The village of Bale wasn’t really on our main tourist map – although there’s no doubt of its rise through the league tables to become so, despite it’s near proximity to absolutely no part of the Croatian coast. In fact, as a metaphorical pencilled note in a margin, it sits 14 kilometres inland from Rovinj and therefore accidentally lay on our route eastwards across Istria towards Tunarica campsite at Ra’a.
It had a large, almost-empty surface car-park with easy access so we stopped. It was mid-morning, the day’s heat hadn’t taken hold so we wandered into the village centre, via a church into which, as is our wont, we entered. A cool, warm grey sandstone interior and a meek-looking tattooed woman greeted us and it was some moments before we realised we were expected to pay an entry fee, despite a complete lack of any signage to that effect. Given that the fee per head amounted to about 50p, we paid it, still not sure if our tattooed verger was genuine or had just hit on a clever, indoor revenue-generating scheme from which to fund a second forearm or perhaps a spot of inking-in.
Whatever. A fascinating yet seemingly un-curated array of ancient stone-work was gently illuminated to provide a delightful but incomprehensible display of vernacular religious architecture. Fragmentary pieces of presumed medieval arch were positioned so as to represent the whole while chunks of truncated fluted pillars stood sentinel around the perimeter. Upstairs, a full-blown church offered itself as further evidence of an earlier era’s commitment to Christianity – ornately carved dark-timbered confessionals echoing the stone pillars below.
The village itself continued the warm-grey stone theme with gentle alleyways offering up intriguing views into other people’s lives, their homes laid open through front doors left beguilingly ajar or to be glimpsed through netted windows. A small pavement café seemed to provide the only hospitality and we squeezed our way in to a tiny, wobbly table where refreshments were duly provided. Bale’s indefinable spell was eventually broken by a bunch of English cyclists chatting amicably on the next table and with due regards, we retraced our steps past the church and continued our journey across Istria.
Our targeted campsite at Tunarica suffered a little in our initial appraisal since our arrival coincided with a torrential thunderstorm accompanied with a drop in temperature and a dark grey clouding of the sky. Even subsequent to our welcome at Reception (and relief that we could remain clothed during our stay) the site failed to pick itself up from an end-of-season, down-at-heel, slightly uncared-for look and feel. Litter speckled the perimeter of several pitches and our view of the sea through tall, carousing pine trees was a disappointment as a wind-whipped bay vacillated with moored pleasure boats and not much else.
Swimming from the small, untidy beach was out of the question and our attempted walk along a rocky shoreline path proved a dead-end, which imposed a retrace of our steps to an uncharacteristic afternoon spent in the company of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, who joined us in our gale-rocked Knumptywagen for a spell in Shawshank prison, which became a bit of a metaphor for our slight sense of weather-induced despondency.
The campsite restaurant also boasted an end-of-term tiredness, with a surfeit of bored waiting staff serving up mediocre fare, of which we partook that evening with as much enthusiasm as it deserved – and resolved that tomorrow we’d move onwards, rather than yet turn towards home.
And so we did. Settling our bill the following morning, whilst bemoaning the unexpected bad weather (as only Brits on holiday can do), the Receptionist offered a suggestion about a ‘sister’ site, some way distant on the Croatian island of Krk, which she thought would still be open and was, she’d heard, in an idyllic beachside location – with better weather.
Skrila Sunny Camping, lodged discreetly on the Krk coastline between Punat and Stari Baska has already featured elsewhere in an earlier blog, but elements of it needed a little more reflection, mainly because it provided a sought-after ‘holiday by the sea’ and – in contrast to the Tunarica site – provided lively, agreeable and enjoyable facilities. Live music in the beach-side bar; a thriving restaurant offering seafoods served by just one bustling, committed and enthusiastic waiter; a delightful pitch with a view of the bay and not 150 metres walk to the beach. It was here we enjoyed delicious, stolen, finger-tingling, creamy afternoon dozes in the sunshine and where overhead, in the middle of the brightest of sun-seared days, the sky was so densely azure-blue, you believed you could see ephemeral stars in it – reproducing the optical intrigue of an optician’s field test.
The early-afternoon heat also created air thin enough for the engine noise from jet-aircraft passing stratospherically overhead to scythe its way earthwards like a skein of sound falling through a shimmering nothingness to slumbering ears, as we dozed; relaxed; read; swam and sun-bathed for four glorious days.
And so it was, that by happy accident, this delightful campsite became our turnaround point, when we eventually packed up our spread-eagled outdoor chairs and table, rewound the awning and set off back north across the spectacular island bridge onto the Croatian mainland.