Just the name intrigued us, “Once Real...Now Novel – A Little Taste of the Hinterland.” To be honest, and to steal a line from the movie Jerry Maguire, “You had me at Once Real!” And as the story unfolded my curiosity was raised even more, an evening intertwined with stories and tradition. Right up my street. We were headed into the wild Dubrovnik hinterland, for it is relatively wild. Pretty much as soon as you leave the main coastal road and get off the tourist path the landscape takes on a rugged look. This was an excursion with Croatia Excursions, and yes you already know the name - Once Real...Now Novel – A Little Taste of the Hinterland.
I have lived in Dubrovnik for almost two decades. And over that time have been lucky enough to experience the vast majority of what this region has to offer. However one thing that still to this day fascinates me is the hinterland, the interior of Dubrovnik away from the beaches and the Adriatic. As we made our way with a luxury coach away from the coastline I could almost feel the clock turning backwards. Every mile we pushed into the mountain felt like another century in reverse. Untouched, untainted, real – just three adjectives that sprung to mind. A simpler way of life, a way of life deep in culture and traditions, where values were still cherished and nurtured. This half-day excursion took us fifteen kilometres into the countryside; we were headed towards a small village, well hamlet, called Ljubač. “Look at those olive trees, they must be hundreds of years old,” pointed the couple from Belgium next to me. We carried on through more olive groves, vineyards and fields of vegetables in between the rocks and undergrowth. They were like small, manicured oases surrounded by uncontrolled Mediterranean flora.
“Have you been here before,” asked the English tourist as we descended from the coach in what felt like the middle of nowhere. To my embarrassment I answered, “My first time.” And I had no excuse as this was a truly picturesque valley, the valley of Ljubač. Our guide lead us to a collection of small stone outbuildings, “these have been here since the beginning of time,” joked the Belgium man. He wasn’t far wrong. Quaint and delightful they resembled those small stone houses you see for sale as souvenirs. “I would like you to introduce you to our blacksmith, Pero, or to anglicise his name Peter,” smiled the guide. My mind raced, this was probably the first time I had ever met a blacksmith! In one of those cute stone buildings was his workshop, a workshop that hadn’t been changed for centuries. Think I said things move slowly in the hinterland.
An interesting display of how to make tools, yes of course metal tools, followed. It all looked like hard work, but these villages and their inhabitants were not shy of hard work. And all that hard work, sorry I mean watching that hard work had made us hungry. Which was just as well as we were off to eat, well eat is too small a word; this would be a dining experience.
If I ever win the lottery I have now found the house that I want to buy, although I have a feeling it isn’t for sale. Our next stop was the Musladin household, again stone houses but this time with a residential touch, and the views from the terrace were to die for. Traditional aperitifs were waiting for us, lots and lots of aperitifs! The evening had begun in style. We were shown around the property, a labyrinth of delicious buildings all in harmony with their surroundings. They even had a small chapel. And here is a tip for when you go on this excursion, ask the hosts about the chapel, it has an interesting story.
We were shown how the smoked ham was made, how the vegetables were basically picked right out of the soil and served to us and the story of the production of olive oil.
And the terrace with the million dollar view was our “restaurant” for the evening. A British real estate tycoon named Lord Harold Samuel was once asked what the three most important factors were when buying a house; he answered “location, location and location.” I have a feeling that the English Lord would have been extremely happy with our dining location. Traditional dancing, named Lindo, followed. And even a few members of the group were happy to join in; in fact for a debut performance they were pretty impressive.
And the food, oh the food, food glorious food! An open-kitchen which was working overtime to deliver gastronomic delights to our tables. I am not sure if I want to give the game away too much as to what we were served, just so you will have a few suprises, but let’s just say it was finger-liking good!
“I can’t understand why you have never been here before; it’s so gorgeous and the people are so friendly,” asked the English lady at the dining table. A hard as I might I couldn’t come up with a good answer. “It has taken me two decades to find it, but I have a feeling we will be friends in the future,” I replied.
By Mark Thomas
Photos Ivana Smilovic
The Once Real...Now Novel – A Little Taste of the Hinterland is a half-day excursion offered by the Gulliver Travel agency. For more information, including prices, dates and how to book, please visit the Gulliver Travel website here.