a dead soldier, covered in blood, lying on a pile of half-burnt women’s waistcoats and corsets. I fled and never returned to the fort until the following summer. There was not a trace of the soldier anymore, just the remnants of Vrlika costumes, lacking any golden ornaments.

“Ten years later, a car came all the way from Ruzarica to Glavaš. A hunter got out of the jeep and went straight into the tower. One could clearly hear stones tumbling in the silence of the noon. The hunter was looking for something. Was it one of the soldiers who now came back for the hidden gold? Suddenly a scream. We ran to help him. The hunter was lying on a pile of stones, crushing a huge horned viper with his hands, which kept biting the hunter’s neck relentlessly. We managed to beat the snake to death with a stick, but the hunter was already dead.”

To reach Glavaš, take the side road from the Vrlika – Knin regional road in the village of Kijevo. When driving to Uniste, drive to the 8th kilometre, and the impressive fortress is above.

3. Travnik

Situated at the foot of the Svilaja mountain on Gradina hill close to the village of Potravlje, the fortress of Kotromanica (or Vidusica) is first chronicled in 1372 as part of the property of Duke Ivan II Nelipić.

The Turks found Travnik a difficult fortress to conquer, a town made of stone, perched up high and surrounded by water. They were only able to do so by cutting off the supply from the wells below, which they did by clogging the wells with sand, clay and ox skins for seven days, and the fortress finally fell in 1522.

To reach it from the centre of Potravlje, follow the shepherd’s path, keeping the top of the tower in sight.

4. Sinj

High above the town of the same name on a hill called Grad is the fortress of Sinj, which has had a fascinating history since it was first mentioned in 1349 as part of the dukedom of Cetina granted to Ivan II Nelitić.

The Turks conquered Sinj in the 16th century, and it was only liberated in 1686. Its finest hour, however, came in 1715 when a much smaller local force successfully defended the fortress from a vastly superior Ottoman army.

The events of 1715 started with a courier from Mustafa Celić banging on the town gate with an ultimatum: “Surrender the town or I will destroy it and cut everyone to pieces!”

Commander Balbo refused to surrender and prepared his defences, while Friar Pavao Vucković gathered the town in prayer around the painting of Madonna. An enemy spear pierced the chest of Don Ivan Grgić, and the wells of Miletin and Odrina became crimson with blood.

The Turks were tortured by thirst, dysentery and fear, and on the dawn of the Day of Madonna, the Turks fled, the siege was over and church bells rang out to celebrate, as pure water was returned and the citizens of Sinj crowned the painting of Madonna.

From the square of King Tomislav, continue through Kacica street, to the church of Madonna of Sinj.

5. Čačvina

Čačvina is another prominent fortress along the Cetina which spent a long time – more than 200 years – under Ottoman control. Located east of Trilj, it was strategically important due to the crossroads of natural paths of the Cetina district to Livno and Imotski.

Its first documentation dates back to 1371 and that man Ivan II Nelitić once more, and it was in Turkish possession from 1513 to 1718.

Legend has it that the origins of Čačvina are in a dispute between father and son, with the fallout resulting in the son building Sinj and the father Čačvina. Although the fortress dates back to the 14th century, the site has been an observation post since pre-historic times. To reach it, drive 6km along the Trilj-Kamensko road, turning for the road to Čačvina and parking at the cemetery.

6. Nutjak

Nutjak is a fortress on the right banks of the Cetina, downstream from Trilj and on the border with Poljica. It was badly damaged during the 1490 incursion of Cetina by the Turks.

Nutjak guarded the Republic of Poljica and one of its most enigmatic commanders was Duke Zarko Drazojević, who lived from 1438 to 1508, a man with a passion for ravens.

He used to feed – and managed to tame – the ravens, who flew round in circles, sounding the alarm at any approaching intruders. It became a ritual for the duke on returning from battles to share a meal of raw meat with his ravens.

In January 1508, then in the town of Klis, Drazojević received a plea for help from the citizens of Sinj, and he rode immediately along Dugopolje and ascended Mali Mosor. He whistled for his ravens and waited, but he had been tricked, and a flock of Ottoman janissaries awaited him instead. He realised he had been tricked by someone at Nutjak and cursed the guards there with his dying breath.

Twenty years later, those very same janissaries attacked and destroyed Nutjak, killing all the guards.

Although centuries have passed since his death, two ravens come from Mosor every year on the anniversary of his death (January 15), circle around Nutjak and greet their master with their croaking.

To reach Nutjak, there is a pathway off the Trilj-Bisko road at the 4th kilometre which takes 15 minutes.

7. Zadvarje

Known also as Duare in the historical records, Zadvarje belonged to the district of Rodbilja, which was under the control of Count Stjepan Vukcić Kosaca.

The Turks conquered Zadvarje and held it until 1684, but is was an uncomfortable tenancy due to the frequent attacks by Dalmatian insurgents and Venetians.

The legend of Zadvarje is also steeped in violence, and dates back to the 16th century, when the citizens of Omiš, fearing for their safety, bribed Murat (the bey of Zadvarje) with gold coins. On leaving Omiš, Murat had an orgy and kidnapped a child called Katica from the village of Kucici.

She begged for mercy, but egged on by the enthusiastic howling of his janissaries, Murat raped the girl, but it was not without resistance, and Katica repeatedly scratched his face during the ordeal so that he was covered in blood. Murat went crazy and strangled the girl. Although the crime happened almost 500 years ago, the ghost of Murat – covered in blood – reappears on a full moon, stumbling and howling along the walls of the castle.

Leaving Zadvarje centre, go to the water station, obtain your permit to visit, then go round the administration building and it is a ten-minute walk to ‘Murat Tower’.

8. Kunjak

As the Cetina turns into a wide arch, the fortress of Kunjak close to the village of Kucuci guards the mighty river. It is first mentioned in the 1482 Poljica Statutes, but featured rarely in historical records after that.

9. Visuć

On the left bank of the Cetina and close to the village of Podaspilja, Visuć is first mentioned in 1384 in the battles between Duke Nelitić and Bosnian viceroy Stjepan Kotromanić

Life for ordinary people in Dalmatia has never been easy, and the chronicler Gojak has recorded the legend of Visuć and how it came to be destroyed. A widower called Andjelija came in search of food, as she has four hungry children who would starve if she did not return with food that day.

She was turned away by the millers of Visuć, cruelly told to go to the river and search for food therein. “May it be as you say, and may the same fate that befell my children befall yours and your masters!”

Time passed, and sure enough, the following year lightning struck the Visuć and destroyed the castle. The Cetina burst its dams and carried the miller away to become a tasty meal for the creatures of the sea.

Once a proud fortress, Visuć now looks like an old woman’s tooth, quietly warning the arrogant and sated alike. Visuć is 270m above Radmanove Mlinice – drive along the road to Sviniste for 2km and then hike for 15 minutes.

10. Starigrad

A fortress with a view!

Imposingly positioned on the mountain Omiška Dinara high above Omiš, Starigrad is first mentioned in the first half of the 15th century as part of the defences of Omiš.

A story of unrequited love of a lower class ‘vlah’ and the daughter of a noble family.

There was a fierce bura and the guards could relax: “Not even Satan would attack in a storm like this,” said one, but Frano insisted on doing the rounds anyway. His mission was top secret – to meet with the lovely Mihaela from the prominent Didić family, a family far too noble to entertain him as an equal, so they had to keep their love secret.

Frano saw the agreed candle in the window, jumped into a boat to row across, but his rowing was useless in the strong bura, and his boat was overturned and he drowned. He was the talk of the town the following day, with everyone saying he had deserted to the Turks. Only one young lady knew the truth, but she could not share it, and she walked along the banks of the river full of remorse for the rest of her life.

To reach Starigrad, drive to Baucic and then walk along the marked path for 20 minutes.

11. Peovica

Last but by no means least is the fortress of Peovica, close to the town of Omiš itself, a fortified castle built on several layered terraces, with the highest tower originating in the 14th century.

Peovica was a favourite hideout for the legendary Pirates of Omiš, who regularly sought refuge in the Cetina gorge. One of the advantages of the fortress is the ability to confuse the enemy with the remarkable echoes that exist there.

Combined with the river, it is impossible to locate the source of the noise and attackers are left with the impression that the place is more stoutly defended than it is in reality. This happened famously in 1537 when the Turks turned and fled, rather than face what they assumed was a far superior force.

Climb the stairs at Subić Street and pass by the small church of the Holy Spirit, a journey of fifteen minutes.

There are many more treasures and legends to be discovered on the Cetina, so why not take a look at this fascinating and largely undiscovered region? For more information visit the tourist board websites of Omis and Trilj.

Vis: A Dalmatian Island with a Hoste of British Cultural Influences

When the 2004 Croatian property boom took off, there was an explosion of international interest in property on the Dalmatian coast, with foreign buyers looking to pick up their dream holiday home or investment on the stunning Adriatic coast. Many of the buyers were British, and many headed to islands such as Hvar, Brac and Korcula, as well as the island of Vis, where the tradition of British visitors is strongest of all.

Arguably one of the most beautiful and fascinating of all the islands in Dalmatia, Vis has added attractions for visitors interested in British history and heritage, and there is much to explore from the legacies of previous generations of British visitors, from the historical to the quite remarkable.

Who would have thought, for instance, that the oldest cricket club in Europe outside the UK was on a tiny Dalmatian island that is not even the most accessible from the mainland? And yet it is true that in 2009 the Vis Cricket Club celebrated its 200th anniversary, as the culture of leather on willow hit a double century in years since the first official game on Vis in 1809. Read more about the incredible story of Vis cricket on the club’s website or listen to the story of the development of cricket in Croatia from humble Vis beginnings in the video below:

The man behind this curious sporting association was a certain Captain William Hoste (later Sir William) who was stationed on the strategic island of Vis by Nelson at the height of the Napoleonic Wars. His most famous feat was victory on August 13, 1811 over far superior Franco-Venetian forces at a battle in the Vis Channel, a victory that sealed his fame. One of the small islands in front of Vis town is named Host Island in his honour. 

Given its strategic importance, Vis became a fortified island, and it has played an important role in various wars, in addition to the Hoste naval victory. The British and then the Austro-Hungarian empire fortified the island in the 19th century, and Tito used it as a major base during the Second World War.

The remains of the these fortresses still exist today, in varying states of disrepair, from the almost ruined Wellington Fortress to the more impressive and substantial King George Fortress.

Vis played a crucial role in the Second World War for the Allies, and many British servicemen lost their lives in the struggles against the Nazis. Much of that is remembered with British war cemeteries, plaques, benches and the old air strip, all of which can be visited. For more pictures, click here.

Vis also played a central role in one of the most fascinating and under-reported events of the Second World War – the evacuation of more than 25,000 civilians from the Dalmatian islands and mainland to a refugee camp in Egypt’s Sinai Desert called El Shatt. Vis was used as a staging post by the British to transfer the refugees to a base in Italy and then on to Egypt. An exhibition in the museum on Vis in the video below has exhibits of the time in El Shatt.

Vis has proved to be a popular place for tourists to visit, and the fascinating British history, combined with the submarine bases, natural treasures and rich history, make it an ideal holiday destination for relaxing and exploring.

There is just one more British connection with Vis, which occurred after the 2004 property boom, and has been little reported. On October 19, 2006, in a civil ceremony in London, Lord Nicholas Windsor, son of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, married Paola Doimi, whose father is from Vis and still has property there.

For more information about Vis and its rich history, visit the Vis Tourist Board website.