The Dolphin Suites, Veli Lošinj

The Dolphin Suites, Veli Lošinj

After a long hiatus from travel, and after getting our second vaccinations, we decided to do a bit of exploring this summer. Croatia has managed the pandemic well, so far and so we felt comfortable about beginning to explore where we live. Travel in the past has usually involved flights, ferries and/or long car journeys. This one, in August, involved a car journey and a ferry – although to be fair, we’re now located right next to the northern Croatian islands, so a ferry to Cres island, lasting only 20 minutes, was more than bearable.

The kind of accommodation was really difficult to secure in August. I have a rule of thumb – if where we are intending to stay, doesn’t look at least as nice as where we live, we look elsewhere. And, with travel having recently opened again up to Croatia, a lot of European travellers clearly had the same idea. Lošinj was our island of choice as we’d heard great things about, but were beginning to think we’d need to change our plans and look elsewhere as good availability was a real scarcity. Then I found The Dolphin Suites, in the very picturesque harbour town of Veli Lošinj and made a booking immediately, for The Garden Suite, a self contained apartment with outdoor space and access to the main pool and gardens. It’s definitely been one of our better finds!

The old schoolhouse has been beautifully, and very sensitively, renovated. Now an elegant villa style building, it is enclosed by a a high wall and therefore is very private – despite being in the centre of the small harbour town. The outdoor areas are immaculate. Scrupulously clean red sun loungers, and umbrellas, fringe the pool. Which is one of the prettiest pools I’ve seen. It’s an original tiled pool – very retro – and so lovely because it doesn’t have that false bright blue hue to it. There’s an Indonesian vibe going on, with Buddha statues half hidden behind huge potted plants. At night, this area is particularly pretty, as it’s lit up.

Technically bed and breakfast, this boutique accommodation also offers evening food – more of which later, as it deserves a paragraph of its own. Breakfast is buffet style, but because of ongoing Covid restrictions, it actually became a very leisurely affair. A daily menu (which doesn’t change but doesn’t need to as it is very extensive) of what is available is delivered to your breakfast table – on the terrace, above the pool – and you just tick whatever you want. However much you want. And, as often as you want. The breakfasts we had here were up there amongst the very best we’ve had. Options included smoothies, fresh juices, teas, coffees, granola, cold meats, cheese selection and fresh fruit. The hot selection is quite simply, outstanding – particular favourites of ours were the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and the avocado. Both are served on homemade granary/nutty toast and garnished with thin slivers of tomato and spring onion. And, the portions are large. Very large.

So, to that evening food. Because we found The Dolphin Suites to be so utterly relaxing, on a couple of occasions we left the pool area quite late and didn’t fancy moving too far from our little Garden Suite. I was told that they offered a “bar snack” selection in the evening and so on the first night we chose to opt for this, we thought we’d get not much more than crisps, nuts etc.

Oh, my word. How wrong were we?

Forget bar snacks, and think more exceptionally well cooked, innovative and beautifully presented street food. Over the course of our stay, we actually ate here three nights – obviously meaning that we do need to return to Veli Lošinj, to closer explore the restaurants. The manager – a lovely, lovely Dutch guy called Marnix – has completely nailed it, we think, on the food front. We tried a variety of dishes. On the first night, we went a bit tapas style with mixed cheeses, olives, veggie nachos, potatoes and dips, and it was more than enough. But our interest had been piqued by the mention on the menu of Flammkuchen, described to us as kind of German pizza. A bit more delving and we discovered that flammekueche, or tarte flambée, is a speciality of the region of Alsace in France, on the German border. It is composed of bread dough rolled out very thinly in the shape of a rectangle or oval, which is covered with fromage blanc or crème fraîche, and then toppings added. Similar to a white pizza, but also very different. The toppings we chose were rocket, rocquefort & pear and proscuitto, feta & rocket. Astoundingly delicious. And, absolutely nothing what we imagined a “German pizza” was going to be…

As were eating our Flammkuchen, a couple at a nearby table were served something with such a delicious aroma that we had to ask about it. “Stew”. Now, I love a stew, so I was sold on this and decided on our last night, we’d eat here again and try this. Also on the menu was Indonesian Chicken Soup, so we thought in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound. We do largely stick to a vegetarian diet but can sometimes be swayed by a good meat dish – and these were very, very good. The soup was wonderfully spicy, with lean, lean chicken fillet pieces – replicated a few times since we’ve returned. And the stew – oh, wow. The tenderest, tenderest cubes of beef, in a rich wine sauce, with potatoes and carrots – and served in a hollowed out bun. A great touch, as it soaked up the juices. No photos of these dishes however, as they were wolfed down so quickly. Testimony to how good they were. So, there you go – “bar food”…

The privacy afforded by the Garden Suite was perfect for us. All other rooms are accessed via the main reception, but we were able to just head around the corner and into our own space. No meeting other people, unless we wanted to. And with a little outside area, with very comfy furniture, which was perfect for an early evening vino and a listen to our own music. The room was spacious and like the rest of the accommodation, sparklingly clean. The shower was powerful and very spacious and the toilet was separate to the washing area. We have absolutely no complaints about the level of accommodation – and we (“I”) am very fussy – and would more than happily return to this suite.

Photos : www.booking.com

Photos : www.booking.com

Parking is free of charge, in a public (but very safe) car park nearby, and the harbour is a ten minute walk away from The Dolphin Suites. Veli Lošinj is tiny – the port, which is where you’d want to be, can be explored in under an hour. But you would then want to re-explore and re-visit as it’s just so very beautiful. We’re now looking forward to returning to the island in the autumn, to discover what life is like, when it’s not quite as hot…

Vrbnik, Krk Island, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk Island, Croatia

This was originally posted in August 2019, so all pre-Covid, when we could all travel much more freely…

As well as family and friends coming out to visit us in Istria, we now have the opportunity to meet up with people who come to Croatia on holiday. We still find this very exciting as we get the best of both worlds – entertaining and travelling. Good friends from Didsbury were returning to Croatia, this summer, for the second year running and their final destination on their island hopping trip, was Krk. As we can reach Krk in about 90 minutes, we arranged to drive over and spend an evening with them, in the beautiful little town on Vrbnik, on the eastern side of the island.

Krk is a very accessible island. It can be reached by one of the many ferries which cross between the northern islands, or from Istria, there is a roadbridge from Rijeka. You pay to cross to Krk but not when you leave. Once on the island, roads are very good and because the island is small, you can tour it quite easily in a day. On this visit, our destination was Vrbnik and the road took us through vineyards and crop fields and around the bay of Soline, famous for its salt pans which date back to the pre Roman period, and healing black mud. It’s quite a sight to drive around the bay and see people wading ankle-deep in the shallow waters, plastering themselves in the mineral-laden black mud…

Vrbnik was first mentioned in 1100, and is thought to be one of the oldest towns on the island. Its inhabitants were mainly farmers, then navigators and fishermen, but today the most important product is its golden yellow wine – the Žlahtina. Originally a walled town, it is situated 50 metres above the Adriatic Sea on a dramatic limestone outcrop – and now is a labyrinth of winding cobbled streets. Including, allegedly, the narrowest street in the world – Klančića passage – only 17 inches wide…

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

There are approximately 1000 full time inhabitants in Vrbnik, as well as numerous holiday apartments in the middle of the old town – but we have absolutely no idea how anyone manages to get any furnishings into these properties. I imagine even getting back from the car with a load of shopping would prove to be a challenge! However, the narrow streets and tiny doorways and windows and quirky architectural features, make this town an unmissable delight.

Many of the beautiful old dwellings have been refurbished and are now boutique style accommodation or very pretty shops, many selling traditional arts and crafts, olive oils and the famous Žlahtina wine. We bought a couple of litres of this from a very tiny winery, straight out of a cooling stainless steel wine tank. Can’t say it lasted too long, but it was very nice!

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Because Vrbnik is perched on the top of a cliff, the drops down to the sea are stunning. As with most of Croatia, there are very, very few sandy beaches. Most coves and beaches are either rocky or pebbly and many are only accessible by boat. Even if you don’t get down to any of these beaches, we’d recommend just soaking up the azure blue waters below. As clean as a whistle and supposedly populated with dolphins. Although sadly, they didn’t make an appearance when we were there.

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Every corner you turn around, reveals another sight to behold. I loved this door, with the utterly gorgeous metal frame, affording both beauty and privacy. I think it’s an idea I might like to incorporate somewhere along the line…

Vrbnik. Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

The city walls are still remarkably intact in places, with fully formed turrets, reminding you that this was obviously once a town which was in danger of attack. Also within the city walls, you can still walk through the doorways – which are so small. Hundreds of years ago, people must have been very short of stature.

Whenever we used to go on holiday, usually to Greek islands and so islands quite like Krk, we always used to wish we could stay and not have to return to the rainy north west. Now, that has become a reality. It is now very surreal leaving such an idyllic location and knowing that we are now returning to the house we’ve been renovating. Sometimes dreams do come true…

property for sale in istria, house for sale in istria, renovated stone house for sale, istria

And, if you have dreams of moving somewhere idyllic – or owning a holiday home – you may be in luck, as we have now found another property, very close by to renovate. Meaning that our current home (above), located in northern Istria near the borders with Slovenia and Italy, is for sale…

 

 

 

The Village in Istria That Time Forgot…

The Village in Istria That Time Forgot…

We had hoped that over Christmas we’d be beavering away, updating our websites and that we’d jump into the new year with a whole new look. Well, you know how these things go – a road trip back to England, much catching up with family and friends, and far too much excellent food and wine – and things website wise haven’t quite gone quite to plan. Yet. But, we’re now back in Istria and it’s full steam ahead – but until all is ready to go, we’re still blogging about our favourite things here…

So, jump back to the beginning of December and we decided to explore a track, off the road down the mountain from Oprtalj to Livade. We’ve been seeing a bit of action recently on this track – new signs, trucks, evidence of the road being improved so guessed there was something interesting at the end of it, or that it might actually lead somewhere. And, wow, it certainly did! To an abandoned village, where there are most definitely signs of new life emerging.

Electricity connections are in evidence, as are water connections and a couple of the properties have clearly had work done on them recently. One house has a completely new red tiled roof, and another seems to have had new windows fitted fairly recently. But, and it’s a big but, the village is a long way from being habitable. So, on the day, we explored, we had the village completely to ourselves…

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

The houses aren’t roped off. There are no health and safety signs. So, being very, very, very careful you can get to see them very close-up. Floors – where they still exist – are very precarious – but it was just too tempting not to get inside and take some photos. If nothing is done to restore these properties, in the not too distant future, they won’t be standing anymore, and so it feels important, in a very small way, to get a record of them. Now.

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

And, when you do get close up, you see the faded paintwork. You can only imagine how vibrant the blue must have been when this house was alive and full of people.

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

Abandoned village, Istria, Croatia

The houses in the village are huge. They must have been lived in by wealthy people – people who could afford to build halfway up a mountain with vistas across the Istrian valleys, up to Motovun and away to the Adriatic. People who then left. Or were forced to leave…

Abandoned village, Istria, Croatia

One of the houses was a little safer than others, to get inside. The floors were mostly in place and something caught my eye, so I couldn’t resist a sneak peek…

Abandoned village, Istria, Croatia

Just look at that elaborate paintwork and frescoes! Astonishingly well preserved given the state of the building. It was amazing actually being inside and looking up, down and all around. The ceiling was beautifully painted with delicate patterns and with an almost intact ceiling rose – although I couldn’t get a decent enough photo of this, as the floorboards in the centre of the room looked a lot more precarious.

So, my hunt is on to find out about this abandoned village. You’d think it wouldn’t be too hard given that some kind of renovation work has started, but it’s not marked on any local maps and google maps doesn’t throw up any obvious clues. I will find out about its history but if anyone reading, knows anything about this abandoned village, I’d love to know.

The Frescoes of Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of Draguć, Istria

In northern Istria, is the small village of Draguć, somewhere I’d never heard of, let alone been to, until this summer. That’s the beauty of Istria. It’s a small peninsula and so I guess that once people who visit have been to the big-hitters – Rovinj, Porec, Pula, Motovun, Grožnjan, Rabac, Opatija – they might think they’ve “done” Istria. Not at all. The surface hasn’t even been scratched. There’s no denying the places mentioned above are stunning and all are well worth a visit, if not an extended stay. But sometimes, it’s the little towns and villages, high up in the hills, or tucked away on winding coastal roads, that are the real jewels in the crown.

In the summer we were driving back from the eastern coast towards Pazin, and saw in the distance, a village perched at the top of a hill. We see lots of these and you can’t stop at them all, but my eagle-eyed sister felt there was something a bit special about this one and so did a quick Google search – resulting in the car being turned around.

When we arrived, although it was the height of summer, it wasn’t thronged with tourists. A few people were wandering around, snapping away at the historic buildings, the Croatian cats curled up in planters, or stretched out on the cobbles, the painted shutters etc. All was quiet – and very, very beautiful. We’d read on Google about the House of Frescoes and were intrigued. Although it wasn’t quite what we’d imagined when we visited it – we thought it would literally be a house, full of frescoes – it was very informative and led to us stumbling upon something so spectacular that I still can’t believe we got up, so close and personal, to it.

The House of Frescoes was opened in the old school building in Draguć, a combined project of the Istrian Region, the Cerovlje Municipality, the Italian Veneto Region and the Croatian Ministry of Culture. They all recognized the importance of mural painting in Istria, a specific phenomenon of cultural heritage whose preservation and presentation requires significant effort and particular expertise. Although there is much more to the building, we were fascinated by the virtual tour of the churches in Istria, which were covered in ancient frescoes, quite a number being in the Draguć area. These churches, for obvious reasons, aren’t open to the general public as a matter of course, but you can have a guided tour, free of charge. Imagine that back in the UK – free of charge! And this was how we got to see inside the Church of St Roc, built at the beginning of the 16th century.

The entrance to the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The interior is completely decorated with frescoes, painted between  1529 and 1537 by  a local painter, Anthony from Padova – not Padova in Italy but Kašćerga, a small village you can see from the church door if looking out across the lake. Before our guide arrived we could only peer at the frescoes through the bars on the windows – and this was awesome enough. Once inside, our minds were blown!

The church is tiny – another small group had joined us, and with twelve of us inside, it was quite packed. So, for somewhere so small, to be covered from floor to ceiling in frescoes, was something else…

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The fact that these ancient works of art are just there – no roping off, not behind glass, no photography restrictions, completely accessible to the public – is incredible. There is such a feeling of trust and a desire to share these masterpieces with people, and I think this instils in people a sense of responsibility and utmost respect.

This tiny church in a very small, hilltop village in the Istrian countryside could so easily be overlooked – so I guess the message is, get off the main roads and explore. Take those roads which look as if they might up in someone’s farmyard. They often do, but just as often, they end up somewhere like Draguć.

This village is less than 30kms from our village, and there are many, many more like it, all waiting to be discovered. If you have a sense of adventure and want a life more peaceful, but still withing striking distance of every amenity you could ever need, as well as two international borders in less than 40 minutes – Slovenia and Italy – have a look at this website. As we’re hoping to sell our beautiful home, so that we can begin on our next renovation project, not too far away. In fact, if you bought this house, we could be neighbours…

 

Hotel Navis, Opatija Riviera, Croatia

Hotel Navis, Opatija Riviera, Croatia

What a treat, a day and night away at Hotel Navis, in Opatija, is. Built into a cliff-face, and with all rooms overlooking the sea, it is situated between Rijeka and Volosko, on Preluk Bay – and for us, not too far away from our home in Istria. We spotted the hotel on one of our first drives back from Rijeka when we moved here, and vowed that we’d investigate it – which we did recently, with friends who were visiting from England. The hotel is very cleverly designed. From the road, only the sign can be seen. A steep drive takes you down to the entrance and the reception and it is only when you get out of your car, that you really appreciate how beautiful it is. Glass walls form the shell of the hotel on the reception level, creating such a feeling of light and space, and bright pops of furnishing colour add to the overall wow factor…

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

We’d arrived quite early, much earlier than the check-in time, and our rooms were still being prepared. How lovely then to be greeted by one of the owners, who chatted to us about the hotel and the gorgeous Opatija Riviera – and who also brought us complimentary pink fizz, whilst we waited. Not a bad way to begin a Tuesday 😉 It was almost a shame when we told our rooms were ready, as we weren’t quite ready to leave the little terrace above the private beach…

Hotel Navis, Opatija

All rooms have balconies and all face the sea. We had a room on the first floor – Room 101 – and our friends had a similar room, on the fourth floor. You can’t miss your room – super-sized room numbers guide you easily, along the corridors. If you like your decor to be neutral, Hotel Navis may not tick your boxes, but we loved the bold colours and designs, and especially the purple, black and red patina walls, the famous coloured concrete Venetian technique.

When we stay somewhere, my rule of thumb is that I want it to be at least as nice as where I live – otherwise I could stay at home. Often, though, our expectations are exceeded – and they certainly were at Hotel Navis.

Rooms have been meticulously designed in this hotel. Dark concrete walls contrast with the floor to ceiling glass doors which slide back, to reveal a balcony and sweeping views across the bay. Our room was perfectly positioned, just above the little pebbled private beach. Rather then sunbeds, this beach has big squishy beanbags which look super comfy – so comfortable that even when some quite unexpected waves rolled in, literally no-one moved. Although that could also have been to do with the waves providing some respite from the searing heat.

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Minimalist accessories and furnishings give the room an uncluttered, spacious feel…

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

The bathrooms are also a delight. As well as L’Occitane toiletries – a class act – and big fluffy towels and robes and slippers, most rooms have a bath, as well as a shower. And, given that we have tiniest bath ever, anywhere that has a big one, gets a massive thumbs up from us.

The attention to detail continues in the hotel corridors and stairways. Huge glass and concrete planters and vases, filled with greenery (and wine corks), dominate corners and add real interest to what would otherwise be dead space. The dark colours continue – but the hotel is not dark, simply because of the expanse of glass, which reflects the sunlight and the turquoise sea.

Hotel Navis, Opatija

The hotel has, as well as the cute little private beach, a spa and treatment area, and a large sun terrace with a pool and a very stylish bar. It was a luxurious treat to just lounge around the pool, sunbathing and interspersing this with swimming in the sea. The location is so peaceful – nothing beats being able to lie in the sun and just watch boats bobbing about on the water.

Breakfast is amazing. I think it’s probably one of the best breakfasts we’ve experienced, simply because of the range and choice. As well as the location of the restaurant, which literally overhangs the water.

Hotel Navis, Opatija

As well as an extensive cold buffet – with cheeses, meats, breads, fruit, youghurts, cereal, croissants, cakes – there is also a cooked breakfast menu, with so much choice. The consensus amongst us was that we had all made the perfect choices – the lightest, fluffiest omelettes, and poached eggs with avocado and the other with truffles. Breakfast is available until 11am, and with check out until midday, it meant that we could enjoy a long, leisurely start to the day. Although perhaps not as leisurely as those who were opting for the Prosecco with breakfast. Think we missed a trick there 😉

The location of this architect designed hotel really is quite stunning – situated where it is, clinging to the rocks below a road which snakes around the Opatija Riviera, it is very remiscent of the Amalfi Coast. Although without the hoardes of tourists, coaches and back to back traffic, which makes it all the more special.

Got to be honest and say it definitely wasn’t the cheapest hotel we’ve ever stayed in – but you certainly get what you pay for. And as a treat, it was absolutely perfect. Just perfect…