Soaking up the golden rays on the Island of Brac in Croatia was subliminal. Croatia is sky, sea and mountain. The Dalmatian Coast seems to split open so the visitor falls into a cliff that divides the huge expanse of the Adriatic Sea from the mountainous limestone ridges that are within a 30-minute hike.
According to Lonely Planet, “Brac is famous for two things: its radiant white stone, used to build Diocletian’s Palace in Split (and, depending on whom you believe, the White House in Washington) and Zlatni Rat, the pebbly beach at Bol that extends languidly into the Adriatic and adorns 90% of Croatia’s tourism posters.”
I would add a third thing (the island residents).
I visit Croatia in October 2018 to experience its islands and mountains. We catch the ferry from Makarska and transfer to Bol on the island of Brac as the sun is setting. It is a two-level ferry that also transports cars. I buy a beer and settle into a chair to rest.
According to BracInfo.com, “Island Brac is the largest island of the central Dalmatian group of islands and the third largest among the Adriatic islands.”
It is pitch black when the ferry docks. A van is waiting to whisk us to our hotel. It is hard to see anything on our drive. When we arrive, our guide Mario gives us 30 minutes to change.
Traditional Croatian Meal
We are going to a local restaurant for a privately arranged dinner. It will be served on the terrace. We will eat family-style. First we are served an aperitif then a progression of small dishes. The entrée is a traditional Croatian meal cooked outdoors. Known as a peka or ispod čripnje, it consists of slowed-baked meat, potatoes, carrots, peppers, greens and onions.
In this style of cooking, the chef heats the terracotta or steel lid with burning wood. In Croatia, the outdoor kitchen is known as a “crna kuhinja” (black kitchen). Our restaurant owner cooks in the far corner of his spacious outdoor terrace.
We are seated in an intimate area decorated with paintings and mementos. Long rectangular tables are covered in red checkerboard tablecloths. The crickets are chirping.
Our meat and vegetables slow smoke/bake on a round tray inside the peka which covered in embers. It requires a skilled chef since he can’t simply open the door of the oven to check on how long the meat needs to roast.
Aspects of multiple cultures reflect in Croatian cuisine due to the influence of Greece, Hungary and Italy. Mediterranean herbs feature prominently in Dalmatian dishes, such as basil, rosemary and sage.
As I sample the first morsels of the roasted chicken and spear sections of carrots and potatoes on my fork, I notice there is complete silence. All chatter ceases. Everyone is focused on the intimacy of this shared family-style meal.
I still remember the slightly tipsy walk back to our hotel down Brac’s darkened streets. The only light is the occasional window. It is an ebony-black night where I can only see shadowy grey outlines of houses.
The next morning we awake to see our island home in early morning sunlight. Down below is the turquoise blue sea. We board a van for our 20-minute transfer to the small village of Gazul.
Our group starts our walk climbing through woodland to the peak of Vidova Gora (780m). We ascend 230m to the highest point on Brac Island. The “summit” views from the top of Vidova Gora are mesmerizing. It is the highest peak of all Croatian islands.
I have a panoramic view of the island of Hvar in the distance as well as the 500m long spit of Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape) jutting out to sea in the foreground. The wind is so strong that I hesitate to stand too close to the edge of the cliff. But I do climb around the rocks and alternate places to sit and stand. We eat our lunch at the summit.
From here, our group hikes down a twisting, steep path. It takes us about two hours to reach Bol. We wander along the Zlatni Rat to enjoy the beach restaurants, shopping pavilions and ice cream shops. This may be one of the most photographed beaches in Croatia.
I wish that I could spend a week in Brac to wander the twisting village roads, hike to the summit and lay on the beach. To paraphrase Henry James’ quote about Rome in A Portrait of a Lady:
Everywhere I see “history in the stones of the street and the atoms of the sunshine.”
You lose yourself in Croatia when you embrace her natural geography. Looking toward the sea and knowing that 1,200 islands are scattered like pearls near the Dalmatian Coast, I could be in Greece. But I need only turn my view toward the mountains and I could easily believe that I am gazing at the Swiss Alps.
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