One of the pleasures of living in Dalmatia is the chance to observe and appreciate what an outstanding place it is to bring up children. In an age of commercialism, technology and globalisation, kids are growing up faster than ever before, and peer pressure and their environment do little to allow children to grow up as they used to.
Not so in Dalmatia, and as a British father to two beautiful Dalmatian daughters, I am often struck by the good fortune we have to grow up in such a heavenly environment as the island of Hvar, for the kids especially.
It is often thought that life on the islands is boring out of the season, but nothing could be further from the truth. Dalmatia is a natural paradise and a great educating ground for life skills. Having learned to swim at the age of 29, I look on with pride (and a little envy) as my two girls followed in the footsteps of their mother and learned to swim like dolphins at the age of three. Given that the world's most alluring swimming pool - the Adriatic - is part of their daily summer routine, this is perhaps not a surprise.
Coming from Manchester, it was a surprise to learn that tomatoes do not grow all year, as they do in British supermarkets. Being a city boy, I have learned many other secrets about Mother Nature in my time here, not least to appreciate the far superior quality of seasonal vegetables. So too the kids, who now know which fruit is about to come into season, and who like nothing better than to help their grandfather in the field, with the olive harvest being an annual highlight for the whole family. A natural, healthy education and communing with nature.
It is hard to equate all the scare stories about child safety in other countries, when one looks around the pretty squares of Dalmatia, as children come out of kindergarten at midday to play on child-friendly squares as their parents enjoy a relaxing coffee in the sun. The tourist season brings international arrivals, and the fearless interaction of children with no common language, who become best friends in an instant, is one of the people-watching highlights of the summer.
Beaches and squares apart, I am amazed at the wealth of activities available to the little ones on an island which supposedly sleeps all winter. For our two girls, 4 and 6, the weekly routine includes a mixture of rowing club, chess club, horse riding, ballet and the weekly pilgrimage to a ramshackle art studio and fabulous gardens in the village of Dol.
As if all that were not enough, an added bonus is the lack of commercialism in Dalmatia. I live in a town where the Christmas tree goes up in the main square in late December, and where the magic of Christmas (albeit without the snow) still exists.