As regular readers know, each summer we pick a different location in Croatia for an immersion course in the Croatian language and culture – Croatian lessons in small groups, interspersed with excursions led by local experts, to uncover the secrets of our chosen destination and entertain our guests. In between lessons and visits there’s plenty of leisure and relaxation time, lots of great local food and drink, and the kind of convivial fraternal spirit that brings some students back year on year, and yet allows new students to walk right in and instantly feel part of the gang. This year we are in Hvar and our intrepid reporter, Julia Molden, introduces us to this year’s Croatian Language and Culture Course with her own warm up visit around Korčula and the southern Croatian mainland, centered on Gradac, prior to travelling to Hvar for the start of the course.
Off We Go Again – Hello Hvar!
The preamble to this year’s summer course was three days based in Gradac at a delightful family hotel called Lukas Hotel run by an ageing rocker with the aid of his wife and three of his four daughters, Enna, Marina and Petra. From the moment we arrived on a glum Wednesday night, they made us feel most welcome and said that the dinner that night was on them. From glum the weather progressed to downright wet the following morning but we were not going to let that stop us. That day we planned a trip to Metković and around the Neretva delta finishing up at the Baćina lakes.
Firstly we went to Ploče to get our money ready to pay John for our excursions. Ploče in the rain it has to be said would not be one’s first choice of how to start a stay in Croatia but anywhere from there had to be up. We then drove on to Metković, where we found a restaurant for lunch previously visited eleven years ago on our return from Sarajevo. It had changed its name and changed hands but still offered a very welcoming port in the storm and we enjoyed a lunch of soup and salad which set us up for the rest of the day.
Even in the rain the Neretva delta was a delightful place, which would have been quite splendid in the sunshine. It was also practically deserted and offered impressive views over the surrounding area. And then on our way back to Gradac we set off to seek out the Baćina lakes, which took a bit of off-road driving and some determination and persistence. The first place we aimed for was Peračko Blato, which in English means Pearl Mud. Driving down one track we came upon a memorial to partisans from WWII which still stood tall and proud to this day. Then we drove along the side of one of the lakes for a while and saw all the beautiful surrounding vegetation. The rain was relentless but this place would have been gorgeous in decent weather. We returned to the hotel for supper and an early bedtime to be up in time to catch the ferry from Orebić to Korčula the next day.
The next morning the weather had improved immeasurably and after breakfast off we set for the ninety minute journey to Orebić. We went back over the new Chinese-built bridge which we had first experienced in all its impressiveness on the day of our arrival. Then we continued along the length of Pelješac, towards the tip, passing through several sleepy settlements before reaching Orebić. We arrived just in time to get in the queue for the ferry to Korčula and were surprised and impressed to see how quickly the ferry was unloaded and reloaded again before setting off on the short crossing. On arrival we walked around the old town and had a coffee before deciding on taking lunch at a nice waterfront hotel.
Then after a bit of shopping we set off on the drive to Vela Luka at the far end of the island, experiencing a very different aspect of the island beyond the reach of the main town. With all the rainy days that Croatia had been experiencing over the past few weeks, everything was so much greener than normal at this time of the year. Returning to Korčula in time to catch our ferry back to the mainland, we set off back along the Pelješac peninsula towards the new bridge, stopping on the way to drop in on two of our former student friends who were busy renovating a derelict old captain’s house into a holiday business. When we pulled up, they were surprised to see three familiar faces climbing out of the car and they showed us around the property, which was still a work in progress. Having been hit, first by Brexit and then the pandemic, their plan to be up and running by 2018 had been knocked for six but they do intend to have everything finished in time to start letting next summer. Taking our leave we then carried on towards Gradac, crossing the bridge for the third time in two days.
Off to Hvar
On Saturday we said goodbye to our hosts at the Hotel Lukas and set off for the ferry leaving Drvenik for Sućuraj on the island of Hvar. We arrived just in time to see the ferry arrive and join the queue and once again the whole disembarkation and re-embarkation was completed in a matter of minutes and we were off on a short sea crossing, arriving about half an hour later at the small port at the far end of Hvar. We started to drive the length of the island and along the rural road saw lots of olive trees and some lavender fields and enjoyed the fragrant smell of the flowers and aromatic herbs. We stopped at a small bar for a coffee and the barman was surprised to find three English seniors who were studying and attempting to speak in Croatian. Then it was onwards to Stari Grad for lunch and to meet up with Linda, John and Marina, who had set off from Zagreb at four o’clock in the morning in time to catch their ferry to Hvar. The reunion took place in a restaurant by the harbour and after lunch some of the group set off in search of our villa Harpocrates while Dr John and I were tasked with visiting the supermarket to buy provisions for this evening’s welcoming party and for the week ahead. Just as we had finished our shopping and were setting off to ourselves find the villa, we had an SOS from Linda that some balloons were needed to act as signposts to our very well-hidden retreat, which they had had a lot of trouble finding. So it was back into the supermarket in search of balloons, which amazingly we managed to unearth. Our satnav guided us more or less direct to the villa and we arrived not that long after the advance party, who had driven round in several large circles and were just unloading.
After preparing for the evening’s festivities, the first visitors arrived and then with varying degrees of difficulty and delay others joined them and finally we had our full complement. We all gathered in the beautiful gardens of our villa and together with three resident cats we enjoyed a convivial evening of wine, food and happy chatter, talking over past courses and thinking forward to the week to come. And then before we knew it, it was time for everyone to depart and go to their respective homes to get some sleep and strength for the course which begins in earnest on Monday 19th June with an excursion around all the major settlements and sites of our island home for the week.