The Drama Queen

Written by  Anita Palada, Edward Kiersh

Photos by Zrinka Balabanić

Much like any love affair between a man and woman, it is often fiery, wounding and devastating.

At other times it is inspiring, enchanting and nurturing.

Bora on Sea
Bora on Sea

Its’ ups and downs are always surprising and whimsical. Never predictable, and prone to be unremittingly mysterious, its’ unleashed forces are wild, untamed, certainly reminiscent of unchecked passion and love.

Nature can be tempestuous, dispiriting, even dangerous, yet it’s also soothing at times, a presence bearing sublime gifts. It must always be seen as a threat with explosive potential, yet Nature also has its’ forgiving side, a gentility and caress that  offers the prospects of abundance, discovery, and new fertile horizons.

Such is the dual nature of this “Drama Queen,” the Bura, the legendary Croatian winds that sweep through the Dalmatian Coast at different times during the year.

Heavy Clouds Over the Island of Pag
Heavy Clouds Over the Island of Pag

It can be a blessing to cheesemakers on the barren island of Pag, delivering salt from the sea to the isle’s pastures—and to herbs such as thyme, sea fennel and sage—which eventually give the sheep’s milk a distinct salty flavor. That saltiness has increasingly earned Paski sir cheese numerous international awards.

Watching this robust cheese being produced in family-owned farms—and sampling several homemade recipes—are certainly a delight. It’s a fabulous family outing, a way to really savor authentic Croatian culture—and to have a “farm to table” experience.

But the “Drama Queen” still looms. While adventure-seeking sailors welcome the gales and gusts, the Bura is also notorious for closing bridges and disrupting life all along the Dalmatian Coast with its hurricane strength 170 km/h winds.

The Sea Stirred by the Bora
The Sea Stirred by the Bora

Again like a lover, its’ bursts can be short-lived. Let still ferocious.

These winds gather strength in the east over the mountains ringing the coast, then roll down the slopes and spin towards the Adriatic flinging outdoor furniture and trees wildly in the air.

That’s the dark side. Funnel-shaped winds. Uproarious seas that challenge even the most skillful sea captains. Swelling gusts coming from very direction.

Colorful Sky
Colorful Sky

It’s that changeability which makes the Bura particularly troublesome. Like some partners or lovers, there’s no reading this Queen—and in Croatia where sailing between magical sun-kissed isles is a chief allure for international travelers, boating can mean great derring-do adventures.

Such spasmodic gusts present (especially in the winter when the Bura rages most intently) bouts with V-shaped winds of incredible speed.

As the “Croatia Full of Life” website advises, “the Bura spreads like a fan. The larger the bay, the larger its’ blowing fan.”

So take heed. Sailing is not easy in the “clash of sea currents.”

No one ever said love is clear sailing.

The Rainbow Over the Sea
The Rainbow Over the Sea

Yet the drama can be taken out of your relationship with this tumultuous Queen.

Simply retreat to a small cove—or a roadside haven when the winds rise up. Watch the storm swirl and then dissipate while enjoying the scenery and the predictable bonding over some refreshments.

With all that energy in the air, the pure electricity, all sorts of intriguing prospects become possible.

Memorable moments amid blackened skies. And yes, even love!

 

Martinis Marchi Room

Escape to Paradise

Written by Anita Palada, Edward Kiersh

Photos by Martinis Marchi Hotel

The tastes of heaven begin with a tangy soup spiced with locally-grown herbs, a “time honored speciality” featuring a rich mix of ravioli and delicacies from the sea.

The Island of Šolta - Maslinica
The Island of Šolta – Maslinica

Always hoping to stir emotions, thoughts of culinary wizardry, and to be faithful to intensely-flavorful homemade” recipes, the young chef looks at me expectantly. Only after I praise the soup, and smile, does he seem relieved, even buoyant.

The consummate host, waiting for my every reaction, Toni Miloš, 35, one my engaging hosts at the Martinis Marchi seaside restaurant on the idyllic Croatian island of Šolta, says “our menu is quite simple…dating back 300 years. We have adapted dishes to modern times but we still use ingredients that are specific to this island. They are very special.”

Martinis Marchi Heritage Hotel
Martinis Marchi Heritage Hotel

So is chef Miloš, and his “simple” yet still creative, Mediterranean dishes— from the brujet cooked in tomato sauce with onions, garlic and parsley; popara with potatoes, carrots and pieces of white fish; to the pheasant prepared in a locally-sourced red wine.

Insisting “all my dishes have their roots in local traditions, the culture close to the magical blue Adriatic (Sea),” Miloš certainly wants to prepare memorable “gastronomic experiences” in his Martinis Marchi castle hotel kitchen.

Listening to the Wind at the Pool
Listening to the Wind at the Pool

But such specialties as homemade ravioli, beef tartare with fermented garlic and chocolate soufflés are also meant to  appeal to travelers “seeking a glorious escape removed from time.” He hopes each dish will inspire lasting emotions, a sense that Croatia is a unique time capsule devoted to intoxicating surprises and pleasures

He succeeds triumphantly. So does this luminous 7-suite boutique hotel that boasts 1500-square meter lodgings, a heated pool, hammam, sauna, and a marina where private excursions can be arranged to whisk you to numerous secluded coves and sandy beaches.

Here indulgences thrive along with a tranquility that first attracted the three  Marchi brothers to Šolta in 1703. Hoping to build a calm, soothing oasis—a bounty of “simplicity combined with pristine nature”—they won permission from Venetian authorities to build a sumptuous summer retreat above the bay of Maslinica one hour from Split.

The Outside Terrace
The Outside Terrace

Intent on creating a shelter against marauding pirates, the brothers wanted a refuge of “light and stillness”—and in that Wellness spirit the hotel is a veritable cocoon surrounded by the sea and a lush Mediterranean garden resplendent with herbs and flowers.

“Our place has a unique historic past and soul, a very positive energy,” says Tihana Mravak Sivić, the hotel manager. “We want guests to really feel at home. We try to honor every request, to turn the impossible into everything is possible—with a smile.”

Such pampering makes it remarkably easy to forget the outside world, to be content simply from listening to the wind at the pool, or to stroll in the adjoining village. Yet if feeling “adventurous,” guests can take the “Martinis Marchi I” Sunseeker Superhawk 50 to the island of Pag to sample its’ internationally-renowned salty sheep cheese. Or they can visit  one of the glorious beaches on Hvar, Brač, and perhaps a winery or two.

Relaxing Terrace Ambient in Evening
Relaxing Terrace Ambient in Evening

Eyeing the ships docked close to the restaurant, Marina Captain Frane Cecić Acosta insists, “Always looking to give guests exciting experiences, we welcome sunsets with champagne, listen to songs when appropriate, and anchor in bays to allow guests to swim.”

Ever nervously looking out towards the Adriatic, Acosta knows the sea is often capricious, yet he adds, “Guests come back. That is a confirmation we are doing our job very well.”

His taking tourists island hopping is a delight. Yet so is Šolta with its’  beekeeping apiaries, olive oil factory, and vineyards with prized Dobričić grapes.

Such exploring allows guests to meet local people, to really immerse themselves in Šolta’s island culture.

Grilled Lobsters
Grilled Lobsters

“We hope guests can connect with  our local surroundings, experience the pristine wilderness,” says Sivić. “We want guests to find total joy there.”

But the greatest joy, if not sitting by the pool, or luxuriating in the hammam, is basking in the comfort of one’s suite. Each of these 7 air-conditioned suites has been tastefully-decorated with armoires, paintings and other furnishings that are meant to rekindle the spirit of the 18th Century. They speak to a refinement the Marchis’ brothers relished—an elegance sorely lacking in most hotels today.

Martinis Marchi Yacht
Martinis Marchi Yacht

So discover the unforgettable.

Escape to the Martinis Marchi.

Olive Oil Škrip

The Beauty of Olive Island

Written by Anita Palada, Edward Kiersh

Photos by Anita Palada

Long before the Mediterranean Diet became a health-enhancing trend, Kruno Cukrov, 50, would stand in his olive tree grove watching scores of sheep eating the grass, and appreciate their giving a special “blessing” to his land.

Proud that he’s using totally organic cultivation methods dating back to the Romans, he insists, “We are respecting a great past, no chemicals, the sheep’s natural fertilizer, picking by hand…”

Olive trees and stone on the island of Brač
Olive trees and stone on the island of Brač

As Kruno bites into a few olives, and shares this bounty with me, it’s understandable why he works slavishly everyday to produce the highest quality extra virgin oil.  Along with feeling a special reverence for his land, he hopes to continue another trend.

His grove on the sun-swept island of Brač, and other small family Croatian cultivators are winning increasing international recognition for their limited quantity oil.

What does Cukrov and his counterparts on the island of Krk, and in the northern region of Istria, have in common?

Kruno Cukrov
Kruno Cukrov

They share a passion for the land, for the verdant trees, for handpicking each olive and pressing them the same day to guarantee the utmost taste.

Recognizing that his 1000 olive trees are a legacy from his grandfather that must be honored, Cukrov calls these trees “mothers.” He feels they give birth to oil with the best balance of fruit and bitterness, along with prized distinct aromas.

So he works. Continuously. Relentlessly. Lovingly. Digging the land around the trees, picking grass and sprouts, even encouraging the sheep to come visit, to give their “blessings.”

Olives trees at Cukrov field
Olive trees at the Cukrov field

As we talk about Brač’s riches—one million-plus trees (mainly Oblica which fare well in drought and wind), and his own trees, Cukrov pauses for a few moments to look at the shimmering blue Adriatic. The views from his elevated property are stunning, certainly part of the excitement that accompanies any visit to the Olive Oil Museum he and his wife Katija built in a charming, restored stone building in Škrip.

His museum, a tribute to 1800’s hand-made production methods, is graced with olive presses, spindles, a fireplace for heating water, and numerous wooden casks.

“This is not just a building that has been declared a cultural asset by the Republic of Croatia,” says Crukov. “It’s a former gathering place of social life that has been completely restored to the spirit of life and customs (of the past)…a spirit best reflected in Katija’s kitchen.”

Katija Cukrov
Katija Cukrov

Yet this cozy kitchen presents a major dilemma. When is it best to savor her sheep and goat cheeses along with olive spreads adorned with almonds, garlic and anchovies?

At the start of a visit to Brač or at the conclusion of a six-kilometer walk that is known as the “Olive Trail”?

Take that excursion. It winds past numerous groves where oil and the local wine can be enjoyed.

Then meet Katija, a maestro in the kitchen. Faithful to traditional recipes, yet still willing to add modern nuances, she combines olives with “capers, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and other Mediterranean ingredients.

Delicious food at Oil Museum

“All these foods and spices are here from time immemorial..but our ancestors ate and combined them differently…we are left to follow tradition and upgrade antique dishes. We just want to give our visitors good taste.”

And good memories of a genuine “farm to table experience.”

Olive Oil Museum
Olive Oil Museum Škrip

So come meet this hard-working couple desperately trying to provide glimpses into authentic Croatian life. Wedded to the soil, and its’ riches, they too are a treasure.

 

 

 

    Welcome to the Love Boat

Written by Anita Palada, Edward Kiersh

Photos: Anita Palada

Always the rogue, the lover of women and their most stunning attributes, the Captain mischievously laughs at his feeling helpless in a “sea of confusion.”

“I kept marveling at the sight in front of me, it was so beautiful, so heavenly,” recalls Tomislav Mravičić – Mito, the captain known throughout Croatia and the Balkans for his “party boat” and wild, often ribald storytelling.

Captain Tomislav Mravičić Mito Makarski Jadran
Tomislav Mravičić Mito

“I couldn’t move. I had gone to get my work permit, told I couldn’t get one, and here was this secretary in a low-cut blouse with this unbelievable cleavage.

“Seeing I was persistent, she took pity on me and gave me a cup of coffee. When handing it to me she bent over me, and seeing so much of her, I had to say, ’they are so beautiful…the most beautiful I have ever seen. So wonderful, so amazing!”

Makarski Jadran
Makarski Jadran

The Captain got his permit—even if the startled secretary spilt her coffee, yelled unprintable words at him—and his life on the sea, looking for mermaids and adventures, began.

That was 30 years ago.

Now Captain Mito is a free-spirited fixture on the alluring Dalmatian Coast. Plying the turquoise waters near Split, Hvar Island, Korcula and Brac, this 70-year-old libertine is known for steering passengers to uninhabited dance parties, gluttonous food feasts, and other wild merriment aboard his ship, the Makarski Jadran

“I can’t talk now,” bellows Mito into the phone, smiling devilishly at me. “Go, go, get some delicious grilled sardines on deck. Can you please put on a new (sea-faring, blue-striped) T-shirt?

Adriatic sea
Life is Wonderful

Then returning to his phone call, he adds, “There is a beautiful lady in my cabin. We are busy. She needs all my attention. Let me take care of ship’s business.”

Laughing uproariously at his own humor, he abruptly ends the phone conversation, and ushers me to the top deck where scores of female passengers have jumped onto tables. Their hips swaying wildly to the beat of loud music, and waving excitedly to onlookers on Bol’s Zlatni Rat beach– a long white sandy expanse—these dancers have ripped off their tops, and exchanged for fo tight-fitting T-shirts. They only want to party, to feel totally liberated.

“I dance too, I know how to create a good mood with giving out T-shirts, but now I must take care of the ship,” says Mito, grinning. “My young sailors also know how to treat  women.”

The Best Life Nearby Sea
Best Life Near the Sea

The sea is so transparent at Zlatni Rat many people on board jump into the water once the ship anchors offshore. I, too, couldn’t resist these warm waters that are so calm, so soothing. So as the seagulls flew over me, and the music from the ship continued to tickle my senses, I swam and swam, never wanting to stop.

Once this swim-n-sardine interlude ended, Mito was again up to his old tricks, shouting at a woman waving from her house.

“Ivanka, here I am, wait for me, I am coming, soon, wait, wait,” he yelled, obviously trying to entertain passengers with his joking, trying to be the King of the Sea.

Between Biokovo Mountain and Adriatic Sea
Between Biokovo Mountain and the Adriatic Sea

“I have a very beautiful, very dangerous wife,” he admits, a woman who is his constant North Star. “I always listen to her. She provides me with wonderful food, a warm bed, and the inspiration to show everyone on my ship memorable good times.”

As the ship sails towards Makarska, and Mito begins to think of the “adventures” that await him at home, he continues to talk about his ship.

“Of course sailors want action. They must keep their distance on the ship, but the summer passes quickly. If they need a day off for love I never ask a question. I just tell them to agree on who will do what, how, and that’s it.

“We have had several cases on board that resulted in marriage. Love flared up, really flared up on this ship. Even my son found love on this ship. He met his wife onboard”.

The suggestion is clear. Mito’s  ships a “Love Boat”

Good Mood on the Boat
Good Mood on the Boat Makarski Jadran

 

Though momentarily at a loss for words, I could understand what Mito meant. This was no ordinary cruise to gorgeous islands. It was a passage that took me back to my past, to my youth, a time when I ached to be in love-to find a soulmate.

Not an ordinary companion, but one I shared my dreams with – one which made that fire flare up. That would be real companionship, exploring and finding joy together.

Don’t we all need that now? Real togetherness, sharing our humanity together. Wouldn’t that help us get though the current storm?

Captain Mito, along with all his jokes and stories, certainly knows all about love. He has certain wisdom. So as I headed home from this momentous day at sea, I kept smiling. I knew I would soon return to the “Love Boat.” Very soon!

Can you catch the sun?
Can You Catch the Sun?

 

Wonders from sheep island!

Written by: Anita Palada, Edward Kiersh

Photos: Tourist Board Kolan, Cheese factory MIH, Cheese producer Šime Oštarić

Grandma Tonica was a risk taker, a woman with a “secret recipe” which she shared with her family—a recipe that is now winning international acclaim.

Back in the 1990s Tonica Pernjak owned a small restaurant on the Croatian island of Pag, otherwise known as “Sheep Island.” Farmers, salt producers and other local people showered her with praise for the hard sheep cheese she hand-made in her basement.

MIH's prized sheep
MIH’s prized sheep

That chorus inspired her. Tired of simply cooking, and hoping to launch a more profitable business that would use old-fashioned cheese production methods, and be environmentally-friendly, Tonica taught her son Dubravko, and later her grandsons, the intricacies of that remarkable recipe— and to have a “passionate” relationship with cheese making.

While she attributes her good health at age 88 to eating “lots of Pag cheese,” Dubravko and his sons learned their lessons well. They devoted themselves to following her recipe to make an indigenous Promenka sheep cheese that is naturally flavored by salt. They also strove to give their cheese various aromatic qualities influenced by the sheep’s grazing on pastures which contained thyme, sea fennel, sage and other herbs.

Treasures await at MIH
Treasures await at MIH

“Tonica had this wonderful dream, the special hands needed to adjust the moisture in the milk, to mold cheese, to really create magic,” insists Šime Baričević, the CEO of MIH SIRANA KOLAN, the Pag company that Tonica’s grandsons Šime and Marin now operate.

“Even though producing cheese on this barren island that is buffeted by strong Bura winds is very difficult work, she remained faithful to her dream. She always prized quality, doing everything by hand, keeping cheese on wooden palettes, not plastic, to increase flavor, and she always preached these lessons to her son and grandsons. She had the dream, they made it happen.”

Now appealing to Paksi Sir cheese connoisseurs in Croatia and other European countries, MIH has grown into a dairy with 550 sheep and 27 employees who are scrupulously schooled to respect Tonica’s revered production techniques. They painstakingly filter, cool, filter again the milk, add dairy cultures, and finally mold the cheese.

But as another Pag Island cheese maker Šime Ostarić says, “anyone making hand-made cheese must inject special energy into cheese, put yourself into the cheese. Cheese making can’t just be for money. Your hands must show love.”

MIH Beauties on Display
MIH Beauties on Display

Baričević is certainly passionate about MIh’s “unique” and highly-lauded Tartufin, or black truffle cheese.

“While all of our products are the result of our special environment close to the sea, our truffle cheese is unrivaled. We only use the choicest black truffles from Istria, so the smell is fantastic. This hard cow cheese made from Pag curd has black truffle aftertaste that is just superior, a cheese that shows our commitment to pure old-fashioned quality.”

MIH Cheese Makers
MIH Cheese Makers

Compared to the island’s largest cheese company Paksi Sirana, MIH with its’ 550 sheep is a relatively small company. That allows MIH to maintain the highest quality, and to make other artisanal cheeses such as Otancan, a cow and sheep cheese, and Kolanjac, a cow cheese. Both are also highly-regarded by aficionados.

Yet on Pig  where scores of small producers offer tourists a selection of homemade cheeses on their farms and in Kolan houses, Šime Oštarić is a one-man, boutique cheese maker.

“Of course I want to profit from my work,” say this 31-year-old who only owns 50 sheep on his small farm near Kolan. “But i do this very hard work because I really do love the whole process.”

Artisan Šime Oštarić at work
Artisan Šime Oštarić at work

“My mother Maria taught me everything I know about cheese making. I’d come home from milking the sheep, and she’d patiently explain all of her secrets to me. That’s what cheese making is, secrets, your hands, your love, and also knowing the wind here, the ferocious wind here.

“The Bura can be very cruel, drying the land, and making it hard for the sheep to eat. Then I have to buy corn for them and hope. Hope to survive, and to show people that my cheese is made my way with the greatest of love.”

 

   Pig Heaven

Written by Anita Palada, Edward Kiersh

Photos: Anita Palada, Hotel Marmont

Mr. Pig is very muddy.

It’s been raining in this heavily-forested, northeastern part of Croatia near  Lika, and finding acorns on the pastures close to the Korana River means lots of scampering through the mud.

Black Pig
Black Pig

He runs, jumps, sniffs a lot, burrowing his pink nose deep into the ground. Mr. Pig is very determined, seemingly aware that being a member of his very elite Black Pig fraternity carries great responsibilities.

My Secret and Secluded Cove

Written by Anita Palada, Edward Kiersh

Photos: Anita Palada

How do I escape the madness, soothe my restless soul? What do I do when the world seems upside-down, torn from its’ axis, and feel like many of you do right now, that the stress keeps mounting, and is too overpowering?

I flee.

 

Determined to be child-like again, to play, and to discover an entirely new reality, I escape to a place that is all mine.

My secret and secluded cove. My very own smooth stone on the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia.

It’s a stone that allows me to be free, at least for some precious moments. A stone that even lets me follow the paths of mermaids swimming offshore. I am so alive here, so entranced that I can see the long tails of these mermaids flapping in the deep blue sea. Her hair shines in the blazing sun, and she glides so beautifully, it’s easy to understand why passing fishermen yell to her, desperate to embrace her magic.

Yet this cove with so many other-worldly powers is still secret. It is not so easy to get to. There are so many large boulders in this wild, untamed place, so many rocks blocking my path. They make it so difficult to see the transparent sea, and its’ playful, glimmering fishes.

We all encounter boulders in our life, insecurities and various obstacles—so there is only one choice—we push ahead, we remain determined, ever courageous.

I jump from boulder to boulder, and my imagination gives me new confidence. I can’t fall, and so with each strong leap, I edge closer to my cove, my stone.

Once I finally feel its’ warmth, its’ hugs, my eyes start to wander, to explore all the shades of gold, blue and green surrounding me.

Pine trees.

The clear, uplifting blue sky.

The limitless horizon.

My soul soars, comes alive. So do my secret desires and fantasies.

I am young again. Reborn and renewed.

Of course I never want to leave this paradise.

But there is still one unresolved mystery.

As I sit on my stone, and watch the golden sun caress the water, I keep wondering,

“Will she appear today and take me to places only a mermaid can visit?”

There is only one answer. I better stay here a little longer, just a bit longer, to wait for her. To dream.