With arguably the most iconic picture promoting Croatia its main attraction, does the Brac town of Bol have anything to offer beyond Zlatni Rat beach? TCN spent a family weekend investigating.
I have also been to Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower…
Is it really possible to spend three days in Bol without visiting the most famous Croatian beach of them all, Zlatni Rat, especially with two swimming-loving daughters in tow? As I discovered on a family weekend as guests of the excellent Bluesun Hotel Elaphusa, missing the famous beach was all too easy, as there was so much else to take in.
Not that one can fail to be reminded of the beach at every turn – one of the cleverest brandings of a tourist destination I have ever seen, the SymBOL of the Adriatic, was waiting to welcome us off the tourist boat from Jelsa.
The most commanding building on the town’s waterfront is the oldest wine cooperative in Dalmatia, which was opened in 1903, and the winery’s contrasting fortunes have received a huge boost in recent years with the huge investment by Jako Vino, a company which has invested heavily in the winery, as well as planting new vineyards in the slopes above and around the town. The Stina range is fast becoming one of the top wine choices in Dalmatia, and visitors are often stunned by the contrast with the historic exterior and what they find inside.
For Stina means Style, and its award-winning labels (totally blank in a Brac stone colour with the wine name and information embossed into the label) is a potent statement of intent from the winery which has transformed the image of Brac wine, along with another Brac pioneer, Senjkovic. A Stina wine tasting is a must experience for any wine lover, as is a tour of the winery, which has been beautifully restored with all the viticultural mod cons.
The Stina winery is owned by the same company who bought the main hotel show in town, and it is Bol’s good fortune that the purchase led to significant investment, unlike other nearby destinations such as Jelsa on Hvar. The company also has a stake in Bol Airport, which is undergoing something of a renaissance this year, and there are plans to introduce direct flights from Zagreb and elsewhere to further strengthen the tourism attractiveness of Bol.
Tennis at Bluesun is one of its growing sectors. Once on the ATP tour, Bluesun this year hosted various international tennis events which brought more than 15,000 overnight stays in May.
There are various other attractive facilities in the hotel, which exceed expectations, including the largest wellness centre on the Adriatic, at 4,000m2, and one which includes some decidedly local offers, including a Plavac Mali bath and Brac olive oil massage.
And a rarity for this part of the world – tenpin bowling, which proved to be a family hit, even if the quality of the bowling was not up to the levels of enthusiasm…
The bowling was part of an entertainment centre in Hotel Elaphusa which combined entertainment and music to provide a relaxed ambiance and spontaneous dancing.
And so off to discover. While the hotels are conveniently located for beach lovers a stone’s throw from Zlatni Rat, those looking to explore have a pleasant stroll along a well-maintained and tree-lined promenade into town. Don’t fancy the walk? A train is in operation during the season to ferry guests.
Bol is very long and thin, and with so much waterfront, this has the considerable advantage of allowing multi-functional activities for different interest groups. Its emerging status as an activity centre was plain to see, and there was plenty of choice on offer.
Brac, the island of stone, whose famous quarries have built Diocletian’s Palace and contributed to The White House in Washington. The island’s heritage is bonded to its stone, and reminders are everywhere, with tasteful momuments all over the island.
And an association with The White House that I had not come across before, on the other side of town after a pleasant walk through the centre: The White House in Bol (Bijela Kuca).
Named after its Washington couterpart in recogition of the island’s contribution to the construction of its American cousin, The Bol White House has seen better days, and it would be nice to see it restored to its former glory.
And behind The White House, an interesting contruction to protect from floods in years gone by, with explanation below.
At every turn, it seemed, there was another picturesque building and point of interest. Even the kids were losing interest in the thought of Zlatni Rat.
A beautiful former olive mill in the east of the town.
And of course, Zlatni Rat is not the only beach show in town, and here is one popular with the locals which rarely makes the guidebooks…
Offering views of romantic fisherman’s house dining – there are a number of excellent restaurants in Bol, from busy downtown to something altogether a bit more remote just a short walk away.
Or halfway in between…
And for people looking to explore Bol beyond Zlatni Rat, it is attracting more bike tourists each year, as Brac continues to build on its branding of an island of adventure and culture.
TCN caught up with Bol Tourist Board Director Markito Marinkovic to learn more about tourism in the town, which was known as the top party destination on the Adriatic ten years ago, but which has now reinvented itself as a destination for families and adventure tourism. Bol very publicly refused to hold the Ultra Europe festival on Zlatni Rat last year, as it was confident enough in its own branding and did not want to become known as a party destination again. According to Marinkovic, last year’s visitors comprised 40% of young families, a remarkable result just a decade after being a top party destination.
One of the negative stereotypes I had had in my head about Bol all these years was that it was somewhat isolated from the rest of Brac, but as a tourist, I not only found enough to do (too much to visit the beach…), but also some outstanding day trips to compliment my experience in the town, including a visit to Pusisca, recently named as one of the top 10 most beautiful villages in Europe.
The star attraction is the Pucisca Stonemasonry School, where pupils from the age of 14 study the ancient art of stonemasonry, continuing the traditions of their ancestors in this culturally important tradition. One of the interesting aspects of the waterfront school are the windows, some of which are basic frames, others more ornate stone masterpieces. The reason is because each final year class is tasked with designing and building a frame, and these are added year by year. Sadly, this is the first year that no pupil from the island has registered for the school.
The classroom inside had these two young ladies contemplating a change in educational direction.
The stonemasonry school still fresh in the memory, we headed off to ancient Skrip and one of the island’s newest attractions, the olive oil museum, a painstakingly beautiful authentic recreation of a traditional olive mill which stopped functioning 50 years ago, but which has now been restored and filled with period pieces, offering a fascinating insight into traditional Dalmatian life. Read more about it here.
There are two more must-see heritage sites near Brac. We did not manage to visit the monastery in Blaca, a phenomenal inland construction, complete with grand piano which 10 monks allegedly carried over the mountains, consuming 56 litres of wine in the process, but the hike to Dragon’s Cave was one of the sensational experiences of a decade in Croatia for me, and an experience only enjoyed by 1000 people a year. One not to miss, and you can read about it here.
Bol – a destination with something for everyone – gourmet, activity, history, heritage and family fun. Did I also mention it apparently has a famous beach?