The visit was high-level but welcomingly low key. It was made possible by Jelsa's seaplane service, which allowed the PM to arrive in Jelsa in comfort just after 9 am. European Coastal Airlines initiated the first commercial seaplane service in modern-day Europe on 27th August 2014, and it has been proving its worth ever since. Shrove Tuesday 2015 was a perfect sunny day, and the seaplane flew in from the west to touch down with panache on the open sea before turning to sail proudly over the glistening water into Jelsa Harbour.
Pilot Ulrich Nielsen assisted by co-pilot Maria Amelie Wiuff pivoted the plane with exemplary skill to back into the ECA dock.
While waiting for the plane's arrival, there was time for Jelsa's Mayor to talk to the press and TV crews who had gathered to follow the events of the day.
As he alighted, the PM took a little time to thank the crew and ECA staff. It was of course by no means the first time he had visited Hvar Island. He was present for the feast of the Assumption and the Jelsa Council's Celebration Day in 2013, and has also holidayed on the island. Casually dressed in an open-necked shirt, slacks and leather bomber jacket, he looked set to combine the day's business with due enjoyment of Dalmatia's delights.
ECA's Chief Executive Klaus Dieter Martin, smartly turned out in a discreet suit with tie, was also on the flight. He had the opportunity to describe the operations and technical details to the Prime Minister - and to demonstrate in practice the udoubted boon his service has brought to Croatia as a whole and Dalmatia in particular, after years of struggle to get beyond the bureaucratic hurdles.
Josipa, of Jelsa's legendary restaurant 'Me and Mrs Jones' had prepared a wonderful spread of delicacies for the visiting dignitaries, but it was not in the Protocol order to stop on the seashore for refreshments. Her efforts were not in vain, however, as the ECA chief and his staff had the leisure to enjoy the treats on offer.
Mayor Nikša Peronja had a relaxed walk round the waterfront with the Prime Minister, who was accompanied on this trip by the Minister of Transport, Marine Affairs and Infrastructure Siniša Hajdaš Dončić, and the Minister of Tourism Darko Lorencin. Jelsa's Tourist Board Director, Niko 'Futre' Skrivaneli, was present for the events in Jelsa.
Local fisherman Tonko Gamulin mending his nets proved a magnet for the film crews. Sitting alone in the sunshine outside his home, he looked as though he might have been positioned there to provide some local colour for the visitors. In fact he was just going about his normal business. The attention lavished on him by the passing gaggle of outsiders did not disturb him one jot. When asked, he gave permission for his picture to be taken with disinterested courtesy, keeping his mind on the work in hand.
Mayor Peronja guided the Prime Minister along the waterfront to inspect the nearly completed widening works, where new tall palm trees have been planted. Presumably these palms don't qualify as intrusive 'prostitute palms'. We hope they will be allowed to stay in place spreading their branches for many long years. Jelsa has been deprived of too many of its trees in recent years.
Standing on the waterfront in the sunshine was the perfect opportunity for examining the plans for the next phase of the harbour improvements. They are ambitious and wide-reaching, and include the provision of two much-needed longer breakwaters, placed farther out to sea in order to make Jelsa Harbour much more protected from adverse winds and tides. That part of the business done, it was time for a quick coffee break in Toni's cafe on the Jelsa Pjaca.
The Prime Minister greeted everyone on his path with great courtesy. When he was approached after he had sat down in the cafe, he demonstrated exemplary good manners in standing up to shake hands. We hope this example of cultured behaviour will be passed on to Jelsa's youngsters!
Although brief, the coffee break provided an opportunity to look at more material about Jelsa's development programme, together with a chance to relax and chat socially. The atmosphere was informal and happy.
The next stop was the new bypass road, created to ease communications with the eastern section of the island, and to reduce the stresses of driving along what was one of Dalmatia's most notoriously winding and narrow horror experiences. A welcoming table of refreshments had been set out in the first lay-by from Jelsa, and members of the folk dancing group were on hand in traditional costumes to serve everyone who came to witness the formal opening of the road.
Although the details of the day's events were only made known late on the previous day, quite a large number of people were present at the opening, including Mr Vinko Maroević, Mayor of Stari Grad, and Mr Rino Budrović, who is shortly to face elections if he is to remain as Mayor of Hvar following the rejection of his budget.
It was disappointing to hear that many had stayed away from the opening because of party political differences. It happens all too often that local community interests are damaged by political obstruction orchestrated from Zagreb. Democracy is still fledgling in Croatia. The value of constructive collaboration across the party divisions has yet to be understood and appreciated. Croatia will move forward in leaps and bounds when it is.
Refreshments were on the Protocol agenda at this juncture, and the PM was able to enjoy some very fine Dalmatian sweets, made by Anita Franičević from Vrisnik, who is the undisputed queen for producing these delicacies. It was a little surprising that no sound system had been set up to allow the PM to say a few words in honour of the opening of the road. Instead he did an interview with the media, responding good-humouredly and sensibly to some searching questions. The informality allowed the PM to meet and greet many of the people present, including Jelsa's oldest resident, 95-year-old Luka 'Tlica' Belić.
The formal business in Jelsa over, the PM was whisked away in his convoy to Svirče, to enjoy a wine tasting at the PZ Svirče Cooperative. Like many or most Croatians, the PM appreciates fine wine and food. A few years ago, he visited the island as the guest of Braco Caratan, one of Jelsa's best-loved local politicans, and enjoyed a splendid meal in the Dvor Duboković, rightly prized as one of Hvar's best restaurants for its cuisine and ambience. In Jelsa this time he admired the wines and sampled Prošek from the fabled Andro Tomić winery, then chatted about the finer points of viniculture with Andro's son Basti, who is now a leading llight in the family firm.
In Svirče PZ Director Andrija Carić is an enthusiastic, dedicated wine-producer. He is also one of the pioneers of organic wine production on Hvar. Slowly but surely, other wine producers are recognizing that this is the way ahead.
Meanwhile, ahead of the rest, PZ Svirče has produced some exquisitely fine organic wines, including the Ivan Dolac Barrique which won two gold medals at the Biofach Mundus Vini wine festival in 2012 with the 2007 vintage, and another gold for the 2008 vintage in the Mundus Vini summer tastings in 2014.
After the wine tasting, the Prime Minister and his entourage moved on to Hvar Town, from where they set off for Korčula, then to Lastovo. It was a busy day for all concerned, but the happy informal atmosphere and genuine interaction between people with shared interests must have defrayed the worst of the tiredness. The visit certainly went some way to boosting enthusiasm in local communities for progressive projects. And Jelsa's ECA seaplane service must take much of the credit for making such visits possible and manageable.
© Vivian Grisogono 2015