Henry VIII, Croatian Tourism and an Italian Football Team
The wives of Henry the VIII are legendary, but there is a more curious royal tale involving the island of Hvar in Croatia and Italian football club Juventus
Consumed by lust, a British monarch splits with the Catholic church over the latter's refusal to grant him a divorce. Centuries later, a Russian billionaire sails into a harbour dubbed the new St. Tropez in his new mega-yacht, while across the Adriatic, a thumping header from a centre-half provides a winning Juventus goal. Three random, unconnected events. Or are they? The connection can be found in one of the most stunning, abandoned villages in Europe - Malo Grablje.
Malo Grablje - the royal connection
Just a few kilometres from the party atmosphere of Hvar Town, there is a small, rough road to the left. Few people venture up it, preferring to take the preceding right down to the fishing village of Milna, known for its excellent fish, great beaches and some of the best views in Europe. This is the island of Hvar after all, voted in the top ten islands in the world by Conde Nast readers. However, a less popular turn to the left will take you back in time and provide the initial clues in one of Europe's more curious stories - how an entire village, completely abandoned for fifty years, has one quintessentially British thing in common: the surname of each house owner is Tudor. By Royal Appointment.
About a kilometre up the makeshift track, the remnants of what was once a thriving community comes into view. In a hauntingly beautiful (some would say hauntedly beautiful) setting, against a backdrop of majestic cliffs, lies a stunning stone village of perhaps sixty houses. Not only does nobody live there, but during the great Croatian Property Rush of 2004, this was perhaps the only village on the island where no property was sold. It was not for want of trying, as investors, drawn by the beauty, tranquility and close proximity to the beach (1.5km) and Hvar Town, enquired through local agents, only to be told that nobody was selling. A completely abandoned village, owned by Tudors, where nobody wanted to cash in on the property boom. Rumours even abounded of an Italian businessman, who was so taken by the location and saw it as a potentially lucrative filmset, offering large sums to rent the location for his purposes - all to no avail.
Juventus v Inter - the royal connection
Legend has it that an illegitimate son of Henry VIII was shipwrecked off the coast at Milna, stayed and did the decent thing with a local girl. With the emphasis on location being hidden from marauding pirates, the settlement of Malo Grablje was founded, completely hidden from sea view, but with close proximity.
Not that the Tudor name in Dalmatia rests on the laurels of a British monarch - the most famous son of Malo Grablje is Igor Tudor, a distinguished defender for both the Croatian national team and Juventus FC, in Serie A.
Waking the dead
What makes the story a little stranger is the decision of the villagers to completely abandon Grablje in the 1960s, not just one person, but the entire community. The explanation seems to be that life was hard in Grablje and the opportunities presenting themselves in tourism in a more liberal Yugoslavia meant that the focus shifted from the village to a nearby bay, Milna, which today is one of the must-see places on the island, a delicious way to dine away a lazy afternoon on the water. Mention is made of the Tudor connection and aristocratic features can be detected in the local restauranteurs, especially after a bottle or two or the excellent local wine.
An added twist to the tale was the decision to remove all the bodies in the graveyard in Grablje and transport them to the cemetery in Milna. The village graveyard today has the original holes in the ground, some of them slightly open.
Perhaps there is a simple explanation to the whole story, and there is nothing strange about it at all, in which case the advice would be to visit the village anyway, for its raw beauty and excellent makeshift, rustic restaurant, which operates in the summer. Or perhaps there is a more sinister explanation for this illegitimate royal emigration, complete with illegitimate royal ancestral bones. Either way, a wander round the village and an inspection of the graves is an excellent appetite builder for the superb fish platter down the road in Milna. Enjoy!