Croatia for demanding foodies
roatia lets you release your inner glutton. And without the guilt, since it boasts a healthy Mediterranean diet. Besides beaches and history, the country of a thousand islands is known for its good food. The secret is in the source produce, carefully cultivated by farmers in inland regions, and fresh fish and seafood in coastal towns.
The Croatian menu offers meat, seafood, cheese and a glass of maraschino, the renowned cherry liqueur, as a dessert or aperitif. But, the undisputed star is the truffle, particularly the white one (aka, tuber magnatum pico). Truffle hunters will pay up to 20,000 euros for truffle dogs, which sniff out this prized mushroom in the forests of Motovun, on the Istria peninsula. In 1999, Giancarlo Zigante and his dog Diana found the biggest white truffle in the world: a 1.310 kg giant that earned immediate inclusion in the Guinness World Records. Zigante could have sold it, but preferred to share it over dinner with friends. If you would like to try the product hailed as the ‘king of truffles’, visit his restaurant, located in the village of Livade.
Itinerary for gourmands
Food and festivals always pair well. The Drniš prosciutto festival takes place in September. And for foodies who are also keen runners, the Istrian Wine Run traverses the wine regions of the peninsula in early September.
The Istria peninsula is the truffle region, but it is also home to vineyards and olive groves. It is known as the Magic Land and brews the essence of the Mediterranean. Merchants and conquerors shaped this land, with its mild climate and Provençal scenery. Its Venetian legacy can be observed in the colourful houses of Rovinj, while the Romans left their mark in Pula, in the form of an enormous amphitheatre. Besides visiting medieval cities like Grožnjan and Opatija, you can also enjoy wine tastings. The best-known wineries are in Momjan and on the outskirts of Rovinj.
On the glamorous island of Hvar, the longest in the Adriatic, there is also a great winemaking tradition. The Greeks planted the first vines on here way back in 834 BC, and since then the islanders haven’t stopped producing high quality wines. Pošip, from the vineyards of Zlatan Otok, is considered the finest white, alongside the indigenous Bogdanuša, a variety produced only in Hvar and whose name means ‘gift from God’. You can sample it at local restaurants or buy a bottle and climb aboard a yacht, just as celebrities do along the island’s coastline. To walk off your spiza, a local term for a good meal, wander through the cobbled streets of the old centre, or explore the fields further inland, which are blanketed with lavender.
Olive oil is the other great legacy the Greeks and Romans left in Croatia. Though production levels don’t compete with the country’s Mediterranean neighbours, this oil is considered one of the best in the world. Small family companies grow their own olives and produce a limited quantity of oil. Hand-made quality guaranteed. The olive oil of the islands of Solta, Korcula and Krk, and the virgin extra olive oil of the island of Cres, in the Kvarner region, have a protected denomination of origin.
Without leaving the Dalmatian Coast, there are still numerous delicacies left to enjoy. For instance in Ston, which, besides having the European Great Wall of China (the longest wall on the continent, measuring 7km), is known for its oysters, enjoyed by locals and tourists all year round. They are also the star product on the menu at numerous restaurants in Dubrovnik, just 60km away.
Another unmissable stop for seafood lovers is Kvarner Bay, whose langoustines are supposedly the tastiest in the Adriatic. Meanwhile, meat lovers can sample the lamb from the island of Pag. The bura wind carries sea salt to the meadows where the sheep graze, giving their meat a unique flavour. The same thing happens with Paški Sir, a strong cheese obtained exclusively from sheep on that island. Delicious accompanied by prosciutto, grapes, wild-flower honey and olive oil. There is nothing you won’t find in the country of a thousand islands.