How to eat, sip and savor your way through Croatia’s vibrant food scene

Long a destination for yacht-and-jet set thanks to its azure Adriatic waters and the historic charm of cities such as Dubrovnik, Split and Zagreb, Croatia has recently seen an increase in the number of travelers in search of the country’s vibrant food scene. And fall is the perfect time to eat and drink across the country, long after the hordes of visitors looking for inexpensive beach bars and Game Of Thrones the tours are gone.

This West Virginia-sized nation of just 4 million people has certainly caught the attention of the Michelin Guide, which has awarded stars to seven restaurants, including Restaurant 360, in Dubrovnik, which offers breathtaking views atop the famous city walls and a menu that features ingredients from all over the Dalmatian region. The bar is accompanied by pastry purses full of cuttlefish, called fagotini-a nod to crni rižot, the black risotto that one finds all along the coast, while the lamb is accompanied by a cheese cream from the island of Pag, a rocky and largely arid strip of land which is nevertheless famous for his lamb and his sheep’s cheese.

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A dish of red prawns served at 360 restaurant in Dubrovnik.  - Credit: Veronica Arevalo

A dish of red prawns served at 360 restaurant in Dubrovnik. – Credit: Veronica Arevalo

Veronique Arevalo

Xmas, in the capital Zagreb, offers two tasting menus featuring contemporary dishes from around the country. An updated version of the traditional embroider the fish stew always includes eels and frog legs, sourced here from the nearby Neretva river valley, while a dish from Jadransko More – literally, the Adriatic Sea – combines the best of coastal Croatia into one dish of octopus, prawns, stonefish and olives. In the town of Korčula on the island of the same name, LD Restaurant, at Relais & Châteaux LeÅ¡ić Dimitri Palace, offers a menu inspired by the surrounding waters as well as the famous vineyards and olive oils of Korcula, bringing to life the old Croatian proverb that “fish must swim three times: in the sea , in olive oil and in wine. Adriatic tuna is served in sashimi, while prawns gyoza are garnished with mousseline sauce, peppers, daikon radish and sesame.

Oysters and wine on a floating dock, with shellfish harvested from the surrounding waters.  - Credit: William Tortillo

Oysters and wine on a floating dock, with shellfish harvested from the surrounding waters. – Credit: William Tortillo

Guillaume Tortillo

Speaking of wine, the history of local viticulture stretches back over a thousand years, and a new cluster of wine hotels is inviting traveler oenophiles. In the northern peninsula of Istria, of Italian influence, Meneghetti vineyard and Roxanich’s Cave each operates charming accommodation: the first is built around an old stone farmhouse, with suites and villas arranged along lavender-lined gravel paths that lead to the main restaurant, while Roxanich, in the village of historic Motovun mountain, features eclectic and contemporary design alongside traditional wellness amenities – choose between a Turkish hammam or Finnish-style spas – as well as a restaurant celebrating Istrian cuisine with ingredients such as pasta made house and black truffles. Accompany your meal with one of Meneghetti’s aromatic and mineral red wines, a product of the region’s rocky red soil, or a bottle of Roxanich’s selection of long-aging natural wines, including rosé and orange varietals.

Further south, in Dalmatia, the PeljeÅ¡ac peninsula is Croatia’s most famous wine region, known for its rugged mountains that flow into the sea. The Plavac Mali grape, a direct relative of Zinfandel, reigns supreme here; Grown in limestone soil under the intense Adriatic sun, it produces a spicy, full-bodied red that is prized throughout the region. Take advantage of it during a stay at Korta Katarina Winery, owned by American entrepreneurs Peggy and Lee Anderson, who recently opened an elegant eight-key inn housed in a sprawling stone villa with stunning views of the Adriatic Sea. 201-foot mega-yacht, the M / A Katharine.

Sea views at Villa Korta Katarina & Vineyard.  - Credit: Villa Korta Katarina

Sea view at Villa Korta Katarina & Winery. – Credit: Villa Korta Katarina

Villa Korta Katarina

And there are other culinary adventures to be had. Back in Motovun, travelers can start their day of truffle hunting with Miro Kotiga, from Miro Tartufi Restaurant, followed by lunch, which is accompanied by a history lesson on Croatian truffles from his wife, Mirjana. A short drive away, winemaker Marko Fakin offers excellent vintages at his eponymous cellar, including examples of dry local reds made from the Teran grape, which have been produced in the region for centuries, or the floral white and Malvazija acid. (He also recently invested in giant clay qvevri pots, lucky visitors may soon have the chance to taste some of its orange wines.) Or for a customizable, small-group experience, try one of the many food tours and cooking classes that can be arranged with outfits such as Eat Istria and that of Dubrovnik Captivating Croatia, owned by Croatian-American chef Richard Gruica, which can last anywhere from a few hours to a full week. With the dazzling beauty of the country and the vast culinary traditions born from a wide range of geographies, from the Istrian peninsula to inland Slavonia and the hills surrounding Zagreb, even this last option will not seem long enough.

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