DREAMSCAPES FALL/WINTER 2021
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COASTAL CROATIA: ADRIATIC TASTES AND TREASURES
 
(2021 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: ALISON KENT



We are dining alfresco at Dvor, a waterfront restaurant and top culinary destination in Split, Croatia. The seaside breeze off the Adriatic Sea is softly swirling, prompting tree boughs to gently sway. All around, votive candles and twinkling lights are set in motion, shimmering and dancing in the evening light.

“I cannot get over the amount of white truffle shaved on our pasta—it’s unbelievable!” I whisper across the patio table.

“I know!” blurts another diner.

In the same hushed tone, our attentive server within earshot confirms, “It’s a white truffle extravaganza—and the aroma is fantastic.” Shortly afterwards, he scoots back and tops up a chubby glass of a full-bodied Croatian white wine known as Pošip.

And so begins my introduction to Croatia’s gourmet dine and wine experience. It’s the joy of dining out in this charming seaside town—particularly during Istrian white truffle season—alongside my initiation of this native white grape that has me enamoured with the best local flavours.

During a fall trip to the sun-rich Dalmatian Coast, I first learned about several types of truffles that are relished here. Among them are the black summer truffle, the black winter truffle, the precious Perigord black truffle; and then, there’s white truffle—the most coveted of these mushroom-like tubers. Come autumn, these subterranean edible delicacies are eagerly sniffed out by specially trained dogs and pigs.

A CITY OF CONTRASTS

In the medieval-meets-modern city of Split, it is fitting to sample the Old World Pošip, which originated centuries before on neighbouring Korcula—an island known for producing the very best Pošip wines at this exceedingly voguish restaurant.

Overlooking the Adriatic Sea, the ancient port city of Split features a palm-tree-lined waterfront promenade, plentiful historic sites and a maze of narrow alleys dotted with boutiques and outdoor dining at most every turn. Treasures and tokens abandoned by former dwellers amassed through the ages make Diocletian’s Palace a must-see. Equal parts enchanting and mysterious, it’s easy to appreciate why the interior of the palace was chosen as a setting for the HBO blockbuster epic fantasy series, Game of Thrones. (Khaleesi’s dragons may still be lurking in the basement.)

Built as the retirement residence for the Roman Emperor Diocletian in the late third century, it’s one of the world’s best-preserved monuments of Roman architecture. Today, you can navigate the ancient luxury villa on a memorable self-guided tour. Its fortress—a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site—encompasses much of the old town of Split.

SUNNY HVAR

From Split board a scenic one-hour catamaran or two-hour ferry ride to the enchanting island paradise of Hvar. Or hop a motorboat direct to your waterfront Hvar hotel.

Along the cruise, you’ll undeniably spot Hvar’s spiny mountain ridge, which is the longest of Croatia’s 1,200 islands, extending 68 kilometres. Capped by its highest peak, Mount Sveti Nikola (Saint Nicholas), from this perch you can prepare for jaw-dropping views of the turquoise-tinted sea and surrounding islands. For an equally impressive yet more accessible viewing point, visit Fortica Spanjola. The stone fortress is a gentle, pleasant walk from Hvar Town.

The unique landscape of Hvar makes this a popular destination for travellers of all types including food and wine enthusiasts.

WINES FIT FOR THE GREEK GODS

Hvar island has an impressive winemaking history. Though vines were already cultivated here by the early Illyrians, it was the ancient Ionian Greeks from Paros who settled and transformed this captivating place into arable land. They constructed stone walls and mounds along the island’s steep slopes and created sloping vineyards. 

The Mediterranean climate is a boon for the thriving production of agri-rich crops, including olive groves,  orchards, and lavender fields. Amid the island’s bounty, you will find another local UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is the intriguing landmark of Stari Grad Plain. Containing the ruins of stone structures and evidence of ancient Greek agricultural planning, the early farming methods of grape and olive production involved a geometrical system of land division still in use today.

Not to overlook Hvar’s noble vineyards, this is home to Plavac Mali, Croatia’s indigenous, most highly esteemed red grape variety. Elegant, well-structured, and brimming with powerful, jammy flavours of ripe figs and black cherries, balanced by bold tannins and hints of herbs and chocolate, this wine lover can attest that Plavac Mali could easily rival some of the world’s finest red varietals.

Back in Split a week later, we return to the same restaurant for dinner. Tonight, it will be steak tartare with duck fat-fried potatoes paired with an exceptional bottle of the local Plavac Mali.

Our server asks if we’d like some shaved white truffle on top.

Da, puno molim”—yes, lots please.

A Taste of Terroir

“Fish should swim three times: in the sea, olive oil and wine.”

–Croatian Proverb

From north to south along the Adriatic coast, although the cuisine might be Mediterranean in style, thanks to tradition and terroir it is unmistakably Croatian.

Throughout Split and Hvar, an abundance of fresh fish and seafood, most notably octopus, is on the menu.

Originating in Dalmatia, Salata od hobotnice is chilled octopus salad in garlicy vinaigrette with parsley and potatoes. There are risotto dishes, including Crni rižot, a black risotto, which is a renowned Croatian dish sourced from cuttlefish or squid doused in its dark ink. There are fresh pastas with roasted chestnuts, drizzled with peppery local extra-virgin olive oil, or those liberal shavings of Istrian white truffles.

During the fall season, Istarski Tartuf, or Istrian truffle, is shaved and sprinkled over everything from steak to scrambled eggs.

Not to be missed, Paški sir is a very special aged sheep’s milk cheese from the Adriatic island of Pag while pršut is Istrian ham that’s rubbed with Croatian sea salt, smoked, and dry-cured, served thinly sliced.

There’s also Velebit honey from the Dalmatian meadows packed with nuts, the green walnut liqueur known as Orahovac—and, of course, some of the finest wines anywhere.

Dobar tek!” Good appetite!

Travel Planner

FLIGHTS: From Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal to Split, Croatia with one connection, often through Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt.

TOURS: Insight Vacations offers The Dalmatian Elegance, a 9-day  guided tour of Croatia’s magical Adriatic coastline. insightvacations.com/en-ca/tours/dalmatian-elegance

HELPFUL WEBSITES: Croatia Tourism: croatia.hr/en-GB  

Croatian Food & Wine: croatia.hr/en-GB/experiences/gastronomy-and-enology

 
 
 
 
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