Saturday, February 28, 2009

Croatian Culinary Treasures


Ira & Boris Rakic began giving cooking and gastronomy courses to share some of the recipes that have been passed down within the family for generations. They used their artistic talents to create a stunning setting in which to hold these courses at Villa Pape in Trogir. Ira's cooking is influenced by the many regions of Croatia, which represent the diverse background of her family itself. The classes include trips to the market to select ingredients, which are always natural, seasonal, locally-produced, and (whenever possible) organic. Cooking is done slowly and in the time-honored fashion of generations past. Even the wine and olive oil served is produced locally and is some of the best available in Croatia. A meal prepared by Ira is unlike any meal that can be had in a Croatian restaurant. It is truly a unique culinary experience that will leave you trying to recreate it in your own kitchen.

Ira & Boris offer 1 - 5 day cooking courses from 1 April to 31 May and 15 September to 31 October. They offer just 1-day cooking courses from 1 June to 15 September. For those who prefer to eat than cook, tasting programs are available from 1 April to 31 October.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dubrovnik Beaches

Many visitors come to Dubrovnik in search of the perfect beach holiday and with crystal clear waters and nearly perfect weather from May to October, most will have no problem finding it. However, some first-time visitors are surprised to find that Dubrovnik does not offer the kind of white, sandy beaches that are found at many other holiday destinations. Beaches in Dubrovnik and along the Dalmatian coast are generally comprised of small pebbles and rocks whose surfaces have been rounded by the tides. Often, what many locals call “beaches” are merely concrete slabs or large rocks from which swimmers can enter the sea. For those that require at least a pebble beach with a gradual slope to the sea, the following is a list of recommended local Dubrovnik beaches:

Banje Beach: The most popular beach in Dubrovnik and with good reason: the proximity and views to the Old Town are unparalleled. This is about as close as it comes to a sandy beach in Dubrovnik (pebbles are small) and the protection offered by Lokrum Island and the Old Town make it an ideal swimming beach for children. The East West Club offers lounge chair & umbrella rentals and serves cocktails & snacks at the restaurant/bar. The walk down to the beach requires several flights of stairs, but its location just next to the Old Town in the neighborhood of Ploce make it one of the most convenient beaches in Dubrovnik.

Lapad Beach: Another popular beach in a great location, Lapad beach sits at the end of a pedestrian-only street surrounded by restaurants, cafe bars, and ice cream shops. It gets crowded with vacationing families in the summer months, but those who value their privacy can easily find lots of secluded swimming spots just a few meters away if they walk a little further out onto the Lapad peninsula.

Sveti Jakov: Popular with locals, this beach is difficult to reach, but is well worth the several flights of steep stairs required. The pebble beach offers fantastic swimming conditions and great views of the Old Town, which is just 30 minutes away by foot. To reach Sveti Jakov, simply exit the Old Town at the Ploce Gate and walk toward the Excelsior Hotel with Banje Beach on your right. After passing the Grand Villa Argentina, bear to the right down the small side street and continue on to the end. There will be a small church (the church of Sveti Jakov) with the entrance to the beach just behind.

Lokrum Island: A small island easily visible from the Old Town and reachable by ferry from the Old Port. There are a couple of beaches on the island and lots of secluded places for swimming (including one nude beach at the far end). Lokrum makes an easy half-day trip from Dubrovnik and is a great way to escape the summer crowds of Banje beach.

Copacabana Beach: This is Dubrovnik’s most family-friendly beach and one of its most popular. It is located on the Lapad peninsula close to many hotels and shops. The beach club offers many amenities including lounge chairs & umbrella rentals; water sports such as waterpolo, water-skiing, parasailing, scuba diving, and windsurfing; sea slides for children; ice creams stands; and a beach bar. Of course, all these extras attract big crowds in the summer months.

Uvala Lapad: This stretch of beach goes from the center of Lapad to the Dubrovnik Palace Hotel. It is a mix of large rocks, concrete slabs, and small sections of pebble beach. Parking is very difficult to find, but those who come by foot or public bus will be rewarded with an often nearly-empty beach and beautiful, tranquil surroundings.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hello from Snowy Dubrovnik?

Everyone in town is very excited about the snowfall today, apparently the first of its kind in 20 years. It is said that 15 – 20 centimeters have accumulated so far and it shows no signs of stopping. This has been enough to close all schools, grind road traffic to a halt, and keep most people at home. Here are a couple of photos of what Dubrovnik looks like today:





Enjoy it while it lasts because no doubt warmer weather and the tourist season is just around the corner!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kayak Tours in Dubrovnik

When American Tammy Resor first came to Dubrovnik she found a beautiful, unspoiled paradise, but very few ways to experience it. When she discovered that the best way to take in the beauty of Dubrovnik was from the sea, she decided to start Adriatic Kayak Tours. In business since 2005, Tammy and her team of knowledgeable guides offer a variety of programs for beginners (no experience necessary), intermediates, and experts. Tours range from half-day local tours to 1-week adventures paddling the islands of the Dalmatian coast. Suggested itineraries include a wine & cheese sunset paddle, a trip to the Lokrum Island nature reserve, and a visit to the cliffs and caves of Kolocep Island. For those without their sea legs, biking tours of the stunning Konavle region are also offered. All tours are unique and customized and include local knowledge about history, culture, & folklore.

More information is available on their website, www.AdriaticKayakTours.com

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Much Ado About Nishta

In Dubrovnik's Old Town, there is much ado about Nishta ("Nothing" in Croatian language) and in this case it is well deserved. A gem among the sea of tourist-trap restaurants that line Prijeko, this is Dubrovnik's only vegetarian restaurant. Its uniqueness is evident in the brightly-colored, playful theme which is centered around the animals you will not be eating. Your hosts Gil & Ruza have traveled the world to learn international cooking techniques and to assemble the small menu, which includes dishes ranging from Red Thai Curry to Tempeh Burritos. The spring rolls starter is especially good and everything goes great with a local Dalmatian white wine. Note to meat-eaters: do not be deterred by the 'vegetarian' label as this restaurant receives rave reviews from everyone!

Nishta is located at Prijeko 30; be sure to check out the same owners' smoothie bar just around the corner at Palmoticeva 5.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Off the Beaten Track in Dubrovnik

Most first-time visitors to Dubrovnik stay in or close to the Old Town. This is the historical center of the city and has the highest concentration of sites, restaurants, cafes, bars, & shops. However, it also has the highest concentration of tourists and cruise ship passengers just passing through. Those that are looking for a more tranquil, peaceful holiday may want to consider one of the few small villages surrounding Dubrovnik. The following is a brief description of these villages and some of the pros and cons of staying there:

Lozica/Mokosica/Zaton

These small towns are located on the other side of the bridge to the North-East of Dubrovnik. Zaton is a small fishing village that almost completely closes down during the winter months, except for its small population of year-round residents. During the summer, however, it provides guests with a true taste of the Mediterranean with lots of small coves for swimming and 2 of Dubrovnik's best local seafood restaurants (Gverovic A/K/A "Orsan" & Ankora). Lozica has only 1 restaurant and no shops, but it does offer spectacular sea views and a great location just 10-minutes' driving distance from Dubrovnik. Likewise, nearby Mokosica is located in Rijeka Dubrovacka, a small inlet 7 km from Dubrovnik known for its marina and vast hillside scenery.

Positives: tranquility, seclusion, views, and a true taste of Mediterranean life.

Drawbacks: a car is highly recommended (though not required in Zaton); may be too far from Dubrovnik for some; businesses close down from October to May each year.

Zupa Dubrovacka (Kupari, Mlini, Plat, Soline, Srebreno, among others)

This region, located midway between Dubrovnik and Cavtat, is a still-relatively-undiscovered gem, which is often overlooked by first-time visitors to Dubrovnik. It is perfect for guests who seek a peaceful vacation and who have an appreciation for unspoiled beauty. Beaches in this area are among the cleanest and most spectacular on the Dubrovnik Riviera. Mlini offers a charming waterfront promenade lined with café bars and a lovely shaded park, while Plat boasts one of the most picturesque pebble beaches in the area. The tiny village of Soline offers a true taste of Croatian life and is home to one of the best traditional restaurants in the area (Bistro Zupcica). All of Zupa Dubrovacka (Zupa, for short) is within easy reach of Old Town Dubrovnik by local bus or ferry (from May to September), which makes stops in Plat and Mlini on its way from Cavtat to Dubrovnik.

Positives: more privacy & fewer crowds than Dubrovnik; lots of natural beauty & sea views; close proximity to several small swimming beaches; most accommodations have parking spaces; easy & frequent bus or ferry service to Old Town & Cavtat.

Drawbacks: though there are several local restaurants & cafes, they may not be enough to keep visitors entertained for an extended stay without trips to the Old Town or Cavtat; beaches are very popular with locals on weekends in the summer.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

In Vino Veritas

A recent addition to the Dubrovnik bar scene is D'Vino, a cozy, atmospheric wine bar located on a small side street in the Old Town. It's owner, Canadian-born Cam Wilson, created the bar to offer Dubrovnik residents and visitors an alternative to the many café bars and Irish pubs in town. The unique space has been well designed and achieves a perfect balance between rustic and chic. The wine list represents many different regions of Croatia as well as Italy, France, Spain, Australia, and South America. A visit to D'Vino is a great opportunity to sample various Croatian vintages by the glass and to learn what each region has to offer.

D'Vino Wine bar is located at Palmoticeva 4a; further information may be obtained on their website at www.columis.net/dvino.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Croatian Cuisine

The diverse flavors of Croatian cuisine reflect the varied history of the country itself. National dishes and cooking techniques encompass traditions from Italy, Bosnia, Austria, Hungary, and Turkey. Zagreb and the northwest offer hearty meat dishes that you might find in Vienna. As you travel from Zagreb to the coast you can see the food become lighter as Mediterranean influences take hold. The cuisine of the northern coastal area of Istria is borrowed from neighboring Italy with lots of pasta dishes and the famous wild white and black truffle. The cuisine of the Dalmatian coast in the south is also influenced by Italian cooking, but is mostly concerned with fresh fish, seafood, and fabulous olive oil. The following is a list of dishes that you might find on menus in Croatia:

Gulas - A Hungarian influenced stew with meat and vegetables, mostly found in Zagreb and northwest parts of the country.

Kulen - A paprika flavored sausage served cold from the Eastern Slavonia region of Croatia.

Fresh fish - A staple on menus from Split to Dubrovnik usually prepared simply: grilled whole with olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs. It can be quite expensive and is usually priced by the kg.

Dalmatian ham - Smoked ham similar to an Italian Prosciutto or an Iberian jamon, usually served sliced very thin and sometimes with melon. This is popular in Istria and in Dalmatia.

Octopus salad - Another dish that you will find on almost every menu in Dalmatia; it is generally good and sometimes great depending on the freshness of the octopus and how it is prepared. Usual ingredients include red onion, capers, olive oil, & vinegar.

Pasticada - A Dalmatian beef dish which is stuffed with lard and roasted in wine and spices; it is generally served with gnocchi...not for those watching their calorie intake.

Meat “under the iron bell” – Pork, veal, or lamb slow roasted with potatoes under an iron “bell” covered in embers for 3 or 4 hours. This is a very traditional method of cooking and is one of Croatia’s most-prized culinary traditions.

Cevapcici - A Bosnian dish of meat sausages (with no casing) or meatballs, usually served in a pita with raw onion and red pepper sauce. The spices give this a unique flavor and it is a must try for meat-eaters.

Raznjici - Shish kebab of pork, beef, lamb, or fish. This dish can be found at many restaurants, but is best at Bosnian restaurants.

Burek - A heavy pastry stuffed with meat or cheese and often eaten on-the-go from a bakery.

Seafood Bouzara - Shellfish cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, onions, herbs, white wine, and breadcrumbs.

Blitva - A side dish served with most fish and seafood dishes in Dalmatia; it is basically swiss chard served boiled with potatoes, olive oil, and garlic.

Black Risotto - A traditional Italian style rice dish made with squid and cuttlefish; it's black color comes from the addition of squid ink.

Palacinka - Thin dessert pancakes (like crepes) filled with jam or chocolate and sometimes topped with ice cream. These are of Hungarian origin but are found throughout Croatia today.

Krempita - A cake or pie filled with custard and topped with cream; it is sweet and caloric but for those with a sweet tooth, it should not be missed.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Useful Numbers in Dubrovnik

Below is a list of some phone numbers that you may find useful while in Dubrovnik. It's important to at least know the emergency numbers in case of an accident.

Police: 92
Fire Dapartment: 93
Ambulance: 94
Hospital: +385 20 431 777
Roadside Assistance: 987
Public Emergency Center: 985
Operator: 988
International Operator: 901
International Directory Inquiries: 902
Dubrovnik Airport: +385 20 773 377
Taxi Service: +385 20 970
Central Bus Station: +385 20 357 088
Local City Bus Station: +385 423 724
Jadrolinija Ferries: +385 20 418 000
Coast Guard: +385 20 443 555
Harbor Master: +385 20 418 988
ACI Marina: +385 20 455 020