On a week-long trip to Croatia in August, IgoUgo Editorial Director and photo junkie Cameron Siewert faced her worst travel fear: the death of her camera. With a little help from her travel companions, she made a full recovery—and returned to show and tell.
The night I arrived in Croatia, my camera died. It didn’t die suddenly, but slowly and painfully, the image on the viewfinder first taking on a curious red hue and then melting into bloody smears. I was devastated. One need only see a single picture of the country’s gorgeous, white-on-azure landscapes to understand why, and I considered the tragedy on par with arriving to find no hotel reservation on record...or no hotel, for that matter.
Luckily, I had amazing friends accompanying me on the trip: one relinquished custody of his brand-new camera for the whole week to quell my sorrows. This postcard’s for you, John.
We arrived on a starry Tuesday night in Split, where we happily engaged our tastebuds (with Dalmatian cheese, cured anchovies, and meaty pršut) and, shortly thereafter, our sleep cycles (at Al’s Place). We were early to rise the next morning and headed out to wander through Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the former retirement home of Emperor Diocletian (its ancient facades and stone streets now make up Split’s city center). The highlight was a trip to the top of the Bell Tower of St. Domnius, where we relished views like the one above.
Before departing, we wandered through Split’s sprawling marketplace. I was especially enamored of the fresh produce, homemade sauerkraut sold in plastic buckets, and meat and cheese stands. We enjoyed a fantastic lunch at Pizzeria Galija before boarding the Jadrolinija ferry to our home for the rest of the week: Ivan Dolac, on the south side of the island of Hvar.
After a pleasant 2-hour ferry ride, we approached Hvar to see dark, thick smoke billowing out of the mountains. Fires had begun the previous day and were spreading from the south to the north side of the island; helicopters swinging giant buckets of sea water flew overhead, dousing the fires. We were lucky to be staying in an area of the island where no fire damage had occurred. Off the ferry, we hopped into our rental car and set out on a 30-minute drive to Ivan Dolac.
Halfway through our drive, we reached the entrance to Tunel Pitve. A tunnel literally blasted through the mountains, it’s dark and cave-like inside—and just wide enough for cars to proceed through from one direction while cars on the other side wait for their turn. The drive through the tunnel takes a mere 4 minutes, but the reward on the other side seems worthy of much more.
Views like this unfolded before us as we descended down the winding, white-knuckle roads leading to our town. We made it in one piece, but some drivers, it seemed, weren’t so lucky.
We arrived in Ivan Dolac to find a quiet, lovely village on the sea. As the sun set (and we barreled down many a steep gravel road, trying to find our house), families, groups of young people, and couples had retired to the patios of their rental apartments; lights twinkled here and there, and the quiet was disturbed only by an occasional peal of laughter and children’s shouts. It was the end of high season, and the village seemed to have settled into a pleasant lull.
We had arranged to stay in the only full rental house in Ivan Dolac (or so we learned), Villa Sani, a four-bedroom, three-bathroom villa with a spacious patio off the living area and tiny balconies adjoining each bedroom. Ines Vukasovic, who owns the house with her husband, Boris, greeted us in front of the house; she, her mother-in-law, and her two children stayed in the lower-level apartment for the week, and Ines was always available to give suggestions, answer questions, and help us with anything we needed.
Needless to say, we settled right into a comfortable routine of rising early (whoever woke first was on “bakery duty,” which entailed walking down to the tiny bakery on the main road and stocking up on delicious, homemade jam donuts), lounging on the gorgeous beaches, enjoying fantastic Dalmatian dinners in the evening, and sharing wine on our patio (usually followed by a tipsy skinny-dip in the Adriatic). But the best days were those when we had dinner at Villa Conte, the house right behind ours. Owned by the local Caric family, Villa Conte houses seven spacious, well-appointed apartments and an outdoor dining area where Mrs. Caric prepares dinner each night with ingredients grown in her own garden, served alongside wines and aperitifs from the family’s vineyards. With a day’s notice and a short talk with Mrs. Caric about the menu, we were able to join them for dinner twice during our stay.
That’s because the first dinner necessitated the second: velvety tomato soup, tangy tomato and cucumber salad, potatoes, roasted eggplant, and the most amazingly moist, meaty, perfectly seasoned grilled whole fish (the local white fish, komarca) that I’ve ever tasted. We made a quick business of demolishing them. Our next dinner showcased a traditional Dalmatian cooking technique: roasting meat or seafood in a giant clay pot called a peka, which is buried under coals and left for 4-5 hours. We chose whole calamari for our peka, paired with roasted red peppers sprinkled with a confetti of garlic. Both dinners lasted through 3 hours and as many bottles of wine as we chatted with the Caric family and soaked up the warm evening breezes.
On one of our last days in Ivan Dolac, we signed on with a local boatman for a day-long excursion to the Green Cave (above) and the Blue Cave, one of Croatia’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders where light reflects off the bottom of the cave, setting it aglow in electric blue. We spent the morning swimming in a sea of unreal blues and greens before stopping for lunch in Komiža, a tiny port town on the island of Vis, a former military base relatively untouched by tourism and known for its gastronomic specialties.
Komiža was enchanting: the sparkling water, perfectly intact Dalmatian architecture, and blissful stillness left us wishing we had more time to explore. These feelings only intensified with the steady downward spiral that the excursion entered soon after; read a complete account of the madness at The Window Seat.
We left Croatia reluctantly, wistful about the time we’d spent easing into everyday life, getting to know the locals, and eating like royalty (a luxury we are rarely able to afford). Though I came home with a few mementos—all of them edible—what meant the most were the 500+ photos I returned with, each one a tiny moment of our trip frozen in time. And I felt lucky to return to a place where I could share them.
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