Day 6 with Celebrity Cruises and I had begun to feel very much at home on board the Constellation. I had been terrified about seasickness but so far the ship’s stabilizers mean I’ve not yet had to reach for a ginger tablet.
This morning we pulled into Dubrovnik. My sister was very excited about this port, as much of the old town was the site for filming of the phenomenon that is Game of Thrones. I’ve never been a GoT fan (too much violence for me) and everyone had warned us that the city itself is unpleasantly overrun with tourists; so instead I was genuinely looking forward to the tour offered by the ship called “A Taste of Dubrovnik”. It promised a visit to a local vineyard, a small farm producing its own oil and finally the chance to sample the renowned regional oysters. How could one resist?
After driving through some stunning Croatian countryside, we arrived at the tiny village of Orasac. Here, the charming Mato and Anna Dubej have a farm on the hillside overlooking the coast. They have been producing Olive Oil all their lives, originally using a mule to crush and press the olives. The poor mule, still called upon for demonstrations, was duly yoked and, snorting with disgust wheeled around in circles for a few minutes. Truth be told I think he quite fancied the attention and subsequent applause.
Now, however, Mato’s olives are carted off to a nearby factory where they are transformed into quite delicious bottles of EVOO, which he sells for just $10.
Their garden is something to behold. A tiny oasis in fields of bare rock, acacia and scrubby grasses is a vegetable garden the likes of which I’ve ever seen. With virtually no rain and poor soil, it is testament to a life’s work bending the land to the will of its owner. Every possible vegetable and herb was jammed into a small space around the house. Thousands of tomatoes fought with zucchinis, cucumbers, beans and peas to be the dominant climber on a myriad of small trellises.
Fig, almond, carob, walnut, peach, pomegranate and persimmon were just a few of the trees I noticed. Bees buzzed everywhere and the usual Bougainvillea was abundant.
Anna then produced a tasting plate with some homemade wine. Everything on it had been made or grown by them. The cheese, the prosciutto and of course the vegetables and olives. Earlier in the morning Anna had travelled down to the sea to harvest some Samphire ~ one of my very favourite vegetables. She had then very quickly pickled it. Delicious. In many ways I envy their lifestyle. Simple hard work, consistently rewarded with beautiful bounty from their surrounding fields. Little technology, no rush, just a love of, and comfortable sense of place.
Next was a visit to the vineyard. Not much to say other than I could have stayed all day admiring the vines clinging to the limestone cliffs some 300 metres above sea level. We tasted a jolly good Zinfandel and discovered that it has been proven that this variety actually originated in Croatia. Who knew? Californians would have you believe it’s their baby.
From the vineyard, we headed to the small coastal village of Ston on the bay of Slano. Renowned for its salt fields and the quality of the Flower Salt produced here, the village was established in 1333, but construction of its defensive wall commenced slightly earlier in 1317. Salt was so coveted at the time that a wall was a very necessary protective structure. I read somewhere it is one of the longest defensive walls in the world. It certainly reminded me of the scale of parts of the great wall of China.
And so to the oysters. We visited a funny little restaurant in Mali Ston. Seafood Risotto and oysters were the only thing on offer. The risotto was so-so. The oysters? The smallest, ugliest bivalves I’ve ever seen but this was more than made up for by their taste. Sweet, salty and achingly fresh, they rival the best of any Sydney Rocks I’ve had. After fighting with my husband over the last one it was back to the ship with full tummies and memories of another fascinating snapshot of the ever-varied Dalmatian Coast.
Until next time…