Zadar, Island Pag and Istria Journey

Arriving into Zadar brings back sweet memories of my very first visit to Croatia as a young 24-year-old woman, sailing from Ancona on the Italian coast on the overnight ferry Liburnija to Zadar.. I remember being up at sunrise, walking out on the deck, eager to catch my first glimpse of this country I had heard so much about. Travelling from Australia to Naples on the ship Galileo Galilei had taken 4 weeks sailing from Sydney around Cape Horn, The Canary Islands, through Gibraltar and on to Sicily, and finally, disembarking in Naples. Here we are again entering the harbour of Zadar 48 years later! The  Zadar region is located in the northernmost part of Dalmatia.The recent winner of  ‘The European Most Desirable Place to Visit’ Awards 2017.

Disembarking from our gulet M/Y AURUM and her fabulous crew was a sad occasion..after spending 7 days together it was time to say goodbye and move on to the second chapter of this 18-day adventure. After checking into heritage Hotel Bastion, we took a stroll through the Old Town, had a light lunch, the boys had a beer, and we girls opted for coffee and freshly baked pastries, freshly out of the oven!  (After all, we had all enjoyed our last great wholesome breakfast on board AURUM!

In Old Zadar Town there is much to see and do. One of my favourite places is the Ancient Glass Museum and Glass Blowing exhibiting antique glass objects from 1st to 5th Cent, BC. The glass used today in the glass blowing exhibition is Venetian Glass from Murano.

St. Donat 9th century Cathedral, which is so simple yet so overwhelming spiritually is the heart and soul of Zadar. Many classical concerts are performed here..the acoustics providing perfect conditions for wonderful performances.

Impressive ecclesiastical art is at the permanent exhibition of Gold and Silver at the Church of ST. Mary of Zadar, one of the most valuable collections in Croatia. The People’s Museum The archaeological Museum.

At 16.00 we met our local guide, Eduardo. We were escorted through Old Zadar and heard about the turbulent history from the past, the Romans, the Venetians, the Turks, The British, and also about the horrendous days of the recent Homeland War this ancient city endured while Croatia fought for Independence while succeeding from the former Yugoslavia. Today there is little evidence of any in the past, all has once again been repaired and life continues. Another important fact..the Maraschino cherry is grown here ..producing the famous Maraschino liqueur that Napoleon found to be one of his favourite delights, transporting massive quantities back to France to stock his cellars and palaces.

Late afternoon we took a stroll before sunset to witness the setting sun from a great vantage point at the ‘Sea Organ’  Here we saw  one of the most spectacular views of the setting sun and the project called ‘ Sunset’  designed by Nikola Basich.   See:

Sun 10/09  Today Sunday, we drove 30km north from Zadar to Island Pag…famous for weathered Stone, Salt and Sea. It is almost impossible to explain the beauty of Island Pag..the stunning colours of nature of stone sea and sky…seemingly a wasteland, weathered by the gale-force Bura winds of winter…yet here we find the finest wines..internationally acclaimed sheep’s milk cheeses…succulent lamb dishes… 2000-year-old olive groves, and the most exquisite handmade laces of Pag… a most exotic environment. The story of Pag revolves around the Pag Salt pans and the salt trade which was the primary source of income for many centuries and highly prized by their Venetian masters.

We arrived in the Town of Pag and visited the Salt Museum ..Our local guide Iva, explained to us the story of the Pag Salt Trade and the tough life of the common workers of Pag through the centuries to present day. Pag salt is  still being harvested today.

The Pag salt museum is one of the most interesting places to learn of days gone by.

We crossed the bridge and visited the Lace Museum..we were in awe of the finest laces, a fine tradition of the women folk of Pag. In the past if a family had a number of girls, one of them would be reserved for lace making..keeping her delicate hands in prime condition rather than working in the salt factory or other labour intensive outdoor jobs.

Heading further north along the Island we arrived at our next destination, the Gligora Cheese Factory in Kolan. We were greeted warmly by Ružica Gligora, and taken to the production rooms for a very interesting tour. The Gligora story started off with Grandmother and Grandfather Gligora making their homemade cheese as many others did..using milk from the hardy sheep of Pag.

Sheep forage among the rocky landscape seeking herbs and grasses that are laced with salt from the Bura winds that blow so hard through various periods of the year.  Following Croatian independence in the early 1990s, their son Ivan, decided to do something about opening a cheese factory, and although most of his fellow friends and relations thought he was completely crazy…he followed his passion and today, Gligora has been awarded the International Gold Medal for Sheep’s Milk Cheese 3 years in a row 2015/16/17. Gligora today produce a range of 50 varieties of cheese using sheep, goat and cow’s milk. Ružica then escorted us to the tasting room..platters of a variety of cheeses, olives, Proscuitto, figs and almonds, paired with wines from nearby Island Krk. A traveller’s delight!

Ružica Gligora with Noelle and myself, explaining the cheeses on the tasting plate.

Waiting for us in Lun..a further half hour drive to the northern tip of the island , was Daniel in his buggy..waiting to take us on a tour of the ancient olive grove where we  discovered trees that dated back 2000 years. If only these trees could talk! There are 52 hectares of these trees, owned by a number of local residents, and the trees are still producing abundantly today..this was so awesome to see!

A 2000 year old Olive tree of Lun..if only this tree could speak!

Driving back along the island to our lunchtime location at Šimuni we were in awe of the scenic view looking across the sea towards the mainland..with the Velebit mountains towering majestically above the bluest sea. we arrived at Didova Kuča (Grandfather’s House)  and settled in on the terrace overlooking the sea ready to enjoy the freshest sea-food and Pag lamb dishes. We envisaged a long late lunch before heading back to Zadar and we were delighted with the quality, service and most importantly the ambiance.

A ‘Must Do’ on Island Pag, lunch or dinner at DIDOVE KUĆA at Šimuni (Grandfather’s house) by the sea.


Tues 12 Sept BRTONIGLA in ISTRIA  The little village of Brtonigla is set on a hill surrounded by vineyards, 5 km from the sea in Northern Istria. Hotel San Rocco awarded 3 times as Best Small Hotel in Croatia has grown from the old Istrian family property. The hotel’s gourmet restaurant is part of the Jeunes Restaurateur’s d’Europe group. A day to relax and explore the village of Brtonigla, and surrounding environment at your leisure

September is the month for lovers of seasonal porcini mushooms and truffles.. and above in Motovun at the Fakin Restaurant … superb pasta dishes and Fakin wines!

Wed 13 Sept  TODAY DRIVING INLAND to the hilltown of Motovun. There are a number of restaurants in the village serving truffles, porcini mushrooms, great pasta dishes and superb malvasia white wines…(the specialty of this region). Every restaurant is great, including Konoba Mondo with superb views looking out over the vineyards below. The other well known restaurant is Zigante in the valley below Motovun.

In the villages of Motovun and Groznjan..

After lunch, continue on to Groznjan, another hill town….this place is a real gem…the home of many artists who have come to settle here. The galleries and little boutiques, art and craft are superb. This is an out of the way place, yet I find it absolutely beautiful.

At Matosević Vineyards with the very hospitable Ivica Matosević, winemaker par excellance!

Wine tasting at Mateosovic Vineyards…One of Croatia’s finest vineyards is located here in Istria. The major wine of Istria is the white Malvasia variety.  www.matoš                                    The Malvasia white wines are indigenous to this region and are produced here at Matošević vineyards to a very high and superb standard. Owner, Ivica Matošević is very cordial, warm and friendly.

The smallest town in the world is the atmospheric town of Hum, Here we stopped to explore and found a gentle soul playing classical tunes on his guitar..the feeling in this magical little spot was so special…I must return. Istria (Istra in Croatian) is the gourmet region of Croatia and while Dalmatian/Mediterranean food is very popular, the cuisine of Istria is more refined. The Italian border is very close and so Istrian cuisine is heavily influenced by its Italian neighbours. Two languages are spoken in Istria, both Croatian and Italian. The wines and olive oils of Istria are also considered world-class.

Romance in Rovinj is inevitable!

Thurs 14 ROMANTIC ROVINJ  On the way to Rovinj, we’ll make a stop in Poreć to visit the 16th century Euphrasian Basilica…the Byzantine frescos dating back to the 5-7th centuries are truly amazing, well worth a visit here, then drive on to the most popular destination of Rovinj. Check in to hotel Monte Mulini and explore Rovinj

Rovinj is the most atmospheric of all of Croatia’s small coastal towns, a welcoming and romantic Old World Renaissance Venetian style town, oozing ambiance with winding cobbled laneways, an ancient harbour and many fishermen …as salty as they come!

Fri 15 ROVINJ RAMBLE This orientation walk introduces you to Rovinj starting at the parking lot just north of the Old Town. Many places offer fine views but this is the most striking, with boats bobbing in the harbour and behind them the Venetian architecture topped by the Cathedral of St. Euphemia. The walk through the town and up to the Cathedral is a ‘MUST DO’.

An evening at RESTAURANT VELI JOŽE in Rovinj is a MUST DO!

Swimming – The most central spot to swim is on the rocks along the embankment of the south side of the Old town peninsula and for a bigger beach go to the wooded Golden Cape (‘Zlatni Rat) From the hotel turn right and walk along the seaside to the Cathedral above.

Rovinj after dark – Rovinj is delightful after dark. Views that are beautiful by day become magical by night. There are lots of low-key concerts in the central piazza, dancing, and jazz bands. The Bacchus Wine Bar and the Valentino Champagne and Cocktail Bar is a memorable late-night waterfront spot.

Sat 16  Depart for visit to the atmospheric town of Bale followed by a superb wine tasting and dinner at Meneghetti Vineyards.  Simply the best!

At Meneghetti Wine and olive oil tasting near the quaint and quiet little village of Bale.

Sun 17 DRIVING ROVINJ TO ZAGREB VIA OPATIJA.  Opatija was developed during the reign of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Hapsburg Empire, wealthy  Scandinavians and Russians flocked to this sea-side jewel, developing Baroque Neo classical and many Art Nouvea villas along the coastline. It became the sunny playground for dukes, barons, and other aristocrats. Today it is one of Croatia’s favourite Belle Époque destinations.

At the elegant Bevanda Restaurant on the Lungomare Opatija is a dining delight !

At Hotel Milenij on the waterfront, is the famous Cafe Wagner. This is the most beautiful setting by the sea, gracious and elegant with cakes to die for. Morning tea here on the terrace was delightful, and a walk on the ‘Lungomare’ (Long walkway by the sea)is divine. This is a real experience!

 On arrival into Zagreb, we checked in to the Esplanade Hotel…

This evening we attended a concert ..The famous Croatian Folklore LADO Dance Group together with a Polish group of dancers that were so spectacular, the colour and the performance at the Lisinski Concert Hall was extremely appreciated by my guests. At first, I had the feeling the boys were not too sure about attending a folklore concert, but the colourful costumes and traditional music were overwhelmingly superb! This was my little gift to the group for being so wonderful throughout the whole tour, never a complaint, always smiling, easy-going, and a joy to be with!

Mon 18/09  10.00am A Morning walk through Zagreb, escorted walking tour with Harry, another excellent guide visiting the ‘lower’ and ‘upper’ parts of the city.

Tues 19 Departure day… Time to say goodbye to my group of travellers, my Australian group extroidinaire …10 wonderful days spent, exploring, tasting, seeing and hearing with you in My Hidden Croatia...Doviđenja, Goodbye, till next time….

By Robyn Vulinovich