Istria. It was here that Adriatic tourism as we know it first took off, and Istria still functions as an incubator of new ideas, ideas that end up being exported to the rest of the Croatian coast. The reasons for Istria’s preeminence are partly geographical – the peninsula lies very close to the Central European cities where most Croatia-bound travellers originally came from, so it’s hardly surprising that the Istrian hospitality industry has always been a few steps ahead of everyone else. Adriatic mussels © starkovphoto However, Istria also stands out for reasons unique to the peninsula itself. Take for example Croatia’s breakthrough as a gastronomic destination, a phenomenon rooted in the rediscovery of local culinary riches and great Croatian delicacies, such as Istria olive oil and Istrian prosciutto. Istria always had a reputation of neighbourhood inns serving homemade pasta, local game, seasonal goodies such as asparagus and truffles, and menus that ran from farmhouse sausages to the finest Adriatic scallops and mussels. The contemporary emphasis on locally-sourced food and the unselfconscious readiness to mix high- and low-cuisine was not something that Croatia learned by watching TV chefs on cable TV – it already existed in Istria. Istrian vineyard © Motovun vineyard The same might be said of boutique wine. It was the Istrian emphasis on small-scale quality, exemplified by local growers such as Degrassi, Clai and Matošević, that brought domestic varieties like Malva
The best exhibitions of Rijeka European Capital of Culture 2020
Rijeka is a city with internationally-recognised museums, galleries and collections. For the city's special European Capital of Culture 2020 year, each of the existing institutions alongside the main event organisers have pulled out all the stops in order to fill every space available with exhibitions to satisfy all. From past masters to contemporary art and everything in between, here are some of the best exhibitions of Rijeka European Capital of Culture 2020.RECOMMENDED: The best interactive and installation events of Rijeka European Capital of Culture 2020
The best interactive and installation events of Rijeka European Capital of Culture 2020
Rijeka European Capital of Culture 2020 is not just for spectators. The city's community have helped shape the events happening within the year and some of those extend a further invitation for everyone to join in. From the carnival parade and the bell-ringing of the inauguration ceremony to giant robots you can manipulate and art installations you can walk beneath or touch, here are some of the best things to do within Rijeka European Capital of Culture 2020 at which you can all join in.RECOMMENDED: The best exhibitions of Rijeka European Capital of Culture 2020
One of the most memorable images of the year so far was the sight of Dubrovnik being burned to a crisp in the penultimate episode of a popular fantasy show. This disturbingly destructive piece of televisual fiction was almost like the CGI-assisted reenactment of an earlier catastrophe, the great Dubrovnik earthquake of 1667. This real-life event also left the city in ruins: Dubrovnik’s post-tremor reconstruction produced the planned Mediterranean-Baroque town we know today. The conflagration featured in Game of Thrones is by no means the first example of life being revisited by art. In 1717 English poet Alexander Pope published his Monster of Ragusa (Ragusa being the name by which Dubrovnik was formerly known), a satirical ballad that made fun of a sensationalist news-sheet report claiming that a giant had been seen stalking the Dalmatian countryside. Pope’s comic giant terrorizes the townsfolk and berates them for their dissolute and immoral ways, before farting a whole dragon out of its arse. What all these corny dragon tales demonstrate is that places like Dubrovnik will always inspire fantastic stories – although there’s always a danger that the fictional tales will have more impact on the visitor than the true story of the destination itself. King's landing © Flo-pictures When it comes to real-life narratives, Croatia has had an extraordinary year. The Croatian football team’s astounding run in the 2018 World Cup left kids all over the world enthralled by the skills of
A cultural guide to Zagreb in summer
Zagreb is a Central European city with a Mediterranean sense of the good life; especially when it comes to spending as much time as possible outdoors. Summers are long and dry, and the emergence of a whole new breed of al-fresco festivals and pop-up events have filled the calendar with things to do. For the visitor, the Croatian capital has become one of Europe’s best destinations for picnicking in parks, strolling through vibrant streets, and drifting from one social hub to the next. The move to bring culture out of doors and into the streets began five years ago and has been picking up speed ever since. Festivals have been reimagined as boutique pop-ups or niche garden parties rather than institutional events aimed at a traditional concert- or gallery-going audience. The regular, high-prestige diet of film and performing arts festivals is still on offer, but has now been joined by a more informal, inclusive menu of events like Museums Outside the Museums, with its interactive displays and vintage fashion shows in May; Design District, which turns the Martićeva area into a cluster of pop-up galleries in June, or The Courtyards, which opens up some of the Upper Town’s most beautiful backyards in July. Paced throughout the summer are outdoor food festivals covering everything from cake-baking to burgers; while Little Picnic spreads deli stalls across a small garden square in the Upper Town. Ban Jelačić Square /© Davor Rostuhar Hitherto underused spaces have been transformed
Ten beautiful Brutalist buildings in Zagreb
Born out of the ubiquity of concrete and a love for functional shapes, the architecture of Brutalism is frequently misunderstood. The very term seems to attract us for all the wrong reasons, inviting us to admire buildings for their roughness, or their obstinate refusal to be pretty. Recent years have seen the word Brutalism fall victim to a warped social media aesthetic in which it is exoticized as something east European, communist, falling to bits – an object of nostalgia or pity that is shorn of its social context. Touring the modernist neighbourhoods of Zagreb is something of an antidote to this – Croatian Brutalism is restrained and sympathetic to its surroundings in a way rather different to the application of the same style in, say, Sheffield or South London. Not all of it is pretty – Brutalism was above all a functional style designed to provide social planners with cheap solutions to big problems. However, there is plenty here of compelling interest – enough to justify Zagreb’s growing reputation as an unsung treasure-trove of Central-European modernism.
New exhibitions in Zagreb
Our round-up of new and upcoming exhibitions in Zagreb will help keep you updated with the dizzying array of displays in the capital. If planning ahead isn't your thing, we've also brought together the top galleries in Zagreb and cultural events going on the capital, so you'll morph into a culture vulture before you even know it. RECOMMENDED: our full guide to art and culture in Croatia.
Where to find the best comfort food in Zagreb
There are times when only good home cooking will do. Despite its reputation for crisp clear weather, Zagreb can also be quite cold in winter, and this is when Croatian comfort food comes into its own. While Zagreb has seen a boom in creative cuisine and global street food in the last few years, this has in no way taken the shine off the enduring appeal of the traditional hearty lunch. Luckily the Croatian kitchen repertoire is full of the kind of filling winter fare that will bring a rosy glow to your cheeks and – after an appropriate pause for digestion – a renewed spur to your sightseeing energies. Thick stews and soups are central to the winter menu: grah (a thick stew of beans often served with sausage) and čobanac (a paprika-seasoned meat stew similar to Hungarian goulash) are frequently brought to the table in big tureens with massive ladles. Punjene paprike (peppers filled with minced meat), sarma (cabbage leaves stuffed with meat and rice) and ćufte (meatballs in rich red sauce) are the other home-comfort dishes that no self-respecting neighbourhood restaurant could afford to do without. For vegetarians, sadly, there is not a great deal of choice, although štrukli (doughy parcels filled with tangy creamy cheese) is one of those central-Croatian specialities that is safe to eat. Despite the city’s growing tourist reputation, there are still plenty of restaurants for whom affordable traditional fare remains the principal raison-d’etre, and have retained a loy
A crash course to Rijeka 2020 European Capital of Culture
The EU. Almost everyone agrees this collective of neighbourly co-operation was a good idea (well, perhaps maybe the Russians and the bafflingly undecided Brits). The EU grew from economic co-operation but eventually extended its remit into more political arenas (which many consider baby steps on the road to federalism, with the block intending to soon have its own armed forces, a scary prospect for the aforementioned dissenters). But, in the mid-80s, it was recognised that integration between member states would be better served by recognising their individual cultural worth. The European Capital Of Culture (originally called European City Of Culture) was designed to highlight the similarities which different European societies share and also the differences which go to create such a rich and diverse cultural conglomerate. Bellman © Borko Vukosav Assigned for a 12 month period, European Capital of Culture status is awarded to different cities each year and makes funds available for cultural events which hold a strong pan-European dimension and which display the core values and rights of European citizens (you won’t see any single religion dominating proceedings, but you will see an appreciation of minority and different ethnic groups, for example). The awarding of the Capital of Culture status intends to create a template for arts and culture happenings which will hopefully reoccur after the designated year concludes (it is hoped that, impressed by the year’s manifestations,
The 80 best Zagreb restaurants
This ultimate guide to Zagreb restaurants covers it all: from splash-out fine dining to street food, bistros and east-west fusion. Our critics are constantly on the look-out for brilliant new restaurants (which we visit anonymously, of course) to bring you this list of our favourite tables in town. A few words on the selection criteria: our choice doesn't reflect only the expensive, upmarket restaurants that Zagreb has to offer. We're looking for originality over exclusivity; value for money over fancy frippery. Our pick is a mix of daring, cool, cosy and downright tasty eateries to satisfy every spectrum of diner. Dobar tek! RECOMMENDED: our guide to restaurants in Croatia.
Zagreb's cultural icons
From the kitchen to the stage, art, writing and all points in between, Zagreb continues to erupt with talent, names to watch and faces to remember.
Five extraordinary road trips in Croatia
Running from Rijeka on the Kvarner Gulf to Karasovići on the border with Montenegro, Croatia’s Jadranska magistrala or Adriatic Highway offers one of Europe’s most unforgettable journeys. Whether weaving its way round deeply indented bays or skirting scree-covered mountains, there’s scarcely a single boring kilometre in its 650km length. The magistrala may frequently set your stomach a-churn with its endless twists and turns, but the views it offers are unforgettable, with the Adriatic’s famously stark islands parading in stately procession before your eyes. Travelling along the magistrala used to be a severe test of holiday season nerves, with its columns of caravans, straggling towns with speed restrictions, and enough blind corners to make overtaking a near impossibility. With Croatia’s still growing motorway network now taking the pressure off much of the magistrala, the route is re-discovering its reputation as one of Europe’s greatest coastal odysseys. We’ve chosen two large chunks of the magistrala for our list of Croatian road trips listed below, followed by three more recommendations for exhilarating and rewarding drives. 1. Rijeka to Zadar: 220km For twists, turns and superb maritime views, there are few roads in Europe that can match the magistrala, especially in this northern stretch. A sense of the otherworldly sets in early, with the hypnotically bleak and tawny island of Krk dominating the western horizon. The huddled town of Senj with its knoll-top Nehaj for
Given Croatia's well-documented enthusiasm for natural products, locally sourced, not to mention its bounteous supply of Central-European and Mediterranean crops, it’s not surprising that an interest in organic agriculture has taken off in a major way. It’s another natural expression of the country’s taste for the good life, and the idea that the gifts of nature are to be enjoyed, preferably in as unhurried a way as possible. ShutterstockNatural juices Fresh produce There has been a major boom in boutique agricultural production in recent years, with many Croatian shops and markets sourcing their supplies from family-run farms known as OPGs (literally ‘family agricultural business’) rather than industrial-scale mega-firms. An increasing number of OPGs have identified ecological farming methods as one of the main things that makes their products special – and although by no means all of them have gone fully organic – the idea of growing things without chemical fertilisers, pesticides or other industrially made additives has become increasingly present in a rapidly developing nutritional culture. OPGs also deliver to the door or to certain pick-up points, underpinning a growing trend for farm-to-table produce, and not only in Croatian homes, but restaurants, too. And many an enjoyable family day out is now spent at an OPG, people picking their own fruit and vegetables and paying in proportion for their healthy, organic booty. Closer to home, an increasing number of big-city s
Upcycling around Croatia
When Zagreb held its annual Artupunktura arts festival in September 2022, one of the key exhibition locations was the Grič Tunnel, where the Pupoljci (‘Buds’) installation by Jelena Petrić created a unique environment of fluttering coloured surfaces of paper, textile and plastic – all of which turned out to be items of everyday domestic rubbish. By demonstrating how our daily trash (including everything from shopping bags to broken umbrellas) could be transformed into an object of such beauty, the work served to showcase the potential of Upcycling, the increasingly popular practice of recycling our old consumer goods by refashioning them into something new and relevant that we will continue to use – and may even be more practical and stylish than the original thing they served as. Emica Elvedji/PIXSELLBritanski trg, Zagreb In Croatia, upcycling is very much the buzzword among prophets of an environmental future. The throwaway consumer objects we fill our homes with are increasingly recycled already. Croatian cities have already introduced sophisticated systems for carting off your no-longer-needed plastics, glassware and paper. Upcycling takes the new green sensibility a step further, emphasising the fact that the things we think we no longer need can actually be the basis for future creativity, raw materials in the creation of new lifestyles – and a break in the cycle of constant, irrational consumption. Clothes & fashion It’s in the fashion industry that upcycling has mad
So this is Christmas...
While you might be forgiven for thinking that deep midwinter might see something of a lull for Croatian tourism, you couldn’t be more mistaken. On the contrary, it has become one of the most rewarding times to visit. Croatia has undergone something of a Christmas transformation over the last decade or so. Advent markets and festivities bring good cheer, plus significant numbers of shoppers and revellers, to the streets, as well as a party vibe across the country. After two years of drastically reduced celebrations, Croats are now looking forward to Christmas 2022 with renewed relish. And these festivities are pretty open-ended, giving visitors plenty of time to plan their winter trip. Most Advent celebrations begin at the end of November and keep going right up until January 6, Epiphany in the Catholic calendar. The day on which the Three Kings arrived to bestow their gifts on the infant Jesus is also Christmas Eve in the Julian calendar, still observed by the country’s Orthodox minority. The Croatian Christmas The Croatian Christmas is a traditional family occasion. Families congregate on the evening of December 24 for the festive meal, and children receive their presents. Many folks then go on to attend midnight mass, often followed by fireworks. December 25 is also a family day, spent quietly at home or visiting friends, and inevitably involves a lot more eating. The traditional Christmas dinner differs from one family to another. For many, something fishy always occupies
Zagreb’s Christmas markets to open this weekend
The transformation of Zagreb into a city-wide Christmas market is a fairly recent but extremely successful phenomenon. It’s not just a few stalls around the main square – here in Croatia’s capital, every central hub hosts attractions and entertainment all though December to January 7. And it all starts this Saturday, November 26! Highlights include a skating rink facing the city’s main station on Trg kralja Tomislava, illuminated trees around a traditional bandstand on Zrinjevac and the nearby Fuliranje zone for craft beer, DJs and romance. Off the main square, they will be serving a range of rakija on Europski trg, where live acts perform in an igloo. The panoramic promenade of Strossmayerovo šetalište will be converted into an old-school drinking hangout, overlooking the main square where tradition is assured with Yuletide music, mulled wine and sausages. Look out, too, for the Winterland funfair, with a panoramic big wheel, on green trg dr Franje Tuđmana, and the artisanal jewellery and accessories on sale at Artomat, an arts-and-crafts fair held at the Croatian Fine Arts Association (HDLU). This annual event runs from December 10 to 24. For more details, see Info Zagreb.
Go local: A cultural journey through Istria in 7 museums
Istria can offer some of the most spectacular historic sites in Croatia, with headline attractions such as the Roman Arena in Pula and the UNESCO-listed Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč topping tourist bucket lists with justified regularity. However, this compact, heart-shaped peninsula also represents Croatia at its most diverse, offering a frequently dizzying variety local customs, folklore, indigenous architecture and traditional cuisine. Not surprisingly, this diversity is reflected in some of the country's most outstanding, original and inspirational museums. Not only is Istria full of stories, it is also full of great ways of telling them. Batana Eco-Museum, Rovinj One of the best places to delve straight into local culture is this stylish and inventive and revealing museum in Rovinj. It's devoted to the batana, the shallow-hulled fishing boat propelled with the help of long punt-like oars - a practice that demands an excess of both raw muscle and real skill. What makes the museum so effective is the way it uses the boat as a symbol of local life; entire communities were involved in the ways and rhythms of the batana; whether going out fishing, making and maintaining the boats, mending nets, salting the catch or communally partying when the maritime toil was over. batana.org House of Frescoes, Draguć One of the things for which Istria is justly famed throughout Croatia is the wealth of medieval frescoes adorning its churches and chapels. Many of these are found in the vill
The irresistible lure of the Istrian truffle
If there’s one thing that serves as the culinary ambassador of the Istrian peninsula, then it’s the truffle. This pungent but delectable fungus is ubiquitous in local cuisine but tends to be used sparingly, such is the overpowering nature of its distinctive flavour. Every local restaurant worth its salt will have something truffle-related on the menu, and just a few shavings of this mushroom-like aphrodisiac will be enough to ennoble the most unpretentious of dishes. Zoran JelačaMotovun In Istria, truffles only grow in the belt of forest between Motovun and Buzet. They take shape slightly underground, and trained dogs are required to sniff the things out. Mildly flavoured black truffles are found throughout the year, while the more highly prized white truffle only occurs between September and January. Indeed, it is in the autumn that the woods of central Istria are filled with truffle-hunters, striding forth optimistically with their nostril-flaring hounds. Truffles have such a strong taste that they are best served with simple dishes which allow the truffles room to assert their sensory superiority. Truffle omelettes or truffle-garnished pasta dishes are frequently the best way to enjoy them, and it is with uncomplicated dishes like these that the truffle-curious should begin their culinary exploration. Popular examples include pasta twists with truffles (pljukanci s tatufima) and fuži pasta with truffles (fuži s tartufima). Istrian fuži (folded pasta tubes) come in many
What did the Romans ever do for us?
Given Croatia's position on the cusp of the Mediterranean, Central European and Balkan worlds, it's hardly surprising that the country has played host to a veritable cocktail of cultures. It's certainly rich in terms of archaeology, with everything from Neolithic pots to medieval pitchforks poking up from the soil. It was arguably the Romans who left a more profound mark than most, establishing ways of living, worshipping, building and simply hanging out by the sea that influenced all who came in their wake. Establishing control over the territory of present-day Croatia gradually between the third and first centuries BC, the Romans built cities, military camps and roads, placing the region at the centre of a thriving Mediterranean civilisation. And Croatia's Roman story didn’t just end with the fall of Rome in 476. The Romanised population of the future Croatian coast stuck around for centuries, eventually melding into a hybrid Latin-Slav civilisation whose traces in Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik and elsewhere can still be seen. Today's visitor to Croatia will find Roman remains aplenty. Here are just a few of the ones you should try and fit into your stay. Lara RasinDiocletian's Palace, Split Split: Diocletian's Palace Croatia's most enduring witness to the Roman way of life is Split, a city that literally took root inside Roman Emperor Diocletian's palace, a lavish complex made ready for the ruler's retirement in 305 AD. When the inhabitants of nearby Salona took refuge here a
Roman holiday in Istria
The villa comes with a colonnaded shore-line portico, mosaic floors, under-floor heating, an indoor bath complex and 24-hour room service. The views of the Gulf of Medulin are stunning. It’s the perfect place for toga parties. Sadly, this shoreline property can’t be booked over the internet. A Roman-era villa complex, stretching around the shores of the Vižula peninsula just outside Medulin, it hasn’t been lived in for quite a while. Excavated over three decades by a team of local archeologists, it now forms the heart of the Vižula Archeological Park, providing a fascinating look back at the history of Adriatic leisure. Built and rebuilt at several stages between the first and sixth centuries, the Vižula complex was clearly one of the elite resorts of its day. It was by no means the only such place in Istria. There were similar villas on the nearby Pomer peninsula, and on the Brijuni islands just north of Pula. This villa culture clearly served the local wealthy as well as dignitaries from further afield, suggesting that the luxury seaside holiday is not a modern invention. Dusko Marusic/PIXSELL The park is a fantastic addition to the Istrian culture trail, with a 2.3km path leading round a lush green peninsula. Alternative-reality goggles, available from the kiosk at the park entrance, allow visitors a glimpse of what the settlement would have looked like in its heyday. Rest points, information boards and other facilities (all designed by Pula architects Alter Lego)
The sight of Rovinj’s peninsula-bound old town with its sky-spearing bell tower is one of Croatia’s most heart-stopping sights, a visual trademark that sells the country’s charms just as effectively as the walls of Dubrovnik or the waterfalls of the Plitvice Lakes. Of all the resorts in Istria, it is Rovinj that has reinvented itself the most in the last few years, remaining true to its aura of timeless serenity while advancing at full speed towards an innovative and design-conscious future. The city is home to some of the most iconic hotel architecture on the Adriatic coast, offers gastronomy on a world level and is constantly renewing its impressive roster of festivals. And yet it is still the affordable, charming place it always used to be. It’s a lifestyle resort that remains a lived-in town, and is much the better for it. © Barat Roland A town steeped in tradition has become a standard-bearer for contemporary Croatian style, with leading architecture studios like 3LHD (responsible for hotels Lone and Grand Park), and Studio UP (Hotel Amarin) producing buildings that are swooningly beautiful as well as centred on the needs of their human visitors. The construction of the Park (which began with the demolition of an older hotel of the same name) has totally changed the appearance of the south side of town, getting rid of something that was beginning to look like a concrete eyesore and replacing it with a terraced, hillside construction, and a new promenade running along
An ABC of Istria
Uniquely among Croatia’s tourist regions, Istria is almost a lifestyle brand in its own right. Mere mention of the peninsula’s name summons up images of good food, quality wine, respect for tradition and an openness to contemporary culture. Istrians combine a Central European attention to detail with a Mediterranean sense of knowing when to slow down and enjoy the good things in life. The landscape, with its ravishing coastal towns, rolling green interior and very little industry, represents the kind of place where a lot of us might want to live. It is in Istria that the diversity of Croatia is seen to the full, with modern luxury hotels and swish-and-glampy campsites rubbing shoulders with well-preserved hilltop towns, Baroque churches and Roman remains. In many ways Istria is a showcase for the country as a whole because it's the easiest bit of Croatia to get to. Visitors from Italy, Austria or southern Germany can pop down to Istria on the spur of the moment – visiting a place like Dubrovnik, on the other hand, has to be planned in advance. © Dave Jepson/Time Out More than anywhere else in Croatia, Istria has succeeded in transforming its traditions into tourist gold without actually killing them off at the same time. Tourism has enhanced the region’s culinary reputation rather than spoiled it, with local restaurants treating locals and visitors alike to the traditional gastronomic riches of sea and land. Istria’s fancier restaurants continue to take their lead from the
Remembering Daša Drndić
There’s a passage in Daša Drndić’s 2004 novel Leica Format in which the narrator visits Mali Neboder, Rijeka’s cult second-hand bookshop, and sits down to read some of the antiquarian titles she’s just found on the shelves. ‘There are some beautiful places here [in Rijeka]’ she writes, ‘it’s just that they tend to be rather hidden.’ The Mali Neboder evoked by Drndić, a tightly-wound labyrinth crammed with books, documents, postcards and maps, is like an alternative archive of the city, a repository of its secrets. Each book you find on the shelves will lead you to another, related, tome, while the shop’s intuitive owners will guide you onwards to parallel topics that you hadn’t even thought of when you first entered the shop. The world of Mali Neboder (a real existing shop which can be visited in person) is an appropriate metaphor for Daša Drndić’s own books, in which the big themes of the twentieth century are entwined with the lives of little people, rambling digressions, and a tangle of micro-histories that frequently shed light on our hunt for a bigger picture. © Fraktura Drndić’s death in June 2018 came at the time when her international reputation was just achieving critical mass. Her 2007 novel Sonnenschein, published in English as Trieste in 2014, garnered major-newspaper reviews and was nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. A flurry of further English translations followed, beginning with her earlier novel Leica Format (first published in 2004)