Sunday, November 11, 2012

Croatia's Strangest Festival? Celebrating Dormice in Dol, Hvar

The 2011 Puhijada, a festival celebrating the edible dormouse, concludes in Dol, as an inland village boosts tourism and diversifies Hvar's tourist offer.
Croatia's Strangest Festival? Celebrating Dormice in Dol, Hvar - Paul Bradbury (http://)
The island of Hvar's busy tourist season continued on August 20 2011 with those in the know heading inland for the conclusion of the 4th Dolska Puhijada. The puhijada is a festival celebrating the traditions and culture of the village of Dol, and takes its name from the main item on the menu: the edible dormouse, orpuh.
Reviving Inland Village Culture
The event, organised byTartajun, a group of locals from Dol, is another example on Hvar of attempts to revive culture in some of the less fashionable communities away from the beach resorts. The culturally important crop of lavender is now celebrated annually in nearby Velo Grablje, with an annual lavender festival.
Velo Grablje, once the centre of lavender production in all Dalmatia has a current population of just five, is testament to the mass emigration that occurred in Croatia in the early 20th Century. Dol also suffered severe depopulation as islanders moved abroad in search of better economic opportunities, with more than 60% emigrating to Argentina, according to the Tartajun magazine. The magazine also charts the population of the village, from its 2011 low point of 310 villagers to its heyday in 1900 when 942 people lived there.
The festival itself was a four-day event, highlighting different aspects of culture and tradition in the village, including balota tournaments (the Dalmatian equivalent of bowls), but the main event was the final evening, with various concerts - both modern and traditional Dalmatianklapa - children's activities and a meat fest from hamburgers to wild boar. And dormice.
Trying a Grilled Dormouse
The puh is an edible dormouse and a speciality of the village. Its hunting takes special skill, as the animal moves quickly and can leap up to 7 metres from tree to tree. Refreshments were sold in a unique currency - the Superpuh - whose exchange rate was fixed at 5 Croatian kuna (roughly 1 Superpuh - $1), with a plate of grilled dormouse coming in at 7 Superpuh, and served with bread.
The biggest challenge when eating a dormouse is finding the actual meat. Each plate contained two dormice, perhaps 15cm long and, although the puh can double its body weight later in the season, there were fairly lean pickings on the night. Taste wise, the puh resembles a stronger taste than chicken - very tasty but hardly a hearty main course.
The event was an unqualified success and is gaining in popularity. Although a distinctly local affair due to lack of publicity in all but the most dedicated of guidebooks, there was a reasonable presence of foreign tourists, including five rather bemused guests of the American-run Suncokret Body and Soul Retreat in the village.
The Diverse Nature of Tourism on Hvar
Suncokret is emerging as one of the leading holistic yoga centres in the Adriatic, and another example of the regeneration of Dol. Famed for its calming and tranquil setting, the riotous dormouse celebrations provided an interesting contrast on their final evening. Less impressed was Suncokret's dog Maza who, when offered the bones of a puh or two, turned up his nose and went off in search of other prey.
The lavender festival in Velo Grablje and the Dolska Puhijada are examples both of regeneration, but also of the diversity on offer on Hvar, voted one of the world's top ten most beautiful islands by readers of Conde Nast.
Better known for the celebrity draw of Hvar Town, one of the most exclusive resorts on the Croatian coast, whose guests have included Brad Pitt, Jack Nicholson and Bill Gates, the Full Moon parties at the Carpe Diem Beach Club are arguably the most popular draw for nightlife, while the 500 year-old UNESCO-protected Easter Procession of Za Krizem is testament to the rich religious tradition on the island.
The puhijada will undoubtedly be repeated next year, and this Facebook page has the latest information.

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