In Croatia, An Ancient Paradise Beckons
“It’s like the new Riviera, except you don’t have to be rich.”
We are relaxing after a meal at L’Abattoir, an industrial-chic restaurant in Vancouver’s trendy Gastown, with a glass of Stina Plavac Mali.
My dinner companion Alice, an entrepreneur who runs a faddish boutique juice business, is raving about the Island of Brač, where Stina wine is made.
We met here to debrief after her romantic tryst floundered on a remote island in the middle of the Adriatic Sea.
However, the aborted romance is of doubtless concern to her at this moment, at least not that romance.
But love is in the air.
She cannot escape her feelings for this hidden paradise off the coast of Croatia, a mountainous, sun-baked terra rosa set in the cobalt waters of the Adriatic Sea.
Brač Stone – Foundations Of Wine Making
For centuries the region has beckoned to the poets, mystics and the global elite of the day.
In the 3rd century, Roman Emperor Diocletian set his heart on retiring in the area of what is now the City of Split, located across the Brač Channel on the Dalmatian mainland.
Diocletian so loved his Adriatic land of “peace and happiness” that after being asked to return to Rome to resolve a political crisis he refused, remarking that he could never return to the “storms of a never-satisfied greed.”
The stone used to build the ancient Roman equivalent of a dream house were quarried up the road from the Stina Cellar, where Alice’s mystery man took her for their first (and last) date, in the Brač town of Bol.
“The stone was also used to make the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France,” an innocuous factoid she slips in to appeal to my inner history buff.
“And, it’s the main ingredient in Stina, well, besides the grapes,” she laughs, a hint of mauve has started to encircle her lips.
Croatia – The Pearl Of The Adriatic
The white stone is what makes the soil special, a fitting reference considering that Lord Byron once referred to coastal Croatia as the “pearl of Adriatic.”
Holding court in L’Abattoir’s brick-and-beam style dining room, Alice, a petite, red-haired cross between Jessica Chastian and Mary Magdalene, laughs easily at her ill-fated romance on this enigmatic Shangri-la and yet thirsty to share her affection for Brač and its treasures.
“Take heed,” she warns, quoting an infamous Croatian local while pouring another glass of Stina.
“You won’t feel just one glass; you won’t feel a thing after two.”
Characterizing Brač (pronounced – bratch) as a “haven for the one-percent and the starving artist,” Alice said, “nobody cares if you’re the richest man on the planet, during fjaka, even Jeff Bezos has to wait for his coffee.”
The glint in her eyes tells me there is possibly more to this mention of the super rich, but I don’t enquire further.
The Dalmatian Way of Life
On the Island of Brač, earth and water—and over 200 days of annual sunlight—have pooled their resources to create a perfect haven of beauty.
Familiar faces from the silver screen are not an uncommon sight on Brač and her sister island of Hvar. Whispers of Brad Pitt, Bono and company, occur on a semi-regular basis, though the gilded class receives no special treatment.
After all, they’re just like us.
“And apparently the summers can get quite wild,” Alice says with a wink, followed by a healthy quaff of Plavac Mali. “The parties last until dawn, with everybody singing, and dancing and roaving the streets deep into the night—or so I’m told,” she says with an impish grin.
However, as much as they like to party the Dalmatians also love their rest. After I’m educated on the Dalmatian concept of fjaka—loosely translated as a relaxed sleepiness and similar to a siesta but with a South-Slavic spin—I’m sold on the place.
Picture the piazza on the porch of the Church of Saint Peter in Supetar. It’s walls built with polished limestone mined from a quarry nearby. An old man smokes in the cool shade of the clock tower; a lone child skips along the portico in pursuit of an ambivalent pidgeon. Time has ceased regular function, at least in any hurried, Western paced conception.
A sort of meta-consciousness descends upon the region. People do and they do not. In the summer heat (and the winter too) a psychophysical state of natural narcotic materialises and takes hold.
Wine – Grown On The Limestone Slopes
“My friend took me on a tour of Hermitage Blanca, a monastery built into the side of a mountain near Murvica where one of Stina’s two vineyards is located.”
“Croatian wine dates back to the Ancient Greek settlers who arrived in the 5th-century BC—wine skills in tow—on the shores of the Adriatic. Their Plavac vineyards”, pointing to the bottle of Stina that we have demolished, “grow on these cliffs facing the south and the wind.”
The conditions on the island are optimal for growing premium grape varietals. The Adriatic offers a bounty of both strong wind and hot sun which significantly adds to the quality of the grape as well as the consistency of the yield, year-after-year. The weather has also done a great deal to keep disease and insects at bay.
As our evening draws to a close my companions shares with me one final story.
“We were driving around the island, along this road cut into the side of the limestone cliff. Down below I can see the little towns, island clusters of the orange-tiled-houses line the coves and inlets. Bunches of Aleppo pine reach toward Elysium; the warm wind hits my face. The most beautiful sunset you have ever seen. The road zig-zags along the coast and I can’t help but think I’m in the right place. You know that feeling? Like somehow, here on the right side fo paradise, you’re free. When you’re staring at the most beautiful thing in the entire world.”
As I stare deep into her amethyst coloured eyes, enraptured from the wine and the conversation and the view I catch for a moment, something of the eternal beauty of the Adriatic that she has been describing for the past few hours.
And I say, “At this moment in eternity, I know precisely what you mean.”