Trstenik – a small coastal village on the Pelješac peninsula – is my summer home. I call it home because, for me, Trstenik is much more than a holiday destination.
Every year, I hang out with the local people there, I come back to the same house, I communicate with wildlife, I walk through the vineyards and I watch them grow. And yesterday, on Monday 21 July, my summer home village burnt down in coastal wildfires.
600 hectares of pine forest, vineyards and olive and fig trees were consumed in a savage wildfire. World-famous Grgich winery was especially hard hit. A beautiful stone winery building, Trstenik landmark and a tourist attraction, suffered a bad damage. The storage building was completely destroyed: half of the bottled Plavac Mali inventory was burnt to ash.
I know, it’s just statistics. Natural disasters come and go. We see photos that only momentarily shake us. Devastating fire here and now: we sigh and say how horrible it is. But what about the aftermath? The long years it takes for the emotional and economic trauma to heal, for the wildlife to recover?
When a natural disaster hits your home, nothing is ever the same. Press coverage eventually stops but our daily rituals remain disrupted, our surroundings changed, the local eco-system destroyed. We may think we are apart and above nature, but our natural habitat is what nurtures us.
If you’re travelling to Croatia, read on to learn what you can do to prevent coastal wildfires. Nature is ours to enjoy and ours to protect.
Trstenik before coastal wildfires
I never chose Trstenik – Trstenik chose me. My family owns an old stone house at the end of the village where a deep pine forest begins. The house has a terrace with a view to the sea. In the evenings, we sit around the table and drink Plavac Mali wine.
At the height of the season, when the sun warms you up so much you radiate even at night, long sleeves are a must. It’s because of the forest – a nature’s balancing act to long scorching hours.
We often get chatty and loud. Our joyful voices echo deep into the dark stretches of pine trees overlooking the terrace. All of a sudden we get interrupted by equally loud howls. These are not wolves but domestic jackals – locally called čagalj.
Pelješac rich forests are among rare habitats to this beautiful canine creature. Čagalj is not dangerous. It’s a monogamous beast that howls before the rain and to call to its mate. You might see it in the night driving on the road. You will always hear it when you sit on my terrace, surrounded by forest.
Listen to the haunting love howl of čagalj, recorded at my terrace:
It’s because of the forest that Trstenik nights are cool enough to sleep. There is no tossing around in bed trying to fight hot stifling air. Trstenik house is my most peaceful sleeping den.
The forest protects Trstenik vineyards from drying up. When the sun goes down and the temperature drops, it’s the humidity rising from the forest that naturally irrigates the vineyards.
Pelješac is famous for the Plavac Mali vineyards but vineyards are not all you can see in its landscape. Local people know that cutting down the forest to produce more wine would disturb this perfect sun-humidity balance.
Old pine trees are so resilient they can grow even among the rocks by the sea. A narrow stretch of soil is enough for this giant to flourish. It will bend in the wind and change its shape but even a single tree is enough to create a perfect beach.
Trstenik forest is a friend to my fussy summer demands. I hate overbearing heat, hot nights and shadeless beaches.
Now 600 hectares of Trstenik forest is gone.
How long will it take for the wildlife to recover? For the vineyards to be planted again and basted by the forest humidity? For the čagalj to howl to its love-mate again? For the people to resume their normal lives, chat on their terraces and fall soundly asleep?
Too long. And it only took here and now to destroy it.
5 easy steps to prevent coastal wildfires
When you travel to the Croatian coast, think of it as your summer home. Take all the measures to prevent the local eco-system from being destroyed for many years to come.
It only takes a bit of your attention to protect nature’s wonderful balance. And this balance is what makes your Croatian holiday so enjoyable, what fills your wine glass, what protects your child from the sun at the beach.
#1 Always make sure that your cigarette is safely put out when you’re outdoors. Pick up a cigarette butt and take it with you.
#2 Never throw a lit cigarette from a moving car or as you walk along a road lined with shrubs.
#3 Never set up a barbecue in a place surrounded by trees. Respect the signs and guidelines set up in picnic areas.
#4 If you’re barbecuing, pick a spot removed from the trees. When you’re finished with the barbecue, always double check that the fire is completely out. Throw water on the ashes just to be 100% sure.
#5 If you cause fire or see fire staring somewhere, call the emergency number 112 to report it.