After gorging ourselves on truffles in Istria it was time for some island hopping. We drove from Motovun to Rijeka. Rijeka is the 3rd largest city in Croatia after Zagreb (the capital) and Split. We parked the car near the ferry landing and looked for lunch. The ferry to Novalja on the island of Pag didn’t leave until 5 so we had plenty of time to look around Rijeka. The website that was instrumental in all the ferry planning was Croatia Ferries.
Near the port we found the fruit, fish, meat and dairy markets.
It would have been fun to buy some things and test them out but we were on the move! For lunch we found a little place called Na Kantunu. They brought out the daily fish selection so we could choose ours: grilled branzino with fried shrimp. When it came out there was a healthy helping of a swiss chard, potato and butter concoction which we deemed the national side dish as it appeared everywhere else we went with varying degrees of butter, smoothness and swiss chard. Every iteration was delicious.
The island of Pag is the 5th largest of the 1,200 or so islands in Croatia. There is a bridge that connects Pag to the mainland but we’ll get to that later. Although we took the ferry into Novalja, very much a beach town, our destination was the Boskinac, hotel/restaurant/winery, a short drive inland. Lonely Planet describes the landscape of Pag as a moonscape, or maybe something out of an Antonioni movie. In a way it is. There were wide swaths of land with no trees just scrubby bushes or shrubs and lots of white rocks. It had not rained in a few months so that may have contributed but there was something beautiful in the desolation.
Boskinac sits on a hill where off in the distance you can see the Adriatic. We couldn’t see the vineyards from the hotel but there were olive trees in sight and the constant chirping of cicadas. I don’t know how you say cicada but my pronunciation, see-kay-duh, is considered off by a certain bf of mine who says, chee-kah-da. Tomato, to-maaahh-toe. We arrived just before dinner so we checked in and ventured out onto the patio for our first al fresco meal of many there.
To drink we had a blend of gegich and sauvingnon blanc that we drank at every meal. It wasn’t too sweet or thin, but pretty perfect. To eat I started with mini maccheroni with baby shrimp and leeks. Bf had cold pea and mint soup. For our mains we had Adriatic tuna 3 ways: seared with some soy, cured and cold over a potato salad and sesame crusted over a red pepper puree (maybe); lamb 6 ways (small portions). Since we were on the fabled island of Pag cheese was a must. Their paški sir (Croatian for cheese from the island of Pag) is most like a pecorino, a hard, sheep’s milk cheese that has a subtle nutty flavor. We had some in Motovun but this was even more layered in its flavor.
The patio where we ate dinner looked over a small pool with a few lounge chairs and daybeds nearby. There are many beaches to visit but we chose Jadra which was 7 minutes away by car. Pag is very hilly and I’m sure you could manage by bike or walking but the combination of the sun and the 90 degree heat would be killer. Down a rocky, dirt road we drove to a little beach area that had a parking lot and an attendant charging for parking and chair rentals. There was no sand, just rocks. Rocks that had been worn down into smaller rocks and pebbles, but no sand. Those ugly scuba diving shoes would have been useful. Some smart person had created steps in the rocks so it was easy to walk into the water and swim off. The water was so clean and clear. Even though there were boats going by and all kinds of people in the water it didn’t feel weird or dirty like the water at Coney Island or Long Beach. With the high salt content of the water I was able to float easily, and that was wonderful. Floating in this amazing turquoise blue water thinking about nothing, just floating, blissful. There wasn’t a lifeguard but the water had been roped off about 200 yards out.
Around 5 pm a man came with a plastic container full of bomboloni, Italian doughnuts filled with cream (in Italy) chocolate or jam at Jadra. Everyone was eating one it seemed. There was a little girl, maybe 4 years old, blond, running around with a bomboloni. For some reason I decided not to get one. I didn’t want to ruin my dinner. Silly me. I thought about those bomboloni the rest of the trip!
Dinner later was delicious and simple, appetizers: scallops with a zucchini succotash in saffron, lamb soup in a clear broth with little chunks of potato, carrots and peas; entrees: mussels and clams, busara style–with white wine, garlic and parsley, and langoustines. The highlights though were the 6 different paški sir we had. Our cheese was accompanied by sage honey and apple-apricot jelly. The best one was unpasteurized.
While we loved the Boskinac and everything it had to offered we realized that the beaches were best reached by boat so we would face a challenge the rest of the way. It wasn’t too difficult to get to the beaches on other islands but if you really wanted to see them travel by boat was the way to go.