Is it a little tasteless to blog ones honeymoon? Yes, I suppose it is. So here goes: Lopud is a very small island off the coast of Dubrovnik, Croatia. It has an area of roughly 5 sq km, with a population of just under 400. There are no cars on the island, and we were there at the very end of the season. The night we arrived there was a storm. In short, it was perfect.
Most of the hotels, restaurants and private houses are slung out along the bay that faces toward Dubrovnik, with the island rising to a wooded hill before sloping down again on the far side to Sunj Bay, a large sandy beach.
Just beyond the pier where the Dubrovnik ferry arrives is a 15th century Franciscan monastery – the church still in use – and there are tiny little churches no bigger than shrines really tucked in between the houses.
Apparently at one stage Lopud had between 22 and 36 churches. During the Fifteenth century it was the regional headquarters of the Republic of Dubrovnik with its own shipyard and a fleet of about 80 ships.
What I found most lovely and then most intriguing about Lopud though is a fragment of their more recent history. In the 1920’s and ‘30’s Lopud became very popular as an up market holiday destination. The Glavovic family (who still have a hotel on the island) commissioned Serbian architect Nikola Dobrovic to build a hotel.
Nikola Dobrovic subsequently became one of former Yugoslavia’s most well known Modernist architects, going on to design the Army Headquarters in Belgrade (From where the levelling of Vukovar, siege of Sarajevo and random bombardment of Dubrovnik were ordered.)
*Click here for a fascinating article on the Army Headquarters and its destruction by NATO*
In the 1930’s Dobrovic had only one or two projects to his name so it is a testament to the Glavovic’s taste not only that they recognised his talent but that the end result, The Grand Hotel, is considered to be one of the best buildings of his career.
Like a great deal of Croatian property the Grand Hotel has had quite a chequered history since it was first built and is derelict at the moment, but its beauty is still apparent. The hotel looks out onto the sea and was built to represent “The ship moored for a long time”.
It was made entirely of reinforced concrete, inside and out, but there is enormous warmth in this material or maybe it’s the curves that lend it its humanity. Either way, I find it Modernism at its most seductive.
And it wasn’t just a pretty face. In 1939 it was able to generate its own electricity, and the excess electricity produced was used to light up the whole town.
Also dating from this period, and in the same style, is his memorial to Czech poet Viktor Dyk who had died on the island in 1931. Construction of this monument was financed by a donation of Czechoslovakian government, and will hopefully soon be renovated by the Czech Embassy in Croatia.
During the Second World War Croatia sided with the Nazis, and under the authority of the Italians the Grand Hotel was used as an internment camp for Croatian Jews.
Through a combination of the goodwill of the people of Lopud and deliberate bureaucratic foot-dragging on the part of the Italians most of the Jewish refugees survived.
After the War the Communists, led by Tito, came to power and nationalised many of the hotels on Lopud including the Grand Hotel.
In 1990 a Property Restitution law was passed, to restore nationalised properties to their former owners. However, various shenanigans were to follow that ensured the Grand Hotel stood idle for a few more years.
In 1998 the Dubrovačka Bank, who held the Lopud hotels as part of their portfolio, was involved in a financial scandal that threatened the entire Croatian banking system, implicating senior politicians, police and Miroslav Kutle, a businessman and media tycoon previously convicted for embezzlement.
In 2001 the hotels were forced into bankruptcy, a move designed to benefit Baroness Francesca Von Habsburg. Von Habsburg has previous on Lopud: In 1997 she secured a concession over the Franciscan monastery. The contract obliged her to restore the church, cloister and citadel but to date she has not invested a single penny.
Finally in 2005 Atlanska Plovidba, a shipping line and travel agency, purchased Grand Hotel, and according to their website “Renovation shall commence in the very near future”. At present workers from Bosnia are staying, well, squatting in the Grand Hotel while building another hotel further up the bay. You can see their clothes hanging in the windows and balconies, and in the mornings we’d hear them from our hotel room as they went to work, then we’d turn over for another snooze. For the rest of the day the place is as silent as the tomb.