July 26, 2020 – How to combine easy access to the historic old town of Dubrovnik with the timeless beauty and the relaxed nature of the true Dalmatian lifestyle? An enchanting visit to the island of Kolocep, courtesy of the hospitality of TUI BLUE Kalamota Island Resort.
There are many perceptions about Dubrovnik, also known as the Pearl of the Adriatic by some, more recently as Kings Landing by others. It is undoubtedly beautiful, a fiercely independent historic stone walled UNESCO World Heritage Site jutting out into the Adriatic. A city which has more personality, culture and history than entire countries.
But a city which these days is perceived as too crowded in summer, expensive, and one where there is not that much to do once the main sites have been visited. A 2-3 day destination.
I decided to visit Dubrovnik this week to see for myself how this majestic destination is coping in the corona era, and to see what kind of destination it is in this most unusual tourism season. After yesterday’s look at the luxury option of Rixos Premium Dubrovnik, time for a complete change of gear, as the transfer team from TUI BLUE Kalamota Island Resort arrived at the hotel reception to take me to their hotel on the island of Kolocep. Along with Lopud and Sipan, Kolocep is the closest of the three Elafiti islands which lie just a short ferry ride from the historic city.
As an adopted island boy after 13 years on Hvar, I find that every Croatian island I visit has a unique feel to it, and I was looking forward to discovering what Kolocep had to offer on this, my first visit to Elafiti.
I knew little about the island and deliberately did not research it before arriving, as I wanted to discover it properly. I knew only that there were no cars on the island and it was the last inhabited island in Croatia to the south. And as soon as I mentioned I was going there in Dubrovnik, I realised I was not even sure I was calling it by the right name.
“Ah, Kalamota is really beautiful and relaxng. You will have an excellent time.”
Kalamota? Kalamota, I quickly learned, is the local name for the island, whose origin is in the island’s fishing tradition. And it is much more common to hear it called Kalamota than Kolocep (pronounced ‘Kolochep’). But locals refer to both.
It mattered not – look at those enticing waters as we approached. This was going to be quite a stay.
Although there are no cars on Kalamota, there are roads – narrow ones – and golf carts. The welcoming committee was awaiting my arrival, and we were soon on our way.
“We have to go very slowly here,” explained General Manager Ivo, “for there are six little kids playing.”
And so there were.
I liked that. This was a community island, where everyone was looking out for the other.
And just 30 minutes by regular ferry – four times a day in season – from the port of Dubrovnik in Gruz.
There were some rarities – a sandy beach in front of the hotel, a reasonably rare sight in Croatia.
And something even rarer in the hotel grounds – a cat hotel, put together by the hotel to keep the cats away from the hotel, as well as a place that guests could come to feed them.
A nice touch, and nice touches were everywhere on Kalamota. I was already in zen mode and I had only been here 10 minutes.
And so the sun set on another perfect day in Dalmatia. Only this time, I had a view like this, a view I posted on Facebook with the words – If you don’t hear from me for 3 months, I will be here.
And a slight moment of panic set in. How would I possibly be able to tear myself away from this idyll for a long drive back to Varazdin in two days?
But that was a concern for later, for it was time to enjoy the present and the truly fabulous views, comprehensive buffet and barbecue, with some relaxing live music provided by the hotel.
I was amazed that it was 40% full in these challenging times, with Dubrovnik essentially a flights only destination. Even more so when I learned that its almost exclusive client is part-owner TUI UK. TUI UK is not sending anyone to Croatia this summer, so full credit to the Kalamota team to be able to reorientate and get any guests at all. Even more so when I learned that the average stay in the hotel so far is an astonishing 8.5 days. But then, how could you possibly think of leaving this paradise once you enter? And several guests had already prolonged their stay.
One nice touch at the end of dinner is that the (very talented) singers go from table to table, serenading each guest with a song from their own country.
A lovely start to island life, and I went to bed in good cheer, to the soothing tunes of the abundant cicadas.
The breakfast view. Nothing more to add.
GM Ivo, a man with over 30 years experience in tourism in Dubrovnik, was fast developing into my favourite new best friend, and he suggested an island tour. An island tour on an island with no cars – this should be interesting.
I had no idea just how interesting it was going to be, as my golf cart and chauffeur awaited.
A carefree start to the day, the wind in my hair (if I had any hair) and we were off, passing the sandy beach initially, and greeting the friendly locals as we passed.
The level of maintenance for an island with no cars is INCREDIBLE – the stone walls which lined most of the route were painstakingly and very professionally erected. It was so neat and tidy, like nothing I had experienced on other islands. I was hooked – what a way to travel.
And then the surprises started. We stopped at a church. There are 15 on Kalamota, one for every 8 inhabitants these days.
“Let me show you inside the parish museum,” said my excellent guide. I wasn’t expecting much, but then THIS, above.
The churches on Kolocep are sensational. What was that Bible quote – it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than enter the Kingdom of Heaven?
I have never seen a church door that narrow. Thankfully, we didn’t have the key, or we may have had a fat, pink blogger calling the emergency services to be set free .They must have drunk less beer in the 10th century.
The Church of St Nikola was my favourite without a doubt, with a very impressive graveyard, whose permanent inhabitants had lived there for centuries.
Not all churches were in such a good state of repair, but there were others which also dated back 1000 years.
And they were all beautiful in their own way, including this one on the descent to Donje Celo, the second of two settlements on the island.
The Church of St. Antun, which is still used every Sunday.
Tourism of course is about the local experience, meeting local people, learning their ways and trying their cuisine. I will write a lot more about these two fabulous ladies in due course, as their tireless work to grow and produce local products – and they have a VERY impressive range – was one of the most enjoyable parts of the tour. A full article on the fabulous OPG Matijevic coming shortly.
Including an extensive tour of their fields, which I can imagine is a fascinating part of the tour for those of us who come from cultures where food grows in supermarkets.
Kalamota is a great hiking destination, and the hiking trails are well marked-out. The resident fire brigade keeps paths clear, and the island is very, very tidy and well looked after. And you need to catch your breath, check out a view like this one. They are everywhere.
Another village, another sandy bay for swimming. Idyllic for young families.
Just 30 minutes from Dubrovnik by ferry. Enjoy the big city perhaps twice a week, then chill. The perfect combination. Many locals do the same.
There may be no cars, but that doesn’t mean there are no traffic jams. Rush hour on Kalamota.
And the car park at Donje Celo was almost full as we arrived.
All good things come to an end, and I invite you to join me on the last minutes of the tour, as we descend back to Gornje Celo and the hotel, whence we had come. Absolutely delightful.
More characters. Despite being a community of just 120 people, Kalamota has a school with just two pupils, a resident doctor with surgery, and a fire station.
I REALLY wanted to meet the teacher, and she kindly agreed to come to our next destination, Villa Rose.
What a setting to interview the teacher (which will also be a separate article in the coming days).
While researching for this article, I came across a very rare TCN article indeed – in fact I think it might be unique. TCN’s editor Lauren is an amazing human, 20 times more capable than I, but one thing I have never see her do is write about a restaurant or food. It is just not her thing.
But Kalamota is a special place which makes people do things they might otherwise not – here is Lauren on Villa Rose (Villa Ruza) was back in 2016 when she was a Dubrovnik resident – Villa Ruza, Kolocep’s Quiet Escape.
There were 57 foreign weddings here last year alone – I wonder why.
Just 30 minutes from Dubrovnik’s port by ferry.
And yet a world away.
One of my favourite moments of this wonderful stay, was new BFF Ivo expressive his love for the Jadrolinija ferry, which is more than 50 years old. As precise as a Swiss watch and Japanese train, this ferry is the lifeline for the island. It plies its trade four times a day from Dubrovnik to the three Elafiti islands, and it is never late.
Locals know exactly what time is it when they look up and see the ferry arriving and departing.
Perhaps this is why guest are staying longer here – for Kalamota is timeless, and it is easy to get lost in the laganini lifestyle.
“Why do we need music?” asked Ivo. “We have our music from the sea and the trees.”
There was time for a leisurely siesta before dinner at Villa Ruza, and a chance to capture the waves hitting the sandy beach in front of the hotel as we wandered over for dinner.
In time to watch the sunset.
So we did.
For quite some time.
And we didn’t get bored.
Did I mention this is just 30 minutes from the port of Dubrovnik, but a world away?
“We decided to order dinner for you,” announced Ivo. After some delicious prsut and cheese, followed by octopus salad and scampi washed down with the local Dubrovacka Malvazija, time for the main course – and a burning and very baked fish was presented in front of me.
A sea-bream of 2 kilos, wrapped and baked in no less than THREE kilos of salt and egg white, then baked before being set on fire for show.
But that was just the start. Now see how the salt is removed and the fish served. And yes, it was well worth the wait.
Do you have to stay in Dubrovnik to enjoy the Pearl of the Adriatic? Absolutely not.
There are some real gems very close by which offer the perfect combination of culture and sightseeing on demand, against a backdrop of an idyllic Dalmatian lifestyle experience. Kalamota is right up there with the best of them.
To learn more about the island of Kolocep, visit the hotel website.
Paul Bradbury was an invited guest of TUI BLUE Kalamota Island Resort in July 2020.