Thursday, 8 August 2019

Lavender Cheesecake the New Hit at Innovative, Traditional Zbondini

August 8, 2019 - One of the best traditional gourmet stories in Dalmatia goes from strength to strength, as Restaurant Zbondini's lavender cheesecake proves a hit in Velo Grablje on Hvar.  

It is a story I have followed for many years, and in era where many are looking for the quick buck serving average food, the story looks all the more impressive. 

He, a former employee of one of Dalmatia's most high-profile and enigmatic winemakers, Andro Tomic. 

She, the daughter of one of the most hard-working and respected restaurateurs in Hvar Town, Djordje and Danica Tudor at Djordjota Vartal next to the Franciscan monastery. 

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And so when the Tudor family decided to open a restaurant in the ancestral village of Velo Grablje - the lavender village - it was only natural that Cvjetko Tresic and Marija Tudor would join forces not only through matrimony, but also running this new traditional restaurant in an authentic village away from crowds. At the time, back in 2015, I called it the most important new restaurant opening on Hvar in 10 years. You can watch the Hvar TV report on the opening night in the video below.

I need to tell you a little background about the remarkable story of Velo Grablje, a stunning stone village just a few kilometres from Hvar Town and yet a world away. Just a few years ago, it had been reduced to a population of just 5 (including a man called Sinai, after the place of his birth - the El Shatt refugee camp in the Sinai Desert during the Second World War. 

The village had been the centre of lavender production in all Dalmatia at one point, but economic emigration and devastating fires (the latest of which was in 2003) hit both the island population and the lavender production. Velo Grablje had reached its lowest point.  


And then, slowly, its fortunes began to change. A local NGO called Pjover, comprising mostly of locals with a connection to the village, concentrated their efforts on reviving the history and traditions of the village, and breathing a little life into the tranquil spot. 

There was success of many fronts, not least on the football field, and NK Levonda from Velo Grablje won the Forska Liga, the Hvar Football League, in 2011, a triumph which was documented in a documentary by Maja Zrnic - you can see the trailer below. 

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The key event on the social calendar, however, was the lavender festival, which has now taken place at the end of June for 11 years. The festival celebrates the traditions of Velo Grablje with a decidedly lavender flavour - the lavender ice cream was interesting. There is also an opportunity to experience the lavender oil production process.


And then, in 2015, Konoba Zbondini opened - and remained open for much of the year. Suddenly there was a focal point to visiting the village for hikers and those on Jeep safari tours. 

And the concept of Zbondini was authentic Dalmatia as It Once Was. Traditional recipes, local produce, cooked in the same way as it had been for generations. The restaurant itself was full of authentic momentoes of an era gone by. And with Marija and Cvjetko running the show and passionate about Dalmatian traditions, it was hard to find a more authentic culinary experience in the region.  

Not content with just running a restaurant, they started offering cooking courses to tourist via Hvar Tours, so that tourists could not only taste the food, but go with them into the fields to pick the ingredients and then learn about Dalmatian cooking first-hand. It is one of the most popular tours that the agency offers. 

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I haven't been to Velo Grablje for a couple of years, and it is a little longer since I have seen the successful young Zbondini couple, but what a joy to see them hit the media with their story this week. And with a new product which is proving quite a hit and has Cvjetko's signature on it and represents the essence of this very special village - lavender cheesecake!

The future of Velo Grablje is in very safe hands, and Zbondini is just one more story of excellence to add to my recent concept to start promoting Hvar as a serious gourmet destination

You can follow the latest from Konoba Zbondini on Facebook.

And to finish, take a journey back to the Hvar lavender harvest of 1970 - idyllic.


Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Programme for Hvar Lavender Festival in Velo Grablje Announced

June 11, 2019 - It is the most aromatic month of the year to visit Hvar, and what better occasion than the 11th Lavender Festival in Velo Grablje?

Hvar is an island blessed with a multitude of treasures like no other. The most UNESCO heritage in the world, the oldest public theatre in Europe, the most island sun in Europe to name but three. 

And lavender. 

While there is sadly nowhere near as much lavender on Hvar these days due to various factors including fire and emigration, the months of June and early July are a joy to behold. 

Nowhere is this more so than on the old road from Stari Grad to Hvar Town, where the must abundant and accessible lavender fields can be found. 


The small and picturesque village of Velo Grablje is the heart of the Hvar lavender story. Once the centre of lavender production for the whole of Dalmatia, emigration hit Velo Grablje very hard, and the permanent population was just five over a decade ago. There has been an impressive revival since then, as local association Pjover has breathed life into the village with its mission to focus on the heritage and traditions of Velo Grablje. 

By far the biggest event of the year in the village is the annual lavender festival which takes place each June. This year's event will take place on June 28-29, and the programme has just been released.


It is a lovely time to visit Velo Grablje and learn more about the traditions of Dalmatia. 

You can even take part in the harvesting of lavender, and then follow the whole process through to the distilling and production of lavender oil in the old traditional manner. 

Harvesting lavender is hard work. Take a look at how it is done on the top of the island in the fields of celebrity paparazzi, Jadran Lazic, below.

To learn more about the island, check out the Total Croatia Hvar in a Page.




Sunday, 2 June 2019

Aromatic June: Hvar Lavender Fields and a Velo Grablje Festival

June 2, 2019 - Welcome to June, the most aromatic month on the lavender island of Hvar, which will celebrate its 11th Hvar Lavender Festival in Velo Grablje next month.

One of the many natural delights of a summer on Hvar is getting out into the fields of the surrounding inland villages in late June and early July. Apart from the picturesque views, sunshine and natural beauty, this is the time of year when one of the island's best-known harvests taken place. 


Like many Brits, my knowledge of lavender harvesting was less than zero before I moved to Hvar, but it did not take me long to learn more about this wonderful aromatic treasure. 

Driving the old road from Stari Grad to Hvar Town in late June is a delight, and it is not uncommon to find cars abandoned at the side of the road as drivers and passengers head into the fields to take photos next to the aromatic bushes. 


In truth, the lavender fields today are just a fraction of what they were in their heyday. Emigration and fire have sadly depleted the number of fields one can visit. 

There are signs of rebirth, however. My friend Jadran Lazic, for example, has replanted 300 lavender bushes on top of the island on his estate, and it has become an annual tradition for me to get up at 04:30 each year to help out with the early morning harvesting. The fields look divine pre-harvest.  


The centre of the Hvar lavender story, however, is the village of Velo Grablje, a few kilomotres from Hvar Town on the old road. Once the centre of lavender production for all Dalmatia, Velo Grablje was hit hard by emigration, and its population dwindled to just five people over a decade ago. 


Since then the village's fortunes have changed for the better. A group of enthusiastic young locals with family ties to the village founded an association called Pjover, whose stated intentions were to resurrect the traditions and heritage of Velo Grablje. The highlight of this was an annual lavender festival, which will this year take place on June 28-29, for the 11th consecutive year. 

Far from being a dead village of over a decade ago, the population of Velo Grablje has grown from 5 to 14 at last count, and there is an excellent restaurant (Zbondini) and even a winter pub which is popular with many from Hvar Town. 


The lavender festival is a popular celebration of all things lavender, including harvesting the oil. There is a chance for tourist participation, something which I took advantage of a few years ago after I was invited to jump on top of the bunches of harvested lavender in the steel vat in order to compress them. My feet smelled of lavender for days. 

Of course, for the real lavender experience, you can't quite beat joining the harvest itself. Why do they start so early? It is hard physical work, and the summer heat arrives quickly, and it is already too hot by 07:30. Check out the harvest in the video of Jadran's field a couple of years ago above, then spare a thought for previous generations who did not have the benefit of roads and air conditioning when planning the harvest. 

To learn more about Hvar, check out the Total Croatia Hvar in a Page

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Aromatic Hvar: 10th Lavender Festival in Velo Grablje Next Week

The 10th Hvar Lavender Festival will take place next weekend, starting on June 28, 2018.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Pub Mali Zeleni

Monday, 12 February 2018

Konoba Zbondini

Friday, 2 February 2018

Restaurant Vidikovac Levanda

Friday, 2 February 2018

Lavender Festival, Jun (Velo Grablje)

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