The Šibenik Region of Croatia
Securely nestled at the foothill of Šubicevac is the ancient
Dalmatian town of Šibenik. Known as the City of Fortresses, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to 11th century. I entered the town via its Adriatic waterfront and parked my car seaside. A courteous and good-humored bellhop from Life Palace Hotel (www.hotel-lifepalace.hr) greeted me and carried my luggage through narrow stone paths and on stairs worn smooth and slippery by centuries of pattering feet until we reached the hotel.
After climbing a dozen or so solid stone steps, a small piazza appeared. Dominating the far half of the piazza were sizeable umbrellas shading a handful of white painted wrought iron tables and chairs. A small ice-cream stand also offered fresh cut fruit, turning this tantalizing treat into a healthier snack. To the left of where I stood was the Life Palace Hotel. This small Renaissance palace has recently been lovingly converted into a boutique hotel. The charm of its history can be felt both inside and out.
EXPLORING THE TOWN
As I wandered through Šibenik’s charming stone streets, I passed several local artisan shops selling handmade ceramics, clothing, wines, liqueurs and cheeses. The breeze carried the sweet smell of the sea, lavender, and freshly made food. I was relieved to be one of only a few tourists roaming the town. This allowed me to take photos unbothered by hordes of people. I found several vantage points in town that provided the perfect view of some of Šibenik’s famed fortresses.
Šibenik was actually created to be a coastal fortress to protect the region from enemy attacks from land or by sea. This is why you will find one of the most fascinating fortification systems in Europe here. A total of four fortresses were erected– St. John Fortress, St. Nikolas Fortress, Fortress Barone, and St. Michael Fortress. I selected two of the fortresses to visit: St. Michael Fortress and St. Nikolas Fortress. The former, (Tvrđava Sv. Mihovila) overlooks the Old Town and the Šibenik archipelago. The oldest parts of the fortress date back to the 13th century. One of the most memorable moments of my trip was steadily climbing the series of fortress steps during sunset. When I reached the top, I was rewarded with a classical concert featuring Croatian pianist Matej Mestrovic under the stars.
The following day I took a boat ride to the UNESCO protected fortress of St. Nicholas (Tvrđava Sv. Nikole) located at the entrance to the St. Ante canal. This fortress was built in the mid-16th century and is considered to be one of the most important naval monuments on the Adriatic coast. This ancient gem allows visitors to walk freely through its hallowed halls and cavernous rooms while feeling the salty breezes through iron gated windows.
The following evening, on my way to the 2 Star Michelin Star restaurant Pelegrini, I came face to face with St. James Cathedral, a domed triple-nave basilica built between 1431 and 1535, and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. It was constructed entirely out of stone by Croatian master architect and sculptor Juraj Dalmatinac. My awe and amazement were eventually usurped by hunger, and my stomach urged me to continue on my way to Pelegrini. (http://pelegrini.hr)
WINE AND DINE
I was seated in a generously sized terrace nestled atop a rooftop overlooking the sea and archipelago below. Ancient stone buildings protect the terrace on three sides and I could hear the gentle hum of life radiating from within the walls. Professional wait staff began presenting courses of delicately prepared plates, all created with local ingredients. Buttery scallops in a creamy beat root puree with hints of what I suspect may be nutmeg; lamb tartar served with smoky faro crackers and hand churned butter balls; hand wound fusilli pasta with wild caught sea urchin; and artisanal milk flavored ice cream packed in a crispy waffle cone were just some of the meals made to perfection. A wine selection was presented throughout the meal that started with a sparkling wine and continued with a variety of whites, reds, and Croatian digestifs. All the wines I tried were provided by the local winery, Bibich (http://bibich.co).
This family has been making exceptional wine using local and indigenous grapes for over four generations. I was so impressed by the wine I took a trip the following day to the Bibich winery which is located about 30 minutes outside Šibenik near the small coastal town of Skradin. When I arrived, I was presented with an exceptional platter of molecular cuisine prepared by the owner, Alen Bibich’s master chef and wife, Vesna Bibich. Using local ingredients, Vesna created treats such as cuttlefish ink infused cream wrapped a cuttlefish ink cone cracker, and deconstructed butter and olive oil powder that she dusted onto a large spoon. I was instructed to simply eat the powder from the spoon and allow it to dissolved on my tongue. The rich flavor of these fats embraced my taste buds. I was further impressed with the chef’s reinterpretation of the olive. Round, glistening olive colored oval balls sat on a spoon and once placed in my mouth burst like the freshest beluga caviar egg and produced the most delicate, liquid essence of green olive. And I could not leave the winery without purchasing what I came here for—wine!
The babić red and debit white wines are indigenous to this region. The babić grape is a relative of red zinfandel, and is a dark, rich, earthy red with a round notes of cranberry, and white and black pepper notes. Debit is a crisp, dry, minerally white wine Bibich ages in stainless steel cases to keep the wine light. I also bought a traditional walnut brandy called Orahovac. This semi-sweet bark brown liqueur retains the delicate aroma and flavor of walnut. In addition, I selected a carob grappa called Karob. This light brown liqueur tends to have the rounded, buttery sweetness of the carob bean, but Bibich’s is stronger in alcohol content and grips the tongue more like a grappa.
As I drove off with the bottles of goodies in my bag and a camera full of photos, I found myself reminiscing of the wonderful time I had in Šibenik.
It is easy to get to Šibenik via Split or Zadar airports, which are well connected via European gateways. An additional option for accommodation is Hotel Bellevue (www.bellevuehotel.hr).For information, contact Šibenik Tourist Board www.sibenik-tourism.com or www.dalmatiasibenik.hr For assistance with travel to Croatia, contact email@example.com