When we decided to visit Southern Dalmatia a couple of weekends ago we expected it to mean a prolonged summer break. As it turned out, the weather wasn’t quite as fabulous as we’d hoped for. It was a good thing we didn’t need it to be A+ for what we were after: some good fish-based meals, the lovely plavac (a.k.a. zinfandel’s child) and a leisurely rediscovering of the area. A simple break from the norm.
(Almost) Everything was just as we remembered from our last stay some five or so years ago. The scenery is mostly unchanged which is great, the sea is very much blue and the beaches almost deserted. Low season indeed.
Despite its misleading shape and form Peljesac is in fact a peninsula, which means it’s accessible by road. This is a helpful bit of information if one plans a short break as it means no waiting in lines for dull, somewhat expensive and long(ish) ferry rides. Its landscape is also beautifully rough, very much karst and Dalmatian and it’s dotted with cosy little villages and towns. No resorts here.
A definite must-visit on the peninsula are the lovely little coastal towns of Mali Ston and Ston each located on the opposite shores of the peninsula and connected with ancient fortified walls running up and down along the slopes that divide the two towns. For the fit and ready there’s the annual wall marathon where the walls are actually a running field. The experience (not to mention incredible views) must be unforgettable.
Turn left at the crossing were Peljesac meets the mainland and you’re headed in the direction of Bosnia (its coast is only about 20 kilometres long) and further up to the northern part of Croatian coast. Turn right and you’re less than an hour drive to Dubrovnik, the gem town of ancient age and glorious history. So, there’s plenty of day-trip options in all directions.
The views from the road on the way to Dubrovnik reminded me a bit of Amalfi coast. This also is a land where lemons grow (and pomegranates and quinces and the lot). Along the way one can stop by the road and enjoy the views over the sea to the near-by islands like Mljet or Lopud. The traveller should by all means make a stop at Trsteno, a village perched on both sides of the main road. There are several reasons for that. The locals are proud of their 16th century plane trees that are possibly the largest in Europe. What’s not to miss is the arboretum. It’s the only Mediterranean garden of its kind along the Croatian coast, which is quite surprising considering its length.
Its villa (regretfully in a poor shape) and the pavilion have the most fantastic location: amidst the lush greenery and with unbeatable views over the Adriatic. There are many pleasant alcoves in the garden where you can rest and enjoy the peace and quiet or the songbird or the sounds of the wind caught high up in slender palm trees. Or you can meander around its cultivated terraces. There’s also a gorgeous baroque Neptune fountain with its own private aqueduct built to supply it with water.
When we were there there was a stall, well, it was more a folding table, outside the entrance where a grey-haired man was selling homemade delicacies: jams, liqueurs, dried fruit and herbs. During our brief encounter we learned about his strict wife forbidding him to offer the customers tastings but he nevertheless insisted we try the refreshing arancini (so good!), the tenderest dried figs I’ve ever eaten and the various kinds of liqueurs. We left with a bag full of good stuff, the most medicinal being the sage liqueur. Quite exquisite.
Which reminds me: it’s the fig season! Or rather, it is still the fig season. The fantastic smell winding magically around the fig trees and from behind stonewalls in the coastal regions of Mediterranean has compressed into sensual fruit. Grab it while you still can.
I think fondly of those happy moments, lacing our summer trips, when we notice we pass a fig tree only after its head-swirling perfume fills our noses. For me, it represents hot syrupy days under scorching sun, quasi fresh early mornings of bright yellow, smells of macchia and distant sea, stains of red soil on the white rocks, and all the nuances of a clear, never-ending sky.
When you have a bunch of figs, small or not so small, violet or green, that are sadly not as sweet and tasty as you’d want them to be, despair not. Make the best of them by roasting them.
It’s a simple and delicious dessert (or a sweetspoon if you happen to eat it directly out of the roasting dish). This is how I make it:
– Preheat the oven to 200°C
– Cut the figs in half from top to bottom
– Place on a roasting dish cut side up
– Add 1-2 dcl of red wine depending on the size of the dish
– Add some freshly grated ginger
– Add lemon zest strips
– Add ground coriander or cardamom
– Add a little bit of brown sugar or (even better) a drizzle of honey (make sure all of the spices reach the wine as well not only the fruit)
– Squeeze half a lemon over everything
– Roast for 30 minutes.
I like to eat them when they’re still warm but they are very good when cool as well. Summer in the bowl.
Did we make it to Dubrovnik? Certainly, for the umpteenth time. How was it? If you haven’t been go. If you’d seen it before, keep the happy memories and go some place else. I believe there are other beautiful places to discover. This one’s gotten too polished and superficial. It’s cat friendly though.
Kinookus – very interesting film festival in Ston on food production accompanied by Cinelokus, an organic food open-air market
Grgić winery, Trstenik, Pelješac The Napa Valley wine-maker’s estate in Croatia
Restaurant Orsan, Dubrovnik A proper Dalmatian restaurant, real food, good service, away from the crowds