Dubrovnik: Croatia’s Pearl

After leaving Mostar and Bosnia-Herzegovina we drove back to the coast and made our way south to the Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik. From the hills above looking down on this sparkling city by the sea you have no doubt where this historic city got its nickname.

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The Pearl of the Adriatic: Dubrovnik. (L.Compisi)

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Early morning along the main boulevard inside the walls. (L.Compisi)

Few regions of the world have had the fortune, or misfortune to be directly affected by so many great dynasties or empires in its history. Dubrovnik (and Croatia at large) counts the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, the Byzantine Empire, the French (Napoleon), the Austro-Hungarian Empire among its masters and influencers over the centuries. It was also on the main land route from western Europe to the Middle East and Jerusalem. Dubrovnik, Ragusa in the language of Rome, carried the name the Republic of Ragusa for several centuries until 1808 and the Kingdom of Dalmatia for another century. The Venetian influence is particularly observable in the architecture of this amazing place.

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The narrow interior alleys hide special treasures. (L.Compisi)

Upon entering the old walled-city it feels like a small town. Very hard to picture its importance as a major maritime power rivaling Venice and Ancona 500 years earlier wielding the 3rd largest Navy in the Mediterranean with only these two larger. The walls were constructed between the 14th and 15th centuries.

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The amazing tiled roofs from the walk along the walls (L.Compisi)

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The city plan, always useful. (L.Compisi)

In 1979, UNESCO listed the city of Dubrovnik as a World Heritage site offering the city the prestige, protections and funding needed to assist in necessary restorations and maintenance.

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The medieval harbor from above. (L.Compisi)

Dubrovnik was a center of innovation and modern thinking even in the middle ages establishing medical services (1301AD), the first pharmacy (1317AD still operating today) and an orphanage (1432AD). The Republic of Ragusa was even involved in diplomacy and trade with the American Colonies as early as 1771 and later with the American revolutionaries when they entered into a trade agreement in 1776 with the United States. The Americans agreed to allow their ships free passage into American ports.

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The crowds pick up after 11am. Get an early start. (L.Compisi)

More recently, in 1991, the city of Dubrovnik was laid to siege for 7 months during the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001). Nearly 60% of its buildings were damaged, in some way, by the 650 artillery rounds that landed within its walls. Little of this is visible now 25 plus years later thanks to the vibrancy of its residents.

Sights of interest:

The Church of St. Basile, the patron saint of Dubrovnik and the protector of the Republic of Ragusa, is a beautiful Baroque Church with a large plaza in front of it. The church was built in 1715 by the Venetian architect and sculptor Marino Gropelli.

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The Church of St. Basile, Patron Saint of Dubrovnik (L.Compisi)

The Dubrovnik Marina gives you the sense of living in the middle ages with its protected harbor just outside the walls of the city. Also to enjoy is the walk around the wall which takes about an hour depending upon the number of people walking. It’s just about a mile in circumference.

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From sea level the harbor evokes thoughts of Venice (L.Compisi)


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The walk along the wall takes about an hour – depending on traffic. (L.Compisi)

The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola is also worth a visit. We took the amazing stairs, designed by the Roman architect Pietro Passalacque in 1738 to look like the Spanish Steps in Rome, which lead to St Ignatius Church adjacent to the famous Jesuit school Collegium Ragusinum. The Church of St Ignatius is the work of the famed Jesuit architect and painter Ignazio Pozzo, who worked on the church from 1699 to 1703. The church was completed in 1725 and opened in 1729.

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The Church of St. Ignatius offers beautiful frescoes. (L.Compisi)

You must find the Buža Bar (Buža = Hole in the Wall) while in Dubrovnik. It is the only bar outside the walls on the seaside of the city and offers drinks only – no food.  The views are delightful, if you can find it.

Just outside the walls is the Fortress St. Lawrence (Fort Lovrijenaca), sometimes referred to as Dubrovnik’s ‘Gibraltar’. The fortress includes a theater and is outside the western wall of the city. Historically, this fort was originally constructed in less than 90 days by the residence of the Republic of Ragusa to fend off the Venetians. It succeeded.


The Fotress of St. Lawrence (L.Compisi)


Even though Croatia is part of the European Union they maintain their own currency, at least for now. Croatia’s unit of currency is the Kuna (Kn.), which is divided into 100 lipa. Despite these facts, Euros may be used in many circumstances.

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Big Onofrio’s fountain (1438) is supplied by a medieval aqueduct 

Two or three days is all you need to enjoy this beautiful and historic city along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. A true world treasure.

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Weather: The weather in Croatia in mid-June through early July was quite warm (90F) with some humidity – a bit steamy. We usually travel to Europe in September and October and I think this would be a much better time to be on the Adriatic coast. May might also good for traveling along the Adriatic coast.

Follow us on Travel Bites, Flights and Sights as we spend the final days of our holiday in the Lavender fields of Provence.

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Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Coastal Adventures, Croatia, Historic, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Dalmatia to Mostar and on to Dubrovnik

Our most excellent European Vacation continued as we sadly said good bye to the beautiful islands of Hvar and Korčula.  We took the Jadrolinija for a short ferry ride back to the mainland of Croatia.  To break up the journey we stopped in the walled city of Ston, which is two cities, southern Ston and Mali (little) Ston, connected by a 1200-meter-long great wall built on orders from the Dubrovnik Republic between 1461 and 1464 AD. The wall was built to protect the important salt production that remains today in Ston. Although much of the original 7000 meters were destroyed over time by 3 major earth quakes, parts have been reconstructed and are open to the public.  We didn’t do that as our schedule would not allow it.  We had a quick lunch and continued to Mostar.


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The Great Wall of Ston c. 15th Century (L.Compisi)


City Plan for Ston and Mali Ston (L.Compisi)

The journey from Ston to Bosnia-Herzegovina included a rather invasive border crossing with trucks and buses lined up waiting to be cleared.  Once through we continued inland away from the Adriatic to Mostar. The distance is just over 100 kilometers and took us about 2.5 hours considering the border crossing. It is sad to say that among the former Yugoslavian countries we have visited (Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina), Bosnia appears to have recovered the least from the wars of ethnic cleansing in the early 1990s. Perhaps because of the complicated system of government, and some say political corruption, the country remains the least economically viable of the former Balkan countries.

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Bombed out home remains unrestored (L.Compisi)

The evidence is clear that rebuilding of bombed out homes and businesses has not fully occurred even 23 years after the peace agreement, referred to as the Dayton Peace Accords, were signed in late 1995. Although the bloodshed was ended the agreement allows for a tripartite Presidency.  Yes, that’s three presidents, one Bosniak (Muslim), one Serb (Serbian Orthodox) and one Croat (Roman Catholic). The Parliament follows a similar ethnic makeup as does the Council of Ministers. Leave it to say, as they rotate through power their main goal seems to be keeping power thereby maintaining the status quo. Oh yes, meant to mention that Bosnia and Herzegovina are two entities: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, with significant internal autonomy.

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Daytime view of Mostar and the Neretva River from our hotel (L.Compisi)

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Night time view of Mostar and the Neretva River from our hotel (L.Compisi)

Sorry, got a little off track there.  Once we arrived in Mostar we checked into our hotel. The hotel was right on the Neretva River and offered pretty views of the City and surrounding hills as well as easy access to the old city. Mostar offers a fascinating and unique multi-cultural blend of south Slavic, Ottoman-Turkish and Mediterranean traditions. The food and architecture in various parts of the city reflect this. We used a local guide whose family had suffered greatly during the war.  She took us on a very thought provoking walk and discussed the siege of Mostar. We visited Mosques, an Ottoman-Turkish home, the quite beautiful and restored Stari Most Bridge (circa 16th Century), the Kujundžiluk Bazaar and had a truly delicious dinner at Sadrvan, an Otto Turkish restaurant. The city is filled with minarets and the occasional church.

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Restaurant Sadrvan offered delicious traditional Turkish fare (L.Compisi)

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Picturesque Stari Most Bridge in its latest incarnation (L.Compisi)

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The dome of Koski Memed Pasha Mosque (L.Compisi

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Interior of Koski Memed Pasha Mosque (l.Compisi)

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Minarets dot the Mostar skyline (L.Compisi)


Mostar Pivo (Beer) was very good (L.Compisi)

Mostar has a population of about 115k people and is quite walk-able. To compare, Sarajevo, the Capital, has about 300k people. Tourism, despite the reminders of the ravages of war and the complexity of its governmental system, is on the rise, reportedly one of the fastest in World.


Stolac is quaint, beautiful and a very special place (L.Compisi)


The Bregava River adds to Stolac’s charm (L.Compisi)


Stolac offers history, charm and tranquility (L.Compisi)

Upon departing Mostar, we headed to Dubrovnik but not without brief stops in Stolac and the Radimlja Necropolis, both in the valley of the Bregava River. The ride was unusually beautiful with vineyards and great fertile fields of general agriculture. Stolac was replete with amazing architectural gems. The area has been settled by various peoples for over 15,000 years. The Radimlja Necropolis of stećaks (medieval tombstones) have monuments inscribed as early as 1151 and 1178 AD.

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The stećaks of Radimlja Necropolis whispered of peoples and times gone by (L.Compisi)

Continuing westbound toward the Adriatic and Dubrovnik we had a tour and tea at the Dervish (Sufi) Monastery in Blagaj Tekke and made a brief visit to the Serbian Orthodox Žitomislić Monastery. Žitomislić has been destroyed and rebuilt at least five times (most recently in 2002) since its original construction between 1566 and 1606.

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The Dervish (Sufi) Monastery, Blagaj Tekke required head scarfs for ladies (L.Compisi)

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The traditional tea service was memorable at Blagaj Tekke (L.Compisi)


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The Blagaj Tekke Court Yard was surprisingly empty (L.Compisi)

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The building and grounds at Žitomislić Monastery (L.Compisi)

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The religious art on the ceiling and walls were breathtaking at Žitomislić (L.Compisi)

There is a great deal of beauty and history in this tumultuous land called that is so worth exploring. One of the benefits of travel is to see what other people and countries are doing and what is working and what is not. Maybe we were on to something when ‘E Pluribus Unum’ was first considered for the American Motto on the Great Seal of the United States in 1776. Perhaps in the next 25 years Bosnia-Herzegovina can surmount the ethnic divisions that appear to be holding it back.

Next up, a delightful 2 days in Dubrovnik!

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Restaurants, Slovenia, Travel, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Islands of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast: Hvar and Korčula

After our brief adventure in Split and the Palace of Diocletian, we boarded a ferry for the two hour cruise to the island of Hvar. Hvar has a fascinating history that includes being populated in prehistoric times and eventually by the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Napoleon and the Austrians. It was an important naval base for both military operations as well as the silk route trade. Hvar’s wide fertile plain proved to be perfect for growing Lavender and Rosemary which were important to the French perfume industry. They also excelled in producing exceptional wine grapes.


Fishing and pleasure boats pack the Hvar Marina (L.Compisi)


Cafes and restaurants line the seawall surrounding Hvar Marina (L.Compisi)

Today, tourism is the main attraction of Hvar for very good reason. The mild Mediterranean climate boasts average day time temperatures between 70° to 85° F between May and October, although it was in the low 90s while we were there in late June. The water temperatures also are attractive with temperatures usually staying between 73° to 81° F during the summer.


A sailing playground in the torquise waters of Hvar (L.Compisi)


One of the many yachts moored in Hvar marina (L.Compisi)

The island promotes itself as “the sunniest spot in Europe”, having nearly 2,800 hours of sunlight in an average year. Hvar City has beautiful beaches and quaint seaside architecture which make it very attractive to tourist from all over Europe. This is manifested by the large yachts that fill the harbor and the crowded café that overlook it.


Many larger sailboats with the town of Hvar as backdrop (L.Compisi)


One of the more elegant restaurants along a gorgeous beach area (L.Compisi)

After a delightful day in Hvar enjoying the beaches, café, bars and restaurants we took a large catamaran to the Island of Korčula. The cruise was just over an hour in length. Korčula is a fortified town on the eastern coast of the island of the same name. Slightly larger in population than Hvar, Korčula town offered a very interesting old town that was originally an island itself.


A graphic of Korčula (L.Compisi)

Unlike Hvar, whose main commercial area was flat, Korčula was quite hilly making it much more interesting from an architectural and photo taking perspective. St. Mark’s Cathedral, also called Korčula Cathedral, is in the center of the old town and commands the highest point.  Korčula has many outdoor café and restaurants along the waterfront as well as in the central plaza by the Cathedral and even along its steep side allies which form ‘spokes of the wheel’ that the city resembles.


The stairs leading to the beautiful medieval main entrance to Korčula town (L.Compisi)


Korčula as seen from the seaside (L.Compisi)

We stayed at the Hotel Korsal in Korčula which was a short walk from the old town area. The rooms were very nice with many having views overlooking the marina and the old town. The restaurant has a good wine list, a wine cellar and services solid local cuisine.


View from our room at Hotel Korsal (L.Compisi)

Korčula claims to be the birthplace of Marco Polo and is investing in the restoration of his legendary home but there is little hard evidence that he is truly from there rather than Venice. There is also a Marco Polo museum in Korčula


Plans for the restoration of the ‘home’ of Marco Polo(L.Compisi)

Getting there: You can take the ferry with your rental car or actually buy a bus ticket in Split and they will ferry you to Hvar and then transport you by bus to the center of town. Either option requires early purchasing of tickets during the high season. This ferry route to Korčula from Hvar runs 3 journeys per day in high season. In the low season it runs 1 journey per day. Journey time is between 1 hour 05 minutes and 1 hour 45 minutes depending on the route. The main Croatian ferry operator, Jadrolinija, runs a service linking Korčula Town with SplitHvarDubrovnik and (from May to September) Bari, Italy.


Jadrolinija Ferries in Split heading to Hvar & Korčula (L.Compisi)

When to visit: Hvar and Korčula are definitely worth visiting when the water and air temperatures are warmer but we would recommend late May – early June or late September – early October when the temperatures are a bit more moderate and the crowds have thinned.

Two or three days each is all you need to enjoy these beautiful and historic islands along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. These are unique world treasures. Check back for the next story about our most excellent European Adventure including Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Dubrovnik.

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Coastal Adventures, Croatia, Island Vacations, Travel, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Split, Croatia: Sun City for Retired Emperors

Split, Croatia is an ancient city that grew up around a delightful piece of unique history. Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace, is both massive and architecturally interesting, and perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Split.


Bust of Emperor Diocletian inside the Palace below ground spaces. (L.Compisi)

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Artist’s conception of the Palace layout. (L.Compisi)

The Palace, actually more like a fortress, was built in anticipation of Diocletian’s retirement on May 1st, 305 AD. As a native of the Roman province of Dalmatia, Diocletian wanted to spend his last years in his native land. Split, as it came to be known, was only four miles from Salona, the provincial capital of Dalmatia. Diocletian’s Palace was designated a World Heritage Site in 1979.


Ancient portion of the exterior Palace walls (L.Compisi)


The eastern Golden Gate of the Palace (L.Compisi)


Amazing Roman vaulted arches below ground supporting the Palace (L.Compisi)


More Palace storage area and arches (L.Compisi)


Split, and the Palace, may be familiar to some because of its role in the blockbuster HBO hit, Game of Thrones. Some episodes of the 4th Season were filmed in the Palace. The Palace comprises about half of what is now the old town area of Split.  It is situated along a natural bay that today offers the Riva Promenade, a long seaside promenade with a beach area as well as a view of the Cruise ship and Ferry port at one end of the town. The Promenade has restaurant after restaurant, shops, bars, cafes and wonderful ice cream shops. Quite inviting and very beautiful.


Riva Promenade with the sea to the right (L.Compisi)


A portion of the Palace wall along the Riva (L.Compisi)


Dining al fresco along the Riva Promenade (L.Compisi)

Within the old town are numerous sights of interest:

Marjan Hill is a short distance north of town and offers stunning views of the city, the Palace, the seaside and the surrounding hills. If you don’t like steps, uphill elevation changes and sweating stay away but we found the views very worth it. The restaurant at the top offers an opportunity to rest and recover.


View of Split from Marjan Hill (L.Compisi)

Just outside the East Gate of the Palace is a very large statue of Grgyr Ninski by renowned Croatian sculpture Ivan Mestrovic. Gregory Nin (in English) was a medieval bishop from Croatia who strongly opposed the Pope, stands just outside the Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace. Bishop Gregory introduced the national Croatian language into Catholic services (in place of the traditional Latin) in Croatia after the Great Assembly in 926 AD, finally making it possible for everyone to know what was being said during the service. The Status is 20 feet tall above its pedestal. It is a popular belief that that rubbing the bishop’s toe brings good luck. The toe is now smooth and shiny.


20′ tall statue of Bishop Gregory of Nin – toe rub for good luck! (L.Compisi)

The Peristyle was the main gathering place for Diocletian’s subjects. Later on, as the city grew, the Peristyle was too small and the People’s Square, or Narodni trg in Croatian, became the main meeting spot. It has been so since the 14th century.


The Peristyle was the gathering place of the people during Diocletian’s time (L.Compisi)


Saint Domnius Cathedral and Diocletian’s Masoleum overlook the Peristyle (L.Compisi)


The Cathedral from inside the Peristyle (L.Compisi)

Republic Square is just west of the Riva. It is a three sided (the open side faces the sea) series of columned buildings that were designed to resemble St. Mark’s Square in Venice. It serves the city as an excellent venue for concerts and other events.

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Republic Square is patterned after St. Mark’s Square in Venice (L.Compisi)

The weather in June, when we visited, was a bit steamy and hot. We usually travel to Europe in September and October and I think this would be a much better time to be on the Adriatic coast.


The Peristyle at night facing the Vestibule (L.Compisi)


Looking toward St. Domnius Cathedral from the Peristyle (l.Compisi)

Two or three days is all you need to enjoy this beautiful and historic city along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. A true world treasure.


Crotian National Theater just outside the Palace walls (L.Compisi)


The People’s Square was created when the Peristyle was no longer large enough (L.Compisi)

Check back for the next story about our most excellent European Adventure including Dubrovnik, Bosnia and Provence.


Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Coastal Adventures, Croatia, Travel, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Stories of Sonoma County featured in recent ZAP Event

Cline Cellars in the Carneros region of Sonoma County was the brilliant host to the most recent wine tasting event sponsored by Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP).  ZAP, if you don’t know, is a membership-based organization that advances knowledge and appreciation for American Zinfandel, the heritage grape that is most often associated with California grape growing.  The organization promotes Zinfandel’s unique place in our culture and history.


Cool, cool waters at Cline Cellars (L.Compisi)


Shady entry to Cline Cellars gardens (L.Compisi(

Cline Cellars was a perfect venue on this warm late summer afternoon with its cool ponds and well shaded lawn area next to their tasting room along Arnold Drive (also known as Highway 121) in Sonoma County. Although known for their exquisite Rhone varietals, Cline has a pretty exceptional collection of Zinfandels.

Cline Cellars was an exceptional host for the ZAP: Stories of Sonoma (L.Compisi)

Approximately 70 wine producers were represented with their Zinfandel offerings from the well-known Zinfandel growing regions of Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley as well as unique American Viticultural Area (AVA) like Rockpile.


Despite the heat, the tent remained comfortable (L.Compisi)

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Gustafson Winery – Tara and Sierra (L.Compisi)

The tasty bites offered were quite nice and the overall event was typical ZAP quality. A standout were the sweet delectables provided by Sonoma Sauces a wine-based dessert and sauce company. Yummy and fun!


Tasty Bites from Sonoma Sauce were delicious (L.Compisi)

Winery highlights included: Miro Cellars (get the 2015 Reserve Ponzo Vineyard Zinfandel – no tasting room), Peterson Winery (2013 Zinfandel was exquisite), Jeff Cohn Cellars, Rock Wall (Shauna Rosenblum has Zinfandel in her DNA), Cline Cellars (they had about 5 Zin’s to taste – all good), Pedroncelli Winery (an historic – 91years- Dry Creek family winery and Zinfandel house), Artezin (Randle Johnson is a Zin Zen-Master), Mauritson (The 2016 Rockpile Ridge Zin is a standout) , Seawolf (the 2017 Rosé of Zinfandel was a treat on a warm day) and Kokomo (winemaker Erik Miller and grower-partner Randy Peters make magic).

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Winemakers Miro Tcholakov (L) and Fred Peterson (R) commiserate (L.Compisi) 


Pedroncelli is an iconic Dry Creek Zinfandel House (L.Compisi)

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Miro Tcholakov proudly holds his 2015 Zinfandel (L.Compisi)

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Fred Peterson promotes his  2013 Dry Creek Zinfandel (L.Compisi)


Jeff Cohn is a highly regarded winemaker (L.Compisi)

Go to their tasting rooms to get the full range of their delicious wines or visit their websites and order!


MaryLee Johnson showcases husband Randle’s Artezin Zinfandel (L.Compisi)


Jeff Cohn and Rock Wall compare St. Peters Church Vineyard Zins (L.Compisi)

We also met a relatively new grower couple, Mark and Sheila Farmer who established Famighetti Vineyards in 2015 in Dry Creek Valley.  They supply Zinfandel (and other varieties) grapes to Adobe Road and Seghesio Family. Look for vineyard designates from there.


Mark Farmer happily introduces Famighetti Vineyards to the ZAP community (L.Compisi)

We think that ZAP, as a varietal advocacy group, and there are many (check out P.S. I Love You and Rhône Rangers) offers the most regular and focused tasting events throughout the year.  Educational, fun and flavorful! Become a member and get into Zinful living!


A non-political but timely and humorous slogan (L.Compisi)

ABOUT ZAP: ZAP serves as a comprehensive resource for all things Zinfandel, presenting the quality, versatility and heritage of Zinfandel in a wide-range of intimate wine tastings. seminars, master classes, blending sessions and interactive meet-the-maker round-tables, as well as their famous larger walk-around events featuring diverse wineries, vineyards and regions.


The party is over!! (L.Compisi)

Posted in Day Trips, Mendocino County, North Coast, Rhône, Sonoma, Sonoma County, Wine, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wineries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Croatia’s Plitviče Lakes National Park: Disney couldn’t do it better!

Plitviče Lakes National Park is an amazing geologic feature in Croatia that, each year, dazzles over a million visitors from all over the world. Plitviče, pronounced [plîtʋitse]), is one of the oldest (established in 1949) and the largest national park in Croatia.

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One of the numerous cascades in Plitviče Lakes National Park (L.Compisi)

This 295-sq.-km (114-sq-miles) forest reserve is located in central Croatia approximately 130 kilometers south of Zagreb along the border with Bosnia-Herzogovina.  What makes it a UNESCO World Heritage site (registered in 1979) is its chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by pristine waterfalls that extend into a limestone canyon.

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Have you ever seen anything like this? (L.Compisi)

Truly fantastic well maintained board walkways and hiking trails wind around and across the water, and an electric boat links the 12 upper and 4 lower lakes in a mile long cruise. The lower lakes areas are the site of Veliki Slap, a 78m-high waterfall. The elevation change from the top to the bottom is about 430 feet over about 5 miles.  This makes the walk rather gentle and relaxing regardless if you are walking up or down.  We walked down.

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Water rushes under your feet as you walk the boardwalk (L.Compisi)

The lakes display a polychromatic array of water colors ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The colors change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of the sunlight.  Truly dizzying!  Even Disney could not match Mother Nature’s demonstration of brilliance, color and light.

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Tranquility in the foreground and cascades in the back (L.Compisi)

Speaking of Disney, the park became famous in Central Europe and beyond during the 1960s and 1970s through several Western film productions of German novelist Karl May. Many other-worldly scenes have been shot at the lakes or waterfalls.

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People mover takes us to the top (L.Compisi)

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Crowds build as we await the ferry to the lower lakes (L.Compisi)

Entrance to the park is subject to variable charges depending upon the season and park entry times. Children under 7 enter free of charge.  Children 7 – 18 and adult entry fees range from 35 HRK ($5.50) to 150 HRK ($23.50) per day.

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Map of the Plitviče Lakes National Park (L.Compisi) 

Tips:  Arrive as early as possible and take the people mover to the top and hike down.  You’ll transit for the first 3 miles with less human traffic.  If you arrive at the ferry boat before noon you will have avoided some of the crowds.  There is probably no way to avoid the crowds at Veliki Slap, a 78m-high (that’s 256 feet) waterfall that many tourists wait in long lines to walk under. We didn’t do this as the lines were too long and you can’t see the falls from there.

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Veliki Slap, a 256′ high waterfall – note people lined up left center (L.Compisi)

Getting there: From the Adriatic coastal town of Senj, the road distance is about 110 km (68 mi). The nearest airports are ZadarZagreb and Rijeka. The nearest train stations are Josipdol and Plaški, although no direct bus connection from these train stations to the lakes exists. Using public transport the lakes can easily be reached by direct bus lines from Zagreb, Karlovac, Zadar or Split.

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Veliki Slap, better view of crowds along lake (L.Compisi)

Side Note: We were very fortunate to be traveling through Croatia (and later France) during the 2018 FIFA World Cup playoffs.  It was quite exciting to be strolling down some ancient streets in Split and Dubrovnik with large screens televisions outside at restaurants, bars and cafes as both locals and tourists cheered Croatia along as it achieved the finals, alas, ultimately losing to France.

Keep your eyes digitally peeled for the next installment of our most excellent European Vacation!



Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Croatia, Hiking, National Parks, Travel, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula: Beauty and History Combined

Croatia is a fabulous country blending spectacular coastline, mountains, lakes and islands as well as Roman, Venetian and Austrian history.  Oh yeah, it’s also a southern Slavic country that was part of the former Yugoslavia and they produce outstanding wines!

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The wine cellar of Boris Lisjak a multi-generational producer in Dutovlje (L.Compisi)

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We enjoyed this delicious traditional Istrian lunch at Lisjak Winery (L.Compisi)

We began our visit to the Istrian Peninsula after departing the Ljubljana and the Julian Alps of Slovenia.  I do not believe we were prepared for the variety of terrain and the changing topography that we observed as we moved closer to the Adriatic.  Although the landscape remained hilly the mountains of the Alps disappeared in our rear view mirror.


We drove by the Lipica stud farm where they breed Lipizzaner Stallions (L.Compisi)


The hilltop city of Motovun in Istria. (L.Compisi


An aerial view of Motovun (Courtesy of Hotel Kaštel Motovun)

We arrived at the hilltop city of Motovun in the early evening and had flash backs of pre-tourist Tuscany.  Beautiful hillside vineyards and a walled city with a castle on top greeted us.  Motovun only allows residents with small cars on their narrow streets so those arriving by bus had to carry/pull their luggage up the steep, upward sloping cobblestone streets for about half a mile.  Upon arrival at Hotel Kaštel Motovun we realized it was the castle we saw from below although clearly modernized cover the centuries and expanded into neighboring buildings. The views from the top are quite spectacular and we enjoyed an informal al fresco dinner overlooking the lush valley below.

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We stayed at the Hotel Kaštel Motovun for 2 nights (L.Compisi

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Some of the narrow cobblestone streets of Motovun (L.Copisi)

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We enjoyed this bottle of Teran wine with dinner in Motovun (L.Compisi)

The next morning we motored to Pula, an ancient city with extensive Roman ruins and history.  One of the six largest and best preserved Roman Amphitheaters outside the Colosseum in Rome is located in Pula.  Called Pulska Arena in Croatian, it is the only Roman amphitheater to have 4 side towers entirely preserved. The Arena was constructed between 27 BC and 68 AD, with interior elliptical dimensions of 435 feet by 345 feet and walls that stand 106 feet high. It could accommodate 23,000 spectators who would come to watch the gladiators do battle as well as the Christians being martyred with wild animals. Other Roman ruins exist but you will also find Venetian architecture in this very walkable city. We took full advantage of a city tour by a local guide who offered exceptional historic perspective to Pula.

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An exterior view of Pula Arena built between 27 BC and 68 AD (L.Compisi)

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The interior of Pula Arena (L.Compisi)

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Amazingly well preserved arena where Christians were martyred (L.Compisi)

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A Roman Arch in Pula and a more modern building side by side (L.Compisi)

The following day we motored to the Venetian-era seaside town of Rovinj.  The location is quite beautiful and situated along the Adriatic Sea. A favorite resort for eastern Europeans for many, many years, it has become extremely popular with western Europeans since Croatia became an independent nation outside the grip of former Yugoslav President Marshall Tito.


The seaside city of Rovinj in Istria (L.Compisi)

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The very active fishing harbor of Rovinj (L.Compisi)

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One of the many seaside restaurants in Rovinj (L.Compisi)

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A beautiful church graces the highest point in Rovinj offering spectacular views (L.Compisi)

Aside from the mainland of Rovinj with its population of about 15,000, Rovinj has 19 islands of its coast. Of additional note, Rovinj is the in the top five tourist destination in the country partly because of the numerous pastel-colored homes ringing the beautiful and active fishing harbor. Getting to Rovinj by air requires flying into Pula or Trieste, the closest airports. Also, during the busy summer season there are high speed ferries from Venice as well as Ravenna and Cosenatico, all in Italy.

Please keep a digital eye for the next installments of this adventure through the former Yugoslavia including Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzogovina and Croatia.

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Coastal Adventures, Croatia, Istria, Slovenia, Travel, Wine, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Surprising Slovenia: Former Yugoslav Republic is a True Hidden Gem

We’ve never been to Slovenia before this journey and now I wonder why.  Slovenia is an amazing country with its own Alps, lakes and nearly 30 miles of Adriatic coastline.  The country is situated in Central and Southeastern Europe touching the Alps and bordering the Mediterranean.  According to Wikipedia, over half of the country is covered by forests which were very apparent as we entered from Italy, on the west.  This makes Slovenia the third most forested country in Europe, after Finland and Sweden.  Slovenia is mostly hilly and actually very beautiful.  Once part of Yugoslavia (with Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro), Slovenia established its independence and sovereignty on June 25th, 1991 and joined the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004.


The River Ljubljanica flows through downtown Ljubljana. (L.Compisi)

 Ljubljana, its capital, is quite vibrant and architecturally very interesting with much to see and do.  With nearly 300,000 people, Ljubljana is Slovenia’s largest City. Of special interest is dining along the river at the many cafes. Experiencing the farmers market in the downtown Market Square was eye-popping and made us wish we could buy fresh fruits and vegetables as well as fish.  Looked amazing.


Beautiful offerings in the central market of Ljubljana (L.Compisi)


The tree-lined river offers a stunning backdrop (L.Compisi)

Ljubljana Castle, which is high on a promontory overlooking the city, offers a great photo opportunity from below as well as from above.  The walk up to the castle is not overly strenuous but a tram is available as well.  Exploring the castle is very interesting with a museum and other interests.  The castle has two restaurants and a café as well as other amenities.


View of Ljubljana Graf (castle) from one of its towers (L.Compisi)

The visit to the Ljubljana ‘Skyscraper’ is not the tallest building in the city but it was the first ‘skyscraper in Ljubljana. The restaurant at the top has wonderful views and besides the traditional fare serves a renowned cream pie.

The decadent cream pie at the Skyscraper (L.Compisi)

We had booked a ‘Food and Wine Tour’ that was advertised through TripAdvisor with a tour company called Viator.  Although our guide was quite knowledgeable, after having had a city tour the day before and an orientation tour the evening before we basically heard the same stories multiple times. The food and wine tour itself was lackluster although we got to taste four different wines and nine different dishes.  It was not memorable.


Sparkling local wine and small bites along the river.(L.Compisi)

Where to stay: We stayed at the Hotel Mrak which is just on the edge of the old city with easy walking access to the city’s extensive pedestrian area. The Hotel Mrak is undergoing a needed room renovation and although we stayed in an older room we did see the renovated rooms which are sleek and quite nice.  It proved to be a perfect location to explore Ljubljana for the three days we were there.


View of Ljubljana Graf from below (L.Compisi

After departing Ljubljana, with a bit of sadness, we headed for Lake Bled, the Bled Castle and the Julian Alps.  It was quite scenic!  The walk around Lake Bled is about 3 miles and we did it in a little over an hour and 20 minutes. There’s a chapel in the center of the lake which has its own myths and stories for weddings.  And the view from the castle is quite spectacular.


Bled Graf (Castle) at Lake Bled (L.Compisi)


The mythical chapel in the middle of Lake Bled (L.Compisi)

When we left Lake Bled we went to the Julian Alps which separate Austria and Hungary from Slovenia. We stayed in a small hotel with a view of the mountains that was quite picturesque and dined at a traditional restaurant that evening. The Julian Alps are quite beautiful and truly spectacular. We stayed at the Hotel Mangart in Bovec. The hotel is more than adequate and was reasonably priced.  Bovec is about an hour and a half from Lake Bled and is surrounded with activities of all kinds including a ski jump training area, Nordic Centre Planica, which was fascinating to watch.


The dramatic Julian Alps in northern Solvenia (L.Compisi)

In retrospect, Slovenia was the biggest surprise on this journey through parts of the former Yugoslavia.  Everyone assures you that Croatia and the Dalmatian Coast are stunning, and they are, but we were very pleasantly surprised to experience the history and beauty of Slovenia.

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Fabulous Valpolicella – Our Most Excellent European Adventure: Part 2

After our delightful and brief visit to Lugano (see Part 1), Switzerland, we motored on through Lombardia, Italy toward the amazing wine country of Valpolicella. Along the way we stopped for lunch in Bergamo (less than 2 hours drive from Lugano) the fourth largest city in Lombardia with a population of about 120,000. Bergamo is a university town with a beautiful Città Alta (upper city) whose defensive systems are a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. It is also home to some amazing pizzerias which is why we stopped there.


Amazing Pizza array in Bergamo (L.Compisi)

After lunch we continued on for another hour and a half to our destination of San Pietro in Cariano near Verona and our favorite Bed and Breakfast ‘Relais de Charme’ La Caminella. We had previously stayed at La Caminella and were excited to be returning.


La Caminella B&B (L.Compisi)


View of Countryside from our room La Caminella (L.Compisi)

Our hosts, Andrea and Raffaella, and their three children, offer exquisite rooms, breakfast and hospitality. Since our last stay, Raffaella has begun here own wine program producing several wines from Valpolicella. If you have never lodged here before you will feel like family by the time you depart.


Breakfast at La Caminella (Courtesy their website)


Our room – Ripasso Suite (Courtesy La Caminella)


Our hosts (l-r) Andrea, Raffaella and Asst Mngr Francesca (L.Compisi)

La Caminella is very well situated to visit Verona, only 20 minutes away, or the local wineries of Valpolicella. Bardolino or Soave, and even Lake Garda (only 30 minutes’ drive). We had visited Garda and Verona on a previous trip so our focus this time was wine and the glorious countryside.


Lake Garda (L.Compisi)

Valpolicella is known for its very unique wine making process of Appassimento and Ripasso which involve drying or partially drying the grapes as a means of intensifying the flavors of the Amarone and other Valpolicella wines. The principal grapes used in these red wines are Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara (and more recently Oseleta). Surprising to many, Valpolicella ranks just after Chianti in total Italian Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wine production.


Masi food and wine (L.Compisi)


Enjoying the Masi Experience with our host Elisa Venturini

The Masi Wine Experience was an amazing winery tour and tasting that we were fortunate to enjoy.  The Boscaini family, currently headed by patriarch Sandro Boscaini, have owned the property since the end of 18th Century.  Our host, Raffaele Boscaini, and his able marketing and sales manager Elisa Venturini provided an exceptional tour and tasting at the main estate but also included a visit to a newly acquired Tenuta near Lake Garda and the family estate of Count Serego Alighieri (direct descendent of Dante Alighieri) which the Boscaini’s manage and market on behalf of this ancient Italian family (21 generations on the estate – since 1353).


Sandro Boscaini signing Mr. Amarone (E.Venturini)


Raffaele Boscaini guiding our tasting (L.Compisi)

The Masi wines are widely available in the United States and one of our favorites is the affordable blend (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara) Campofiorin. It is rich, round and velvety, but has sufficient strength to pair with red meat (only $18 on Wine.com). Its big brother Amarone della Valpolicella Masi Costasera runs a bit higher, between $56-65.


Masi Experience Tasting Room (L.Compisi)

Of course if you are not a wine lover the proximity to Lake Garda and Verona (home of Romeo and Juliet) offer many, many exciting tourist opportunities including the Opera at the Verona Arena. The Opera setting at the Arena is magnificent. The festival starts late June and continues until the last week of August. A reason to visit in its own right!


The Roman Arena in Verona (L.Compisi)

Keep an eye out for subsequent postings about the rest of our Most Excellent European Adventure including Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Provence.

Posted in Adventure, Amarone, Italian Wines, Italy, Lombardy, Travel, Valpolicella, Veneto, Wine, Wineries | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lugano Switzerland – Our Most Excellent European Adventure: Part 1

We just returned from nearly a month in Europe. The next series of posts will highlight our travel adventures and offer tips, tricks and recommendations on our favorite ways to enjoy these amazing locations in Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and France.


Lake Lugano is as beautiful as any of Italy’s great lakes. (L.Compisi)

We flew non-stop from San Francisco (SFO) to Zürich (ZUR) in about 11 hours. We planned on not wasting the day getting over our jet lag in Zürich, and got our rental car, (we used Hertz), to continue on to Lugano, Switzerland (2.5 hrs. away). That was the first of many good decisions. Our flight landed in Zürich at 10:10 am (local) and arrived in Lugano around 2 pm. The challenge was to remain awake until 8:30 pm to help us sleep through the night. That strategy worked for us.


Hotel Victoria au Lac is charming and ideally placed (L.Compisi)

Our hotel in Lugano was Hotel Victoria au Lac in Paradiso, the small city along Lake Lugano. Although the hotel is showing its age and is a bit thread-bare, the location is stellar and quite adequate. It offered a complimentary breakfast and free wifi in our room. Hotel Victoria also has paid parking underground across the street (a huge plus). Additionally, it is within walking distance of the Lugano city-center. The lakeside promenade was beautiful and offered restaurants, museums, gelato stands and so much more. It was mid-June and the weather was warm and delightful.


View from our balcony at Hotel Victoria au Lac (L.Compisi)

We had a delicious and quite delightful late lunch at Ristorante Cafè Retrò, just across the street from our hotel. We had pizza (the first of many on this multi-country adventure) and it’s was very good. Equally delightful was the Valpolicella Ripasso wine from Italy that we enjoyed.


Delicious food and wine at Ristorante Cafè Retrò (L.Compisi)


Located just across the street from Hotel Victoria YUM!! (L.Compisi)

After walking the length of the promenade and up 125 steps to keep ourselves awake, we decided to head back to Café Retro for an early night cap. The staff (Stanley) and the owner, Matteo, did an amazing job in making us feel like locals by offering finger foods with each bottle of wine we purchased.  No need for dinner!


Stanley (above) and Matteo made us locals at Ristorante Cafè Retrò (L.Compisi)

The next morning we woke, had a delicious breakfast at the hotel (which we shared with the very fat birds on the veranda) and headed for our next stop.  Here we come Valpolicella, Italy.


Our breakfast companions at Hotel Victoria au lac (L.Compisi)

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Italian Wines, Switzerland, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments