The 2006 Bond Movie, Casino Royale, played off in Montenegro and introduced many of us to the spectacular landscapes of the Adriatic. But much more than the natural beauty, my recent experience of the Dalmatian Coast was a wonderful combination of familiarity and discovery.
When my holiday destination holds a beach, a bicycle and a boat, I am pretty close to happiness, but of course one does not have to travel the world for that. When you are travelling in a foreign country, you also want to experience something new and try something different.
Exploring the local wine culture is always top priority on my itinerary and being introduced to the wines from Croatia was very interesting. Variety is at the heart of Croatian wines – from noble cultivars such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay to a host of indigenous varieties such as Gegic, Bogdanjusa, Plavac Mali, etc. Needless to say, it is easier to point at the label than pronounce the name, but there are familiarity in the wine styles. Lying across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, wines from the Western coast shares characteristics with its Italian neighbours, while wines from the inland areas are more similar to what you’ll find in Austria or Hungary. We really enjoyed dry whites made from Malvasia varieties – they are lovely on sunny days and with the seafood platters of the Dalmatian coastline. It was, however, the sweet version that really impressed me.
We adored the 2007 vintage of Malvasija Dubrovacka Prosek from Karaman winery and was then lucky enough to run into the owner and winemaker Niko Karaman, the next day! Made from naturally air-dried grapes, the traditional sweet wine Prosek, is regarded as the true wine of Dubrovnik. It is pure, with a lovely gold colour and complexity of aromas and reminded me of the delicious sweet Tokaj wines we had Hungary, just to the north of Croatia, not too long ago.
Some familiarity does bring reference and comfort when one is discovering and exploring. Many cultures have a traditional sausage and the same is true here with a lovely smoked pork sausage, Kulen. But there is much more to Croatian gastronomy. Influenced by neighbouring countries, the local cuisine shares some of the flavours of Italy, Austria and Hungary. Along the Adriatic coast where we travelled, the flavours are Mediterranean and the seafood exceptional. Crni rizot or black rice is available on just about every menu, delicious white truffles from Istria is a must-try and the heartiness of Italian-inspired fare is obvious – even in fine-dining restaurants.
We often talk about types of tourism, but it seems that Croatia has seamlessly combined their tourism offering in one magical experience. It is impossible not to be enchanted by its beauty, but the natural landscape combines with delicious food, interesting wines, fun activities, heritage, luxury, adventure as well as authentic warmth and hospitality. I know that for an experience to come across as effortless and enjoyable, a lot of hard work happens behind the scenes. I think Croatia sets an example of what cooperation between industries can achieve and that they deserve each and every Kuna of tourist spent! They’ve certainly managed to charm us with the unknown while making us feel right at home.