28.03.2016 - Radosic
While cycling along the Croatian coast during Easter holidays I could spot cars from all over Europe. Cities were bursting with tourists and as temperatures are rising, even more people will come to Croatia, most of them checking in at big holiday resorts and sunbathing at one of Dalmatia’s beautiful yet crowded beaches.
The tourism industry is huge in Croatia – it contributes around 20% to the total GDP of the country. But following the masses to the most touristy destinations can be boring and for sure is unsustainable: Once the tourist agencies turn their back on Croatia and advertise for example Montenegro or Albania as the new tourist hotspot, they will leave behind empty hotel complexes as well as a tourism-dependent local population.
So why not try out something sustainable and traditional instead? I visited the Etno-Eko Village Skopljanci in Radosic, just 20km away from Split in the Dalmatian hinterland.
As I cycle up the 500-meter-high mountain range the noises of the Dalmatian coast slowly soften. These hills are the only thing separating the busy coast from the Dalmatian hinterland but as I reach the mountain top it feels like a whole different world. You can literally hear the silence. On the last few kilometers to the Etno-Eko village I pass by an old farmer walking behind his two cows – his slowness is the absolute contrary to the traffic I experienced on the coast.
Ivana and Anita are welcoming me in their tavern with some food they had prepared for a group of 35 tourists. A soup, some vegetables, meat – everything homemade, everything very delicious. They are just serving traditional Dalmatian dishes and it is important for them that all ingredients are organic. If you want to eat at their restaurant you have to order the meals in advance. In this way, less food will get wasted. The leftovers of the meals finally get recycled by using a compost. So basically there is no waste produced at all.
What is an Etno-Eko village? As the women are giving me a tour of the place, I will eventually get my answer: 25 years ago Marko, the husband of Ivana who was born in this village, had the lunatic idea to make this place attractive for tourists while conserving both, the nature and the traditions of this region. Nobody believed in him because the Balkan War had destroyed all the villages and thousands of people had fled to the cities or even to other countries.
But Marko is a man of action and the success should proof him right. Where there were just a few farm animals hanging around two decades ago are now 12 wonderfully restored stone buildings. Taverns, a restaurant, an ethnological museum, accommodation for tourists, a lot of space for sport activities and much more. Once a year, on the last Sunday of May, the village is host to over 15,000 people for the annual bull-fighting and Rural Olympics event. In 2014, Etno-Eko Skopljanci was voted best small place in Dalmatia and meals are booked up almost the whole year. To be that successful you have to put in a lot of work. As Ivana states, this is more than a job. This is your life and you have to love what you are doing. And they do love it. I can see it in their smiles.
Meanwhile we are entering another stone house, one of the taverns. Inside there is a group of Croatian guests seated around a big table, having coffee and biscuits. They offer me a seat right between them. The atmosphere is very nice and as we are having our conversations Marko comes in with an ancient traditional instrument in his hands. Despite its elaborate wood carvings, it looks very simple. It just has one string and a bow but you can change tones by putting your fingers on the string. With a booming voice Marko now starts to sing a traditional song while gently playing that instrument. The Croatians break into laughter – the lyrics are very funny I get told. On the one hand they are our guests, but on the other hand they should feel like they are in their own living room, Ivana tells me. And I can really feel that this concept is working. Even though this nice group of Croatians arrived today for the first time in the Etno-Eko village, it appears to me as if they were best friends with Ivana, Anita and Marko for years. They even made me feel welcome in their round within seconds. It is this place that creates that special atmosphere.
How is Skopljanci Etno-Eko Village contributing to environmental sustainability? Besides the already mentioned organic farming they also sell their homemade products on the regional market. This contribution to the regional economy helps reducing emissions caused by transportation. Also it just makes more sense to buy for example Croatian cheese than to go to a supermarket and buy cheese from the Netherlands or Germany (that is strangely enough cheaper because of economies of scale). They also give ecological seminars to school kids growing up in cities so that the question ‘does the brown cow give chocolate milk?’ won’t be asked a second time. By providing kids with useful information about their region’s traditions and environment they hope to conserve both of these things for future generations.
After finishing the tour of the village and having a look at all the animals living in this place (geese, rabbits, cows, chicken, a peacock, a turkey, donkeys… even a baby donkey! It was truly the cutest baby donkey I have seen in my life! It was at the same time the first baby donkey I have ever seen), Ivana and Anita were providing me with more food. Did they know that over the Easter holidays I had hardly eaten anything because all the shops were closed? No, it was more the fact that they really care about their guests and that it just makes them happy to see their guests happy.
All the persons in this village working very hard day by day to make this project a real success are an inspiration to me. Marko, who had this crazy idea 25 years ago and put an unbelievable amount of work into the village, and everyone else who believed in his concept and gave him a hand. Ivana and Anita, who took the time to show me around after a hard working day, providing me with food and drinks and smiles. These people took the decision to do what they love and while doing it conserve the nature and traditions of their region. I highly recommend you to experience this special village.
‘Skopljanci Etno-Eko Village’ is situated around 30km north of Split. You can reach it by car or bicycle. If you want to take a day off from the coast this is the perfect place to learn about the Dalmatian traditions in a beautiful surrounding. Don’t forget to order your meals beforehand if you’re hungry! You can get all the necessary information on their homepage: http://www.radosic.com/?lang=en