May 23, 2004
Mali Ston, Croatia,
Mali Ston is on a cove, not spectacularly beautiful, but restfully pretty. Mali Ston is not distinctive compared with other historic towns along the coast. The reason to go to Mali Stone is to eat. Big busses bring eating tours to Mali Ston. This weekend a busload of French Tourists came to sample local seafood and wines. The cove has oysters and mussels and the local wine is from the next valley. The town makes much of its income from seafood wedding feasts. I’m allergic to seafood but everyone assured me that Mali Ston’s restaurants had other great food as well.
As we walked from our hotel to the most highly recommended restaurant I noticed three things; first, an unusually high number of diplomatic license plates (including a Land Rover with Icelandic dip plates); second, EVERYONE at EVERY TABLE was speaking English (including, presumably, the Icelanders); and third, Volare was on the restaurant loudspeakers. The restaurant brochure says “A lunch or dinner at this well known restaurant… visited so many times by culture, politics and arts celebrities, will abound in pleasant moments with discrete music.” (Volaire?)
The other thing that Mali Ston advertises is that, “…a special unique cultural heritage has made Ston, founded in 1333, a monument of zero category.” I am not sure what a monument “of zero category” is but what the hotel brochure refers to is a set of defensive walls that run across the isthmus of the Peljesac peninsula from Ston Bay to Mali Ston Bay. The wall system surrounds both towns and provides a double wall across most of the neck of land. It is the largest defensive wall system in Europe and second (but a very distant second) to the Great Wall of China.
We are staying at the Hotel Ostrea. It is a three star hotel, but it measures up much better than the four stars in Montenegro and Serbia. The hotel has 9 rooms in an old stone building with meter thick walls. It is very romantic and the perfect place to sleep off a Mali Ston dinner.
When you climb Mali Ston’s streets above the buildings along the shore, the restaurants, hotels and the row of homes just behind them where people who run them live, the town is a ruin. But this is not an ancient ruin. Some of the windows still have cracked glass. This town was on the front line of the Dubrovnik siege in the early 90s. Then in 1996, a year after the war ended, an earthquake did what the war didn’t. Wandering the upper reaches of the ruined town was fascinating. Inside one set of walls that used to be a house someone has set up an open-air fishnet shop. Another ruin encloses a stack of salvaged plumbing fixtures, bathtubs and sinks. But the thing that sticks in my memory is the smell of roses. Thousands of roses grow throughout the town, their petals fall on the abandoned streets giving Mali Ston a very sweet smell.