After writing last week about Massimo, the owner of a bar in Vernazza, a village in Cinque Terre, Italy I got to thinking about other people who influenced my travels. After a long winter, when spring finally began to announce its arrival, my travel partner and I decided that it was time to get to the beach. That April, we traveled south from Vienna into Croatia. First arriving in the capital city of Zagreb, I barely saw any sites as we just sat and walked in this sun-drenched city.
Continuing south, we decided to spend some time in Split and ultimately on the islands. My favorite was Hvar, with its charming harbor and welcoming locals. Traveling on a budget, we checked into the Green Lizard, where we found a welcoming staff and friendly fellow travelers. Over the course of the next few days, we explored the island together.
The one man I have in mind I didn’t meet until later. A few of us spent the day climbing up to the 16th century fort at the top of the hill overlooking the island. Fort Fortica provides not only incredible views of the harbor and town below, but also of the surrounding islands. The views make the steady climb worthwhile, and a bar in the fort allows you to sip on a cold local beer while you absorb your surroundings.
The hike made us hungry, and on the walk back down, we began to smell something amazing. The aromas were coming from a restaurant that had caught my eye on the hike up. It looked as if the owners had transformed part of their home into a welcoming space for guests. Carved into stone, the dining room was cool and fluffy pillows ensured our comfort. Soon enough, a smiling host wearing a floppy hat appeared at the door and tempted us inside. We were hooked: this was where we wanted to have our evening meal.
Instead of looking at a menu, we told our host that we wanted to sample local flavors. First he brought out a cup of soup for each of us, bursting with fresh flavors and satisfying our empty stomachs. Next he brought each of us a small plate and began to fill the table with local options. First the local Dalmatian meats and cheeses, followed by an incredible range of vegetable dishes, fresh fish, and things that we didn’t even know what they were. We washed it all down with a small glass of his homemade liquor.
I’ve written lately about the pleasures of stumbling on places that turn out to exceed our expectations. If you’re climbing the stairs in Hvar town to the fort, keep your eye out for a restaurant on the right hand side, and the smiling host with the floppy hat who will with pleasure expose you to local flavors and explain why these are central to Croatian culture.