Brac Island on the Adriatic
By Peter Simunovich
A few years ago an English businessman returned to London from his summer vacation on one of the islands in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Croatia and told his friends how he had found “heaven on earth.”
The islands may not be on the “A list” of Europe’s vacation spots, but they are must-see as they stretch from Dubrovnik, an 11th century city in the south, to Rijeka, near the Italian border, making them an attractive short visit from Rome, Paris, Athens, Madrid, Berlin and London.
Hvar is the most popular with Vis, Krk, Korcula and Kornatik, a smaller group of islands known for sailing, also have strong drawing power and seem to be perfect to relieve stress for high powered corporate executives or, say, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston to relax after long hours on the set.
In summer the almost-still Adriatic waters have a calming influence and are broken by small fishing and ferry boats from Split, a major city on the coast, which was once the home of Diocletian, a Roman emperor.
The residents on the islands proudly talk about their peaceful and humble existence, which over the years have attracted royalty, millionaires and the powerful, but have resisted rich offers to build casinos and modern hotels from wealthier countries. Retaining centuries old culture is important even when the tourist industry is suffering.
Brac, the largest island, is probably the best kept secret of the more than 10 islands. It is just a one-hour ferry ride from Split and some of its coastal villages have small cafes and restaurants catering for visitors with home made wine, cheese, olive oil, bread and grapes. Croatian food is influenced by neighboring countries Italy, Hungary and Austria.
In 1991-1992 Croatia became an international flashpoint when it went to civil war to gain its independence from Yugoslavia. Now 11 years later Croatia, which has a population of about five million with two million living along the coast, is still building a new image with a new currency, new flag and trying to stabilize its economy. The predominantly Roman Catholic nation has renamed all streets, parks, suburbs, buildings and sporting clubs that once had a connection to the old communist regime.
During the civil war the islands did not see any conflict, but the inhabitants heard the bombings as battles raged on the mainland. Dubrovnik, however, was bombed, but the old city has since been rebuilt.
Some of the older folk in small villages like Dracevica on Brac now have telephones and even cable TV after having seen two World Wars, a civil war, the great depression and restrictions by communism.
They talk about when electricity finally came in 1960, then running water, the first TV set, bitumized roads linking all towns on the island and the first telephone less than a decade ago.
They also have three meals a day and recall the tough times during World War 11 when there was little food. A meal with meat was rare and for some a slice of bread was almost like a feast.
Hundreds left the islands searching for a new life in the United States, Australia, South America and New Zealand. Few returned.
“Today is America to what it used to be like,” the older folk tell tourists, who enjoy the long hot summer days and quiet warm nights that are sometimes stirred by the bells around sheep necks.
It is a laid back life: A typical day will begin early to complete work in the fields because of the heat later in the day. From noon to about 5 p.m., it is siesta time followed by a swim at a nearby beach. Then dinner around eight. By nine, many gather at the piazza as men play bocce under lights while women watch and talk and children play. TV does not control their evenings.
A week on any of the islands is just what the doctor ordered to cure stress.
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