By Anna Tucker
As the season slowly dwindles on the Croatian coast, so does life round here, giving off, to the unaware observer, the impression that all has come to a halt. However, this time of the year is in fact the perfect opportunity to explore the more authentic face of a region whose main allure shifts from the now empty beaches to its many enchanting features, which remain otherwise elusive amongst the bustle of tourists in peak seasons…
And this is how we discovered Brač, or more precisely its spectacular southern part, stripped bare of tourists and revealed in its full late fall splendour.
Spending the morning aboard the Bel Ami, a classic two-masted beauty with a character as big as her captain’s, the notoriously loquacious Zeljko Cikatic aka Cika Pila, who recounted story after story spanning back to as far as 1931, when the ship was first built, was the perfect way to set sail on a wonderful journey that would reveal this island’s fascinating stories of the persistence of life in its harsh yet rewarding surroundings, as well as it’s rich natural and cultural heritage.
Starting off from Split’s west coast in the wee hours of the morning, we passed by a tuna farm, just in time to witness the most spectacular view of hundreds of seagulls joining in on the feast of a tuna feeding frenzy.
A few miles later we arrived at Popova Vala, a small bay in the southern part of the island, from where we started our half-hour hike through a newly sprouting pine forest and up a rocky path to the Blaca hermitage, a secluded monastery founded by 2 monks of the Glagolitic order who were fleeing the Turkish invasion in 1551.
Originally a cave in the middle of a steep karst mountain, the story of its 400-year transformation from a simple refuge and a place of solitary contemplation to one of the island’s spiritual, educational and economic centres and, ultimately, a relevant observatory, stands as testimony to human perseverance and provides historical insight into a region where only hard work and combined collective efforts could not only sustain life, but spur human ingenuity and creativity, even in the harshest of environments.
Another 30 minute hike uphill and we found ourselves on Vidova Gora, the highest peak in the Adriatic archipelago. At 780 m above sea level, this point reveals the most spectacular view of Brač’s famous Zlatni rat beach and the surrounding islands of Hvar, Korčula, Vis, Biševo and Jabuka.
From there, we continued our tour on bikes down a path that was at times dangerously steep and curvy to the village of Dračevice. Our physical efforts were amply rewarded by the wonderful wine tasting experience at the Senjković winery where Saša, the 3rd generation of wine makers, introduced us to their three exhilarating variations of Plavac mali, while his lovely wife Magdalena took us on an exciting gastronomic tour through Brač with her perfectly paired bite-sized Croatian dishes. Their wines, as well as Magdalena’s delicious food, all infused with an uninhibited dose of youth, creativity and boldness, perfectly reflect their efforts to pave the way to an immensely exciting and authentic local food & wine scene while keeping true to their family tradition and natural surroundings.
Ending the day with a more traditional Dalmatian dinner at a nearby konoba and the evening sail back to Split made us all feel that we had only just begun discovering Brač and strengthened our determination to return back for more – hopefully before summer!