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Building Dubrovnik’s Wealth: The White Gold of Ston

Drive north of Dubrovnik, and after a while, you will come to a fascinating little town at the entrance to the Pelješac Peninsula: Ston.

Your first impression will be the striking fortified walls which snake up around the rising hill of the peninsula, a fascinating stone wall construction of more than 5km in length, which is said to be the longest fortified wall outside of China. Stop for lunch at nearby Mali Ston, and you will enjoy one of the great true local culinary treasures of Croatia – the famous oysters of Ston, now complete with its very own annual oyster festival.

But the real story which first put Ston on the world map necessitated the building of that amazing wall, and which gave the Dubrovnik Republic most of its wealth was something altogether different – white gold, otherwise known as salt.

For Ston’s original claim to fame lies in the fact that is has the oldest salt pans in Europe, pans that were deemed too important to the economic wellbeing of the Dubrovnik Republic that Ston’s famous walls were built in the 14th and 15th century to protect this valuable commodity, a commodity which brought approximate one third of its wealth to the Dubrovnik Republic.

Little has changed in the harvesting methods today, and Ston’s salt continues to be an important source of revenue, with some 500 tons of salt harvested annually. The process needs only the help of three natural factors, as it did all those years ago – the sun, the sea, and the wind. The salt pans consist of 58 pools, which are divided into five groups, as production has to go through five stages over a course of 1-2 months. The final group of pools deals with the crystallization of the salt, and 8 of the 9 pools are named after saints (Francis, Nicholas, Balthazar, Anthony, Joseph, John, Peter and Paul). Harvesting normally takes place in the warmer months, from April until October.

Tourism has entered the history of Ston salt in recent years. A museum is being built and Ston held its first salt festival this summer. If you would like to try your hand as a salt harvester, the town runs a volunteer summer camp from the middle of July until September, where one pool is harvested daily. Camp participants are given appropriate clothing, free accommodation, and some rather unusual perks, such as the opportunity to play volleyball in salt. You can’t do that back home!

The salt from the pans of Ston is just one more example of the high quality natural and local produce available in and around Dubrovnik, a major factor in the excellence of Dalmatian cuisine. A day trip to Ston is a fascinating option for guests looking to explore – a chance to hike the longest fortified wall in Europe, from where the views of the continent’s oldest salt pans are particularly splendid, then finish with an oyster feast on the water in Mali Ston. Just one of the many fabulous excursions available during your stay at Sun Gardens Dubrovnik.

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