I recently set out on a small European journey before the busy summer months that I knew were ahead at the Drake Hotel. With the lack of warm weather all year around, summertime in Toronto is comparable to a fast and furious love affair. In a sort of crazed panic, people know they must get everything they can out of the high temperatures, before the days begin the shorten and putting winter boots and a coat on to walk your dog at seven am becomes your unfortunate daily routine. Through my ten years of working at The Drake Hotel, I have been privileged to have met and worked with some of the best chefs and culinary minds in the world. Even though the culinary arts is not my field of study, I always try to stay current with places that are doing innovative and exceptional food related things. I read that Croatia recently has rebounded from the grim events that occurred during the war in the early nineties, and is standing alone as an exciting travel destination. I also read they produce some damn good wine and stinky cheese- I was totally in.
Even though I had some extraordinary days throughout the country, hanging out in Diocletian’s Palace in Split, leisurely walking the 13th and 16th century city walls in Dubrovnik, listening to the hourly church bells amongst the Renaissance and Gothic architecture while eating a cheese pastry in Korluca Town, my favorite day was on the popular island of Hvar. Hvar Town is definitely one of the busiest destinations in Croatia, with its 13th century walls, traffic free, winding stone streets, Gothic palaces, and blue green waters that seem to invite you to jump in. I was fortunate enough to come just before high season, so the insane crowds I had been warned about were nowhere in sight.
My favorite day on Hvar Island was my second last day there. I woke up, had a little espresso in the flat I was staying in, then set out for a run along the water while listening to Zeppelin II, and trying not to trample any of the exceptionally well dressed people (at eight am- in makeup!) heading to the town square for their morning coffee and people watch. After my run- I decided to jump into the Adriatic off of one of the white stone slabs that line the water’s edge. It was nine am by then, and the temperature had already reached thirty degrees. There are many visible sea urchins; so one has to be careful where they touch the bottom. After getting cleaned up, I headed back into St Stephen’s square to grab yet another espresso and observe the opening of shops and cafes. I had discovered this amazing outdoor market the previous day, so I decided to pick up some apples and cheese for my journey that lay ahead. One of the merchants at the market had told me about this abandoned town a few miles away, so I decided to rent a scooter and discover. My first stop was Milna, just a few miles away.
There were nice public beaches, but I had heard if you go a bit off the path and through a camping ground, that is where you will find the hidden gems. I biked through terrible gravel roads only to discover dozens of hidden beaches, and only one or two of them with naked locals soaking up the sun. Once I found a secluded one for myself, I decided to stop, prop up my beaten up scooter, and enjoy the warm seawater. Unlike Hvar town with the stone slabs you jump off of into the water, there are proper beaches, with not sand, but small pebbles like the beaches in the south of France. After eating my apples and cheese and doing a bit of snorkeling, I was determined to find this abandoned village. After making a few wrong turns, and enduring super shoddy gravel roads with sheer drops, I finally found this amazing deserted town, in-between two cliffs. I have always found beauty in things that are discarded, so this was a very exciting and meaningful adventure. The town Malo Grablje, which some claim had been founded by descendants of Henry VII, had been vacant for many years as everyone had moved to Milna in search of more prosperous economic opportunities. Hauntingly beautiful, I was speechless as I walked around the deserted town for hours. As it is hidden in-between cliffs, every sound you makes echoes, otherwise it is the complete silence one seeks out while on holiday- especially when coming from a bustling city like Toronto. It truly is one of the most magical places I have ever discovered.
By that time, I knew I should set out again, because I wanted to make it to the lavender fields before dusk. The moment you set foot onto Hvar Island, all you can smell is lavender. Hvar is known for its lavender and as you drive through some of the fields, you are at one of the highest points on the island, with magnificent views of the sea on both sides.
After returning back to the flat, and getting cleaned up from the daytime adventures, I knew I needed a martini and some food. So I walked back into Hvar Town, where I was lucky to have found a place just right off of the town square that makes a proper vodka martini (for some reason in some Croatia, many places confuse a vodka martini, with just putting two ounces of warm vermouth into a martini glass). From there I had researched a Konoba, which actually means basement, but is a local, rustic, mainly family run eatery, called Konoba Menego, set on a stairway leading up to the fortress that overlooks the town. I gorged myself on octopus, local greens and super stinky cheeses that blew my mind. After dinner, the server was kind enough to do a grappa tasting with me. By the end of the tasting, I was positive the Biska or mistletoe was my favorite. I also had forgotten my name at that point, so my review of Istrian grappas was probably not the most educated. I made it back to my flat without a care in the world and thanked Hvar for being such an exceptional host to a little Portuguese girl from Toronto.