Links on this page: kolucep : lopud : sipan : dubrovnik : fauna : flora : wines : postscript : other feedback from June 2005
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This was my first trip to Croatia, though I once spent a few hours in Yugoslavia visiting Postojna caves (now part of Slovenia) about thirty years ago.
I finished packing and configuring the laptop at 02:30 and had to get up by 04:00 so was totally knackered. The taxi didn't turn up (thanks for nothing, Albion Taxis in Burgess Hill) so A2B came to the rescue and got us to Gatwick airport in time.
Tourism obviously stopped during the civil war in 1991-2, and it only just seems to be getting going again. We caught the first charter flight from Gatwick to Dubrovnik, so were given a complimentary glass of 'champagne' (actually 'cava').
Apart from a fifty minute delay at Gatwick, waiting for the breakfast trolley to be delivered, the journey was good. After the inevitable scrum collecting the suitcases at Dubrovnik, the coach transfer to the port and the ferry were uneventful, and we arrived at Kolocep in the early afternoon.
We stayed in Kolocep which is in the Dubrovnik archipelago and is part of the fourteen (some books only claim thirteen) Elaphite Islands. The Brijuni, Kornati and Elaphite islands form a long, winding trail of separate archipelagos that curve along the coastline opposite Dubrovnik, protected from cold continental winds by the steep cliffs of the mainland coastline.
I must quote from the book, The Elaphites, which I bought on Lopud:
Come to The Elaphites in silence, do not break the stillness and harmony of the untouched beauty of this world's oasis. It is allowed only to crickets and fireflies in Summer, a gentle breeze, a sea-gull or to a tired sleepy fisherman after his night fisting.
I did wonder about the rolling gait of the fishermen, but after reading the book, it all became clear...
Kolocep is only 2.35 sq km and the permanent population is about 150. It comprises two limestone ridges separated from each other by a valley, and due to the limestone formation, there are no streams. The climate is typical Mediterranean and was sunny and warm throughout the holiday.
There were small chapels everywhere on the islands, some dating back to the 14th century.
Kolocep is heavily forested with much subtropical vegetation including pine trees, cypresses, palm trees, aloe, cactus, and southern fruits.
I also saw vines, olives, carobs, citrus fruit and vegetables.
The ferry docked at Celo on the north-western coast, one of only two villages on Kolocep.
We were met by an electric cart that took all our suitcases to the Villas Kolocep hotel, the only one on the island.
We were hot so as soon as we had unpacked, we rushed down to the pool and jumped in. Gasping with shock, we leapt back out! We then found that the sea was no warmer. That's the downside of holidaying in May. Still, it is refreshing, I suppose.
Either the sea and pool warmed up considerably during the two weeks we were there or we just got used to it, but it soon seemed cool and refreshing. Celo has sand and pebble beaches and supposedly a park with numerous species of subtropical flora. We didn't see a park as such, but subtropical flora was everywhere.
This is a great place to go if you want peace and quiet. There are no cars on the island, and only a few electric carts, scooters and small 'tractors'. Although BA have started flights to Dubrovnik, I hope tourism won't spoil the island and think the fact that there are only a few beaches will help stem the tide.
Walking past Villas Kolocep, we found a fish restaurant, Villa Ruza, which is owned by the hotel, and we had a magnificent lunch of scampi and chips. But don't think of the little balls of scampi in batter you would expect to find in England - these were the real thing: six-inch crustaceans needing real commitment to break into and apart. You could at least hope that they would use up as many calories to eat as they would, in turn, impart! We accompanied the scampi with a local Dalmatian wine called Posip. Highly recommended.
Further still, we found a naturist beach marked with the symbol FKK. We were grateful to see this symbol again later in the holiday...
The other village on Kolocep, Gornje Celo, on the south-eastern coast, lies on a cove with a sandy beach.
We decided to walk there, but thought we'd take a 'short cut', by leaving our hotel by the back way past the tennis courts. We went up a rough track expecting to cross the path marked on our map. We ended up in thick forest and it was fun walking along the cool sun-dappled paths strewn with fallen leaves, but we eventually found we were walking round in circles. Retracing our steps, we struck out in another direction but ended up walking along a pile of stone and realised we were lost again. Trying again, we finally got onto the right track, end ended up, after more than two hours, only a hundred metres from the hotel! So much for saving time...
The track wound round the hill (all of eighty-one metres high) and finally descended onto the main road. From there, it was only a short and pleasant stroll to the village.
We wandered round the bay towards the harbour. On the way, we saw an old hotel, one of many reminders of the recent tragic war. Gornje Celo faces the mainland and the hotel had obviously been shelled. It transpired that the Croatian army had been billeted there and had been attacked by the Bosnians. All through our holiday, we would come across such evocative sights: botanical gardens left to return to nature, restaurants closed and hotels abandoned. There are signs of a return towards normality though: there is much building going on wherever you look, though not large-scale enough to cause annoyance.
We lunched at the only restaurant in Gornje Celo. It only served fish, but fish prepared with fanatical attention to detail. I saw my fish gutted in the sea and prepared, cooked with herbs and olive oil, and barbequed to perfection. Never have I tasted better fish, complemented as it was by the local wine and the harbour-side ambience. Each dish was cooked separately to order, so patience was de rigueur!
Over the holiday, we paid several visits to both the beach and the restaurant.
Eventually we also walked virtually every marked path on the island, which helped me keep my glucose levels down enough to enjoy the food and wine without too much guilt!
Lopud is the next island in the Elaphite chain and part of the fun is getting there.
The 350-ton ferry Premuda, owned by Jadrolinija, shuttles between Dubrovnik and the main Elaphite islands four times daily.
We had a leisurely breakfast and caught the 09:55 ferry. We had fun wandering round the old ship, looking at the engines and admiring the view from the prow.
Soon we disembarked at the port of Lopud and wandered along the main beach from the sheltered harbour. We went past the abandoned and now sadly-misnamed Hotel Grand and took the main road (more of a cycle track really!) to U. Sunj on the other side of the island. After a long uphill, it was good to reach the summit and a sheltered path with many steps down to the beach.
To say we were hot by now, would be an understatement! About this time, my wife realised she had left her costume back at the hotel, but luckily, I saw some naked bottoms on the sand and realised the far end of the beach was FKK (naturist). It didn't take much persuasion before we were buck-naked at that end of the beach under a parasol. The bay was sheltered and the water shallow, so the sea was warm. We spent a good few hours sunbathing and swimming and I ended up a bit burnt (though I'd put factor 60 on my white bits, so they, at least, were all right!).
The walk back to the main town, after a few bottles of water, was pleasant. We sat by the sea and I had spaghetti with seafood and a glass of white wine. We then bought ice-creams and wandered back to the ferry. Apart from the ferry calling at Sipan (the next island in the chain) then back at Lopud, before we were able to disembark in Kolocep, the return journey was uneventful.
Early mornings do not suit me, so I was horrified when the alarm went off at 05:35. We had decided on an early start to avoid the heat of the day, so I reluctantly climbed out of bed for a hurried 06:15 breakfast and walk to the pier for the 06:45 ferry - if you think the timescales are generous, you've never had to get recalcitrant children of three, six and nine ready before they're properly awake! We woke up during the short crossing to Dubrovnik.
On arrival at Port Gruz, we bought tickets for the number 1A-1B bus to Old Dubrovnik. We just managed to squeeze on, as it was now the rush hour, and soon arrived at the old town.
At 08:00, it was still cool and we had a leisurely stroll round before the shops opened and the throngs of tourists arrived. We wandered off the beaten track round the narrow streets and up and down the many steps.
Dubrovnik has the best-preserved city walls in the world, dating back to the 13th century. We were looking forward to walking round the 2.3 km ramparts, which are 25 metres high in places. The views were truly spectacular, but the walk was somewhat harrowing with a three year-old boy who loves climbing walls!
The city side of the walls were the highest and most vertiginous but the views over the city were breathtaking. The walk around the coastal defences were relaxing in comparison and I noted a bar outside the city walls overlooking the sea, and a nice-looking restaurant. By the time we finished our aerial excursion, two hours had passed and droves of tourists were arriving.
Hoping to avoid the crush, we took a shortcut through the back-streets we had reconnoitred earlier and reached the walls ten metres from the entrance to the bar. After a drink that would have been relaxing if we didn't have three noisy and boisterous children, we tried to find the restaurant. Within five minutes, we were at Ekvinocijo (on Ilije Sarake 10) and it was as good as I'd hoped. I had a huge portion of very tasty battered mussels and a pleasant glass of local white wine. The vegetarian platter was also good, and the chips passed the children's taste test!
After the meal, we wandered round the town, admiring the cloisters at the Franciscan monastery, and more of the small streets on the outskirts of the city before catching the bus back to the harbour. As we left, the crush of the tourists and the heat of the day vindicated our decision to start early.
Sipan (spelt Šipan and pronounced Shipan) is next to Lopud and is the largest inhabited island in the Elaphite chain, with a population of about 500, down from about 4,500 at its peak in the 15th century. We took the 09:55 Premuda ferry again. There are two ferry stops on Sipan, Sipanska Luka and Sudurad.
We decided to get off at Sipanska Luka and the journey was very pretty. The approach was fjord-like and the port was very sleepy and unspoiled. We started off, inevitably, in the park, and after a few minutes, I saw blood all over the youngest's T-shirt as he climbed, kamikaze-style, on the apparatus. Although he'd split his chin open, he was still happily unaware. After a quick check that no remedial action was required, we wandered into the souvenir shop, where customers seemed quite a novelty. The assistant spoke excellent English and was very friendly. After making a few purchases, we set off for a stroll round the sea-front.
In the distance, almost opposite the ferry pier on the other side of the bay, I spied a restaurant, so we decided to stop for lunch. The location of Konoba kod Marka was idyllic, right on the water-front, and we had a great welcome from Marko Prizmic, the proprietor.
I saw sea-urchins on the menu in Croatia for the first time. I've had them once before in Senegal and fancied sampling them again. Marko sadly explained to me that he needed a day's notice so he could go out and catch some, as they must be served fresh, but said if we left the menu up to him, we would taste something we've never had before!
Soon afterwards, the starter arrived - a huge plate of fresh prawns cooked in garlic with herbs. They were delicious and complemented a very good glass of white wine.
We were worried we wouldn't have room for the main course, but when it arrived, we had no problem. It was a huge dish of tiny fish smaller than whitebait, called fish milk, or bianchetta in Italian, cooked in lemon batter.
It also came with chips for the children, and Marko mentioned he'd grown the potatoes in his garden. A tomato, lettuce and onion salad was also particularly tasty. Replete at last, we asked for the bill, and realised with horror that we had forgotten to change money and although we (just) had enough money to pay for the food, we wouldn't have enough for the 5 km bus ride to Sudurad. We asked Marko where we could change some money, and, realising our plight, he pressed 40 Kunas from our food bill back into our hands and said that life was too short to worry about small things. I felt guilty but also overwhelmed with his generosity.
We just had time to catch the bus (after an unsuccessful attempt to exchange money at the Sipan hotel) and soon arrived at Sudurad. It was a bit of a disappointment after Sipanska Luka, with loud music blaring from a cafe and crowds of children on a school trip milling around waiting for the ferry. There may well be hidden gems we didn't uncover on our cursory glance at the town, so I may be being unfair on Sudurad, as we spent only a few minutes looking at the castle before catching the ferry back to Kolocep.
Everywhere we looked or walked, flowers were in abundance such as the magnificent Bougainvillea pictured.
But the vegetation wasn't just for looking at.
There were apricots, figs, grape vines, cherries, citrus fruits and more, in gardens, allotments or just growing wild.
We saw insects such as giant grasshoppers, iridescent bumbling beetles, butterflies, glow-worms, huge hornets and various other unidentified horrors.
We saw many fish, anemones, crabs and urchins.
There were also lizards in many hues, rats and bats, and a few snakes, which moved too fast for me to capture on camera. It's a pity nobody captured me on film, racing down the steps in a quiet street in vain pursuit of a picture.
We tasted several local wines, but the ones we particularly liked included Posip and Zlahtika (white) and Babic (red).
They weren't particularly cheap though - Posip was about £7 in supermarkets and about £13 in restaurants.
I went home with a good tan, some happy memories and a few bottles of wine. I mainly missed baths (showers are no substitute), Salsa and of course updating my website!
Tourism is just restarting in Croatia. If you like peace and quiet in beautiful surroundings, I recommend it highly.
Sites I've found useful were Croatian National Tourist Board and the Republic of Croatia website.
I see that the website places Kolocep among top 10 world's most beautiful island resorts (together with Hamilton Island (Australia), Maui (Hawaii), Bora Bora (French Polynesia), Fregate Island (Seychelles), Vabbinfaru (Maldives), Green Turtle Cay (Bahamas), Mauritius, Santorini (Greece) and Antigua (Caribbean).
I just received the following report from Ian and Suzanne, who travelled to Croatia in June 2005.
Following your report on your family holiday to Croatia, my wife and I decided to leave our two children at home, and we went on a four day break - just returned yesterday.
Because it was a four day break, we couldn't go on a package holiday with a tour operator, but your report gave us an idea of what to expect so we decided to 'go it alone'. I assume your family went with a tour operator as we came across a couple of pitfalls.
Getting the BA flight from Manchester to Dubrovnik, and then the taxi to Port of Gruz was a breeze. The taxi driver was most helpful, and spoke good English - but as with most locals demonstrated incredible loyalty to Jadrolinija ferries. It was about 13.30, and even though the ferry office was closed until 19.00, he suggested that we wait for the 'Jadrolinija'. The alternative regular 'Nova' service wasn't mentioned, and even after discovering its existence, we found it very difficult to establish from where the Nova service ran - locals seemed very vague, despite the fact that it was only around 200 metres from the Jadrolinija ferry.
The Nova ferry (three times the price of Jadrolinija incidentally) kindly dropped us off with our two suitcases on the Island of Kolocep - unfortunately on the side of the island where there are no hotels, only the restaurant - you will remember walking to it. We had to walk from there to the hotel, with both suitcases. Fortunately they had wheels on, but given the steepness of the hill it isn't something to recommend.
Anyway - there it is at last, just along the sandy bay, The Hotel Villas Kolocep. Hot and exhausted, we finally stood at the reception desk, and announced our arrival. "Oh yes. We have been expecting you", said the receptionist. What a relief those words are, when you have booked directly with the hotel. I was sure it would be OK anyway as I had faxed the booking (as requested), and then spoken subsequently on the phone to the hotel manager who had confirmed the booking. However, I didn't then expect the words that followed, "but we are fully booked and we do not have a room for you". After a few awkward moments and after double-checking the translation ... surely they don't mean it ... we were offered a studio up on the hill to the side of the hotel complex, which we could have for the same price (how kind of them - and it just happened to be owned by the hotel manager). Two days later when I was less in a less agreeable mood, I renegotiated the price, and the manager explained that she was sorry but had to give the tour operators priority for the room - a very professional approach, I thought.
The rest of the holiday went very well. Thank you for your comments about the restaurants. We went back to the one on the other side of Kolocep and had a huge fish between which was BBQ'd and absolutely gorgeous. We went to the restaurant on Sipan (Marko's) and yes he prepared us a surprise meal which was lovely and wasn't the same you had!
Perhaps the only thing we would have like to have known more about before our trip were the beaches - we got to the one on the other side of Lopud on our last day - it was just the kind of beach we had been looking for all along, but other beaches were hard to find - usually very small, at the end of very long walks, and usually were surprisingly full of litter. Not that we didn't enjoy looking for them!
Thanks for posting your report on the net - it helped us enormously.
: : © Mike Bliss 2011