Wellness and Wine in Croatia

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Mar 20, 2017

by LARISSA DUBECKI, Writer

On a wellness tour in Croatia, Larissa Dubecki strikes a pose on the beach before raising a glass of pošip to mindfulness.

Dubrovnik is plotting against the pursuit of mindfulness. Not with sinister intent – it’s just that the achingly beautiful medieval citadel jutting into the Adriatic Sea is positioned behind our merciless yoga instructor Ana’s right hip as she leads the class through serpentine poses on the beach. On reaching virabhadrasana – the warrior pose – you would have to be a phlegmatic individual indeed not to think of seafaring mercenaries of yore trying to scale the forbidding, sheer 25-metre-high walls.

Where was I? Oh yes, mindfulness. I am in the present, I am in the present... not projecting into the near future, which will involve lunch at one of the dozens of sweet alfresco spots that dot the town or getting lost without a care in the maze of winding roads creeping upwards from Stradun, the main street. Or I could be drinking a glass of pošip, the white wine with hints of flinty minerality that sums up the Dalmatian Coast’s hardscrabble limestone cliffs, its arid beauty, its...

Dammit! Like a bird, mindfulness flits off again. Trying to be in the now while performing contortions on the beach with the charming Old City in the background is a bit like dangling a chop in front of a trainee guide dog. Clearly, there’s only so much man-made wonder the brain can take in before the synapses start ringing off the hook. 

It may be no friend to mindfulness but Dubrovnik proves the perfect location for realigning the chakras. Several companies offer wellness tours in Croatia, including Right Path Adventures and Adriatic Luxury Journeys, but the small-group tours (for six to 10 people) run by Brisbane-based Gypsian Boutique Tours offer such an authentic road-less-travelled experience that we feel absurdly superior to the cruise passengers who dock each morning outside the city’s impenetrable stone walls.

The 12-day itinerary is typical of the company’s trips in that you do various wellness activities without being a slave to them. Yoga on the beach, indulgent spa treatments and the option to kayak around the city’s 13th-century walls are balanced with visits to secret bars perched outside the citadel above the crashing waves. Plus, there’s our twice-daily coffee fix (they brew it strong in Croatia) and meals in restaurants to which the term “tourist trap” is anathema.

One day we’re doing vrksasana – tree pose – on the beach; the next, we’re taking a private yacht to the nearby island of Korčula. (Fun fact: Croats allege it’s the true birthplace of one M. Polo.)

As for lodgings, the five-star Pucić Palace, a 17th-century Baroque building in the centre of town, does very nicely – especially when a staff member swings back the wooden shutters in my room to reveal a swoon-worthy view of red-tiled roofs and the Gundulić Square market just below.

And the water. Oh, the water. The Adriatic’s peculiar brand of deep turquoise-blue has inspired painters, poets and paint companies since time immemorial. The ocean’s other great gift is salt, harvested on sunbaked flats. We first encounter it in situ then later at a luxurious day spa. Dubrovnik native Edina pummels my body with it for an hour during a massage that’s somewhere between relaxing and a full-on assault. As she attacks my mess of computer worker’s shoulder knots, there’s an alarming cracking sound – then a pause – before she crows, “I won!”

And therein lies the secret to this expedition that doesn’t tread the weary path of hairshirt asceticism but instead has the work/life balance thing licked. At a time when elimination – of toxins, technology, food groups, you name it – is conflated with wellness, Gypsian Boutique Tours is a blissful breakaway. “Our clients are attracted to the wellness aspects but don’t want to forgo the great things about travel, such as trying amazing local food,” says co-founder Candace Warner. “The idea behind the tours is to find a balance.”

And why, indeed, would you come all this way to miss out on Mediterranean fare such as garlicky snails cooked in red wine; potatoes and lamb merging slowly into one happy, caramelised mess; ribbons of tagliatelle with a bounty of scampi and black truffle? Why would you go teetotal in the face of those incredibly drinkable wines? To visit Croatia without sampling all its delights would be like walking on the shores of the Adriatic without dipping a toe in. 

Perhaps the handiest phrase to learn in Croatian, taught to me by the affable owner of D’vino Wine Bar Dubrovnik, is this: “Da, ja ću imati još jednu” (“Yes, I’ll have another”). Wellness tour? Oh yes, one can feel very well after a few glasses of plavac mali, a fruity summer wine. 

Okay, admittedly my pants are a little tighter on returning to Australia. But the mind? It’s certainly lighter. How does that song go? “You’ve got to ac-cen-tchu-ate the positive, e-lim-i-nate the negative...” Another fun fact: singer and lyric writer Johnny Mercer was of Croatian descent. Perhaps he’d been in Dubrovnik on a wellness tour. 

SEE ALSO: 5 Australian Wellness Festivals That Can Change Your Life