When people think of Dalmatia they usually think of the Adriatic coast, complete with its beaches, islands and swaying palm trees. What is often forgotten is that Dalmatia also has a huge tract of inland territory, much of which is just as exotic and just as interesting as the seaside but much less visited, making it more than ripe for discovery.
Much of inland Dalmatia is covered by the label Dalmatian Zagora (Dalmatinska Zagora); Zagora literally means ‘behind the hills’, a reference to the mountains that run along a good deal of the coast. Indeed much of the Zagora is a mountainous, arid place, known for the scrub-covered hills and rocky wastes known as kamenjar (‘stone fields’) – but also for its neat towns of stone houses and intensively cultivated islands of agriculture.
The Zagora may be a blind spot as far as tourists are concerned but it has never been so to the Dalmatians themselves, who have a high regard for its resourceful, hard-working inhabitants. The inhabitants of the Zagora are frequently termed vlaji by their coastal neighbours (a mocking reference to the Vlachs, the semi-nomadic sheep-rearers who roamed the Balkan interior in centuries past), although the term conveys a positive sense of hardy self-reliance as well as country-bumpkin simplicity. The populations of the coastal towns have always been fed by immigration from the interior, and settlements such as Zadar, Šibenik and Split have always faced two ways, serving as seafaring Mediterranean cities as well as ‘capitals’ of their extensive hinterland.
Much of the Zagora’s haunting beauty comes from its extensive areas of arid, maquis-covered plateau. However it’s also an area of much geological drama, with canyons and waterfalls around the Krka National Park and the Cetina Gorge, deep mysterious lakes at Imotski, and tortured limestone features almost everywhere. Roman remains at Burnum, and medieval fortress at Drniš, Knin and Sinj, provide a sense of historical depth.
The gastronomy of the Zagora is also distinctive, placing more emphasis on sheep, cattle and freshwater fish than the coastal parts of Dalmatia. The practice of roasting meats in a lidded metal vessel covered in glowing embers is a Zagora speciality, and is found almost everywhere inland. You also come across numerous regional specialities: freshwater fish inland from Omiš, slow-cooked veal risottos around Skradin, delicious home-cured pršut ham from Drniš, and frogs’ legs from Trilj. As far as local drink is concerned, Bibich, with vineyards in the hills above Skradin, produces boutique wines that are highly sought-after. There’s also a growing wine industry around Imotski, whose blended reds and indigenous Kujundžuša whites are increasingly highly rated – indeed Imotski winemaker Grabovac has opened a wine bar in the coastal resort of Makarska to promote the local tipple.
What follows is our list of ten places you should visit in order to get an authentic flavour of the Dalmatian Zagora.
- Ethno village Zagora - Stella Croatica
- Museum of Alka
- Success Story: The Imotski Town Wind Ensemble
- Ten must-visit places in inland Dalmatia
Ethno village Zagora - Stella CroaticaThis estate is nature’s gift to what the Dalmatian hinterland can offer. The entire village is built from old stone and comprises of seven autochthonous stone houses surrounded by orchards, gardens and olive groves. The owners pride themselves on the production of local foods where guests are taken on tours, shown how wine is made, flour milled, and almost everything is produced onsite. Cooking workshops in French and English are organised on request, there is wine tasting, smoked salami, dried figs, olive oil, tea and much more to devour. From the wine cellar to the mulberry tree, this is definitely a must see for those who appreciate the finer things in food produce, set amidst majestic surroundings. Info: Mihovilovići 21a, Klis, tel. (+385-21) 21 02 50, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.stella-croatica.hr.
Museum of Alka
Success Story: The Imotski Town Wind EnsembleMany towns and villages in Europe have their own band which provides a soundtrack for its celebrations and sad occasions. Membership of the band is a badge of honour and the band is the pride of the local people. Imotski, a town of just under 5000 souls in the Dalmatian hinterland, is no exception. Its wind ensemble has enjoyed a long history and unusual acclaim, both within the borders of this country and abroad.
Imotski is located close to the Bosnian border, inland from Makarska on the coast south of Split. The rocky karst landscape features two unusual lakes known as the Blue Lake and the Red Lake (Modro Jezero and Crveno Jezero). The former is a popular summer swimming spot, while the latter, surrounded by steep cliffs, is inaccessible and very deep.
Imotski's band is thought to have been founded in 1870. Since 1995 it has been conducted by Professor Ivan Glibota who, together with the Board and Presidency of the ensemble has helped grow it both in numbers and in musical craftsmanship. Numbering close to 100 members of between 12 and 70 years old, the ensemble is mainly comprised of young people, and its functions for the local community include supporting the development of musicianship and other skills and values in young people. Professor Glibota is also head of the local music school which is also enjoying unprecedented results. Clearly he is doing something right.
The ensemble frequently works with the Croatian National Theatre in Split. Conductor Nikša Bareza had the following words to say about their performance of Verdi’s Aida n 2014: ”Thanks to your work and professionalism, discipline and quality of musicianship this is the best incidental music one could have heard all these years.”
As well as carrying away numerous awards at international competitions, such as third place and a gold medal at this year’s prestigious Flicorno d’Oro competition in Italy, the ensemble has recorded to date three CDs titled “Music from the Blue Lake”. The latest, released in March 2017, will be a candidate for a Porin award, placing the music up there with the very best from the Croatian music industry and show business.
Life is not easy in the Dalmatian hinterland. The region lacks the tourist income attracted by the coastal towns, and industry is not what it used to be. Projects like the Imotski Wind Ensemble are a testament to the determination, passion, skill and pride of the local people and provide a ray of hope that the community, thanks to these qualities, especially in the younger generations, will prosper once again.
Show your support for the Imotski Wind Ensemble and keep up with their latest news! Follow them on Facebook at facebook.com/hpoggimotski/.