Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Lost on Lastovo

Lastovo is known as the island of stars, but for reasons I shall go into, for me it will always be the island of pink. It's been on my list of places to visit but its reputation for remoteness is well deserved. Five hours on a ferry makes a weekend trip possible but not ideal, however the ECA and their small but growing fleet of seaplanes now offer an easy and quick option for a flying visit. There had been talk of a seaplane service in Croatia for many years but it took until late last year to get going. But with an out of season service being more like a private taxi, I'm sure it will take off - no pun intended - and be very popular during the summer.

Lastovo is a collection of islands and its environment is protected by law; in 2006 the Croatian Government made the island and its archipelago a nature park. The islands have a fascinating history and it generally mirrors the story of Croatia as a whole. It has been inhabited since the late Neolithic period and the first traces of humans on the island have been found in the Rača cave . Illyrians, Greeks, and Romans all made their mark, and "villae rusticae" (residential farming units) and water wells known as "lokve" are evidence of Roman ingenuity. However although agriculture was always important, the fertile island has seen war and conflict from the 10th century until the mid-1990s.

I was fascinated to visit the tiny capital and get lost in the narrow steep streets, and be artistic with the ruined 19th century houses. Looking down the hill, towards the expanse of regimented and organised allotments, with the mountainous vista, you can imagine you are nowhere near the sea. The coast is a couple of kilometres behind the town, down a steeply winding road.

Venetians in their quest to rid themselves of pirates razed the previously coastal town of Lastovo to the ground. After this Lastovci decided to build their capital inland making it more defendable. The usual Croatian history problem applies, there is very little documentary evidence. Although there may have been various rulers through the 7th-13th centuries, Lastovo generally recognised the authority of the Croatian kings. Later in the 13th century, they voluntarily joined the Ragusa Republic, where they were promised internal autonomy. This agreement was codified in the Ragusa Statute written in 1272. This led to many conflicts and it was passed backwards and forwards, from Venice to Dubrovnik.

Conflict carried on through the 19th and 20th century. Occupied in turn by the French, Austro-Hungarians, British and Italian, it eventually became part of Yugoslavia. After WW2, Lastovo became a military region forbidden to foreigners which led to economic stagnation and the depopulation of the island. However lack of human interference allowed nature to flourish, and since 1988, visitors can get lost in, and enjoy the natural glorious environment. Even the crumbling wartime structures seem to offer shelter to many birds, lizards, snakes and other strange grunting creatures.

The ramble started from my apartment just outside Ubli, one of the original Roman settlements. Even though it is the main road to Pasadur, at this time of year there wasn't a soul on the road, and locals were busy with summer preparations; boat mending, gardening, chair painting. The fresh breeze off the sea combined with the scent of the Adriatic pines, and soon I was leaving the tarmac behind. The forest path was clearly marked which made me feel happier because of the lack of people around. I had a proper map, none of your Google maps nonsense. My intention was to wander around Mostni vrh, past Sv Juraj and Jurjeva luka, and up to Ponta od Kremene.

I headed up into the woods and complete silence, just the crunch underfoot and the swoosh of blood in the brain. I stood looking up at the blue sky listening to the bird sounds, then looked down to admire the endless wild cyclamen scattered around like pink peppercorns. Butterflies and bees enjoyed the yellow gorse and blue rosemary flowers. As I headed down into the tiny harbour, to sit by the turquoise sea to watch the gulls and fish, I welcomed the warmth from the sun. In the shade it was perfect hiking weather, pleasantly brisk but to have a pause in the full on heat was perfect. The best part of the ramble was around Prznice, rocky and rough underfoot, one false move and I would have slipped into the sea. And my legs were still mildly shaking from the rapid climb of the hilly point.

As I had left rather late in the day for a three hour outing, I was pushing it timewise. The sun generally set around 6.30 which turned out to be perfect timing. Walking back down the main road, I stopped for 20 minutes to watch the sun go down over the point round which I'd just ambled. As it disappeared into the pink and red sea, I knew this was the most incredible walk I'd done in a very long time. Everything about this 12 kilometre ramble was perfect; not a person to be seen, the scents and sensations of a fresh spring day, sun kissed cheeks; truly, just like the sun, I was in the pink!

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