Monday, 24 May 2021

A Trip on Solta Island: 6 Lessons I Learned from Locals

May 24, 2021 - A TCN intern takes a trip on Solta Island without preparation, encounters unusual experiences with the locals, and learns lessons that will be helpful for anybody visiting the closest island to Split.

1. Clothes do not make the man. A port does not make the island. Don't be too quick to judge.

Rogac port where the ferry from Split comes does not impress a traveller. Like most people, I had visited the more popular island of Brac before I went to Solta. Rogac loses out to shiny Supetar, the biggest city on Brac. The port of Rogac is tiny, there is nothing to do there, no people. However, exactly here in Rogac, the first strange story happened to me in the first hour after my arrival. I found one good angle between the yachts at the marina and sat down to take an on-arrival picture. Then someone called out to me...

"Do you know what this is in front of you?" a senior man asked me.

"No, I don't," I said. "I know what is a boat, a yacht, a ship, and this vessel is somewhere between a boat and a yacht, closer to a boat, of course, but what exactly it is, I've no idea," I thought.

"Are you a journalist?"

"No, I'm just a tourist. I came here for the weekend. I'm from Russia but currently work in Split."

"What do you think about your president?"

The question put me in an awkward position. This grandpa in a baseball cap with a canister in his hand, similar to a grandpa from 'Gravity Falls', looked nice. The matter was tricky. What's his opinion? What if our minds are the opposite? I did not want to argue with him. Senior people rarely change their minds, thus even my MD in political science wouldn't help me.

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"It's hard to answer in one sentence about his 18 years of the presidency," I started to draw back the fire. Milan, that's his name, interrupted me. He told me that our president is a strong person he'd like to have as a major somewhere in Dalmatia. He said that he'd like to get vaccinated with the 'Sputnik V' vaccine. I guess that these statements should be regarded as a gesture of goodwill to me in any case.

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Actually, Milan knows about Russian-Croatian relations much more than the average person. He knows admiral Mate Zmayevic (born in the city of Perast, Dalmatia) who fought for Peter I in the Northern War, Alex Dundic (born in the village of Grabovac, Dalmatia) who fought for the Red Army in the Russian Civil War. He listens to Russian opera stars Elina Garancha, Anna Netrebko, Dmitry Khvorostovsky, and others. It's surprisingly pleasant for a broad-minded person far from tourist and nomad routes. 

2. Take the initiative to talk to locals on the island.

Solta has wonderful nature and climate. Traditions of producing olive oil, wine, and honey here originate from ancient times. But since Solta Island is not very popular among tourists, you'll need to make more effort to get it. Even as you go to the island already prepared by informational sources, you have to be ready to ask, perhaps, to clarify something about wine tasting, olive oil tasting, or a honey farm. You go here ahead of the masses, take the initiative to start a conversation, and keep it!

I regret that I did not answer 'yes' to Milan's question of whether I was a journalist. Then I'd have more chances to guide our conversation to the topics I am interested in. Otherwise, it happened so that we were talking about themes that interest mostly a social group 70+-year-olds:

  • life after death (Milan suffered two strokes and saw something on the other side);
  • The Dulce Laboratory in New Mexico where human-alien hybrids were created;
  • Orion correlation theory that says about the connection between the pyramids of Giza and the Orion belt;
  • indigo children;
  • masons, etc.

Certainly, I'd better answer that I'm a travel journalist and interested in things like what to eat, what to do, etc. So that, if somebody asks you on Solta, you can use the following answers I prepared in advance. "I'm a tourist from <...> and a wine lover."I'm a traveller and a gourmand hunting the local specialties." 

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3. Don't be afraid to go around the island alone.

Saying goodbye, Milan wondered why I was here alone. "You don't have to go alone. Find yourself a husband. Not me, I'm too old for you, I'm over 72..."

I guess it was his joke about the age gap problem to marry me, because earlier he'd mentioned his wife was waiting for him at home, their three children, other common stuff.

Then he relented: "Well, all right, you can go alone. Don't be afraid. There are no poisonous snakes on the three Dalmatian islands - Solta, Lastovo, and Vis islands. But there are black widow spiders and ticks..."

As planned, I went through Grohote and Gornje Selo to Stomorska that I considered the most beautiful and lively town on the island. Besides, I was caught up in wanting to check a remark of my Croatian colleague that Stomorska on Solta looks similar to Povlja on Brac. He said it to me once I just got back from Brac. He really encouraged me, thus I'm not going to share if it looks similar or not. Go and check it by yourself!

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I went through almost all the island - from Rogac to Stomorska - by foot. It was a safe and quiet way, not a lot of cars passed me. For sure, it'd be more convenient to go by bicycle, but if you have the time it's possible on foot. On my way back I accepted a proposal of one passing car to take me to the port. I guess you can also have this possibility in mind. As far as there are no regular buses, it's a kind of local solidary to take somebody by car.

One difficulty I faced in Stomorska was the fact that all the cafes and restaurants were closed. I came before the beginning of the tourist season and caught the middle of constructing and cleaning works around terraces, but it was closed. We might endlessly watch water, fire, and other people working, but not on an empty stomach.

4. If something goes wrong, you can always sleep on the beach.

I didn't plan on going to Solta a second time. I have already visited the largest and most beautiful town of Stomorska. I met a wonderful grandpa Milan who told me that Split needs a mayor like the Russian president and that our bodies are just food for aliens secretly dealing with the government. What else is needed?

Then my Split friend Andrea tried to convince me that the most beautiful place on the island is Maslinica, not Stomorska. Andrea knows it for sure, because her aunt lives in Maslinica, and she's there every summer.

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However, I still couldn't decide whether to go - to Brac or Solta - for Saturday sunbathing. At the last moment, I blurted out "Solta" at the checkout. "On the first ferry, please!" I totally forgot that the first ferry is at 6:40 am. "Nevermind, I'll go to sleep earlier today!" Then I recognised this ticket purchase was a fundamentally wrong decision. That Friday we celebrated Sveti Duje, the day of the saint patron of Split. There was no chance for me to escape the celebration and go to sleep earlier.

A suddenly emerged thought saved me from the desire to throw the ferry ticket into the sea from the pier where we celebrated Split City Day in the middle of an incredible post-covid standard crowd until 2:00 am. I thought that I could sleep on the beach of Maslinica on Solta. After 3.5 hours of sleep at home, I packed up and ran to the ferry.

5. Sometimes it is helpful to talk to a homeless man.

Solta is the closest island to Split. By ferry, one way takes only one hour. Once I'd settled on the ferry, I fell asleep. Thank you to the kind Croatian woman next to me who woke me up! At the port of Rogac I checked Google maps - 2 hours walk to Maslinica. 20 minutes later I reached one of the three 'towns' of Solta where you can find a supermarket. 

Entering the supermarket I noticed a very colorful homeless man on the bench in front of it. He looked like Ali Baba. Red down jacket, harem pants, white apron, blue hoodie tied around the neck instead of a scarf. Fingerless gloves. A black beret holding a tuft of long gray hair and a gray beard. I had to restrain myself from taking a picture of him. I was not going to sponsor his vodka.

I had to restrain myself, but failed at the checkout. Too good a type! He was standing on the other side of the glass door while he noticed me taking a picture of him. He was waiting for me at the exit. "Take an initiative talking with locals. Don't be afraid!" I calmed myself. "Please, sir, may I take a picture of you?"

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On the fifth attempt, the homeless man guessed that I was from Russia. Novorossiysk (Russian port) - Izmail (today's Ukraine) - Gori (Georgia). That's in general how his path in USSR looked like. His work had something to do with the sea as I understood. "I had a great company in the Crimea," he said. "I still remember those five Russian women surrounding me: Lyuba, Zoya, Nina..." It seems to be true, in those days the names were popular in the Soviet Union. The man was in Poland as well, in the Czech Republic. He worked in France for six months, then in the United States...

He remembered a few sentences in Russian. Here on the island, there were some Russian girls in Necujem. He taught them three main phrases in Croatian:

  1. Mi se svije Hrvatska. (I like Croatia).
  2. Ja ću se udati za Dalmatinca. (I will marry a Dalmatian man).
  3. Ja sam dobra pička. (I'm a good p***y).

 Well, I can trace some logical connection here...

6. Have a list of souvenirs from Solta.

Homeless Ali Baba asked me how long would I stay in Croatia. He began to think about what souvenirs should I send to my family in Russia. Solta olive oil, Solta honey, Solta wine, Rogac bean for baking, lavender...

"I will collect it for the next time you come to Solta. I have oil, wine, a farm, 7 chickens, 2 houses... You can sleep in one of them, and I'll stay in the other. Is it okay? Take some lavender I picked this morning. Here you are. Do you know that there are two types of lavender? Do you want a chocolate bar?"

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I jumped aside as Ali Baba touched me with lavender. Flowers do not excuse the whole stench. And the worst thing was his long nails. I was at a loss. Some parts of his story seemed plausible. However, I could not find any logical connection between his own farm and the homeless look. Two houses? I'm not going to believe in it.

The situation that we were standing in the center of the town nearby the only supermarket seemed even stranger. People passed us by us every five minutes. They greeted Ali, in response he defiantly showed me to everyone. "Look, such a beautiful Russian is talking to me!" Passersby looked at me with a grain of compassion, but they passed by further. Then one of the passers-by had heard that I was on my way to Maslinica and offered to give me a ride. He was going in the same direction. Thank you, Igore! I quickly got in the car.

Recap

1. Clothes do not make the man. 

In the end, I got to Maslinica in 15 minutes by car, not in 2 hours by foot. On the way, Igor explained to me that Marin Kumin (that's the true name of 'Ali Baba') was not homeless. He does have things he mentioned. He's not a foolish man. Unfortunately, he went crazy in the sea about two years ago. Since then he has not been washing, shaving, cutting his hair. It looks scary from the outside. But he's not what he seems to be. 

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2. Take the initiative to talk to locals on the island.

I would probably consider the breakfast that Igor fed me after we came to Maslinica - coffee and toast with Solta honey - as a part of traditional Dalmatian hospitality. But the best lunch I've had in Dalmatia would never happen if I had left his place in a rush, without any conversation. I asked about a fishery on the island - I had lunch with Igor and his friends-fishermen. We ate the tuna they caught the day before. I had only known about tuna from canned food and Hemingway's story 'The Old Man and the Sea'. My concepts were turned upside down. Eventually, I found an island where there's more fish than meat.

3. Don't be afraid to go around the island alone.

Igor showed me the Maslinica neighborhood, Martinis-Marchi castle, and a way to a beach. Then I went alone to an empty rocky beach. I swam also alone, although there were some yachts around. No fear. I was a little worried that nobody will notice if I drown. But as I got out the beach marine officers asked me about the temperature of the water and how I felt.

4. If something goes wrong, you can always sleep on the beach.

It was my first swimming this year. The water at the beginning of May was still cold. I swam for five minutes. Never mind, then I slept on the beach. And then I swam two more times.

5. Sometimes it is helpful to talk to a homeless man.

I mean a keen conversation, lavender and the fresh tuna I had!

6. Have a list of souvenirs from Solta.

Try to do it in advance, because when you come outside the tourist season, it's complicated to get the souvenirs immediately. I didn't succeed to take a bottle of Solta olive oil on the same day, so I had to go back again.

For more on travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Meet Patricia Yeo, Celebrated Head Chef of Maslina Resort on Hvar

May 7, 2020 - Maslina Resort is a five-star boutique hotel, slated to open this summer in Maslinica Bay on the island of Hvar, just minutes away from the UNESCO-protected Stari Grad.

As Maslina Resort gears up for its summer opening in Maslinica Bay on the island of Hvar, it is actively recruiting to craft the ideal team. 

With a mission to honor the UNESCO-protected Mediterranean diet on the island, the Wine & Dine department at Maslina Resort is of crucial importance - and perhaps the most prominent character to the puzzle is pronouncing the perfect chef - Patricia Yeo. 

By fusing elements of an international upbringing that took her from Malaysia to England to the United States, with a precision that she honed as a trained scientist, Patricia Yeo has been celebrated for her unique cuisine ever since her first restaurant, AZ, opened in 1999. The favorite of The New York Times also received two Michelin stars in 2002. 

But the accolades didn’t stop here. After AZ, Yeo received three New York Times stars for a Mediterranean concept Pazo in 2004, and in 2008, two New York Times stars for a French-Vietnamese restaurant Sapa, all while consulting and launching projects in Boston. 

After over twenty years in fine dining in Manhattan, Yeo explored a more corporate role in national and international restaurant groups, and her culinary prowess was pivotal in restaurants within hotels in Las Vegas, the Caribbean, London and Singapore. Hooked by the luxury travel bug, Yeo roamed to remote and exotic locations around the world, from stints in Oman and Turkey with Six Senses to Shina Mani Wild in the jungles of Cambodia while overseeing food and beverage services at Shinta Mani and Treeline in Siem Reap.

Promising to balance traditional and innovative techniques, and local and international culinary styles, Patricia Yeo is the ideal candidate to lead the culinary team at Maslina Resort. TCN met up with Patricia to learn more about her role in the new luxury resort. 

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Nataly Lee

First, tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to being head chef at Maslina Resort?

I am culturally confused; I'm of Chinese ancestry born in Malaysia, raised in the UK and the US. I’ve also lived for extended periods in five other countries.  All this traveling is a real advantage culinarily.  

I was browsing LinkedIn and saw a post for the chef position at Maslina, I usually would not respond, but on a lark, I sent Zoran a note, he responded in 2 hours, and two weeks later I was moving to Croatia.  

How would you explain your culinary philosophy? 

I think my food is very much ingredient-based. Use the best ingredients and treat them with respect. This means using meats that are ethically grown and killed humanely, using the whole animal not just the prime cuts, fish that is locally and preferably line caught (i.e., not trawled with large nets which catch fish indiscriminately trapping young breeding fish interrupting the live cycle), produce that is locally grown and in season. This means I do a lot of preserving, whether it is pickling, curing, jamming, dehydrating. It allows me to use cherries in December because I brandied it in June.  

How will this philosophy integrate into the cuisine at Maslina Resort?

Part of the reason I am so excited to be at Maslina, is because it is a prolific growing region with a great variety of fish and game. I have gone foraging with a local lady who is an ethnobotanist, and there are so many wild plants and herbs that are edible. Having the ability to use local, foraged ingredients is such a treat. I can’t wait for the mushroom season this fall. As someone who is inspired by ingredients I am in heaven, nothing inspires and excites more than picking perfect kumquats from a fruit-laden bush or watching figs ripen on a tree down the street. Really, everywhere one walks on Hvar, there are sights and smells that inspire, rosemary, pine, wild sage, briny sea breeze, lemon blossom. It is fabulous.  

How will you implement local producers and suppliers?

We are fortunate at Maslina to have a great organic garden that is in a sheltered bay with lots of light, water, and well protected from the winds.  Mario, our fabulous head gardener, will be able to grow a lot of herbs and soft greens for the kitchen. We are also going to work with a number of farmers from the Stari Grad Plains, and in some cases, they will grow specialty products for us and in others, we will simply use what they normally grow.  We have made really good contacts from local goat cheese producers to beekeepers for honey and wax to fishermen. Because of the style of the menu (which will change daily, we are able to work with whatever ingredient they bring us. It is a more organic way of cooking, letting the ingredients dictate what we cook rather than having a menu dictate the ingredients we use. It is also a lot more fun.

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Nataly Lee

What would you name as the key differences between working in a hotel or resort and a standalone restaurant?

The main difference is not the work in the kitchen, by that, I mean the cooking and production of good food are the same in both cases. The difference is the financial aspect of the business. As a chef of a standalone restaurant (especially if you are also the owner), there is a constant worry about making enough to pay the bills. In a resort or hotel, one of the most expensive fixed cost is eliminated. Rent usually takes up as much as 40% of a restaurant’s revenue, so with not paying rent, you are already ahead of the game.

From a Food & Beverage perspective, what is required to operate in a luxury resort? 

Producing good food, whether it is in a luxury resort, a fine dining restaurant or even in your home kitchen, is the same, I think. You need to care about what you are doing; you need to be flexible and adapt to the needs and desires of your guest, you need to create a great environment for your guests to enjoy the meal. Luxury means different things to different people.  Luxury, for me, means having a choice, be it caviar and champagne or a grilled cheese sandwich. Our goal is to provide this choice. 

Has the island of Hvar and Croatia been able to provide everything you need so far?

It has been fabulous, not just in terms of cuisine but also in terms of a wonderfully beautiful place to live. The people in Stari Grad have been so warm and welcoming. They are so willing to share recipes, cooking techniques, local knowledge of ingredients.  

What are you looking forward to most about running the kitchen at Maslina Resort? And about being in Croatia?

One of the first things I am going to do once I can get into the kitchen at Maslina is cooking for my co-workers, who have become my family in Croatia. There is nothing better than cooking for the people you love.

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Nataly Lee

To read more about travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Maslina Resort Introduces Health and Safety Leader for Life After Corona

April 23, 2020 - Maslina Resort is a five-star boutique hotel, slated to open this year in Maslinica Bay on the island of Hvar, just minutes away from the UNESCO-protected Stari Grad.

While health and safety should always be at the forefront of the hospitality industry, in the corona era, this has never been more true. 

Thus, a new luxury resort on Hvar Island is getting ahead of the game by introducing a Health & Safety Leader to their team just in time for its opening this year. 

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TCN caught up with the Communication Specialist of Maslina Resort, Matko Kovacevic, to learn more.

What inspired you to implement the Health & Safety Leader position into the Maslina Resort team?

It all started with defining our concept of Mindful Luxury, which concentrates on wellbeing in the broadest sense possible. This includes acting mindfully towards our guests, our employees, the local community, and our beautiful planet. Health and safety are naturally one of the first prerequisites for wellbeing. The widespread corona crisis that is permanently changing the world as we know it further validated our approach and reaffirmed our commitment towards wellbeing, health, and safety. The trend of wellness and health-related luxury travel had been growing steadily for years, and, in the post-corona world, there will be even greater demand and emphasis on health, safety, and security aspects of travel. Undeniably, there are emerging health-related challenges and opportunities for the hospitality sector and the ones who manage it correctly will be the winners of the new era of travel. The world and the hospitality industry is changing, and we cannot take the risk to stand still or wait for another crisis to happen. We want to lead the way.

What experience will you look for when hiring the Health & Safety Leader?

This is a very good question that doesn't have a simple answer. That is, in a way, because we are basically inventing this position, at least in this context. There are no best practices to look for. The world is in a novel situation, which gives us a chance to create some new benchmarks in the hospitality industry. This is why we are approaching it with a blank drawing board, the desired outcome, and some basic common sense. We always like to say that when recruiting, we're looking for authenticity, common sense, and high openness towards new experiences. Obviously, some kind of a health and safety-related background and basic knowledge of the hospitality industry would be some experiences that we are looking for for this position. However, equally important is the alignment with our hospitality philosophy.

What is the role description of the Health & Safety Leader?

In one sentence, the Health & Safety Leader will be responsible for implementing health, safety, and risk management processes to ensure that guests receive the highest standard of service and hospitality in a safe and secure environment. We are open to discuss and consider different procedures and measures that would contribute to achieving that ultimate goal.

What are the tasks of the Health & Safety Leader?

The main responsibility of the Health & Safety Leader is to establish and implement health and safety-related procedures in the hotel. Staff training is another area that is under the responsibility of this position, as well as initiating various design and operations recommendations in line with the health and safety procedures. Moreover, this person needs to establish communication channels with governmental bodies, healthcare officials, and the local community to stay on top of all the related requirements, measures, and expectations. Crisis response planning is yet another important area of responsibility.

How does this new position fit into the Maslina Resort philosophy of Mindful Luxury?

It fits perfectly! Mindful Luxury draws inspiration on the rich cultural, natural, as well as the therapeutic heritage of Hvar Island. I'm not sure how many people are aware that the first organized tourism in Europe came into being right here on Hvar Island with the founding of the Hvar Health Society on May 15, 1868. Back then, Hvar was recognized as a health sanitarium, basing its tourism on health and recuperation, rather than historical sites or hip parties. This is something that we want to put back in the limelight with our commitment to wellbeing and mindful luxury. This concept has many layers, from a natural, low-impact architecture and design, to using organic linens, offering produce from our organic garden, producing locally inspired and organic in-room guest amenities and spa cosmetics, and minimizing the use of single-use plastic. We believe that our guests should experience high-end hospitality that is authentic, sincere, respectful, and adventurous. Mindful Luxury is the alchemy between intimate yet professional and wholehearted service, engaged leadership, and authentic and transformative experiences. Not just for guests, but for everyone involved, from employees to the local community.
 
To read more about travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.
 
Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Maslina Resort Open Day Gets Hvar Island Excited About Summer Opening

March 3, 2020 - Maslina Resort held its first Open Day on Saturday at the Stari Grad Theatre Hall. 

With a new tourist season soon approaching, it’s safe to say you’ve heard a thing or a two about some of the newcomers to the scene this summer, like Maslina Resort on Hvar island.

Slated to open this June in Maslinica Bay, just a short skip away from the 2400-year-old town of Stari Grad, Maslina Resort is a five-star, boutique hotel that thrives off the philosophy of ‘Mindful Luxury’ - fusing high-end hospitality with chic interiors and respect to the environment, all while ensuring guests an authentic experience of Hvar island.

There is quite a bit to share about this soon-to-be haven of Hvar island, like how it implemented low-impact architectural design and is using all-natural materials to honor the island environment already in place, or that the hotel will be energy efficient and use homegrown herbs and spices from their organic garden in guest's dining and wellness experiences. But that's not even half of it.

Thus, while the hotel is still under construction, the Maslina Resort team invited Hvar island inhabitants to learn more about the project during an ‘Open Day’ event, held at the Stari Grad Theater Hall last weekend. 

In a business-to-consumer style ambiance, curious visitors were given a chance to sit face-to-face with members of the Maslina Resort team to understand what the project is about through an animated presentation, ask their biting questions, present their resumes, or offer their locally-made products to be used within the resort. 

A staggering 200+ visitors were counted in Stari Grad on Saturday morning, which is more than the Star Wars screening in the town!

Islanders young and old showed interest in the careers available at Maslina Resort, while an incredible number of locals presented their products, from lavender salt, infused olive oils and wine to essential oils, perfumes, bath salts, and aromatherapy sachets. 

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As a thank you, visitors were greeted with the Stari Grad treat, or 'paprenjak' honey and black pepper biscuits decorated with the Maslina logo.

If you missed Maslina's first Open Day event, stay tuned for another chance (or two) to catch them this spring. 

To stay in the loop about Maslina Resort, you can follow the official Facebook page for the latest updates. 

To read more about travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Learn More About Maslina Resort this Saturday in Stari Grad

February 24, 2020 - Learn more about Maslina Resort this Saturday, February 29, 2020, at the Stari Grad Theater Hall.

Maslina Resort is a full service, luxury five-star seaside boutique hotel, overlooking the scenic Maslinica Bay on Hvar island. Slated to open this June, the Maslina Resort team is hosting an Open Day in Stari Grad this weekend, welcoming anyone curious to learn more about the project. 

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So, if you want to learn more about what's going on in Maslinica Bay, are interested in joining the Maslina Resort team, or have a product or service you think would be useful for Maslina Resort, join the team for an informal get-together this Saturday, February 29, from 09:00 to 13:00 at the Stari Grad Theater Hall.

Stay in the loop about everything happening at Maslina Resort by following their Facebook page

To read more about everything happening on Hvar island, follow TCN’s dedicated page

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