Saturday, 19 September 2020

Journey Back in Time: Take the Hvar Old Road from Stari Grad

September 19, 2020 - It is one of the most beautiful road journeys in Croatia, and one with little traffic these days. Have you taken the Hvar old road from Stari Grad?

Connectivity on the island of Hvar changed a lot in 2001, the year before I arrived on Croatia's Premier Island. The opening of a tunnel and new fast road between Stari Grad and Havr Town meant that journey times were cut to just 20 minutes, and there was no longer any need to go over the top of the island.

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(Photo credit Prosper Maricic)

The new road was certainly an upgrade on the previous path - a great 1971 photo of the slow journey to Milna along the same route. 

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(Photo credit Andy Leedham)

Because of the quick connection between the two major settlements on the island, the Hvar old road - which hitherto had been the only transport artery - lost its popularity overnight and has been largely forgotten ever since. Indeed, it took me a while to take the left turn at Stari Grad, direction Selca and Brusje. 

But when I finally did, I found one of the most beautiful and most tranquil parts of the island. Right from the turn off the main road and slow ascent, the views were astonishing - the northern view to Brac and the mainland over Hvar's Kabal Peninsula above Stari Grad.

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And there was quite a climb. The road has become popular with cyclists and is now also home to the annual Hvar Half Marathon, surely one of the most beautiful runs in Croatia. 

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After just a few minutes, the first village came into view - Selca. Back in 2003, when I started a real estate business on the island, the village was all but abandoned, with a permanent population of just five people. It was wildly popular with foreigners, eager to buy and renovate some Adriatic stone in a pretty village just five minutes from the ferry. I sold five properties in the village, all of which got renovated to a high standard.

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The village also comes with something which the Hvar old road specialises in - a spectacular view. 

Shortly after Selca, there is an unpaved path to the left with a sharp turn. Take it and it will lead you to the very peak of Paradise - a 360 degree view of the island and the Adriatic from the top of Hvar. Highly recommended for sunrise and sunset. A normal car can drive most of the way, with the last 300m recommended to walk 

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Continue on, however, and you will come to the recently renovated restaurant, Vidikovac Levanda, which is blessed with rather a nice option for its guests - sea view to the south towards Vis with your meal, or sea view to the north. Both are outstanding, as is the food. 

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Perhaps the most unusual sight on the Hvar old road is the abundance of dry stone walls, which appear like a giant patchwork in the fields and hills around. Dry stone walling has now been inscribed as intangible UNESCO heritage, the 6th UNESCO heritage Hvar has (more than any other island in the world). It is very skilled work. I used to joke with clients that winters were very slow on Hvar, and these were the result on an annual best dry stone wall competition. The reason, of course, is that the stones were sorted from the land for agricultural purposes. 

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Come in June and July and you will see another unusual sight. Cars abandoned at the side of the road, their passengers wandering into the nearby fields for selfies with nature. For this is lavender season, one of the things for which Hvar is famous. The picturesque and aromatic lavender bushes are too gorgeous to resist. 

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And if you cannot make the festival, park the car and enjoy the south-side view. Perhaps above the village of Velo Grablje, which was once the centre of lavender production in all Dalmatia. It too had a population of just view 15 years ago, a number that has now swelled to at least 14, as well as a new restaurant, winter pub and... lavender festival at the end of June. 

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There may not be too many cars on the Hvar old road, but there are other travellers to look out for. Timeless Dalmatia is perhaps best symbolised by one of its most beloved icons - the donkey. 

Donkeys are a lot less common that there were in Dalmatia, but there are still plenty around, and the biggest concentration of donkeys on Hvar is in the second and last village on the Hvar old road. 

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(Entrance to Brusje)

Brusje.

Brusje is 6 km from Hvar Town, offering fabulous sea views, this time back to the north. My father-in-law is from the village, and he often recalls the 6 km walk to school through the fields, and the 6 km home again. A different world. The island has strong intellectual credentials. It is apparently home to the first library on a Dalmatian island, as well as a large number of its residents going on to be doctors and working in other distinguished professions. 

 

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(Photo credit Visit Hvar)

Looking for a beach away from the crowds? The beaches in the Brusje bays are fantastic and relatively undiscovered. Get to know them here

As the road twists and turns with wonderful views of the Adriatic, there is one more turn which is highly recommended if you have the time - a left just before Hvar Town to climb to the Napoljun fortress high above the famous town. 

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For there is perhaps the best bench view in all Croatia. 

And once you have admired the view, now find out about all the incredible things you are looking at in this video explanation below.

A word of warning to cautious drivers. There are plenty of very windy parts of the road, and barriers are not in place at all junctions where the land drops next to the road, so take it slow. I just can't imagine how this road functioned before the opening of the new road in 2001, especially in peak season. The impatient German Mercedes driver behind the Italian caravan, that kind of thing. And when two caravans approached in different directions... 

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(Photo credit Hvar Adventure)

The Hvar old road has become much more popular for sport in recent years, in particular for cycling (the photo above is from the new road - I couldn't find one of cycling on the old road, but the view are equally breathtaking. Leading cycling team Bahrain McLaren have been coming to Hvar for three years now for their winter training and testing their skills on this gorgeous road. 

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(Photo credit Hvar Half Marathon)

As previously mentioned, the road is also home to the Hvar Half Marathon, a 21 km race from the centre of Stari Grad to the finish on the main square in Hvar Town.

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It is surely one of the most beautiful races in Europe. 

Want to experience the route, without running out of breath? Sit back and relax and take in the Hvar old road in its entirety. 

At least once a year when visiting Hvar, I always come back on the old road. A chance to appreciate the magnificent beauty and nature of this island on a road largely untouched for decades.

Take the new road and arrive in 20 minutes if you must, but why not instead take a whole afternoon?

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Friday, 14 August 2020

Stari Grad Council Votes 13-0 Against Plan Amendments for Four Seasons Hvar Resort

August 14, 2020 - Another major foreign investment in Croatia heading for the graveyard, despite being a project of national strategic importance? A major blow for the Four Seasons Hvar project. 

It is more than three years since I find myself in the rather unusual position of drinking Champagne on a specially chartered train from Zagreb to Sesvete, in the east of the Croatian capital, before a transfer to a warehouse.

It was perhaps not the most luxurious of settings, but what I found inside certainly was, a mock-up room of the 140-million-euro showcase Four Seasons Hvar resort, which was about to up the luxury tourism story on the Adriatic. 

The Brizenica Bay and Four Seasons partnership in Stari Grad was set to give Croatia's premier island of Hvar the global hospitality brand worthy of its elite identity, and the mood within that Sesvete warehouse was ebullient, as TCN reported at the time:

"This extremely important project, almost a billion-kuna investment, will be of great importance to Stari Grad on the island of Hvar as well as for the whole of Croatia. The island of Hvar will be provided with the necessary quality accommodation facilities, which will certainly stimulate further investment in additional facilities, thus enabling the further development of tourism on the island of Hvar. This is also an opportunity for the local tourist community to begin with the complete management of this destination and thus make the island of Hvar a high quality destination. As an islander, I am particularly pleased to see that the potential of our islands has been recognised and I would be delighted if such investments were made on my island as well.'' said Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli, adding that this investment would certainly trigger other potential investors to pay deeper attention and look for opportunities for investment on the island of Hvar, in Split-Dalmatia County and in Croatia in general.

Dennis Wijsmuller, co-founder and CEO of Arqaam Capital, highlighted how proud Arqaam Capital is to support the Croatian tourism development strategy and contribute to the social and economic development of the country, the island of Hvar, and especially Stari Grad.

"By realising this project, we are strengthening the tourist infrastructure within the region, creating new jobs, and firmly placing the island of Hvar on the global luxury destination map'' stated Wijsmuller, noting that the first guests at Brizenica Four Seasons - Resort and Private Residences are expected in 2019.

Time passed. 

2019 passed. 

Minister Cappelli's time in the spotlight passed. 

Nothing happened. 

It is now 13 years since the investors bought the land to develop the resort. One might have thought that a public announcement from a government minister stating that this was a project of strategic national importance would mean something in a country starved of foreign investment, largely due to its bureaucracy. And yet, it appears not to be the case. 

A town council meeting in Stari Grad yesterday voted on the changes to the urbanistic plan to include amendments to the Four Seasons Hvar project, which now has a location permit, but still no road access after all these years. The investors must have been confident that the amendments would pass or they would not have put it forward for approval (if rejected, an amendment cannot normally be resubmitted for 6 months). But it would seem that their local intelligence was somewhat lacking. 

The vote of the 13-person Stari Grad council was unanimous - for the motion 0, against the motion 13. 

Yet one more delay for this increasingly ill-fated project, perhaps a fatal one. Interestingly, 6 of the 13 councillors to vote against were members of the ruling HDZ party, whose minister talked of the project's national strategic importance just three years ago. 

As a message to the international investment community, this is the latest high-profile failure of a major international hotel brand in Croatia. 

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As I noted in an editorial over a year ago, while the potential of Croatian tourism is huge for international investors, the successes are miniscule compared to the competition. Neighbouring Montenegro, for example, has a much higher investment despite a lesser tourism brand and only a sixth of Croatia's coast. Major investments of 1.1 billion euro (Orascum, Egypt), 900 million euro (Porta Novi, Azerbaijan) and 500 million euro (Porto Montenegro, Canada and UAE) are just some investment examples which dwarf the size of the most successful major investments on the Croatian Adriatic - 160 million euro in Falkensteiner Punta Skala in 2011 and Sun Gardens Dubrovnik in 2009. 

Local sources in Stari Grad told me that the opposition to the project resolves around unfulfilled financial promises (a commitment to pay for the connecting road - a road, it should be noted, whose ownership is still to be determined), aggressive lobbyists, a total absence of community involvement. Issues, one would have thought, could have been resolved over a 13-year period since the acquisition, but apparently not. 

A 13-0 vote against three years after a public government commitment tells its own story and probably signals the Brizenica Bay Four Seasons Project to the major foreign investment graveyard for which Croatia has unfortunately become well-known. The door has been left open, however, as next year is election year. Applications can normally be resubmitted only after six months, but the council has agreed to a vote at any time. One wonders what would have to happen to enable a unanimous vote against to suddenly become acceptable. 

It is not all bad news for foreign investors, however, and this weekend sees the opening of only the second 5-star hotel on Hvar. Maslina Resort in Stari Grad lies across the bay from Brizenica Bay. Smaller in size, embracing local manpower and products where possible, it has managed to navigate the rocky waters of Croatian planning, as well as the setbacks of corona, to open one of the most luxurious developments on the Adriatic. 

It is a rare exception to the rule for foreign investments on the Adriatic. 

 

 

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Tourism in the Corona Age: 10 Virtual Ways to Discover Stari Grad

May 20, 2020 - Tourism is on hold, but most of us have plenty of time. So let's look at the virtual resources available to explore Croatia virtually. We continue our new Virtual Croatia series with the tools to discover Stari Grad on Hvar.

A few weeks ago I wrote that being a tourism blogger in the corona era was about as useful as being a cocktail barman in Saudi Arabia. I feel less useless now, a few weeks later, and I am encouraged by the number of Croatian tourism businesses who are contacting us wanting to start thinking of promoting post-corona tourism. 

One of the challenges of writing about tourism at the moment is that there is nothing positive to write about. With people confined to their homes and tourism in Croatia currently not possible, many have decided to go into hibernation until it is all over. 

I think that this is a mistake, and I have greatly enjoyed the TCN series by Zoran Pejovic of Paradox Hospitality on thinking ahead to tourism in a post-corona world.  You can find Zoran's articles here.

Way back on March 14 - several lifetimes ago - I published an article called Tourism in the Corona Age: 10 Virtual Ways to Discover Zagreb. The way I saw things, now was an OUTSTANDING opportunity for tourism promotion. People have time, they yearn for their freedom and former lives, so give them the tools to thoroughly research and enjoy your destinations, and you will have then longing to be there. And when they do come, they will have a deeper understanding of the destination due to their research. 

South Africa and Portugal were the first to do their post-corona tourism promotion videos several weeks ago (Post-Corona Tourism Planning: Lessons from South Africa and Portugal), a trick which has been followed by other tourism countries, the latest being Croatia with the national tourist board campaign, #CroatiaLongDistanceLove, going live yesterday.

But while these campaigns create longing and market presence, they don't really educate. People now have time to really get into destinations. And dreams of escape to somewhere more exotic are high on the list of priorities of many. 

So TCN has decided to help with that education with a new series called Virtual Croatia, where we will be helping you discover many of Croatia's destinations with all the best virtual tools available on your self-isolating sofa at home. 

We started last week with Tourism in the Corona Age: 10 Virtual Tools to Discover Hvar.

After this, we put our a press release (which you can read here in English and Croatian) offering a free article to any local tourist board in Croatia who would like the free promotion in our Virtual Croatia series

The Sinj Tourist Board was the first to respond, and now you can see just how rich the tourism offer is in this proud Alka town - your virtual tools to Discover Sinj. This was followed by DIscover OpatijaDiscover Brela, Discover Rogoznica, Discover Klis, Discover Trogir and Discover Omis.

Next up, Jaksa Damjanic from the Stari Grad Tourist Board, who sent me some virtual tools to help us discover Stari Grad. 

Let's begin! 

Welcome to Stari Grad, Home to 2,400 Years of Tradition of Creating New Experiences

Released just a few days ago, 

Remember Pharrell Williams? Be Happy, Stari Grad style.

Discover the old town and the secrets of 2,400 years. 

Stari Grad from the air.

A spectacular birds eye view. 

The relaxed evening atmosphere. 

A one-hour national television discovery of Stari Grad and some of its most lovable characters. 

A Small Place with a Famous Heritage

Stari Grad is perhaps best known in the minds of a sizable chunk of the population of former Yugoslavia as the location for the VERY popular show Malo Misto (Little Place), which characterised and satirised life in a small town in Dalmatia. Even with my limited ability to pick up the words of the actors, I find it wonderfully funny, and Stari Grad looks glorious. A sample episode is above.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a Sail Back to Ancient Greek Roots

Every travelled 5,000 years of UNESCO heritage in just 90 seconds? Fasten your seatbelts. 

Learn more about the Stari Grad Plain with this reconstruction of how life was in the time of the Ancient Greeks. 

From Faros to Paros. And in 2003, a rather unusual expedition was organised to retrace the steps of the Ancient Greeks all those years ago - a voyage in a traditional sailboat, from 'Faros to Paros', Faros being the name the Greeks gave to what is today Stari Grad, close as it sounded to their native island of Paros. The voyage included taking gifts including vines and olive trees which had brought som much prosperity and goodness to the residents of Hvar, and which had originally come from Paros in 384 BC. There is a documentary on the journey (in Croatian) which you can watch here

It may not evoke comparisons with London Heathrow, but Stari Grad even has its own airport, located in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to cultural considerations, the airport cannot be upgraded or expanded, but it does serve as a useful and convenient point for small aircraft and helicopters (the airstrip can accommodate planes of maximum six passengers), as well as providing a summer base for Hvar's popular sky-diving offer. 

5 UNESCO Heritages in 1 Town, More than Any Island in the World

No other island in the world has 4 UNESCO heritages. The town of Stari Grad has 5. The official video of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Stari Grad Plain. 

The Mediterranean Diet was inscribed at intangible UNESCO heritage in 2013. 

The 500-year-old Za Krizen procession (Behind the Cross) includes the village of Vrbanj, which is in the Stari Grad administrative district. 

And one cannot leave Dalmatia without some unforgettable Dalmatian klapa. 

The art of dry-stone walling is a rare skill, and one which has also achieved UNESCO status.

Discover Stari Grad, Where Wine and Song Meet

Stari Grad is fabulous, with something for everyone. A place where music and wine collide in different forms.  The Jazz and  Wine festival. 

 Dani u vali - Days in the Bay. 

 The Hvar Wine Association hosts wonderful evenings of wine tasting and song in the picturesque squares in the old town. 

And a little wine always brings a little impromptu song. 

For such a small town (the permanent population was less than 1800 at the last census), Stari Grad has an incredibly vibrant cultural scene. In addition to several excellent museums, two theatres (and two fabulous amateur theatre groups) and a host of other cultural activities, the male voices of Stari Grad are known throughout the land, and if you ever get the chance to hear the Faros Kantaduri, don't miss them. For a taster, check them out in the video above. 

One of the world's most challenging swims, and other activities

Stari Grad is home to one of the most challenging international swimming races in the world, an annual event in August which attracts some of the globe's finest swimmers, including Olympic gold medal winners. Started in 1974, the Faros Marathon is a 16km race in the open sea, starting and finishing in the town's harbour, from where competitors race to the tip of the Kabal Peninsula at the top of the Stari Grad Bay - some 8km away - and back. A phenomenal physical effort for the increasingly international field, where the winner has yet to break three hours. Check out the race in the video above. 

Also home to the start of the slightly less challenging Hvar Half Marathon, which takes place in August every year to Hvar Town along the old road. Surely one of the most beautiful races in Europe. 

Biking heaven. 

MTB heaven too. 

Sail Croatia loves Stari Grad.

And if you are sailing into Stari Grad, with its new marina, here is some useful advice. 

Of sunsets and plima 

Some of the most beautiful sunsets in Dalmatia. But beware... 

Ah, the deep Stari Grad Bay. It caused considerable distress to a poor dolphin, who inadvertantly swam into the harbour in 2005, and could not figure a way out for three days until expert help pointed the poor creature in the right drection. A scarier prospect for local residents is the 'plima', a raising of the water level cauased by particular climatic conditions and such a deep bay, which results in rapid rising of the water level. It is quite a spectacle to watch, as long as you are not a waterfront home owner. Check out the video above. 

Local traditions, art and food

Starogrojski paprenjok is an original souvenir made as a homage to a traditional biscuit which the women and girls of Stari Grad on the Island of Hvar have lovingly prepared since 1167 for their sons and husbands, packing them in sailor's chests before their loved ones' departure on long and faraway journeys.

These cakes are prepared according to a carefully preserved recipe of the old island women and have retained the traditional shapes of amphora, fish, heart, clover and other imaginative forms lined with sweet stripes and playful dots.

The earliest mention of the famous cake from Stari Grad, Starogrojski paprenjok, was left by Petar Hektorović, in his famous poem, 'Ribanje i ribarsko prigovaranje', from 1556. The work is a description of a three-day fishing trip from Stari Grad to the island of Šolta and back. In it, the poet Petar Hektorović sailed in the company of two fishermen, Paskoje and Nikola. They took with them: good wine muškatil, sweet wine (prošek), turta (cake), honeycomb, kaškaval cheese, fruit and paprenakov.

The main ingredient for paprenjok is honey. In the castle, that is, in the flaunting park, the Hektorović family cultivated poultry, silkworms and bees.

Hektorović’s farmers cultivated wheat in the fertile Stari Grad fields; they milled it in the mill located in Tvrdalj. Another important ingredient was also olive oil. The Hektorović family's olive groves were located in the southern part of the town.

To prepare a paprenjok they also needed prošek. Prošek was made from good quality grapes in the tavern in Tvrdalj.
The only thing which could not be cultivated in Tvrdalj were the aromatic herbs – cinnamon, cloves and nutmegs.

But in that period they were easily obtained, as the port of Stari Grad was located on the route between Venice, Dubrovnik and the numerous Mediterranean ports with which trade took place.

Stari Grad even had its own honey festival at one point, and I understand that there are plans to resurrect its honey heritage this year.  

 Never eaten a dormouse? Don't miss the Puhijada edible dormouse festival in Dol. 

One of the great attractions of Stari Grad are its quaint streets, which are lined with art galleries and boutique shops, selling authentic local products. Some of the artists are quite unique. Meet Fantazam. 

Home to no less than two amateur theatre groups. 

Mali Grad Faros - a wonderful initiative for the little ones.

And the magical night of Sv. Nikola in December is accompanied with the traditional burning of a boat.

And where else to go for the biggest live snake exhibition in Europe? 

Stari Grad, the secret of a happy and healthy life - 104 years and still mending fishing nets.

Stari Grad has its own celebrities, including this man, who has seen them come and seen them go. Andrija Petric Muse is one of the icons of Hvar, a quiet unassuming man who can be seen most days oppostite Pizzeria Marko mending nets, as he has done for generations. An avid smoker for more than 80 years, he celebrated his 104th birthday this year. A survivor of the Spanish Flu AND corona, life of Croatia's premier island with its healthy climate and UNESCO Mediterranean Diet must have played a small part. 

A wonderful town.

Official Stari Grad Tourist Board Website & 25 Things to Know about Stari Grad

Discover Stari Grad via the official tourist board website.

Learn more about Stari Grad with the TCN feature article, Stari Grad: 25 Things to Know about Croatia's 2017 European Best Destinations Nominee.

THIS. IS. STARI GRAD. When can we expect your visit? 

To discover more of virtual Croatia, you can follow this series in our dedicated section, Virtual Croatia

If you are a local tourist board in Croatia and would like your destination featured in this series for free, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Virtual Croatia (and destination name)

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.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Barba Andro Turns 104 on Hvar, Still Mending Fishing Nets in Stari Grad

May 3, 2020 - As Barba Andro turns 104 in Stari Grad on Hvar, what is the secret for a long and fulfilled life? 

 He was born during the First World War, survived the Spanish Flu and served in the Second World War, and for many, many years, he has been one of the most recognisable icons of Stari Grad on Hvar. 

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Barbe Andro Muse, a fisherman by trade, whose dedication and expertise in repairing fishing nets over many years has made him one of the most-loved characters in Stari Grad. For many years, I would admire him from afar at Pizzeria Marko, as he worked tirelessly away repairing nets all day long, cigarette never far from his mouth (he has been a regular smoker for over 80 years). 

Everyone is allowed one vice, but perhaps the secret of Barba Andro's longevity is a combination of the temperate Hvar climate, its UNESCO Mediterranean Diet, including plenty of fish caught by himself over the years, the relaxed 'laganini' lifestyle, and a great work ethic. 

In honour of Barba Andro's 103rd birthday last year, local TV reporters Maja Zrnic and Jurica Vodanovic put together this wonderful tribute to him, reflecting on his many years on Hvar and his dedication to those fishing nets, which he still diligently repairs without the aid of glasses. 

From surviving the Spanish Flu a century ago, to surviving corona today, Barba Andro keeps soldiering on. 

And the tributes continue, this birthday message from Hvar Island Concierge, below. 

Happy 104th, Sir!

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To learn more about the magic of Stari Grad, here are 25 things to know

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.
 
Sunday, 19 April 2020

What Happens at the Hvar Ferry Terminal in the Corona Era? (VIDEO)

April 19, 2020 - A visit to the Hvar ferry terminal to see how it functions in the Corona Era in the latest TCN report on Croatia's premier island under lockdown.

The birthplace of quarantine has bee accredited to Dubrovnik in some quarters, after the Republic of Ragusa, as it was then called, introduced the isolation strategy to nearby islands back in 1377 - more information in Croatia Self-Isolating Since 1377: Dubrovnik, the Birthplace of Quarantine.

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So where better to sit out the current corona threat than on a Dalmatian island?

I have been back on Hvar for over a month now, ever since the announcement was made that schools were closing. I have been very strict in my self-isolation (the only things were I break the social distancing guidelines are my laptop and immediate self-isolation unit of my immediate family), and I only ventured out with a press pass to engage with island three days ago (apart from covering the Za Krizen procession from distance). 

The Hvar police have kindly given me a press permit, allowing me to travel around the island to document the realities of the island under lockdown, for which many thanks. I am not free to leave the island myself, since I am registered with the police in Varazdin, and only people with island IDs can apply for special permits to use the ferry. This is an excellent precaution, as it stopped any mainlanders wanting to self-isolate on the island and potentially bring the virus to the island. 

So what actually happens at the Hvar ferry, and who is using it? How strict are the controls?

I have made three trips to the main Hvar ferry terminal in Stari Grad in recent days, to meet the day ferry, which arrives at 10:30 and the evening ferry which docks at 20:30. It is a completely different experience to normal, as one would expect. I thought it would be better to show the realities by video report, which you can find below - shot and edited by Miranda Milicic Bradbury. 

I also enquired after shooting who was using the ferry. In addition to supplies and emergency services, islanders who are going to Split with a permit include pregnant women and oncology patients going for treatment and checkups. 

The whole system is extremely well-organised, and I certainly feel much safer and reassured, having witness everything first hand. Many thanks to those working so hard to keep us safe. 

In this series, you can also see more about the realities of the island of Hvar in the Corona Era:

Hvar Supermarkets in the Corona Era: How are Supplies?

A 3 Video Tour of the Stari Grad Lockdown on the island of Hvar

Saturday, 18 April 2020

How the 1855 Cholera Epidemic on Hvar Paved a Street in Stari Grad

April 18, 2020 - A lovely story from Stari Grad on Hvar about how the cholera epidemic of 1855 was responsible for the cobbles coming to Srinja Kola street in this 2,400-year-old town. 

Here is a story about the cobbles of Srinja Kola street in the old town of Stari Grad. 

How Middle Street Got Its Cobbles

It just goes to show that while history may not exactly repeat itself, it certainly does rhyme. While Mark Twain may not have had epidemics in mind, this episode proves him correct. Thanks go to Hvar Island Concierge for the story, and to Zdravko Podolski for the eagle eye at spotting it, as well as this translation.

Dinko Gazzari and Marko Niseteo, were doctors responsible for conquering the cholera epidemic that plagued Stari Grad on Hvar in the summer of 1855.

For their contribution they were due to receive gold medals,  but they declined and suggested that instead the Middle Street (Srinja Kola) should be paved. Instead of a muddy creek in winter and a dusty mess in summer it got paved in beautiful stone cobbles. (Depicted here in the photo by Vilma Vodanović. 

At that time people were hiding in huts and trims (stone field shelters) outside town, and boats anchored in the bay. In shops, coins were dropped into bowls of vinegar, and everyone was careful not to touch anyone else. Strict isolation of all local settlements prevented mass deaths, except in Dol which was loose with its quarantine and several villagers died, and their houses were burnt to prevent the disease spreading. The Gendarmes were very active, and mention should also be made of pharmacist  Peter Confalonieri and mayor Peter Scuttari.

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Thanks Hvar Concierge and Zdravko - great story. 

And to see how the gorgeous old town of Stari Grad is faring in the corona era, here is yesterday's look at life under lockdown in Stari Grad

Saturday, 18 April 2020

A 3 Video Tour of the Stari Grad Lockdown on the island of Hvar

April 18, 2020 - The first in a mini-series looking life on Hvar in the corona era. We start with a video tour of the Stari Grad lockdown. 

Yesterday was a very strange day for me. 

Since coming to Hvar a month ago - or is it longer? - my routine has been work, work, work and 30 minutes a day by the Adriatic each evening. I haven't been to the shops, haven't had a meaningful conversation with anyone in the flesh apart from the close family in my own self-isolation team. 

As one of the only people to witness the incredible Za Krizen procession in Jelsa last week (if you want to know what it was REALLY like, read my eye-witness account through the night), I realised that this was a unique moment in time for the island (and the world) which was going largely undocumented. I also realised how many people love Hvar and would be heartened to see its current beauty to allow them to dream a little more of that next Hvar holiday. 

So I applied to the Hvar police for a permit to travel to the ferry and walk around Stari Grad for my first assignment. As I said in my Za Krizen piece, the Hvar police and all the local authorities have been outstanding in their handling of this crisis and keeping us all safe. Thank you all. They were also kind enough to agree to my request. And so today we start with a little series documenting Hvar as it is at the moment, starting with a look at a Stari Grad lockdown close up.  

A video tour of the riva yesterday afternoon.  

A wander through those magical pedestrian streets in the old town. What an incredible feeling to have 2,400 years of history all to yourself.  

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And I must mention the ferry. There will be a big TCN feature on what actually happens at the ferry, and how things are controlled, shortly. 

But rest assured, the Hvar police and emergency services have everything under control. I witnessed the ferry arriving last night, and I was not only very impressed, but also very reassured by how seriously and professionally the authorities are working to keep us all safe.  

And the final video for today - waiting for the ferry in the corona era. 

To learn more about magical Stari Grad, here are 25 things to know for your next visit

For the latest from the coronavirus crisis in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section

 

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.

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