Croatia - Part II

As I shared in my last post, the beach at our hotel was really just large rocks, but we got the chance to visit sandy beaches on our boat day. We were given four options for our boat day. Full day at Mljet Island national park, a full day with Korcula island tour, and a half or full day exploring the Elafiti Islands with snorkeling.

On the Mljet or Korcula island tours, we would have gone through Elafiti islands en-route, but we ended up choosing a half-day through Elafiti because J doesn’t like hiking and Mljet seemed like a lot of walking and history. We also wanted time to explore Old Town that afternoon.  We didn’t have the best weather that day, so I think we definitely made the right choice not committing to a full day on the boat.

overcast weather

overcast weather

The Elafiti islands are actually a small archipelago made up of 13 islands, of which only three are inhabited. We cruised around or swam by all the islands, but only stopped to walk around the ones that are inhabited. The first island we went to was Koločep/Kalamoto, which was historically known as a fisherman’s island, and lobster populations still love its shores. In hopes of seeing some of these lobsters, we stopped on the south side of the island to do some snorkeling.

There are caves all around the island, but the Blue Cave is the best known. It is only accessible by swimming, and since we went during high tide, you had to go under water to swim in the entrance. Okay, like barely underwater - maybe only your mouth had to go underwater, the rest of your head was above it. The entrance is the center image above, just so you can see how much I was overreacting.

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The water in the cave was bright blue and beautiful, but as soon as we got in the cave, I had a huge panic attack. I got super claustrophobic, tried to snap a few quick pictures of J, and swam out of there as quickly as possible. The pictures didn’t turn out very well…

Next, we went to the bay of Šunj on Lopud. Šunj is famous for its sandy beach. We anchored the boat and swam to shore to walk about a bit. After returning to the boat, we went around the island to stop for lunch. After checking out some shops (where I bought a red coral ring) and walking around Lopud Park, we stopped for some Aperol spritzes and pasta to share. Hashtag Spritz Life. 

View from Lunch

View from Lunch

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at the last inhabited Elafiti Island, Šipan. It is the largest of the Elafiti, and is known for all the different species of palm trees. But there are also olives, figs, vine, carob, almond, oranges and citrus plants that are cultivated on the island. It was adorable.  

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Our next excursion was a six-hour tour of the Pelješac Peninsula. I say six-hour to emphasize how long we were drinking. First, we stopped at the Mali Ston bay where we met a man whose family has been farming oysters and mussels in the bay for generations. We boarded his boat for a tour of the oyster farm/trays. We then went to his private island where he showed us traps with mature mussels and oysters, which he then pulled out of the ocean and carried to a picnic area with a grill. First, he gave us some homemade Mayberry grappa and shucked the oysters that he pulled from the bay just moments before. He served the oysters with a few lemon slices and they were absolutely perfect. They didn’t look or taste like any oysters I’d ever eaten in the states.  The shells were very flat and iridescent and the oysters were delicate and perfectly briny.

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While he was preparing the mussels, we were offered a pitcher of his father’s homemade wine. Since he made it himself on the island, there were no artificial flavors or preservatives, and you could really taste the difference. It was earthy and delicious with very little tannins. Then, the best mussels I’ve ever had. I’ve always been iffy with mussels in restaurants, and now I realize that they were not even a little fresh. These mussels were so fresh that they needed very little.  They were so simple – just white wine, olive oil, lemon slices, onions, and some parsley. After filling ourselves with seafood and liquor, we moved on to a winery. 

Vinrija Milos (or Milos Vineyard) in Ponikve is a family-owned vineyard and winery that basically checks all my boxes. They grow Plavac Mali grapes, which is an ancient cross between Crljenak Kaštelanski (an ancestral zinfandel) and Dobričić, and is only grown in Croatia. The vineyard is beautiful, and all the vines are grown on very steep slopes – some as steep as 45 degrees – that are full of rocks and deeply grooved sedimentary soil.  It was NOTHING like the vineyards we visited in Napa and Sonoma.

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The winery is committed to biodiversity and has begun introducing medicinal Mediterranean herbs that share their natural habitat with the Plavac Mali grapes. They plan to use herbs such as sage, rosemary, and St. John’s Wort to produce teas. The vineyards are also visited by rabbits, hawks, and ravens that love the rocky cliffs above the vineyards. 

WINE? BIODIVERSITY? FUN DIRT FACTS? TEAS!? I was sold and ordered a case of wine. 

Well, first we had a vineyard tour, where we got to try the grapes off the vine, and then a tasting with cheese and bread (yum). We also got to sample the vineyard’s olive oil. The olives are handpicked and cold pressed from 80% Oblica and 20% Pastrica.  

Like pasta, I learned that olive oil in America is just awful (also mayonnaise, for that matter - because eggs in the US are so terrible, and the other ingredient is olive oil). We were offered little shot glasses of olive oil at the vineyard, and I was initially disgusted, but the olive oil in Croatia (as well as Italy and France) was nothing like 99.9% of what is available in grocery stores here. It’s fruity, salty, bitter, fatty, and delightful. We also ordered two bottles of olive oil and I’ve been eating it with mozzarella and prosciutto as a pre-dinner snack at least three times a week. If you do want good olive oil from a grocery store, I highly suggest Cobram Estate. If you’re looking online, I suggest Brightland. 

Finally, we went to 360 Dubrovnik for dinner. First, I want to say that I did not intend to drink a bunch of wine, followed by more wine, followed by a Michelin-starred tasting menu. We were supposed to go out to dinner on our ‘leisure day’, but the schedule got messed up and I couldn’t change our reservation. 

360 Dubrovnik is one of three (now five) Michelin starred restaurant in Croatia, and the only in Dubrovnik. They bill themselves as traditional Croatian cuisine framed by French techniques with a modern twist. It’s located right inside Old Town, but the entrance does not do the restaurant justice. As the hostess walks you up the flights of stairs to the top of the wall surrounding Old Town. It’s an incredible view that the food lives up to.

view from our table

view from our table

We were greeted with a glass of Champage, which would have been divine if we had not been drinking all day. I drank it any way.

For the amuse bouche we were presented with a trio of small bites. Herb Biscuit with whipped cheese; crispy Jerusalem artichoke leaf topped with black pork meat and chili mayo; and Aubergine puree coated in liquid charcoal. Before receiving our first official course, we got a basket of house-made breads with a seaweed butter and an olive oil butter – both filled with umami. I could eat homemade bread and butter every day for the rest of my life. 

amuse bouche

amuse bouche

Our first course of the tasting menu was raw prawns with pumpkin cream, hazelnut oil, carpione sauce, and pumpkin seeds; followed by mackerel with bonito dressing, chimichurri, celery purée, and cucumber. We then received octopus with fennel, lime ravioli, and dark fish soup. Our last savory dish was sea bass with cream of garlic and potatoes, cuttlefish, lemon cream, and green sauce. At this point, I was beyond stuffed, but dessert was chocolate & coffee ganache on a bed of cocoa nibs crumble with mascarpone cream and vanilla ice cream, so I obviously kept eating. We were then given more chocolate with our bill, and I began to wonder how I was going to walk back to our hotel. 

church in old town

church in old town

Funnily enough as we were walking back, we heard a guy behind us explain “how are you nervous here, you walk around uptown Charlotte by yourself.” Sure enough, they were another couple from Charlotte on their honeymoon. There was also a girl from Duke Law in our hotel and an older couple from Germany with a daughter at Duke who we met at the bay of Šunj. It’s a small world. 

Overall, our stay in Croatia was amazing, and it is easily my favorite country that I’ve every travelled to. I can’t wait to go back and explore the other cities. If you have a chance to go, don’t think twice! Get there as fast as you can!

If you have any other questions – leave them in the comments!