Life at a difference pace in Lumbarda, Croatia

Though it doesn’t come naturally and didn’t feel right we felt we should try life at a different pace, a slower pace for just a while and Lumbarda in Croatia was the place to try it. We both notice how we tend to live and travel at a fast pace and we recognise we can skim over and past places rather than taking the time to get under the skin of a place, to get to know it better.

We are hungry for adventure and new discoveries yet at the same time wanted a place that would force a more relaxed pace of life and to have adventure and discovery on a smaller and different scale to normal.

Living in flip flops but attached to our laptops our requirement was; a place where we could connect easily to balance work with wonderful views, sea to swim, places to walk or jog, enjoy great food and wine and generally enjoy getting to know the place and perhaps ourselves a little better.  A tall order but we were confident that Lumbarda, on Korcula island in Croatia, could fit the bill.

Lumbered Harbour Croatia

Sonja at Camp Vela Postrana greeted us with tired looking eyes but a big smile, the summer had been busy and very hot and she admitted she was happy but exhausted. She was pleased we had returned In September, her favourite month when everything was all a little quieter, the sea was warmer and she said with enthusiasm brightening her eyes ‘you’ll see the sea and the sky are different colours, it’s beautiful!’

At the camp site we had wifi and views to the mountains on the Peljasac peninsula, it is staggering distance to places to eat and drink and a short meander to the sea in pretty much every direction.

For several days we woke to blue skies and had a run up through the vineyards or along the coastline to the next bay. One of us would pick up breakfast at the bakers on the home straight; we found that you have to get to the tiny shop before 10am or she sells out. Once we figured out the required routine we enjoyed some wonderful fresh bread and local pastries like Burek Sir (a little like the Greek cheese pie Tyrikopita) and, after a few visits, even a welcoming smile from the shy lady.

In the summer we had seen tiny pips of grapes emerging in the vineyards and now large bunches of red and white grapes weighed down every branch. One morning we were overtaken by a tractor and several scooters laden with empty crates as families busily began to harvest the white grapes. Having waited and watched patiently all summer it seemed the whole town was out lending a hand and joining in the jovial chatter as crate after crate emerged from the leafy rows covering the hillside.

Walking through Vineyards Croatia

As we walked back down lane on our way home we were surprised when one of the men called to us and beckoned us over. The smile creasing his rugged and weathered face showed he was pleased with their harvest as he passed us each a bunch of grapes straight from the vine. We enjoyed our little piece of the harvest as we strolled down the lane; tiny, juicy and delicious you could taste the flavor of very local and unique Grk white wine that these grapes will create.

The following day on our jog we saw the harvest was complete and the vineyards were quiet again. We skipped breakfast planning to enjoy a lunch of local cheese, Prsut (Croatian Proscuittio) and Grk wine at the Posip winery as we had last visit however the terrace, normally set up for hungry and intrigued tourists to taste their wonderful local produce, was completely taken over by crates of grapes and shiny grape crushing equipment. The man who had passed us the grapes the day before didn’t mind breaking off his work to pour us a glass of everything they make including some wonderful fig liquor.

Lumbarda sunset croatia

Croatians can come across as quite austere and, at first at least, don’t seem friendly because they don’t seem to smile very often or be very chatty. Perhaps this impression can be explained more by shyness and the difficulty of trying to make conversation in several European languages depending on who decides to take a seat at your table. Germans, Italians and English seem to be the most numerous visitors and you very rarely hear anyone trying to speak even a little Croatian. More often than not once you break the ice with a few, probably very badly pronounced, words of Croatian and a smile of your own they warm up and normally happy to teach you a few more words so that you can surprise the next person you meet.

Croatian cypress avenue church KorculaSo after chatting for a while with the men at Posip winery, using English, a little terrible Croatian and basic German, we bought several bottles of Grk white wine (which may or may not make it all the way back to the UK before we enjoy them) and we left with a warm glow inside and out.

We found it surprisingly easy to settle in to a routine and leisurely pace of life in Lumbarda…most days we wandered along the coastal promenade for a swim drying off in the afternoon sun.

We explored to the very tip of the island and spent an afternoon lazing in the quiet bay by the light house where an unmarked memorial cross made an unusual foreground to the coastal view…

Lighthouse lumbarda

We walked and, much to our own amazement, on another day jogged the 8 mile round trip into Korcula old town and back.

Korcula old town Croatia

We were warmly welcomed back to restaurants we had visited before and discovered new places where the food, the views and the welcome were equally amenable.

We enjoyed live music in the bar by the harbour that attracted more locals than tourists and spent quiet evenings, just the two of us, by our camper van, never boring of the inky black night sky. We listened to the murmur of the village across the field knowing that most of the chat and laughter was that of locals not the very few tourists who were lucky enough to choose September in Lumbarda.

Our little Mediterranean oasis had not disappointed and before we knew it a week had disappeared!

Finding our rhythm in Coastal Croatia

Wanting too find an easy rhythm to our travel we planned to return to Coastal Croatia and some of the places we found and enjoyed on previous trips.  Off the coast of the Croatian Peljasac peninsula, the beautiful Korcula island was our destination.  As the ferry docked, near Korcula old town, and all felt very comfortable and familiar we had the desire to improvise a little and so rather than head directly to the small harbour town of Lumbarda we drove instead to the far end of the island and to the Vela Luka.

As usual the guide book had little positive to say about the small town of Vela Luka, not many ancient sites or churches in the 19th century fishing village, it could be just our kind of place. We are not constant seekers of ancient sites but rather search for inspiration and interest in every day life and enjoy the diversity of local cuisine.  Vela Luka and its people looked like it had kept a frenetic pace during the hot summer season but now felt relaxed and sleepy as the ebb of tourists slowed.

We wandered the harbour and back streets, bought provisions in a small shop and then, reluctantly, headed to the hills to the only camp site nearby.

Camping Mindel promised to be a tranquil site, hidden amongst olive trees on a crest above several bays.

Camping Mindel Vela Luka secluded camping

Within a short wander we found a sheltered bay where waves lapped gently over with rough grey rocks leading down to the clear blue water, a great fishing spot for another day perhaps. We swam in the beautiful crystal waters but were disappointed and concerned to see another bare and almost lifeless sea bed. A great concern and a frustration for Adam who, ever hopeful, had spent several hours sorting and packing his fishing gear this Mediterranean trip.

The evening sea breeze dipped the temperature quickly in the shady cove so we flip flopped home as quickly as we could. We joined a few of our fellow campers on the roof terrace and were treated to a stunning sunset across the Mediterranean to Hvar island accompanied by the rhythmical ticking of Cicadas and the twitter of Housemartins swooping on the breeze that rustled in the olive trees below.

It seemed though that we weren’t all in the same groove; some couples came before the evening sky even started its performance, stayed for the first tinges of red and then left (dinner in the oven?), some snook in half way through, chinking plastic glasses of beer as the orange glow began but still left before the finale.

We stayed until the very last ray of light had disappeared and the Cicadas all fell silent.

Croatian sunset from Korcula island over Hvar

We were woken early and rudely with a dawn chorus of toddler cries and percussion of spoons on plastic plates, really not our favourite tune so we departed quickly to go explore the other bays on the peninsula.

Rather than walk the conventional footpaths to each of the bays we chose to search for a route from bay to bay along the rocks and there was, along limestone and stark white rock formations separated by flinty, pebble beaches in secluded bays.

Beautiful Croatian coastal walk

It was a peaceful interlude as we picked our way along the coast, the vista out to sea was ever changing as were the colours and textures beneath our feet.

It was difficult to see if many others had come this way or not, we seemed not to leave a trace though some of the smoother tops to the white, chalky rocks could be from the tread of human feet over time rather than the wash of the sea.

We crossed small beaches of limestone screes below tree covered cliffs where our path was marked, at least for a moment, by musical notes as our feet shifted the rock fragments to clink against each other making, almost metallic sounds, like the bars of a broken Xylophone.  Though we followed closely in each others foot steps and in the same rhythm the music we each created was completely different. Adam’s foot steps created their tune, my melody was a new one played on a slightly different ‘keyboard’.

As I clambered I wondered how many different compositions there may have been, each fleeting, never to be captured or recorded only to be enjoyed by those there to listen. We had certainly begun to find our rhythm again here in this peaceful corner of Korcula island.

craggy shore line stone scree Croatia

Exploring hidden gems Croatia

Unfortunately nowhere is truly undiscovered anymore but Croatia offers many authentic unspoilt and peaceful places to hide away and enjoy the mediterranean for a while. Not Italy, not Greece, not Turkey but a true mediterranean charm of its own.

Six years ago when we travelled in Croatia for the first time we fell instantly in love with it.  We chose what we hoped would be quieter, unspoilt islands and found that despite many people talking of rapid development and reliance on Tourism, much of the country still moved at its own pace, clinging to a traditional way of life, governed by the seasons, the sea and by the dribble of tourists that ventured there.

Rab Croatia camping 2008

We visited again last year, unusually for us revisiting some of the places that we have stayed before and also exploring different islands.   Mixed emotions; a place is never the same when you go back to it, particularly if you are driven back there by a romantic notion but we were pleasantly surprised that though tourism had made more of a mark (a few more large hotels on the coast as we drove north from Dubrovnik to Peljasac peninsula), the small towns and villages have managed to keep the balance of local life and indulging tourists.

Korcula old town Croatia

So now we are in beautiful Croatia again; arriving from Slovenia this time.  The long drive from Lake Garda in Italy meant we sought an easy stop for the night but did not want to compromise as so many of the fleet of roaming European camper vans seem to do.  Otok (island) Krk, with a bridge from the mainland, was the first that promised a campsite and from our six year old map at least, a small town.

New roads to the village concerned us a little but we needn’t have been worried.  The small town of Silno looking back to the mainland had several restaurants a few quiet bars and a campsite just 500m from town. We’ll be alright here we thought, but our hearts sank as we reached the campsite, row after row of caravans stacked up under the trees, “it will have to do just for tonight”. Tomaslav on reception was very friendly and showed us a map of the site that stretched right down to the sea. “We could park anywhere we liked” he said, what we always want to hear. We trundled through the caravans and the beach opened up to a huge open expanse of empty, pebbly beach next to the sea – hooray! The lottery that is travelling had, this time, thrown us a good end to a tiring day.

VW transport on Croatia island of Krk

A beautiful place, our place tonight.

View to the mainland from Krk

Next morning, we thought about staying longer but the desire for sunshine drove us to move further south.

Our ragged map and out of date guidebook (which was always relatively useless – better to confirm the places to avoid rather than those to visit) pointed us in the direction of Hvar island.  The book warned it was the most beautiful but most developed of the islands but reading between the lines our experience suggested something different, we took our chances and took the ferry from Drvenik.

well worn map of Croatia

The long windy lane down the length of the island did not show any signs of rapid development, narrow and twisty, with drop offs on either side, it was fun to drive but did cost us a wing mirror when we were kissed by a passing truck.

The first few campsites on our old map where nowhere to be seen and thankfully no hotel monstrosities in their place either, just peaceful tumble down villages lazily trying to sell lavender and honey.

65km later, the campsite at Vira near Hvar was our last option, half full with campers and a few tents nestled in the shady terraces in a sheltered bay looking out to the islands of Brac and Solta, we planned just one night but stayed for three.

Camp vira seaviews croatia

We set off on a flip flop walk into Hvar and were attracted by Panorama after only 20 mins. A restaurant on the top of a hill serving a midday beer and grilled calamari, just us, the waiter, the cook and a spectacular view.

Great views of Croatian coast from restaurant on Hvar

The end of our walk revealed a beautiful old harbour town slightly jaded by the gaggles of tourists from 18-30 cruise / sail ships that rowdily and amusingly made their way to the beach or the plethora of restaurants with great big menus in 3 or 4 languages and even pictures in some cases.  Oh dear! Luckily we had stopped off en route at Panaroma. Exploring back streets of Hvar

It didn’t take a lot of wandering to find beauty in the old town and the, not quite undiscovered but quieter, local’s places where we stopped to watch the world go by in the harbour with a glass of wine and sunshine under stormy skies.

Stormy skies over Hvar Cathedral

Energised and wanting to explore, next day we went to Stari Grad, the second large harbour town on Hvar island. We took the probably rather daft decision to walk to Hvar, bus to Stari Grad and then walk home. The 30km walk probably would have been a little easier on bikes (as several people did that passed us with their tour guides on the long drag up and over the hill from Stari Grad back to Hvar that afternoon).

Local Croatian lunch in Stari Grad, Hvar

Fuelled by great Croatian stews and local wine in a cool Knoba (tavern) in Stari Grad, we enjoyed the pace with stunning views all the way along the quiet road…

DSC00687

as it meanders through fields of lavender and Olive terraces.

Lavendar fields in the hills of Hvar

A slight detour / ‘long’ cut as we neared home brought us to a Konoba (tavern) Ringo and a wonderful fish dinner in the friendly place.

Konoba RingoA welcome shelter from the sunshine, from the increasing sea breeze and a little recuperation for our legs before the last few hundred metres back to camp in the bay at Vira.

Beautiful tracks and scenery on Hvar island

This phase of our travels in Croatia has shown us that you can find beauty everywhere even when your first impression may be ‘spoilt’.