What's not to love about sailing around Croatia? Least of all the fact that it has over 1,000 islands scattered across it's coastline. One of my favourite is an archipelago of 14 islands in the northern Adriatic Sea known as the Brijuni Islands. This entire complex of islands boasts a world class holiday resort, having attracted very many famous people over time, and forms an esteemed Croatian National Park.
As we sailed from Istria on our chartered 40ft sailboat, we crossed the narrow Fažana Strait with our first port of call being the largest of these islands known as Veliki Brijun ("Veliki" actually means "large" in Croatian). The port is located on the North Eastern side of the island's coastline, is protected by two breakwaters and is quite shallow. Up to 50 yachts can berth on the northern breakwater with water depths of 2.5 to 4 metres. Luckily the sea was calm as we were warned that at times the bura (NE winds) can create large swells making it difficult to moor. A further warning for sailors is to take caution between the islands as some are not accessible to bigger vessels and there are many shoals to the west. Veliki Brijun port can admit boats and yachts up to 55 meters long. Larger ships can anchor in the Fažana Channel.
As we sailed into the Veliki Brijun port on a glorious sunny day, an unusual, gleaming building 'rose' from the very edge of the seashore. We made a mental note that that would be Item No. 1 on our sightseeing list and learned later that it is the only fully preserved Secession building on Brijuni - the boathouse - Čamčarnica.
After dropping anchor and berthing, we headed to the reception desk of the Neptun Hotel where we arranged the obligatory permit for sailing the seas around Brijuni National Park. Their services are available 24 hours a day and they gave us information regarding all the necessities, such as power and water connections, and where we could use showers and bathrooms.
Then with all priorities out of the way and the rest of the day stretching out in front of us, we headed off to the Čamčarnica, which has an interesting history and if walls could speak, could tell many stories, I'm sure. In 1901 the owner of the whole of the Brijuni archipelago at the time, Austrian industrialist Paul Kupelwieser, hired the construction company, Ast & Co. from Graz. The already existing boat storage building was covered by a reinforced concrete plate, a revolutionary construction method during that era, and an apartment was built upon it. Young Viennese architect, Eduard Kramer, a student of the prominent architect, Otto Wagner, was in charge of the progress of the unusual one-storey building project. The ground floor of the house opens towards the sea with four high arches, boat storage areas, from where the original name Boothaus - boathouse comes from. This is what is now known as the Čamčarnica.
From 1903 to 1938, the island's physician Otto Lenz lived in the boathouse, which was a clinic and a pharmacy at the time, and his wife, Austrian musician, Maria Guttenberg Lenz, who described her Brijuni life in the book, 'Lost Paradise', joined him. To the present day there is still an open balcony upstairs with a wrought iron railing, and the entrance to the building is from the landward side where we climbed a curved staircase to the apartment. The boat storage entrance is also there, and above it is a coat of arms that symbolises Kupelwieser's vocation - metallurgy.
In her book, Maria Guttenberg Lenz recorded events from the Brijuni way of life and the development of Brijuni from the malaric area to the elite resorts and spas. Some of the famous guests who came to Veliki Brijun are Richard Strauss, Gustav Klimt, Thomas Mann, the archbishop Franz Ferdinand and George Bernard Shaw.
Since the end of World War II until the 1960s the island's administration board was located in the boathouse. Over the years, the exhibitions changed, the facility was then repaired and renovated, and in this refurbished building is the educational and interpretational centre of the Brijuni National Park. In the centre is a permanent interactive exhibition divided into six thematic units: Brijuni's Time Machine, Brijuni's Archipelago, Inland World, Undersea, Endangered and Awareness. Also, there are remembrances of Dr. Lenz and his life on Brijuni, and the function of each room of the boathouse at that time, is recorded.
The new permanent exhibition is presented in an innovative and interactive way and visitors can discover, learn and find out a handful of information on the cultural, historical and natural heritage of the island. It is cleverly designed to interactively encourage visitors to explore the natural and historical features of Brijuni by activating all the senses: visual; hearing (footage of popular music from the time when the Čamčarnica was home to the Lenz family, as well as sounds from under the sea and of animals that lived on and still inhabit the islands and the underwater world around it); tactile (we were able to touch and study plant samples); and olfactory (sniffing the scent of plants that grow on the island).
At the entrance itself, we were interactively introduced to the life of Dr. Otto Lenz when he lived on the island and to data on numerous well-known guests who visited Brijuni at the beginning of the 20th century. In the Brijuni Time Machine, the rich Brijunian history is summarised. There we got to know more about the islands as a dinosaur walkway, the home of neolithic agriculturalists, ancient producers of excellent olive oil and skilful stonemasons, the residence of genius visionaries and the place of important events in recent history. And then off to the next dimly- lit room to view short video clips alongside a lit-up model of the 14 Brijuni islands and islets of the archipelago.
In the Inland World room we meandered our way around a presentation of bountiful Brijuni flora and fauna through the four most significant of Brijuni's habitats: forests, macchia, grasslands and land water. Amongst other things, we studied vibrant collections of insects, imbibed the smells of Mediterranean nature and heard the sounds of various bird species' songs. In order to encounter the underwater Brijuni sea world, we entered the Undersea room, designed to look like the interior of a submarine, revealing many items of interest found in the mysterious sea depths with video clips, interactive exhibitions, collections and educational games.
In a different atmosphere with dark, moody colours, loud music blared from the room entitled 'Endangered'. A dramatic atmosphere has been created to emphasise the threat to all natural habitats as a result of the irresponsible behaviour of man towards nature and the environment surrounding it - something I personally uphold as vitally important and strive to keep in mind on a daily basis. And lastly, to complete the themes, 'Awareness'. Beauty, lush vitality of nature and its harmony rule as the main visual messages in this room. Presented here is the importance of protected areas, which, with their untouched beauty, wealth and diversity, represent the basic value of life and are one of Brijini's most important natural resources.
As we left the illuminating Čamčarnica and headed back to our yacht in the port, we agreed that this was indeed a most relevant way to kick start our adventures in Brijuni. We were now armed with some great information and aware of key points to traverse this gorgeous scenic terrain further. Watch this space!!
Author: Diana Karmela
Photos: "NuNu Productions" (Public Institution Brijuni National Park)