- The Washington Times - Friday, June 11, 2004

SVETI IVAN NA PUCINI, Croatia — A picture-perfect lighthouse on this islet in the Adriatic Sea stands out like a weathered relic above the cobalt-and-crimson horizon. Built in 1853 as a beacon for 19th-century mariners, this Croatian lighthouse and others like it are now being used as 21st-century retreats. For a couple of days or a week of splendid isolation, tourists can escape the hectic pace of modern life with a Robinson Crusoe adventure in one of 11 lighthouses up for rent this season.

The lighthouses — some close to 200 years old but all still working — are the twinkling jewels on a bracelet of islands strung out along Croatia’s crystal-clear Adriatic coastline.

After island-hopping for four days, Sveti Ivan Na Pucini — St. John of the High Seas — was my pick for a brief overnight escape.

It was barely the size of a regulation baseball field, taking me only a few minutes to circumnavigate its rocky perimeters — though barefoot thrill-seekers should calculate the extra time needed to negotiate some of the razor-sharp ridges.

I had planned to do lofty and constructive things during my stay. I couldn’t wait to abandon the rat race of the office, to unwind and recharge my batteries — perhaps even to contemplate the finer elements of life, nature and humanity.

But the novelty of solitude began wearing off soon after I disembarked from the dinghy that was my lifeline to civilization.

Tick, tick, tick. There’s no doubt about it, even the seconds and minutes are on holidays out here. I was a stranded whale waiting helplessly for Greenpeace to haul me back home.

The lighthouse keeper, Zoran Marovic, was just that, “keeping” mostly to himself and to Tara, a crossbreed terrier. He made his presence known mostly through his croaky voice, as he radioed in a carefully examined synopsis of meteorological data that included water temperatures, wind velocity, shape and makeup of clouds — every three hours on the dot.

Legend has it that St. John, the southernmost isle in an archipelago of 13, owes its name to a Venetian duke. The duke beseeched the saint to spare his life and those of his shipmates after sailing into troubled waters on a voyage to the nearby town of Rovinj.

Reaching the shore safely, the unknown duke neglected his vow to light a candle in tribute to St. John in a chapel on the mainland. A wrathful tempest sunk his vessel upon return to the gates of Venice, killing all on board.

A good bedtime story, but it wasn’t even noon at the lighthouse, and I was already yawning.

In desperation, I turned to yoga. No experience, but how difficult can it be to do some deep breathing, stretching and meditation?

The setting was right. Nothing but blue skies, blue seas and blue — ouch — bruises. Untrained and inflexible, I gave up on trying to twist my limbs into new shapes. Besides, I already was in a state of bliss — this was after all a deserted island, with just me, Friday and his scruffy dog.

Then — a flash of nirvana. How about just relaxing, kicking my feet up and doing nothing?

Words cannot do justice to the feeling of a gentle breeze caressing your cheeks, bringing with it fresh juniper- and salt-scented air as you gaze into pristine waters, while sun and clouds conspire to create turquoise, emerald or quicksilver reflections.

Then there are the breathtaking closeness of the universe at twilight; the luminescence of the moon and the brilliance of the stars; and the taste of Mr. Morovic’s grilled block-tailed sea bream, lathered in olive oil, with a sprinkling of garlic and parsley, washed down with a glass too many of robust red wine.

Once I reached the right mood of contemplation, the minutes and hours flew by. My respite from reality was over much too soon, and bliss was replaced by pangs of regret as the same weathered dinghy that brought me here slowly began carrying me away.

British Airlines and other airlines have direct flights several times a week to Croatian cities along the coast, while most commercial airlines have direct flights to the Croatian capital, Zagreb, with connecting Croatia Airlines flights to Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar and Pula. Rovinj is about 12 miles from Pula. For more information, visit www.croatiaairlines.hr.

St. John of the High Seas lighthouse has two double-bedroom apartments available for rent. A week’s stay in either apartment in peak summer season costs $1,063, dropping to $642 during the off-season. The nearest town, Rovinj, is a 40-minute boat ride away; transportation fee is $120. For information or help in planning a trip to St. John or the other lighthouses, visit www.adriatica.net or call 385-1-2415-611. The staff at Adriatica is flexible and can organize transportation or cater to other requests.

There is a solid cellular-phone signal but no landline phone service from the lighthouse. Energy is solar-powered. There is enough to watch TV, take warm showers, charge your laptop, etc. A fresh breeze from the sea makes air conditioning unnecessary.

Purchase food staples in Rovinj beforehand; each apartment has a kitchen and cooking utensils. (The lighthouse keepers don’t usually prepare meals for guests, but you may be able to arrange this informally, either through Adriatica or by asking the keeper politely if he’d like to dine in your company and share a fine bottle of wine.)

Resupply can be arranged through the keeper, who makes regular trips to the mainland. Although each lighthouse is equipped with radio stations, and rescue helicopters and sea patrols are on alert in case of medical emergencies, stays on remote island lighthouses are not recommended for those not in good health. Fickle weather conditions can delay assistance.

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