Travel

Hidden Dalmatia: Baško Polje - Forgotten Paradise of Yugoslavia Holidays

By 19 October 2021
Baško Polje
Baško Polje Vice Rudan photography

October 19, 2021 – TCN was taken on a tour of Camp Resort Baško Polje, the Children's Village near Promajna and Krvavica Military Children's Health Resort – each of these intriguing places had vastly different former lives in Yugoslavia.

In the days of Yugoslavia, some of the very best locations on the country's Adriatic coast were reserved for military hotels, resorts and other state-run enterprises. Among the best known are perhaps Brijuni, now site of a National Park and the vast Kupari near Dubrovnik, which was damaged in the war, looted and abandoned. But, they are not the only ones.

dfvgbDJI_0561.jpgFrom above, Camp Resort Baško Polje © Vice Rudan Photography

In a very short stretch of central Dalmatia - just three and a half kilometres, between Krvavica and Baško Polje - lie three of the most intriguing. They are former military resort, Camp Baško Polje, the Children's Village near Promajna and Krvavica Military Children's Health Resort.

Today, each of these places has a very different future prospect. But, they each share incredibly different former lives. They remain fixed within the memory of many thousands of people. And they are ready to be discovered by a whole new generation.

244317044_6302459256491472_9155132798305481358_n.jpgThe pine forest in Baško Polje stretches from the sea to Biokovo mountain © Marc Rowlands

Total Croatia News took a tour of these unique places in the company of Makarska-based creatives and travel bloggers Ela and Olya of Nifty Nomads (here). One of the recurring themes on their multi-platform excursions is the exploration of hidden or abandoned places in Croatia.

“I am primarily a product designer, so I'm quite invested in architecture and aesthetics,” says Olya. “Abandoned places always give you different stories. When something is finished, wholly functional, it already has its narrative. It is complete. But, with abandoned or unknown places, you have so much more mystery – to find out what came before, or simply to let your imagination run free.”

Children's Village near Promajna

244340530_6302472593156805_4449837595264122857_n.jpg© Marc Rowlands

Built in 1958, the Children's Village near Promajna was something of an international project. Since 1949, rivaling factions within the Communist system of neighbouring Hungary produced a building momentum of unrest. Then, in 1956, revolution broke out. Many people were displaced.

Partially built with aid from the Swedish government, the Children's Village near Promajna was initially designed for the needs of Hungarian refugee children. But, by the time the project was completed, the Soviet Union had brutally quashed Hungary's revolutionary government and installed a regime that was loyal to Moscow. That was that. With the crisis unequivocally concluded, it was decided the village would instead serve the needs of children from across the socialist federation of Yugoslavia. Among its first residents were children from Vojvodina and Slovenia.


Section of a TV documentary, showing how the Children's Village once looked

The capacity of the village was designated as 500 children in the summer months. In the winter period, 120 full-time child residents were accommodated. In keeping with its original international intentions, besides domestic children, children from other countries like Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Germany were accepted.

243484531_6302466476490750_7975241710804030776_n.jpg© Marc Rowlands

The Mediterranean climate here is warm year-round, with many sunny days, even in winter. Forceful winds regularly clear the sea air. The scent of pines is overwhelming. Even in the village's current state of abandonment, you can tell how such a place would be restorative for children.

244158106_6302482826489115_5167061946917374282_n.jpg"Listen to your mother and punk" © Marc Rowlands

The village welcomed child residents for over 30 years. But, with the outbreak of war in 1991, it was repurposed. The village was used to house refugees, largely from Bosnia and Slavonia. “My mother worked here during that time,” says Ela. “She remembers refugees being here until 2006.” Thereafter, the Children's Village near Promajna was left abandoned.

243824450_6302479879822743_8427807802315501981_n.jpg© Marc Rowlands

The 68 thousand square metre site is currently for sale.

Krvavica Military Children's Health Resort

12719262_910411305702999_3103125290541724730_o-1024x540dfgvbh.jpgFrom above, the Military Children's Health Resort in Krvavica © Slumbering Concrete series (produced by Hulahop for Croatian Radiotelevision)

The Military Children's Health Resort in Krvavica is visible from the Adriatic highway. It is a striking sight, a unique piece of architecture. Sitting just above the treetops, it looks like a flying saucer has just landed atop the pine forest.

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Built in 1964 to the design of Split architect Rikard Marasović, the building is actually much more functional than its sci-fi appearance might suggest. Yes, the design is uncompromisingly modern. But, as with most Socialist architecture, it is functional. The building specifically 'floats' in the trees. It was designed for the treatment and rehabilitation of children with respiratory diseases who had families in the military.

Betonski-spavaci_02-before-afterdfgvbnm.jpg© Slumbering Concrete series (produced by Hulahop for Croatian Radiotelevision)

After around a decade, the site was repurposed. In summer months, it functioned more like a military tourist resort. Outside of the tourist season, it reverted somewhat nearer to its original intent. It welcomed people with special needs, low-income workers and elementary school students in recreational classes. It existed in such a way until war broke out.

At the time of the Yugoslav People's Army departure from the site in 1991, the building was undamaged. Indeed, during the war, 1991-1995, it was used to accommodate refugees, the wounded, and to train special military units. In the early 2000s, the building was demilitarised and passed from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence into the hands of an alternate state entity. They held a large portfolio of property that was intended to be purposed for tourism. However, this proved to be a difficult task and some sections of the property portfolio were simply ignored and left to rot. Sadly, Rikard Marasović's floating masterpiece was among them.

243424791_6302511093152955_118510885960291257_n.jpg© Marc Rowlands

Though lamentable, the building's demise is perhaps understandable. As a stand-alone piece of architecture, Krvavica Military Children's Health Resort is undeniably remarkable. But, as previously noted, it was designed for a very specific purpose. Finding an alternate, modern and commercial use for such a building might not be the easiest of tasks. At least, not without compromising some of the building's integrity.

244345832_6302503413153723_3136523279464009317_n.jpg© Marc Rowlands

There is general agreement that the building's continuing decomposition is a bad thing. Previously, it had been suggested the building be torn down to make way for a viable tourist project. However, local design and architect enthusiasts remain incredibly protective of the building. In 2012, the Conservation Department of the Ministry of Culture in Split succeeded in designating the building as a cultural asset, thus affording it some protection. Although, that doesn't actually safeguard the space from further decay.

244334296_6302508756486522_8237790978817832154_n.jpg© Marc Rowlands

“Sometimes we use this as a background for photo shoots, in particular for fashion editorials,” says Ela. Certainly, the graffiti that covers the walls is eye-catching and colourful. “It has also been used as a background for dance choreography. But, for the most part, when people come here now, it's just to explore and maybe take photographs.”

Baško Polje Military Resort

frfghbnDJI_0537.jpgFormerly a military resort, now Camp Resort Baško Polje © Vice Rudan Photography

Of the three sites, the camp at Baško Polje is the most spectacular and optimistic to visit. Formerly a military resort, the camp has functioned continuously for over four decades and thus avoided the sad, forgotten fate of the other two. On the contrary, the pine forest of Baško Polje is full of life.

rfgbhIMG_3166.jpgIncredibly clear waters of the beach at Camp Resort Baško Polje © Vice Rudan Photography

Yugoslavia's military resorts sound like a great opportunity for affordable holidays. Well, if you were in the military, that is. However, the reality is frequently remembered differently to the ideal. Military personnel had to apply for vacations in such resorts. Former servicemen recall holiday places at Baško Polje Military Resort being very difficult to get. Unless you were well connected.

DJI_0554dfgbhn.jpgFrom above, the shoreline at Baško Polje © Vice Rudan Photography

The resort was accessible to non-military visitors. Although, there was a two-tiered pricing system. By showing their identification, military guests would get a discount on coffee, ice cream or beer. During and after the last war, the popular resort hosted refugees from Bosnia and Slavonia. After fulfilling that obligation, it once again began welcoming guests.

fghnjmkIMG_3168.jpgContemporary guests rediscovering Baško Polje © Vice Rudan Photography

But, for many years, Baško Polje remained under the control of the same state entity that held the Military Children's Health Resort in Krvavica. It incurred a huge amount of debt and its management was complicated and outdated. Baško Polje also suffered from a serious lack of investment and modernisation. However, that story begins to change with the resort sale in 2018.

244046474_6302450849825646_5774094669685340811_n.jpg© Marc Rowlands

“What's so amazing about Baško Polje is the space,” says Olya. “It's totally the opposite of anything that gets built on the coast now.” She's right.

243460837_6302451726492225_1053023991475877785_n.jpgSo much space © Marc Rowlands

The Baško Polje resort is spread generously over roughly 270 thousand square metres (27 hectares) of pine forest. This thick, dense forest stretches all the way from the foothills of Biokovo mountain – specifically, the southern portal of the St. Elijah tunnel - to the sea. It is vast.

fgbhnDJI_0580.jpgCamp Resort Baško Polje is dwarfed by the surrounding pine forest © Vice Rudan Photography

Hidden within the forest is the Hotel Alem. Holding 612 beds, it currently has two stars. The main hotel building has 99 double rooms and 9 double suites over 3 floors. A further 99 renovated rooms are found in 3 annexe buildings. Each are named after an area of natural beauty in Croatia.

AnyConv.com__IMG_4336fvgbnmmkjnhb.jpgVisiting cyclists, parked in front of the superior mobile homes of Kamp Adria village Baško Polje (here) © Marc Rowlands

Away from the main accommodation, reception and administration buildings, there are villas, a beach restaurant, a small bakery and a store. There are 600 campsite pitches stretching into the forest. And, there you can find many modern mobile homes.

243863101_6302438539826877_119559823193809698_n.jpgOutdoor cinema © Marc Rowlands

The old outdoor cinema that used to entertain guests here is long since abandoned. And the indoor pool is currently not in use. But, that may change in the near future.

241466533_6302444663159598_2653965628601783339_n.jpg© Marc Rowlands

New owners Jadran Hotels and Camps envisage something very different here. Following years of underinvestment, they plan a gradual but complete overhaul of the site. Eventually, their hotel here will hold 5-stars. It will replace some of the existing structures, so as not to damage the site's number one asset – the incredible pine forest.

244017014_6302742956463102_4495608928721280474_n.jpgA cycling extravaganza - the shoreline path runs almost 10 kilometres, from Krvavica to Brela © Marc Rowlands

Truly, the scent of pines here is overwhelming. As is the silence. At night, no sound other than insects in the trees is discernable. By day, guests make their way down to the generous beach area. There's so much of it, room enough for everyone.

rftghbnjIMG_3171.jpgA huge expanse of beach at Camp Resort Baško Polje, with room enough for everyone © Vice Rudan Photography

Well into autumn you'll find visitors here. The forest is ideal for walking. The gentle slope from the foothills to the sea is also perfect for mountain bikes or off-road motorbikes. The shoreline path runs all the way from Brela to Krvavica. To those who already come, it is already a pristine paradise. In forthcoming years, it may attain a fame comparable to the one it held in Yugoslavia.

IMG_20210927_162856_1iuygfdf.jpgOff-road motorbikes, by the beach in Baško Polje © Marc Rowlands

Both the author and Total Croatia News would like to thank Vice Rudan Photography (here) for the kind permission to use their photography.

On these links you can read the other features in our Hidden Dalmatia series:

Drniš - Drniški Pršut and Meštrović Roots

Soparnik - 100% Authentic Croatian Food

The Fantastic Food of the Cetina River

Incredible and Mysterious 10 Rajcica Wells near Klis

Wild Rides on the Cetina River

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