So, it’s time for my post on Croatia. I was hoping to write this sooner but stress levels recently for me have been pretty high. Taking a driving theory test shouldn’t cause as much bother as it has done, but the feeling of not being prepared, most definitely not wanting to fail because doesn’t everyone pass? And I spent my holiday learning the Highway Code, poolside reading can’t get anymore depressing than that. It is all a recipe for panic. But it all ended fine and THANK GOD I passed.
Ok I know it’s not really a big deal, it’s not like it’s even the practical test, but hey one step at a time, and I’m one step closer to being able to drive. Alone. On the road. <SCARY
So, Croatia. It truly is a beautiful place, it’s a loving relationship that grew and grew over the week. I’m sorry to say I landed in Pula a bit unhappy and worried that I wasn’t going to enjoy my holiday. It all started badly enough when the travellator stopped and we couldn’t get our cases for an hour and then we stepped off the coach into a HUGE hotel and apartment complex. So large that it had its own supermarket, kids running left right and centre, and aqua aerobics in the pool, basically not my ideal holiday. After a little wander by the coast overlooking the BEAUTIFUL blue sea, mum and dad eating a pizza in a grotty beach cafe (I tried to hover above the seats), we caught the bus into Pula centre. I wasn’t expecting great. I’d read it was an industrial town, and to be honest that’s what it was. Sometimes I need to stop reading into everything so much and be a bit more spontaneous, don’t think that everything is going to be terrible before I’ve even arrived. There’s beauty hidden everywhere sometimes you just have to be patient and wait for it to find you.
We quickly found the Green Market, always my first stop in a new city. surrounded by smelly cheeses, meats and the sweetest of fruits I was in my happy place. Piles of neon green lettuces, mushrooms of all varieties, the reddest tomatoes basking in the late sun, and what we all get excited about on holiday…STONE FRUIT! Dribbley peaches and nectarines that cascade down your arm, you’re dive bombed by wasps but that’s all in the pleasure.
Before I go away to a new place, I always research the best places to eat, tourist traps are a big no no. It’s local and traditional allllll the way. We know what makes a holiday a holiday, copious eating and drinking, eating some more and then taking the memories back home with you. Swearing you’ll recreate that paella or spaghetti dish but, it won’t taste the same will it!! From my googling and watching of Rick Stein (I recommend his Venice to Istanbul series) I’d learnt to expect very simple food, but seriously fresh fish and seafood, an Italian influence meaning tonnes of pasta, lots of truffles, brilliant olive oil, a ham called prsut not dissimilar to prosciutto, not lots of vegetables on menus, lots of potatoes and of course cheeseeeeeee! And that’s exactly what I found in Croatia.
Quickly I discovered something that I ended up eating every night. Blitva! A Dalmatian (no it’s not spotty) side dish simply comprising of spinach and boiled potatoes sautéed together sometimes with a hint of garlic and plenty of that Croatian extra virgin olive oil. When I was in Athens i fell in love with wild greens, boiled leafy green veggies drowned in EVOO with hunks of lemon to squeeze over. That’s me done, I’m that weird gal who loves vegetables, I truly do. It’s the perfect thing to eat alongside fresh fish with a glass of Malvazija white wine in one hand and a hunk of freshly baked bread in the other. Maybe the ‘Adriatic diet’ will become the new ‘Mediterranean’?
Ok maybe not, I don’t believe a whole veal shin between three people is recommended to eat on a regular basis, which one night we did indeed. In Croatia they have restaurants called konobas. Think of a Greek taverna no frills or fuss, fill it with locals, add badly translated menus (pasta with seaSHELVES anyone?), sometimes there may be rude service it’s all part of the charm, and that’s a konoba for you. I was desperate to make it to at least one on our trip, so after a recommendation from a taxi driver (always get into a conversation about food with taxi drivers, they’ll tell you the best places to go) the three of us ended up in Boccaporta.
There’s two types of cooking in Croatia. Nearer the coast you get your fresh fish and seafood, but venture inland and you’re thinking spit roast lamb and slow baked meats influenced by neighbouring Hungary. After all the previous nights having our fill of seafood it was time for some meat. Slow baked veal shin, for god knows how many hours, the potatoes cooked in all of the fat served with a green salad, homemade bread and most definitely blitva. Now this is proper food. Good quality ingredients treated well. That night we left with full, OK stuffed to the brim, but happy tummies.
Croatia is just across the Adriatic from Italy, and where I was in Pula was just a 3 hour ferry from Venice. So there is a hugeeeee Italian influence. In many of the Istrian restaurants and konobas I can guarantee there will be pasta, usually homemade and called fusi, or ravioli which we tried with a cream sauce, truffles and prsut. However I’m sad to say I never had a chance for the traditional ‘must try’ dish of cuttlefish risotto. Picture jet black oozy rice tangled with the salty but sweet cuttlefish, it only means a second visit right? Also with quality olives, their olive oil lives up to any you’ll find in Greece or Italy, with a real peppery kick at the back of your throat, the sign of a true Istrian Extra virgin.
Now what sticks in my mind most of all? Sorry to say it’s a dessert, actually I’m not sorry at all. I may avoid refined sugars and overly sweet things in my day to day life but life is for living, especially when on holiday. A lavender semifreddo with a hot fig and pine nut sauce sound good to you? Moussey but almost nougat like in texture and then the sauce, jammy and rich to cut through the malloweyness of the semifreddo. Utter BLISS.
I recommend if you’re a foodie and visiting Croatia, you must get a car. We managed without by walking A LOT, but there were so many places I wanted to visit that just weren’t possible. The best places aren’t in the centres of larger towns , but that’s typical of most tourist destinations. You need to visit the outskirts, they might look a lil bit dodgy, but you can always expect to pay less and eat better. Win win I say!
On the final night we went to a restaurant that I’m sure most tourists would pass by. Sitting at the side of a road on rickety metal table and chairs and no one around speaks a word of English. To order your food you walk into the kitchen point at what you fancy and that’s about that. The fish is all locally caught and changes from day to day, it will simply be grilled and served with salad and chips, don’t forget the blitva.
I really can go on and on about the gems we found. My favourite of them all, Vodnjanka. The best of the best in Pula. All local produce, organic wines and just two things on the menu, fish or meat. It has a feel of your grannies dining room and the food reflects that too. Everything handmade, using what’s best from the market that day and not trying too hard. For starters it was one of those plates, you know when you can’t stop eating? There’s so much deliciousness, where to start is a difficult decision. Both the fish and meat was such a celebration of all the tastes of Istria, that each mouthful we were all ooing and ahhing, saying ‘try this try that!’
We were guided through the courses by our lovely waiter, who explained what each thing was and gave recommendations of the best wines to go with the food. And of course he persuaded us to eat a hazelnut and ricotta cheesecake with a red wine and raspberry sauce. Along side some complimentary cherry grappa, that night I had my fill of alcohol, maybe I was pushed over the edge just a liiiitttleeeee…
So apart from eating, days were filled with a morning swim, shadow hopping (no tanning for me), wasp wafting and laughing at all the men attempting aqua aerobics who were ogling the girl instructors (classic), and getting slightly addicted to crosswords. By night we wandered in the cooler air around the charming streets of Pula, a haven for buildings with peeling paintwork and shutters galore. It was so nice to visit somewhere different, not the usual Spain or Greece and with only a 2 and a half hour flight. I would surely visit again, ideas for a tour along the coast spring to mind, and get to visit Dubrovnik after all then maybe on to Montenegro. If it’s a holiday with culture, sunshine AND nice beaches that you want? Then Croatia is the right place for you. Drop by pula, maybe only for a couple of days and wander round all the Roman remains. But make sure you get there quick, Croatia is increasingly becoming more and more popular for tourists. So before they take over, enjoy it for what it is, a country with undisturbed beauty and people with the kindest of hearts. And some seriously good grub.
I hope you visit the country someday in the future, consider it for your next holiday. I’d love to know your thoughts so don’t hesitate to drop me a message, say hi!
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Much love and blissful holiday memories