Nth Reasons to Visit Šibenik

After a month in this pearl of a city, my time here is coming to an end. Leaving without paying tribute would be a crime.

The People

… the factor that makes it possible to live in a strange city for a month and never feel lonely. Whether it’s Luciana and Toni at Niko’s Café and Bar at the open air market, Seida at Argola Restaurant on the seaside promenade, Vanja the local guide and expert on the history past and present or Nino Nimac and Danijela Prpic, duo extraordinaire, their positive demeanour, excellent service, talent and open-heartedness is enough to draw you back.

Beautiful Luciana at Niko's Bar
Sassy Luciana at Niko’s Bar

The Old Town

… is the colour of a pearl, nestled neatly on the hillside overlooking the ageless channel that flows in from the Adriatic. St. James Cathedral is the most important Renaissance architectural monument in the whole of Croatia and the Baptistry will imprint itself on your memory forever for its beauty. St. Nicholas Fortress affords spectacular views over the city and the water. Catch a concert there if you can, the atmosphere is majestic. The Medieval Herb Garden of St. Lawrence maintained by pupils from the local high school is refreshing and fragrant in the summer heat, consisting of both culinary and medicinal plants. Strolling through the narrow, slippery (be careful!) alleys, frankly all you need to do is look up at the mix of Gothic, Romanesque, Medieval and Renaissance styles of the numerous churches and buildings. And if hunger pangs hit you or a thirst develops after climbing those stairs, there are plenty of food and drink spots around every corner.

Herb garden of St. Lawrence
Herb garden of St. Lawrence

The Food

… is local, produced close by and mostly a no-nonsense affair. Tinel in the Old Town uses only organic veg and their octopus salad is tender and juicy. Just out of town there’s an array of choices. The peka lamb is baked for hours under a lid at Torcida Restaurant in Vrpolje (10 minutes by car), the variety of mussels and clams is simmered in a unforgettable white wine sauce at Zlatna Riberica in Brodarica about 20 minutes by bus, and the olive-oil/garlic/parlsey drenched catch of the day is worth the wait at Konoba Kapelica on Krapanj Island, a swim away from Broderica but there is a ferry. Getting back to the city, there’s the real locals place called Buffet Simune on a side street very close to the open air market where the fried sardines and ćevapčići (mixed meat on a skewer) is served up in large portions at laughable prices.

Small portions at Torcida
Small portions at Torcida

The Wine and Other Stuff

While a cold Ožujsko or Karlovačko beer is just the thing after a swim in the sea, a glass of the Dalmatian white blend of Debit and Maraština is herbaceous and even ever so slightly salty and goes extremely well with seafood dishes. Babić is the red varietal of this area and this full, big-bodied wine is a must when eating pršut, the Croatian’s soft, non-stringy answer to Italian proscuitto. And don’t leave without giving rakije a go. It’s firewater but the local herbal blend Travarica is slightly green in colour and palatable. Psst, Vinoplod Winery on the outskirts of town as you enter from Split, has a wine shop at the gate where you can get all of these products except the beer of course, at a discount.

Big Babić
Big Babić

The Bars

So I’ve already mentioned Niko’s where the coffee is creamy and the froth is sprinkled with chocolate (€1,10/8 kuna). Even though there are plenty of bars to choose from down on the shoreline and in the Old Town, the place to be is Bono’s named after the U2 star of course, the owner being a huge fan. This joint is so unique that they’ve declared it a Republic with its own flag and its own mix of great music, none of this canned stuff, all CD’s hand chosen. And there’s live music every Friday.

And on my way home, there’s always Kula Bar  in Baldekin to drop into for a night cap of the famous rakije, called Travarice, a grassy, herbal hooch with a heady blend of 15 herbs.

The Size

…. is navigable, manageable and even at a slow plod you can walk from this side to the other side reaching Banj Beach in 30 minutes. Downtown becomes your town in a matter of less than a day. It’s all there, supermarkets, the open-air market, banks, boutiques, pharmacies and even cobblers in a shoe emergency. It’s got a cosy feel and I do believe this is attributable to its size.

The Proximity

…. to everywhere means that you never need to be bored. Krka National Park is a half an hour away even by bus, the islands are short ferry rides and even the furthest one in the archipelago Žirje is only 1 hour and 40 minutes away. Buses abound and you can get to Split Airport by taking a 1 hour bus ride to Trogir and then another one for around 15 minutes. Easy peasy. Zagreb, Split, Pula, Dubrovnik, you name it they’re all accessible.

Rushing waters at Skradin Buk, Krka National Park
Rushing waters at Skradin Buk, Krka National Park

The Islands and Beaches

… are all within a ferry ride or bike ride or bus ride away. So easy to reach. See my blog for details: Getting In and Around Šibenik.

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Next Bike 

Just ’cause you’re feeling lazy or just for fun, this is an excellent way of getting around the city and works like a charm. Enter your telephone number, credit card details and your personalised pin code and you’re all set. From then on it’s a breeze and at this point I have to say that the motorists are more than considerate. No hooting, no impatience, veering around you to make sure that you don’t damage their cars. Next Bike

The Diving

… impossible to beat for visibility – 25 m and more is what you’ll find in these turquoise waters and besides, the Dive Master is handsome. Mediteraneo operates from Hotel Spongiola on Krapanj Island, 20 minutes by bus to Brodarica and a short ferry ride from there.

Emil's the one on the right
Emil’s the one on the right, mind you the one on the left isn’t bad at all

 

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The Other Side of Italy – Puglia

We all know where Rome is, beautiful Florence and of course Milan with all its fashion houses and banks. Puglia is the heel of the boot, on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, with unspoiled wonders that lie in wait.

I might stay in a ‘trulli’, one of those typical Puglia white huts with their hat-like roofs or in a grand Masseria but I find a cheaper place to live. The village is small – San Vito dei Normanni doesn’t have much to offer except an opportunity to look, to absorb and to make sense of it all. The old men, three abreast, are seated on park benches and talk as if they have not seen each other in a long while. You know that it was only yesterday but this is the land of the art of conversation, and they can do this for hours. The sexy young ladies wearing only the bare minimum, make their presence known and you see the eyes of the young and old men who look, comment, and wonder if they have a chance.

They start young with their fashionable haircuts and flirtatious smiles.
They start young with their fashionable haircuts and flirtatious smiles.

The trattoria is recommended and everyone knows where it is. Nonna Mena is the name of this gem in the rear village. The antipasto consists of delicious arugula salad with tomatoes that have ripened in the sun, local cheese, meatballs, oven baked peppers and eggplant, deep fried zucchini and cucumbers to flush the palate and get ready for the next course. Orichietta is a small pasta that’s a local specialty and here, it is served with a fresh tomato sauce. The flavors are complimented by the red wine of this area, Primitivo. Dinner is late, from 8 pm onwards and this is about as much as I can handle before hitting the sack.

I’m close to the Adriatic Sea and it draws me like the Piscean I am to Torre Guaceto, located in a nature reserve where you park the car a short distance away from the beach. The little train provides transport but I need to work off last night’s calories so I choose to walk. This is nature at its best with very little to offer except the sea, sand and rocks that can cut quite badly if you are not careful, but the water seems clean and I enjoy every moment in its saltiness. If you are hungry or thirsty, you can buy fresh fruit from the local farmer and bite into a juicy peach or watermelon which costs just 0.39 cents for the whole thing. No restaurants here.

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Unspoilt Torre Guaceto

Another day, another beach and this time the more, but not quite, commercial Specchiolla. There are rocks and sand beaches, and the Italians lie brown and darkly tanned in the sun from morning to afternoon when it is time for lunch and siesta. And speaking of lunch, I spot Il Porticciolo, maybe a bit more expensive than the usual “greasy spoons” that one might normally encounter in places like this, but something tells me that this is going to be good. The antipasto consists of curried prawns, mussels in one of the best light sauces I have ever tasted, oven baked vegetables, calamari salad. The unoaked Chardonnay served as the house wine is beautifully fresh, with enough acidity and body to balance. And who will I meet there but Luigi, the owner of Nonna Mena where I ate the first night. Obviously being a restaurant owner he knows all the best places around, and here he sits with his friends, young and old, at a table where the wine flows, one empty bottle immediately replaced with a full one. He introduces himself again offering me a glass of wine. Of course he tries it on but I’m a tad too old in the tooth for such games and he can only look forward to serving me again at his restaurant as a customer. I tell you, a woman has to have hair on her teeth to travel alone in Italy.

'Starters' at Il Porticciolo
‘Starters’ at Il Porticciolo

Puglia is full of unexpected delights. Take Ostuni for example, the bride in her white garments clinging to the side of the mountain looking out over orchards of olive trees at her feet, with walking streets and church squares that thrill and surprise you.

Delights at Mela Bacata Lounge Bar and Restaurant, Ostuni
Delights at Mela Bacata Lounge Bar and Restaurant, Ostuni

Lecce is a 2000 – year old city with large, high and cream coloured buildings of limestone common in this area. The Ionian Sea on the other side has Gallipoli, the ‘Beautiful city’ and if you’re wondering what I was, it’s not the same place where the bitter war was fought between Turkey and Australia and New Zealand. This ancient port city does justice to its name with the old city high on a hill looking down on the beaches and harbour from above. The colour of the water shifts from turquoise to blue to green, and all I want to do is dive.

The art of papier-mâché in Lecce
The art of papier-mâché in Lecce
Gallipoli - 'Beautiful City'
Gallipoli – ‘Beautiful City’

Brindisi, another historical town where the Appian Way culminates in huge marble columns with fine Corinthian decorations looking out to sea and one of the most beautiful entrances to a harbour protected by the city enveloping it with her arms.

I wonder, when I return (Luigi wants to know!), will the smiles still be so wide, the service still executed with care, the wildness still as untamed or if the pearl’s lustre will disappear into yet another tourist trap location? What I know now is that it is quiet, that most of the people on the beaches are Italian and that the prices are reasonable.

Links:

Lonely Planet

San Vito dei Normanni

The Guardian on Torre Guaceto

Specchiola

Ostuni

Lecce

Gallipoli

Brindisi