I usually travel with no plans, no reservations, and no itinerary. So today after packing up, at the suggestion of Antonio and Sabina of the Holiday Adriatic Resort and Mikulic Boutique Winery, I motored my way northwest toward the end of the peninsula to Orebic where the Mikulic family operates a bouquet hotel and a beachfront restaurant.
It’s barely a twenty-minute ride to the bustling town. At about 2,500 full-time residents, it’s the largest town on the Peljesac peninsula. During its heyday in the 19th century, Orebic was a busy shipping port and home to many of the most affluent and vital nautical captains in the world. These maritime legends would sail massive tall ships to Russia, Northern Europe, and the Americas. They would bring the rewards and riches of these trading partners home to Orebic. Much of this part of Europe was under Austro-Hungarian rule at the time. Mostly, the Kingdom of Croatia was subject to the direct Imperial rule of Austria.
I miss the turnoff for the entrance at the eastern part of town, so I make a sharp left and enter from the west. Lining the narrow seaside road are cozy shops and cafes while clusters of pedestrians walk down the middle of the street. I navigate my way to the Boutique Hotel Adriatic at the far end of the road in the eastern part of town. While Antonio and his mother Sabina manage the winery, campsite, guest house and restaurant on the coast east of here, his sister Adriana and father, Igor, take care of the hotel and the adjacent Old Captain restaurant.
Adriana in her mid-twenties is the oldest sibling of the Mikulic clan. With a warm smile, sparkling eyes, and long brown hair, Adriana is waiting for me and greets me after I climb off my motorcycle. The six-room hotel sits on the main road. The restaurant across the street is tucked on the coast just above a private beach. Both overlook the blue Croat of the Adriatic Sea and the island of Korcula in the distance.
As both Sabina and Antonio referred to the old hotel as “the captain’s house,” I thought I knew what to expect. It wasn’t until Adriana shared its history and the lengthy and costly three-year effort the family invested in restoring it.
Adriana walks to the side of the old three-story building that houses the hotel. Pointing to a wheel window near the roofline, she tells me residents built the building as a church in 1625. For some 250 years, it served the Orebic community as one of its original churches. As the town flourished in the 1800s, the city built a more prominent church and converted the building into a schoolhouse.
It remained the town schoolhouse until World War II when it was converted once again; this time into a home for the poor. Years later the building fell to disrepair, the plumbing, and electrical failing. It lay vacant until about ten years ago when Igor bought the old building. When he shared his excitement about closing the deal, it disgusted his mother, who thought he was crazy. “You bought the ugliest building in Orebic,” she told him.
Still, Igor had a vision and a plan. With a passion for Orebic’s history and in respect for its heritage, Igor long desired to build a ‘captain’s house.’ When Orebic’s sea captains ruled the maritime and sailed tall ships all over the world. Then, the seafront was lined with the opulent homes of these sailing captains and their exotic gardens. So the Mikulic family set out to recreate one of those homes and by doing so to pay homage to Orebic’s infamous sea captains.
Adrianna leads me into the nearly 400-year-old building that now is home, for the second year in a row, earned the coveted Adrian Award for the best small, family-run hotel in Croatia. The small 4-star boutique hotel has only six guest rooms, three with balconies and all overlooking the Adriatic.
The ground floor serves as the lobby, and lounge with a large fireplace. During the winter and cold months, this also serves as the restaurant. Adriana shows me a vintage photo from the 19th century. It’s a group portrait of many of the wealthy captains who once lived in Orebic. “All of these guys sailed the world,” she explains. “And brought their riches back to Orebic.”
Other vintage photos grace the walls of the lobby and the classic staircase leading to the upper floors and guest rooms. They tell the story of Orebic and the life of its residents in a different time.
Targeted at couples looking for a romantic getaway, The Adriatic Hotel adheres to a strict no children or adults only policy. The hotel exudes understated elegance. Instead of room numbers, the name of a famous ship identifies each guest room.
The hotel feels like a comfortable museum where you can touch, lounge, and relish in an environment surrounded by authentic relics and antiques from one of the last tall ships to sail from Orebic.
Adrianna shows me a couple of the rooms on the second floor. Some make use of the original 17th century stone walls of the hotel where beautiful crown moldings and the dark woods used in the flooring and furniture soothe and warm up the room.
Some rooms feature a four-poster bed with a sheer fabric-draped canopy. She sits on one bed and tells me a story about one of the wealthiest families in Orebic whose only son fell in love with the wrong girl. That is, a girl from a family his parents would not approve. He left Orebic with the girl and gave up the family fortune. This hotel is full of stories. In each room is an elegant folio that features information and the story about the ship from which they named the room.
The “Stari Kapetan” or “Old Captain” restaurant sits directly across the hotel and above a beach with cozy lounge chairs that sit under bamboo umbrellas. Each of these is reserved and for the exclusive use of hotel guests. Each spot is also identified by the name of the corresponding guest room.
The restaurant features modern takes on classic coastal, or Dalmatian cuisine using locally sourced fish, meats, and produce from around the Peljesac peninsula. Tables hug the coastline while the entire restaurant is designed to evoke the feel of a ship’s lounge.
At one end is the helm where a life-sized mannequin of an old captain, classically dressed in a captain’s cap and standing next to a classic ship’s steering wheel At the other end of the restaurant is another mannequin of his sweetheart. The two are standing facing each other in reverence to the captain’s dance, where the captain and his sweetheart move closer to each other and then back as the dance progresses.
For a fleeting moment, I thought I should ask Adrianna for a dance lesson. Instead, we sit down and talk about travel. She shares her brother’s, Antonio, passion for travel yet she seems more spirited and footloose. Adriana still studies in school, she aims for an upper graduate degree in economics. When she’s not working and studying she likes to travel to the wine regions of the world.
This opens up more discussion about my recent travels and the book I’m working on. I share my route with her and some of the regions I’ve already explored. When I mention that I’ve been traveling to wine regions and list some countries I’ve visited so far. When I mention Montenegro, she interrupts me.
“Plantaze is my favorite wine,” she says flashing a smile. “The Stari Podrum,” Adriana says looking for a reaction. It’s the top of the line offered by the largest winery in Montenegro. I love that wine too.
“Oh, you like wine?” I ask her.
Without hesitation, she tells me, “I like good wine.”
Orebic’s economy, like most of Croatia’s coastal cities, is driven by tourism. Here business is seasonal, usually April through September or October. Yet the Adriatic Hotel is the only hotel open all year long. This keeps the Mikulic family busy. New projects such as the winery demand more time, money, and attention from what is already a nearly twenty-four-hour workday. And with the scarcity of skilled labor due to the migration of young people to other European countries, running these hospitality businesses is even more demanding. It motivates Antonio and Adriana, the next generation, and they seem genuinely excited to continue to grow the business.
Every day at lunch the tight-knit family of four meet here at the “Old Captain” for a family lunch. “It’s the only time we can talk to each other,” Adriana explains. With all the time they spend working each day, it’s at this ritual daily lunch, she tells me, they can check in with each other.
Soon her mom, Sabina, shows up. I look at my watch. It’s lunchtime. They invite me to join them. I want to accept as I enjoy the energy of this family’s passion and commitment to hospitality and service, the family passion. But they’ve been so generous with their time, I don’t want to interrupt what I know is precious family time, so I decline.
I hope on my motorcycle and make my way to my next Croatian destination.
Where? I don’t know. I’ll let the wind take me.
See you there soon.