Sunday, October 3, 2021

How to eat like a local and have a meal you'll never forget in Dubrovnik

I spent 2 weeks in Croatia, so I had many delicious meals, but one stands out above the rest. My husband and I joined Marija Papak, her husband Zlatko, and a group of other curious American and Slovenian guests around a long table in the Dubrovnik couple's outdoor courtyard.

Meats, cheeses, olives and figs on a platter

Dinner with Marija and Zlatko starts with homemade Croatian aperitifs (rakija) and a charcuterie spread that will blow your mind. Croatian prosciutto (pršut), local sausages and cheeses, olives, and juicy peaches and figs straight from the farmer's market were gorgeously arrayed on large wooden platters and might have made a meal all on their own, but they were just the beginning of an epic meal. The aperitifs ranged from fruity to herbal, but all were delicious and packed a kick.

Tomato tart on a platter

Their garden's bounty was on display in other appetizers, like a gorgeous tomato tart and a tomato salad that put all American tomatoes to shame. A soft cheese doused in olive oil, and made just that morning, was a stellar accompaniment. To wash it all down, Croatian wines like the famed red, Plavac Mali, were poured liberally and reappeared in your glass when you weren't looking.

Lamb and potatoes in a traditional Croatian peka
Lamb and potato peka

The main event at Marija and Zlotko's dinners is a traditional Dalmatian peka, a hearty slow-cooked meat and potatoes dish made in a bell-shaped vessel in an outdoor wood fire. Zlotko manned the fire throughout the evening, tending to our lamb peka, a sweltering job on a sticky hot August night. But the results were well worth the effort. The meat was meltingly tender and the potatoes were both crispy and soaked in the lambs juices.
Woman, Marija Papak, talking at a dinner table
Our hostess Marija Papak

Like your mother, Marija didn't want anything to go to waste, so she cajoled guests to try less popular parts of the lamb, and my husband tucked in for some lamb brains (cream and delicious according to him), while a Slovenian guest was the only taker on the lamb's eyeballs.
Our hostess regaled us with the tale of how these dinners began, first an informal dinner for a visiting journalist, then some serious internal coverage in places like the WSJ and National Geographic, and now regular dinners for tourists, like us, who were looking for a more authentic experience.

I loved the opportunity to interact with a local family plus meet other food-loving tourists. My husband and I always appreciate an excuse to talk t some new people after we've been traveling just the two of us. There's only so many new topics you can find when you're together constantly! And the food was incredible across the board. The hosts are so gracious, the setting so lovely, and the food so divine, that this evening was easily one of my favorite food memories while traveling.


Just when everyone was completely stuffed, out came dessert. Marija's homemade apple strudel was just as good as everything else we'd had that evening, and even though I could barely move at this point, I couldn't resist eating the heavenly figs or ice cream that accompanied it either. We left the evening fat and happy with new friends and excellent memories. 

Want to plan your own trip to Croatia including dinner with Marija and Zlotko? Jayway Travel arranged our entire 2-week trip and made the entire process so easy. They helped us choose and book everything we did including all hotels, tours, restaurant reservations, ferry tickets and private transfers, based on our preferences. You can also book directly with Marija at Eat wth Locals.

I've included an affiliate link in this article. I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Say yes to the stellar views and unique wines of Korcula, Croatia


The second stop on our 2 week Croatian vacation was Korcula. Where Hvar is a glamorous scene, Korcula is a much chiller, more family-friendly island. Google maps seemed to struggle with the winding alleyways of Croatia's old towns, so we struggled to find our hotel, the Aminess Korcula Heritage, but it is in fact well located on the water and just a short walk from Korcula's Old Town. The rooms were a bit more basic than I would have preferred, but breakfast had a wide variety of options, and the outdoor dining was pleasant.


The Adriatic with a sailboat and mountain in the distance
View from Lumbarda on Korcula island


We spent our first day on another of Croatia's rocky beaches, Bilin Zal in Lumbarda. A taxi from Old Town to the beach was 100 kuna, and chair and umbrella rentals were available. No slab of concrete or rocky outcrop is too inhospitable to sunbathe on in Croatia, but as an American, this beach was a little too lacking in comforts. We were hungry for lunch but we couldn't find a spot that took credit cards nearby, nor an ATM machine. After much wondering around, we finally landed at the surprisingly good Pizzaria torkul where we were able to have pizza and wine for the little remaining cash we had.

Old alleyway in Korcula, Croatia
Charming alley in Korcula Old Town

Korcula's Old Town is compact and charming, but Augusta in Croatia is hot, so we actually preferred the sea breezes on the city's sea wall to the hotter interior. For lunch, Konoba Cupido offered a chance to cool off and a stellar sea view plus makaruni, a local tubular pasta. 

Handsome man eating dinner outdoors
The hubs enjoying our gigantic tapas spread at Lole Wine & Tapas

Our dinner at Lole Wine & Tapas was one of the highlights of our entire two weeks in Croatia. It's a tiny spot with just a handful of seats in one of Old Town's alleys. Menu specials were written on scraps of paper and clipped to a board, and each item was ordered was delectable. I'm a sucker for fresh figs, and Croatia's were glorious so the figs and prosciutto was a must-try. Local tuna, ultra fresh and flavorful tomatoes, local cheeses with crusty bread and a rich eggplant in a tomato sauce were all incredible. 

Vineyard and village in the distance
View from Popic Winery

We headed back to Lumbarda, this time on an e-bike with Korcula Outdoor. My quarantine hobby has been Peloton so I was feeling pretty cocky about my bike riding ability, but I was glad to have the e-bike because it gave us a chance to take a hillier and even more scenic route to the region's vineyards. Sweaty and tired despite the electric support, we were thrilled to kickback and relax at Popic Winery for grk, a white wine grown only in Korcula and the red found throughout the country, Pavič Mali. Our tasting came with spectacular views and a filling plate of local cheeses and prosciutto, just what we needed to fuel up for the rest of the ride.

Handsome man drinking white wine
The hubs enjoying his Grk

The last stop on our bike tour was another rocky Lumbarda beach. This one more remote requiring a mildly treacherous walk over rock and sea and a very painful barefoot walk into the water. But rinsing off the dust and sweat in the refreshing Adriatic, was heaven and well worth the challenge. Even better, we got to take in the beginnings of the golden sunset before heading back into town.

Golden sunset over the sea
Sunset over Lumbarda

Want to plan your own trip to Hvar or elsewhere in Croatia? Jayway Travel arranged our entire trip and customized it to our multi-city, multi-country 2 week itinerary and planned everything including ferry tickets, private transfers, all hotels, tours and restaurant reservations based on our preferences.

Want to plan your own trip to Hvar or elsewhere in Croatia? Jayway Travel arranged our entire 2-week trip and made the entire process so easy. They helped us choose and book everything we did including all hotels, tours, restaurant reservations, ferry tickets and private transfers, based on our preferences. More to come on the rest of our trip in future articles, but suffice it to say that if you want to plan a trip to Croatia (or elsewhere in Central or Western Europe), working with Jayway is a life-saver.


I've included an affiliate link in this article. I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Be charmed by Hvar, the glamorous Croatian island of your dream


Sailboats at sunset behind red tiled roofs


Hvar is a see and be seen kind of island. The sort of place an Instagram influencer would kill to visit, filled to the brim with luxurious yachts and gorgeous young girls teetering on high high heels as they navigate Hvar Town's stone streets. It was the first stop on my 2 week visit to Croatia and a perfect place to get over jet lag and enjoy some of Croatia's consistently sunny summer weather.

Years ago, I too would have crowded the island's famed beach clubs. But as a 40-something with two blissfully childfree weeks on my hands, I had something a bit tamer in mind. Our room at Heraclea Residential Apartments was a short walk away from the town's harbor, where gazillion dollar yachts lined the water's edge, but far enough away to be quiet. Daytimes were for sailing and visits to rocky beaches, and evenings were for dining al fresco in the town's charming alleyways and strolling around the harbor ice cream cone in hand. 

Sunset and crowds on Hvar Island
Sunset strolls in Hvar Town


Restaurant reservations were essential throughout our trip. We watched may a disappointed tourist be turned away from restaurants in each city we visited. Our first night we dined at Bunar, which had especially pleasant and helpful service. Like everywhere in Hvar, it was priced at what I'd consider to be American big city prices, so don't go in expecting Central European bargains. After dinner ice cream at the popular L'amor per il gelato came with a long line, and while good, we found other places in town to be just as good with a lower price tag and shorter wait.


We spent our first full day visiting Pokonji dol Beach, a 20 minute walk from Hvar Town. Despite our best efforts to avoid the route that led to a steep final path down to the sea, we still ended up on it. We looked down at the rocky path down to the beach with concerns for our poor ankles, but we managed to navigate it unscathed. It's not for the faint of heart, and I definitely recommend sturdy shoes and not just flip flops. You'll need those anyway because like nearly all Croatian beaches, this one is rocky. 

View of a crowded pebbly beach in Croatia
The top of a very steep rocky path down to Hvar's Pokonji dol Beach

We were able to rent two comfortable chairs and umbrella for 190 kuna and settled in for people watching. I will long remember the motley crew next to us who chowed down on corn on the cob throughout their beach day! No concrete slab or rocky stretch of coast is too inhospitable to the Croatian sun-worshipers, so you will see people set up for the day on every available surface near water.

Rocky beach with umbrellas and sunbathers in Hvar, Croatia
The rocks don't stop sunbathers at Hvar's Pokonji dol Beach

That afternoon, we enjoyed a wine tasting tour that brought us to Caric Winery and Plancic Winery. The tour of course came with a variety of delicious local wines and local meats and cheeses, but also was a great opportunity to meet some other travelers, and we enjoyed our evening getting to know our Dutch companions. Pharos Opol, a light and bright rose from Plancic was a particular favorite of the day. We had enough to nibble on throughout that we skipped a formal dinner afterwards and instead headed back into Hvar Town for mojitos at one of the many bustling bars.

People on a pebbly beach by the sea in Croatia's Pakleni Islands
No beach is too rocky for Croatians. Here they enjoy a sliver of rocky shores in the Pakleni Islands

The following day we headed to the seas with Hvar Adventure Agency for a day of cruising the Pakleni Islands. The sunbaked islands near Hvar are scrubby and rocky but charming, reminding me of Greek Islands near Athens, such as Hydra and Poros. With a warm breeze and free flowing white Croatian wine, the day of sailing was a delight. 

We anchored in quiet coves and swam in the salty Adriatic, which was perfect for floating with very little actual swimming required to stay afloat. Our skipper offered snorkel gear, but we found there wasn't much to see in the waters of Croatia. It was enough to just enjoy cooling off and jumping from the boat. A brief pitstop on Palmižana allowed for a relaxing lunch at Bacchus overlooking another pebbly beach. A perfectly prepared red snapper, a salad, and two drinks ran us around $100 USD. 

That evening, we dined at Dalmatino, where we splurged on Gnocchi Istria, a black gnocchi with truffles and shrimp,  and well prepared steaks, again with Croatian truffles. It was one of the fancier meals of our 2 week stay, but I thought worth the high price tag in terms of both food quality and service.

Pink sunset, boats, and skyline in Hvar, Croatia
Hvar's harbor is full of high dollar yachts

The pretty young things in Hvar really are glorious to behold, and there is plenty of over-the-top fashion to keep people watchers busy for hours. After dinner, those not heading off to clubs like Hula Hula have cocktails at waterside bars or simply stroll around. We would end each evening with an ice cream as we sat on a bench taking it all in. We departed on a morning ferry to Korcula on our 3rd morning in Croatia and felt like 3 nights was the perfect amount of time to enjoy this glamorous little slice of Adriatic heaven. 

Want to plan your own trip to Hvar or elsewhere in Croatia? Jayway Travel arranged our entire 2-week trip and made the entire process so easy. They helped us choose and book everything we did including all hotels, tours, restaurant reservations, ferry tickets and private transfers, based on our preferences. More to come on the rest of our trip in future articles, but suffice it to say that if you want to plan a trip to Croatia (or elsewhere in Central or Western Europe), working with Jayway is a life-saver.


I've included an affiliate link in this article. I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
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