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Shopping in Grožnjan, Croatia

Grožnjan is one of my favourite stops in Croatia, particularly in the warm months, when the artists are at work. The town is best seen ducking in and out of studios and galleries, and shopping is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Grozhjan..

My tips for Groznjan shopping.

Jewellery – There are a number of jewellery workshops and studios around Grožnjan that specialize in both contemporary and traditional jewellery. Depending on the materials used and the designs, these pieces could set you back by anything between 50 Kuna to well over 500 Kuna. Don’t buy the first piece you see. Considering how small Grožnjan is, first take a tour of the place, walk into other jewellery stores and once you’ve seen them all and compared prices and styles, pick the one(s) that works for you the best.

Art – A number of artists spend their summers in Grožnjan, and a number of art studios double up as galleries. There is a great mix of styles available in Grožnjan, from local landscape to naive art and even innovative media. Since entry is free, go ahead and visit as many as you can. Walk in, watch the artists at work, browse through an impressive collection and if  one catches your fancy, help the artist put a little red dot next to it.

Wine – Along with a number of wine bars there are also a number of little boutiques and stores where you can purchase the finest Istrian wines. Istria is known as Croatia’s wine country and prides itself for the quality of wines produced. Treat yourself to a bottle, and if you are looking for a special souvenir, these make for great gifts too.

Souvenirs – Instead of spending your time and money at the tacky souvenir stalls in the bigger towns, consider purchasing unique handcrafted souvenirs at some of the local studios in Grožnjan. For one, these souvenirs are authentic made-in-Croatia-items, for another you’ll be helping out a local artist.

For a closer look at Grožnjan, take a look at Karen’s video here.

Dubrovnik Attractions – The Rector’s Palace

Considered by many as one of the best places to visit in Europe, Dubrovnik is always packed; there is a steady stream of tourists and activities all year round. When you add the crazy prices of Dubrovnik to this equation it becomes impossible (rather impractical) to visit every museum and local landmarks in the city. But there are a few you shouldn’t miss out on. The wall walk is one, and the Rector’s Palace is another; it is also my Europe travel tip of the week.

The exterior facade of the Palace is a work of art in itself. Intricately carved figures hold up pillars and trims and run across the length of the building. The Rector’s Palace was the official seat of power in the old republic of Ragusa – it housed the ruling Rector through his reign; the Rector was not to leave the Palace except on urgent matters involving the welfare of the republic. The Rector’s term was also limited in order to curb corruption.

Inside the Palace opens up into a central courtyard. Rooms run all around the ground level and on the upper floor. The atrium is a popular choice for music concerts during the summer months; it is one of the main venues during the Dubrovnik Summer Festival.

The upper floor doubles up as a cultural history museum. The rooms are furnished with articles from the old kingdom and also hold artworks created by Venetian and Dalmatian masters. The rooms are luxurious and detailed. There’s also an exhibit on official republic regalia complete with coins, seals, flags and other official documentation from the period.

Along with the history exhibits, the Rector’s Palace also houses a photography exhibit. The photos on display are from the homeland war and document the destruction and damage Dubrovnik had to suffer.

Have you visited the Rector’s Palace in Dubrovnik? What did you think of the exhibits?

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5 Art Stops in the Croatian capital of Zagreb

Zagreb is a small city. But for its size it has more than a fair share of museums and galleries such as the Zagreb City Museum. My travel tip is to go Zagreb art gallery hopping during the summer months. This European city empties out during this time; most of the town’s residents head to the coast, for beaches such as Zlatni Rat, leaving the many Zagreb attractions to be explored at leisure.

In today’s post I’m going to share five of my favourite Zagreb art stops.

The Mestrovic Studio – Ivan Mestrovic is one of the most famous Croatian sculptors. His work can be viewed at the Mestrovic Studio located in the Upper Town area of Zagreb. The studio is set up in the home where the artist lived from 1922-1942. Here you can browse through a collection of sculptures, drawings, as well as personal documents and photographs.

Naive Art

Museum of Naive Art – I’ve written about the Museum of Naive Art before (read more here). This continues to be my favourite art museum in the city. You’ll find over 1500 works of naive art here. These include works by Croatian masters as well as other international artist. If there is just one art stop you can make in the city, this is the one it should be.

The Art Pavilion – The Art Pavilion is one of the most spectacular (and recognizable) buildings in the city. It is also one of the oldest. Set up in 1898, the Art Pavilion exhibits collections by both Croatian and international artists. However the gallery doesn’t hold permanent exhibits, so be sure to check current exhibitions before visiting.

Photo by ruscca

Klovicevi Dvori Gallery – Here’s another gallery located in the Upper Town (close to the Museum of Naive Art). Klovicevi Dvori Gallery hosts exhibitions by national and international artists. Along with the exhibits you can also attend a number of associated events here; these included lectures, workshops and auctions.

Zagreb Museum of Contemporary Art – Adding a touch of modernity to the proceedings is the Zagreb Museum of Contemporary Art. Set up in a glass and steel structure, the museum is best known for its quirky and modernistic exhibitions and installations. It also conducts visual arts workshops for children and adults alike.

Best of Zagreb Tips

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P̬re-Lachaise Cemetery РA free Paris Attraction

Paris is known for her beautiful, serene cemeteries. They usually double up as open museums, where some of the world’s most famous are resting. Therefore I recommend visiting the  Père-Lachaise Cemetery; it’s a free Paris attraction with lots of history.

Located on a gentle hill, the walk around this Paris attractions can be fairly exhausting. But the thick, leafy trees and winding cobblestone lanes make it a beautiful one.

The cemetery is named after Père de la Chaise, confessor to King Louis XIV. The present day cemetery used to house a Jesuit order, and this is where the priest lived.

The cemetery was opened in 1804, but because of its location (a fair distance from the heart of Paris) it wasn’t used much. It took much campaigning by Napoleon, who was worried about the unsanitary condition caused by Paris’s over crowded cemeteries, to encourage its use. This included relocating a number of graves of famous Parisians from other cemeteries to this one.

Some tombstones are elaborate and works of art. Others have a simple sophistication to them. Some though have been forgotten and are in conditions of disrepair, and yet that doesn’t translate into an eyesore. They still retain their elegance.

With thousands of graves and tombstones here, things can get jumbled. The chaos of multiple gravestones though is offset by neat street names and direction boards.

Père-Lachaise is the resting place for a number of celebrities. The most popular resident (or at least the most visited by tourists) is Jim Morrison. Other big names include Chopin, Proust, Colette, and Oscar Wilde.

While entry to the cemetery is free, I’d recommend arming yourself with a cemetery map. It is easy to get lost inside and a map makes it a little easier to find the tombstones you want to see without spending hours and hours wandering around, unless that’s the whole idea of the visit of course.

More Paris Tips

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The Tower Montparnasse – The Best View of Paris

Most people climb the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Notre Dame Tower for the best Paris views but if what you want is a 360 degree view of the city, head to the Tower Montparnasse (Tour Montparnasse).

Situated in the bohemian chic Montparnasse area of Paris, this tower is a non-descript glass and steel skyscraper. It looks and feels out of place between the beautiful Parisian architecture; a major eye sore, much like another famous local landmark. But what it lacks in appearance, it makes up by offering spectacular Paris views.

The tower, the tallest in the city, takes you up almost 200 meters in a quick 38seconds – they’ve even installed a timer in the elevator that counts down the seconds to almost a dot. The tower operates everyday through the summer from 9:30 am to 11:30 pm.

My suggestion is to visit the tower post 10:00-10:30pm when the city gets dark.  From this vantage point, you can most of Paris’ landmarks – from the illuminated Eiffel Tower and the Arc to the Louvre and the Paris gardens, and beyond.

More Paris Tips

Paris is in Europe a la Carte’s top ten European cities to visit. Read our “Best of Paris Tips” to help you plan your visit to this lovely city. Find out about must-see Paris museums.

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Exploring One of Croatia’s Loveliest Beaches – Zlatni Rat

When summer comes to Croatia, much of the traffic heads south, to the island of Brac. Here, in the tiny town of Bol is one the most popular stops in the country – a beach called Zlatni Rat, my Europe travel tip of the week.

Zlatni Rat is also known as the Golden Horn. The water here is clear and clean (you can’t help but jump in), but this is not what makes this beach unique.

Zlatni Rat has a shifting coast line. Its tip is a thin strip that stretches out into the sea, and how far this tip extends into the waters is determined by the winds and the force of the tide on the day. This means that Zlatni Rat keeps shifting daily; if you happen to be on Bol for a couple of day, this makes for an exciting photography project.

In the peak summer months (July-August), when the sun is blazing down, there’s barely a pebble free on the beach. Beach towels and sun chairs are stacked one against the other, and it’s hard for late comers to hop over the many sunbathing bodies.

The beach offers a lot of entertainment and hospitality. Along the beach small bars operate, playing the latest chart toppers and selling beverages. Most of these beach shacks also rent out beach chairs and loungers. You can also hire jet skies, banana boats and other water sport equipment along the beach.

And when you finally tire of the beach or when the sun finally calls it a day, a number of lounge bars await on the promenade that overlooks the beach.

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Shopping in Dubrovnik: Jewellery Stores

Dubrovnik offers a variety of experiences and memories such as walking the town walls and shopping at the Dubrovnik Morning Market. However the small lanes of the old town manage to fit in century old establishments, footballs games and restaurants with outdoor seating, and all comfortably.

It is on these back lanes that you’ll find the many tiny jewellery boutiques of Dubrovnik.

First there’s the familiar window display – strings of coral and pearl, silver earrings with filigree work and coral drops, chunky blocks of turquoise strung together with crooked corals, all dangling together against the window. Inside, depending on the store the setting varies – from the cold and clinical designer boutique to the chaotic but warm family establishment.

The jewellery is handcrafted in backdoor workshops or in roomier ones beyond the gates of the old town. Many jewellers have been in the business for decades, taking over from their parents and grandparents. On offer are traditional necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, buttons and broaches. And the prices range from 250 Kuna upwards depending on the piece and the materials used.

I stepped into one such family run establishment on a street parallel to Stradun. The cases on the wall held traditional jewellery designs, or designs inspired by traditional Croatian designs along with ageing authentic pieces. The originals, of course were not for sale. These were family heirlooms to be enjoyed at a distance. They however did make a good reference point to compare the new designs with the old. I ended up with two sets of silver earrings, each with coral drops. The filigree work on them is breathtaking as are the coral drops – a day well spent.

Tips for Things to Do in Dubrovnik

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The St. Mark's portal

Five Things to do in Korčula, Croatia

Last week I wrote about the walls of Korčula. This week we venture inside; walk along the lanes, explore the squares and climb the towers of this tiny town. There’s a fair bit to see and experience here – from cultural performances to historic sites. This is what makes Korčula a top European destination in my book.

The St. Mark's portal

1. Visit the Cathedral

For a town this size Korčula has its fair share of churches. But the most impressive and important of these is the St. Mark’s Cathedral (Cathedral Sveti Marko). It towers over the main square and above the town – its bell tower can be seen from a fair distance. But the real treasures are inside in the form of renaissance art and ancient manuscripts.

2. Step into the Town Museum

The Town Museum is located on the main square, right opposite the St. Mark’s Cathedral. In this 16th century renaissance palace you’ll find the history of the town told through ancient relics, artworks and hand carved stone sculptures.

A poster of the Moreška dancers

3. Catch a Dance Performance
Korčula is known for its traditional Moreška sword dance. The dance tells an ancient story of a battle between two armies (the red king’s and the black king’s) over a beautiful girl. If you are in town long enough catch a weekly performance. Tickets and show information are available at the tourist office.

4. Visit Marco Polo’s Home
Legend says that the renowned explorer Marco Polo was born here in 1252. And he is everywhere in town. From Marco Polo shops and souvenirs to restaurants that claimed Marco Polo and his family ate there. The home he was born in has been converted into a museum and is open to the public. If nothing else, visit for the great views it offers.

One of the many jewellery stores in town

5. Buy some jewellery
This region of Croatia offers a great variety of silver and coral jewellery. Other popular semi-precocious stones like turquoise and jade are also available but if you are looking for something authentic opt for a traditional designs.

Have you been to Korčula? What did you think of the sights on offer and which one did you enjoy the most?

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The Croatian walled town of Korčula

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the walls of Dubrovnik. But Dubrovnik is not the only Croatian walled town in this part of the Adriatic. You can experience the same setting, but on a smaller scale in ‘Little Dubrovnik’ – Korcula.

Korčula Town is the centre of the island of Korčula and is encircled within walls. These walls of Korčula are my travel tip for the week.

When seen from the above, the walls and the city within form a fish bone – a herring bone, to be precise. Go ahead look at a map, the resemblance is uncanny. These town walls were constructed around the thirteenth century by the ruling Venetians. A significant part of the fortification, particularly on the eastern end, continues to stand in its original avatar.

The wall system is punctuated by stocky watch towers along the corners. There are eight towers in total, overlooking the sea. They date from the 15th century onwards. Today a couple of the towers – including the Veliki Revelin Tower are open to visitors (doubling as museums and heritage exhibits); some stand in ruin, some are under construction, and one hosts a terrace cafe.

End the day at the cafes and restaurants along the wall. Grab a table against the wall, and watch the sea – the boats and cruises coming in and out of the harbour, and the little boys fishing with bits of string.

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Exploring the Island of Korcula, Croatia

The Adriatic has no shortages of camera-friendly stops, but even on this list, one of the most beautiful halts comes on the island of Korcula.

Korcula is amongst Croatia’s most popular islands. Cruise liners, charters, private boats, and the daily ferry make sure there is no shortage of visitors during the summer months. Its popularity with travelers seems befitting considering a local legend that claims the explorer Marco Polo was born on the island. A claim backed up by the obligatory museum and multiple Marco Polo shops.

Korcula Town – The main attraction on the island is Korcula Town, a walled town sometimes referred to as “Little Dubrovnik.” And it is, but with the additional advantage of saner prices and a smaller number of tourist traps. Much of the old town construction dates back to the 15th century, and most structures were built using traditional architecture techniques and the local white stone. It gives the small town a fairly grand effect.

Vela Luka – The other significant settlement on the island is Vela Luka. The town is located by a large bay; it is surrounded by coves, beaches, and islets, and adding to the ambience inland are vineyards, olive groves and forested hills. This is also the place to catch up on some culture, with several local music and folklore performances on the offer.

Other Stops – If you have time on hand, explore the smaller settlements on the island. There are a number of fishing villages – explore Lumbarda, Vrnik, Zrnovo and Smokvica – that offer tours of vineyards, olive groves, treks and culinary adventures, making for the perfect day trips.  I’d also recommend visiting the Dalmatian coast island of Palmizana.

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