Delve into Croatia’s phenomenon that is ‘fjaka’, the Mediterranean’s answer to slow living.
A certain kind of magic exists along Croatia’s island-studded coastline. Here, life runs at a slower pace. There is little to no motor traffic. Medieval structures crop up like trees. And days are measured out, not by schedules or alarm clocks, but by the angle of the sun. This laidback Mediterranean lifestyle has led to the meditative phenomenon that is fjaka.
While fjaka (pronounce fee-ya-kah) is by no means news to the Croatians, it is a refreshing take on mindfulness for the rest of us who are easily swept up by the demands of modern life.
There’s no direct translation of fjaka, and every Croatian’s definition is slightly different. But fundamentally, fjaka is the art of doing little in the pursuit of utter contentment. It’s about slowing down, removing all distractions and sitting back to take stock of life as it happens around you. By opening our senses to the sights, smells and sounds of the world, we can enter a new state of being.
Locals have been perfecting this ethos for generations, as many believe it to be a gift from God. It’s part of the fabric of the national and cultural heritage, and some are even convinced that it is the answer to a longer, healthier life.
You can see it in the way locals mull about cafes for hours on end, nursing a single cup of coffee and indulging in a bout of people watching. Or in the unpredictable trading hours of a local shop, where an owner may decide to close up for a few hours in the afternoon just because they feel like it. And no one questions it, because you don’t disturb someone who’s on fjaka.
During my time in the World Heritage city of Dubrovnik, I made it my mission to achieve this dreamlike state. My day chasing fjaka began with an internal struggle of whether or not to leave my mobile in my hotel room. I knew it would hinder my fjaka process, but I also felt apprehensive about disconnecting myself from the iWorld. Resolutely, I left it face down on my bed, deciding that for the sake of my experiment, I could do without it.
I stepped out into the bright, Croatian sunshine and headed straight for the old town. The cobblestone roads were bumpy under my sandals as I followed the winding lanes towards the medieval walls. Built in the 13th century, they offer unparalleled vistas of the cobalt ocean, the old town’s terracotta rooftops and Minceta Tower, a 14th century fortress which Game of Thrones fans would find familiar.
By this point the sun was beaming down mercilessly. Tucked away into the twisting streets of the old town, I passed small cafes, souvenir shops and – bingo – a gelateria. I stepped into the cool store and surveyed the glass cabinet, filled with a rainbow-bright selection of ice cream flavours.
Armed with two scoops of mojito-flavoured gelato, I continued on my way. Without my phone at hand, I wasn’t sure what the time was. This was strangely liberating; the day ahead rolled out before me, shimmering with possibilities. My fjaka senses were tingling: they told me it was time to find a place of stillness and rest for a while. Through an iron gate set in the city walls was a stairway down the length of the cliffs to a small beach. Large rocks posed as a great place to sunbathe.
Taking a seat, I closed my eyes and tipped my face up to the sun, feeling it warm my eyelids. The whoosh of the waves as they crashed against the rocky shore almost drowned out the sound of my fellow sunbathers who chatted quietly amongst themselves.
The next time I opened my eyes, the sun had shifted slightly lower in the sky. Feeling sleepy and admittedly a little triumphant, I began the ascent back into the old town. Once back within the city walls, I stopped at a cafe buzzing with locals. Coffee is a huge part of the national culture; a cup of ‘kava’ is the perfect accompaniment to falling into a fjaka-fuelled stupor.
After receiving my coffee, and without the distraction of my phone or a book, I found myself mimicking my fellow patrons. I took my time between sips, braving the risk of making eye contact with strangers to partake in the art of people watching.
There was no questioning it: I felt utterly content. By spending the whole day guided by my own whims, without any mindfulness-robbing distractions, I stopped drowning out the world and let it speak to me. And thanks to fjaka, I listened.
Discover the magic of the Croatian coastline during our 9 Day Croatian Island Discovery Small Ship cruise.
This 9-day tour begins in Dubrovnik, where you’ll embark the cruising yacht MV Lady Eleganza, specifically crafted for this coastline and able to nestle into its small harbours and sheltered coves. On day two arrive at Korcula, where Marco Polo is said to have been born. The following day, arrive at Vis before setting sail to Hvar. At Krka National Park, spend an afternoon strolling between natural spectacles. The historic village of Radosic is next, with its abundance of cultural traditions from bread making to dancing, before your final destinations of Zadar, Pag, Rab and Krk.
Words by Felicia Arhontissas
Images courtesy of ProjectB, phant, Jorg Greuel