Reflections from a hillside in Croatia

We are breaking up our exploration of wild and unexplored places, and treating ourselves to a few days of holiday luxury. A villa, on the hillside and to the east of Rab, on Rab Island. We are away from the edge of the glittering Adriatic, but the comfort and view of this villa make up for the loss. Here, we are far from the madding crowd; the long conga-lines of tourists in Rab town, who stop, abruptly, to photograph every tower, every suddenly revealed vista of sea, and fill the beach waters with screams, ice creams, sunscreen and cigarette smoke.

We lie around our pool, in the shade of olive trees, all stone walls and rosemary, cypress, and cicadas endlessly chanting away summertime in a constantly changing syncopation. The air here is warm and fragrant, with the aforesaid rosemary and cypress, but overlaid with scents of the curry plant that, surprisingly, covers the dry side of the island; and also, mysteriously, coconut, though I can’t even begin to guess at the strange alchemy of nature that produces such herbal volatiles.

Andrew brings me a glass of Istrian Malvasia. Malvasia of Istria is so distinctly unique that Riedel have made a special glass for it. It sits, cloudily, in my glass. This wine is unfamiliar to an Australian palate, but reminds me slightly of our Marsanne-Viognier. It tastes ... foreign, to a palate used to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The nose is more citrus peel than citrus; a hint of almond blossom, and certainly there is slight bitter almond on the back of the palate when you drink it. Vague apple, kiwi fruit, gooseberry... it has a broadness to the palate, similar to Marsanne, that is saved from glueiness and flabbiness by a natural fresh acidity, and almost a touch of menthol.

This wine has been matured in Acacia barrels. (I have not heard of this, though I knew the Greek retsina was given pine barrel treatment.) But whatever the barrels, the wine is a delight. Another curiosity is the lack of clarity; this Malvasia, as well as others I have tried, is unfiltered. Less visually appealing; but given that I have bunged some ice cubes into it, looks don’t count. Besides, Malvasia, renowned Queen of the Croatian vineyards, excites smell and taste amply, a wine confident of her appeal and ability to pair excellently with grilled fish from the sea here. She has no need to impress further. You don’t eat with your eyes.

The glass is nearly empty, and I sit back, straighten up from tapping on my iPad. My daybed is not conducive to typing; but it is excused, by virtue of its unique construction. Made from the staves of a barrel, it fits one’s curves perfectly. However, I do not recognise the timber. Could this be made from the famed Acacia barrels? I don’t know. I gaze out, over the terraced vines and olive trees, to sea, taking in the town of Rab, with its towers presiding, as they have for centuries, over the ancient stone buildings and twisting streets that crawl around the narrowing promontory. The sea glitters and sparkles and other fairy words, as yachts lean into the breeze, or hide in the lee of hills of pine, rosemary and curry plant. Further, islands fade from cobalt to misty grey in the distance.

It makes me glad that there are places like this in the world. Beneath the thin shellack of tourism , there are still fisherman fishing, and ordinary people, tending home vegetable gardens of half an acre; beans, potatoes, corn, tomatoes. People here are living a life, raising their children in a contemporary world, with electronic devices and all the mod cons we in Australia are used to. Yet they do so whilst living in houses hundreds of years old, growing the same vegetables as their forebears, moving around towns that have the same layout as the Romans originally walked. It makes me happy that places like this exist; most of Croatia, perhaps. And that I get to enjoy it, albeit as one of the tourists.

We will be back.