Game of Thirst: The story of Zinfandel’s ancestors

American grape cousin
Take the tongue-twisting Crljenak Kaštelanski, for example, a big red variety from the Kaštela region, which was largely overlooked until the University of Davis confirmed a 100% DNA match with the famous American Zinfandel back in 2001. That’s right, that little tongue-twister is actually the original Zinfandel, just one of the many wine treats and treasures which are in store as you travel Croatia’s spectacular Adriatic coast and islands.

Little grape, big taste
The Zinfandel connection does not stop there, as Dalmatia’s most famous red, Plavac Mali (literally ‘Little Blue’ after the small intense grapes which deliver such a strong flavor), counts the original Zinfandel in its ancestral lineage. With its sloping vineyards on the Pelješac Peninsula and the impossibly steep vineyards on the southern tip of Hvar, Plavac Mali is one of the most challenging grapes to harvest, and its higher price is reflected in the small yields that come from its fruit, but for a quintessential Dalmatian red wine experience, there is none better. Plavac Mali is available over much of Dalmatia, but what makes the coast and islands all the more fascinating is the wealth of indigenous and location-specific varieties, for example Vis where the vines roots are embedded in sand, which offer a refreshing change to the more generic international varieties all over the world.

Ivo Biočina

Special grapes from special islands
Take the island of Hvar, for example. There are no less than six varieties that grow only on the island, including Bogdanjuša, an easy drinking white which translates as a ‘Gift from God’, and is now exported as far away as California. Or Darnekuša, a red variety which tends to grow 400m above sea level on an island whose peak is 621m.
The neighboring islands also have their own individual specialties. One wonders why Marco Polo ever left Korčula after trying Grk, a white wine sort that only grows in the sandy vineyards of Lumbarda, and is so popular that the limited quantities mean that when tasting clients can only buy two bottles at a time. Korčula is also known for Dalmatia’s best-known white, Pošip, whose grapes grow in the Čara region in the center of the island, and which can now be found on Hvar, Brač and other parts of Dalmatia. More indigenous treasures are to be explored further up the coast, most notably the white Žlahtina on the island of Krk, whose golden vineyards are centered on the charming wine town of Vrbnik.

The Grapeland
No Croatian coastal wine story would be complete without what some claim to be the gourmet heartland of the country, with local wines of exceptional quality. Istrian winemakers are fiercely proud of their two main indigenous varieties, and rightly so, and local restaurants strongly support them with lists heavily promoting the white Malvazija and red Teran.

Ivo Biočina

Croatia’s coast and islands offer a fascinating diversity of attractions, culture, tradition and gourmet options, a diversity that more than matches the grape varieties on offer. And we are sure that after a sip or two, you won’t have any problems with the pronounciation either!

Maja Danica Pečanić


This Meat Is So Delicious Because It’s Made By The Wind

PRŠUT – Adriatic star

Krčki pršutthere’s more than fish on Krk

Famed for its golden Žlahtina wines and excellent lamb, Krk is the only island whose cured ham is protected. Similar to Italian prosciutto, an essential part of the pršut production process is its slow drying, and the dry bura winds on Krk provide an ideal backdrop. Authentic Krčki pršut must be produced from pigs from the region. Unless they swim to Krk by themselves. Then they deserve the honor of becoming a part of magnificent krčki pršut. 🙂

Istarski pršutnon-smoked pršut

The land of truffles and Malvazija wine is one of Croatia’s gourmet hotspots, and the production of Istrian pršut follows strict traditional methods dating back centuries. Unlike pršut from other regions which are always smoked, Istrian pršut didn’t crumble under peer pressure and it is not smoked! It is left to the charms of the wind, sea salt and natural spices such as pepper, bay leaves and garlic. After drying in the cold bura wind for a few months, it is left to age for a year. It can only be produced on the Istrian peninsula.

Drniški pršut the royal pršut provided by bura

Although the pršut from the inland Dalmatian town of Drniš only attracted EU protection relatively recently, its fame dates back generations, and indeed it was served both at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and again by the Royal household 50 years later when the original menu was reenacted. The secret to Drniški pršut lies in the specific conditions of the local micro-climate, with the famous bura wind accounting for 50% of all winds in the area. Be aware of the bura! Even though it does make great pršut by buffeting it all over, it’s not so fun when it does that to you. But hey, who are we to stop you? If you want to be great like Drniški pršut, go for it! 🙂

Dalmatinski pršutthe fight between north and south couldn’t be more delicious

In addition to Drniš, pršut from the wider Dalmatian region is also protected, and unlike Istria, its production is a combination of that famous bura wind and smoking. Locations with a combination of the bura (north) and jugo (south) winds give the best results, and no other additives apart from sea salt are permitted.

KULEN – the Eastern Croatian sensation

Continental Croatia provides its own star attraction to match pršut – kulen. A spicy sausage from eastern Croatia and much coveted by locals on the coast, it is a product of minced pork, seasoned with red pepper and garlic, of which there are two specific types.

Baranjski kulenthe coolest mix of paprika and meat

The mystical region of Baranja, with its heavy Hungarian influence and love of paprika, was the first kulen to achieve EU protection. Kulen from Baranja is famed for its smoky aroma and spicy taste, with that famed paprika a defining feature, with the additional key ingredients being garlic and pepper in the minced pork. Reasonably uniform in its oval shape and weight (from 0.80kg), Baranjski kulen is a prized ingredient for weddings and special occasions. Because of paprika this kulen might seem a bit hot but don’t worry because every coolen has a bit of cool in it. 🙂

Slavonski kulenkulen is good but with bacon it’s better

Slavonia, the bread basket of Croatia and a region famed for its hospitality, also has its protected kulen (often called kulin), a popular gift and souvenir from the region. Similar to its Baranja cousin, the main difference is that there is more paprika and white pepper in the Baranja version, with more bacon fat in Slavonian kulen, with some homemade recipes even containing another local staple – rakija. You know Slavonians – when in doubt add a little bacon. And rakija!

Whatever you choose, bon appétit or as Croatians say – dobar tek!


Nothing Sweet About Dalmatian Gold

The Dalmatian coast is famed for its endless beaches, pristine waters, numerous idyllic islands and golden sunsets, but did you know that it is also home to quite a different and very valuable gold? The so-called white gold. It is in the form of salt and it was an essential staple over the centuries and the source of a third of the annual income for the Dubrovnik Republic (or Ragusa, as it was known) from one saltpan alone! Salt has played a crucial economic role in the history of the Adriatic coast, and continues to do so today. It is an intriguing story, and just one more additional attraction to investigate when taking a break from the beach.

Ston – a cornerstone

Let’s start off with the most important one – Ston, whose impressive stonewalls were built as a direct consequence of the need to protect this valuable product. The walls are also an excellent vantage point to observe the impressive Ston saltpans today, from which over 500 tons of salt are produced annually. The Ston saltpans are the oldest in Europe, dating back some 4,000 years, and the largest preserved ones on the Mediterranean. A true cornerstone of salt production.

Nin – a museum city

Further up the coast at Nin, home to the world’s smallest cathedral, a similar salt story was taking place, albeit with a different course after the Venetians took control of it and then shut it down. The tradition continued however, and the Nin salt works are surely in one of the world’s healthiest environments, in a lagoon surrounded by no less than five national parks. As with Ston, the salt is harvested by hand after a five-stage process. Hand-picked sea salt has many healthy properties contained therein, including iodine, bromine and potassium. It should be noted that this hand-picked salt is also known as ‘flower of salt’, (also by the French ‘fleur de sel’) because these crystals resemble flower petals. You can admire those and many other interesting salt exibits in the Nin salt museum in between enjoying the stunning town of Nin, which is like a museum for itself.

Pag – an award-winning island

If there is one island which can be associated with salt, it is surely Pag, with the island’s unique climatic conditions and salty air playing its part in the famous Pag cheese, which has won numerous international awards, as well as Pag lamb, which is highly regarded.

Pag’s saltpans date back to at least 999, and the history of the island’s association with this natural white gift can be traced in the small but informative Pag Salt Museum. Along with the cheese, some fleur de sol (cvijet sol in Croatian) makes an excellent souvenir. So take a deep breath of the salty air – you are going to need it when you see all the breathtaking views Pag has to offer.

As with much of the food production in Croatia, the process is natural, the quality is excellent, and one reason perhaps why the Mediterranean diet has been inscribed as UNESCO intangible heritage. So don’t miss out on all the gourmet splendors made with this precious seasoning along your journey down the beautiful coast of Croatia!


Old But Gold: Five (Pre-) Historical Artefacts You Must See

Apoxyomenos on the island of Lošinj
Apoxyomenos is an ancient Greek bronze statue from the 2nd or 1st century BC, a Hellenistic copy from the 4th century. The 192 cm tall artefact represents an athlete cleaning his body with a scraping tool (the Greek word “Apoxyomenos” translates to “the scraper”). Although it is believed that this particular artistic motif was not uncommon, there are only eight statues left in the world, and none is better preserved than the one on Lošinj. The statue was discovered by a tourist on the bottom of the sea near the island of Lošinj. How did the statue get to the bottom of the sea? Well, presumably it was thrown overboard by a ship crew during bad weather to prevent the ship from sinking. After its recovery in 1999, it underwent a seven year restoration process. Today, Apoxyomenos has its own museum on Lošinj.

Danse Macabre in Beram
The Church of St. Mary of the Rocks, located in the woods near the town of Beram, may be small and isolated but this remoteness has turned out to be a stroke of luck for culture lovers as it has left the valuable late-gothic frescos inside the chapel’s walls largely intact. Most of the paintings, which were all made by Vincent of Kastav, show scenes from the lives of Mary and Jesus. The biggest and most impressive, however, is a version of the “Danse Macabre”, a medieval allegory on the universality of death. In this masterpiece, we see merchants, knights, noblemen and even the pope dance with death. The procession is led by a skeleton playing bagpipe. Danse Macabre paintings were meant to remind people of the fragility of life. The painting at St. Mary of the Rocks is from the 1470s, making it one of the earliest recorded examples of the Danse Macabre!

Vučedol Dove & the oldest European calendar at Vukovar City Museum
The archeological location Vučedol is situated on the bank of the Danube River, about 5 km downstream of Vukovar. It is one of the most important archeological sites of the Eneolithic culture. The settlement flourished between 3000 and 2400 BC and is therefore consistent with the Sumerian period in Mesopotamia, the Old Kingdom in Egypt and the first settlements of Troy. The material culture, especially the production of ceramics, suggests a highly developed civilisation due to its extraordinary technological quality and perfect harmony of form and ornamentation. Perhaps the culture’s most famous legacy is the Vučedol Dove, a 20 cm high, richly decorated cult vessel shaped like a bird. Another famous artefact is the Vučedol Orion, a ceramic pot with a decorative pattern, considered to be the oldest calendar in Europe. Both the Vučedol Dove and Orion are kept at the Vukovar City Museum, along with other important findings and fascinating background information on the Vučedol culture.

Zagreb mummy in the Zagreb Museum of Archaeology
You do not have to travel all the way to Egypt to see a real mummy. In Zagreb’s Museum of Archaeology, you will find the Zagreb mummy, a true world rarity. The mummy and its wrappings were brought to Zagreb from Egypt in the 1860s. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that the pieces of cloth the mummy was once wrapped in were covered with strange characters, apparently a text in an unknown language. Eventually, scientists Heinrich Brugsch and Richard Burton (that’s not the one who played Mark Antony in the movie “Cleopatra“) discovered that the mysterious writings were not, as originally assumed, hieroglyphics, but ancient Etruscan. The canvas on which it was written (and which was later used to prepare the mummy) is known today as the “Liber linteus Zagrebiensis” (Linen book of Zagreb). It contains 1,130 words on five subsequent strips and is the longest known text in the Etruscan language. Also, it is the only preserved sample of a linen book from the classical age. However, what the writings actually say and what strips of cloth inscribed with a language by a people of ancient Italy were doing wrapped around a mummy from Egypt, remains a mystery…

Neanderthal remains in the Museum of Neanderthals in Krapina

With a population of only 5,000 people, Krapina is a somewhat tranquil place. However, the small town in the Zagorje region in Northern Croatia is also home to one of the world’s most important archaeological sites regarding Neanderthal man. It all started back in 1899, when the fossil remains of several dozen individuals were found on Hušnjakovo hill in Krapina. The findings turned out to be the largest and richest collection of Neanderthal people collected at a single locality. At the finding place, incorporated in the surrounding countryside of Hušnjakovo, there is now the state-of-the-art Krapina Neanderthal Museum. With its semi-cave, multimedia presentations and several paths connecting the museum with the excavation site itself, the building resembles the habitat of the Neanderthals and takes the visitors back to prehistoric times.