By Mara Papatheodorou, your Tastes & Traditions Expert
Croatia, often referred to as the Casual Riviera, is the new chic spot to visit. Lord Byron was right when he called splendid Dubrovnik “the pearl of the Adriatic.” And it really is the crown jewel port of the beautiful pine tree-lined Dalmatian coast and lives up to its name derived from the Slavic word Dubrava, meaning forest. Surrounded by massive ancient ramparts built between the 13th to 16th centuries, this scenic fortress city was once a forceful maritime power and still exudes Old World charm and architecture.
Myriad churches, squares, art galleries, museums and fountains greet you at every turn. The famous Onuphrius Fountain at the entrance of the Pile Gate leads into the picturesque Old Town. And a stroll through here – with its delightful shops and eateries—is a must. Peek into St. Blaise Church, an honor to the city’s patron saint, visit the impressive Maritime Museum in St John’s Castle, the Rector’s Palace or the Sponza Palace. For serious hikers and photographers, the renowned city walls are well worth walking while for others a ride to the top by cable car provides vistas just as stunning.
The sun, the sea and the soil all contribute to the citrus, stone fruits (like plums, cherries and apricots), olives and grapes that add to the local tapestry of tastes. The cafés and restaurants offer regional cuisine that is a marvelous blend from its historical ties to Italy, Austria, Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Antipasti platters, pastas and fresh fish dominate the menus and deliver a delicious lunch or dinner. Croatia is the homeland of the Zinfandel grape so a glass of wine is well worth it (see sipping below). For dessert, indulge in the local Rozata (see savor below) and finish off with a cup of the terrific strong coffee, a nod to the past’s Italian and Viennese influences. As playwright George Bernhard Shaw said, “If you want to see heaven on earth come to Dubrovnik.” Enjoy!
SAIL: Dubrovnik. Before sailing away, bring the city’s Croatian flavors and flair home. Dried fruits and jam, like figs, plums and apricots are tasty gifts as is their famous cherry brandy or Zinfandel wine. Hand embroidered lace linens are lovely tabletop mementos and lavender soaps and lotions are bountiful since the fragrant purple flower grows in abundance throughout the Dalmatian coast.
SIP: Zinfandel. Although long considered California’s great cultivation, the red grape, known as Plavac Mali, actually originated in Croatia and the vines continue to thrive along the Dalmatian coast. A jammy rich glass of Zin is a treat to the palate as it complements any dish from meats to fish. Zivili! (Cheers to Life!)
SAVOR: Rozata. Similar to crème caramel or flan, this Croatian custard dessert flavored with rose liquor is a Dubrovnik specialty and a perfect finale after enjoying Croatian prsut (prosciutto) on a traditional meat, cheeses and olives Antipasti platter, a plate of pasta or a fresh seafood meal. Dobar Tek! (Bon Appetit!)
Mara Papatheodorou is a Master Foodie, a Tastes & Traditions Expert and a nationally established entertaining specialist. She has interpreted the cuisine and experienced the culture of over 65 countries worldwide. As an 11 year Contributing Editor at BON APPETIT Magazine, Mara scouted and produced the Entertaining with Style section that highlighted how real people entertain around the country and the world and was editor of their international editions. She works as a consultant with food companies developing recipes, menus and promotional campaigns.
Mara is the Tastes & Traditions Expert for Regent Seven Seas Cruises where she lectures regularly about the history of cuisine and culture and what to sip and savor in various ports. Mara will sail on Seven Seas Voyager from Australia to New Zealand in January 2014 and on Seven Seas from New England to Canada in October 2014. You can read more about her at www.marapapa.com