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Posts Tagged ‘wine tasting’

I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Hotel San Giorgio (on the left)

Beautiful and quaint street in Vis (Vis Island, Croatia)

The Secret

I love Rilke’s quote above. But really, who doesn’t want to be with someone who knows all the secrets? For example, if you happen to live in NYC you may remember the all too recent Speakeasy craze. Location and means of getting through the door was the secret to share with everyone you knew. Almost like a right of passage… I mean, some things are just meant to be shared and I am grateful for those who do! When it comes to travel, the person with all the secrets becomes a saint in my opinion. There’s nothing worse than hearing how you missed an opportunity to participate in something abroad just after you’ve returned from your journey.

And for that reason alone…I will share my little secret for those who plan to travel to Croatia.

The Discovery

While planning our honeymoon, Jonathan and I became a bit uneasy about our last destination. We had planned three days in Prague, four in Budapest and then had seven to plan for in Croatia. After overloading our brains on what we wanted to do, should do and couldn’t miss out on…we felt lost and back to square one in the planning stage. We had so much we wanted to experience in Croatia and much of it were things not easily done by purchasing a ticket or making a reservation.

We were hesitant. Really, on the break of throwing in the towel and extending our stay elsewhere. Until I just happened to discover the man who could make it all happen…and on any budget. This discovery is my secret to share!

While enjoying a glass of wine and doing some fun food googling one weekend evening, I came across a website that made me all too excited to get back to planning our trip to Croatia. I happened to come across a site, Culinary Croatia. After some playing around it all dawned on me…we could actually have it all – on our top to-dos in Croatia was a cooking class and to experience wine, either through a special wine tasting experience or visiting vineyards. I dug a little deeper and discovered that we could do everything we wanted with a little help from someone with all the secrets. That website led me to Secret Dalmatia, the ‘end all’ to our reluctance and frustration with planning this trip.

Secret Dalmatia

We aren’t the typical travelers that make use of travel agents or other sources before heading abroad. We usually have a plan we’ve made ourselves and somehow make it happen on our own. But Secret Dalmatia had so much to offer and could plan everything that we wanted…by insiders with our best interests at heart.

I wrote down a list of all we wanted to accomplish and contacted Secret Dalmatia. After a quick rundown of our budget and a list of what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. The agent immediately reviewed my responses and summarized what we wanted overall…he totally got us. I got off the phone feeling completely reassured that he would, no doubt, find us the perfect places to stay and the right balance of personalized experiences and down time to relax and explore on our own.

My list looked something like this:

  • boutique/locally owned hotels within our budget that were more about sharing their culture rather than accommodating to ours
  • cities/locations that were vibrant/lively that offered lots of opportunities to mix with locals – less touristy destinations but with much to occupy our time
  • a cooking class – preferably private (just so you know, we were blown away by the experience we got!…post coming soon)
  • a wine tasting or a private trip to a vineyard
  • a beach destination that is more relaxing than anything else – no extreme nightlife required
  • destinations where food mattered – staying someplace where we could experience fine dining as well as great street food was a must
  • time to do nothing or plan our own excursions

The Experience

Within a week, we got a draft of our trip. Everything met or exceeded our expectations and was still within our budget! We were not expecting private transportation to all our destinations and the best rooms in the hotels we stayed but that’s what we got! It was immediately evident that once we checked in we were in good hands due to the fact that we had booked through Secret Dalmatia. It is apparent that the owner and founder of Secret Dalmatia, Alan Mandic, is well-respected in the tourism community. We were treated with so much respect without it being overbearing.

To top off the experience, we were given many recommendations for great restaurants in the areas we were staying. I have to say, as a true ‘Yelp’er, I rely heavily on recommendations and reviews when deciding on a place to eat. Every personal recommendation was beyond amazing. We were able to enjoy authentic Croatian food like the locals without having to do any research on our own.

The Gallery

The photographs below are only a small bit of our trip to Croatia. For more details on our experience or to see what we did and everywhere we stayed check out the links below the gallery.

Split, Croatia

Split, Croatia

Hotel Peristil (Split, Croatia)

Hotel Peristil (Split, Croatia)

Klub Gurmana i Hedonista (Split, Croatia)

Private wine tasting experience at Klub Gurmana i Hedonista (Split, Croatia)

Private tour of Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia (this is a photo of the model of the palace outside the entrance)

Private tour of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia (this is a photo of the model of the palace outside the entrance)

Best tour guide ever!  If you aren't a history buff before the tour you will be at the end - she was so enthusiastic and made history come alive!  To top it off, she taught us how to take it easy and enjoy a shot of rakija like the locals.  If I ever return to Split and she is there...I will find her!

Best tour guide ever! If you aren’t a history buff before the tour you will be at the end – she was so enthusiastic and made history come alive! To top it off, she taught us how to take it easy and enjoy a shot of rakija like the locals. If I ever return to Split I will find her!

Private day of cooking with Tatjana in Trogir at her home in a 13th century palace! Here, Jonathan and Tatjana are prepping the fish...Best experience of the trip!

Private day of cooking with chef Tatjana Ciciliani, in Trogir, at her home in a 13th century palace! Here, Jonathan and Tatjana are prepping fish…Best experience of the trip!

View of the town of Vis. (Vis Island, Croatia)

View of the town of Vis from the hillside (Vis Island, Croatia)

Our view from our room at Hotel San Giorgio (Vis Island, Croatia)

A great view from our room at Hotel San Giorgio; with unexpected champagne and fruit as a honeymoon welcome gift (Vis Island, Croatia)

Lobster, typical Croatian potatoes (boiled then drizzled with olive oil and herbs) and swiss chard - not pictured: dinner at Villa Kaliopa in Vis

Lobster, typical Croatian potatoes (boiled then drizzled with olive oil and herbs) and swiss chard – not pictured: dinner at Villa Kaliopa in Vis

Croatia – Part One

  • Split

Croatia – Part Two

  • Vis Island

Croatia – Part Three

  • Vis Island

Croatia – Part Four

  • Vis Island

Croatia – Part Five

  • Zagreb

The Verdict ~ Book your trip to Croatia for a romantic or adventurous getaway, full of history and culture, great food, relaxation, and lovely people. If you want to experience Croatia like a local then book your trip through Secret Dalmatia where Alan Mandic and his team will customize your experience exactly as you want. For all of you skeptics, this is not a paid advertisement…I love to share my experiences and only hope that the next person has as great of an experience as we did. Please comment if you have any travel questions!

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Embrace the detours.  – Author unknown

VIS, CROATIA

July 24 – 27, 2012

crvpatio2

DAY THREE

Before settling in our room on our second night, we decided to book a private boat to the island of Bisevo where we could explore the famous blue cave.  By morning our trip was cancelled.  It was a beautiful day but the winds prevented any excursions leaving Vis from happening.  Unarmed with back up plans, we decided to rent another scooter and see the rest of the island.  On our way out, we asked our concierge how to go about visiting some of the vineyards on the island.  Within minutes we had a private tour set up for the evening.

The Detour

The previous day of getting lost, then back on our path and finding a few unexpected great places led us to ditch our map and just hop on the scooter.  We headed off with hopes of finding another beach to soak up some sun and make our way around the whole island before heading back.

We set out for the main road and was about 10 minutes into our drive before we stopped for a short detour.  What would make us stop abruptly and pull over.  Old man, bottles of wine and a tarp at the edge of a vineyard.  It’s like stopping at a fruit stand on the side of the highway but way better!!!

Wine detour...

Wine detour…

We got out and greeted this man with such enthusiasm that we must have startled him.  Within seconds we realized we had no way of communicating.  We knew about three words in Croatian and he knew nothing in English.  So, point and mime it was all we could do.  From our understanding, he was the farmer and was selling wine from his vineyard along with some unknown fruit, capers, and what we thought for a long time was possibly very sweet and thick balsamic vinegar or a liquor…  We decided to purchase a bottle of red wine and the ‘vinegar/liquor’.  It seemed very special and had a tag attached with the description of the contents – which, of course, we could not read.  Jonathan pulls out a few bills and lets the man dig through for his share – I mean how else do we know how much we owe?!  Turns out our two bottles equated to less than five dollars.  SCORE!

Man selling wine and other goods from his land

Man selling wine and other goods from his land

Jonathan debating on what to buy

Jonathan debating on what to buy

Back to the ‘vinegar/liquor’…  Curiosity got to us a few days later so we took a picture of the label and had someone translate it for us.  We were for sure we had something unusual and special – turns out we did.  We bought medicine.  Yep, good for your heart, good for indigestion, good for high cholesterol, and well, anything really kind of medicine.  According to the label, it’s recommended for good health to take a shot a day.  Ha, joke was on us…or maybe not.  It’s quite delicious and even though it contains no alcohol we will enjoy it and the story behind it for years to come.  And hey, our translator said it is something that you would not be able to buy elsewhere – so cheers to us for finding something truly one of a kind!

Rukavac

Back to the scooter and off to find a beach.  About 20 minutes later we found ourselves in a small fishing town, Rukavac.  We noticed several beaches all within a short distance from each other. We parked the scooter and headed out on foot to find a place to chill our for a few hours.

crvrukavac2

Not thrilled about the rocks but loving the crystal clear water and the perfect weather

Not thrilled about the rocks but loving the crystal clear water and the perfect weather

Where Mountains Meet the Sea

A picture is worth a thousand words right?!  I know it is annoying to Jonathan to whip out the camera during our rides so that I can catch a snapshot of the landscape but I just can’t help myself.  Luckily, he’s a skilled scooter man and can take me moving all about on the back…here’s what we find as we head around the island and back to our hotel.

Photographing the view of the sea while on the back of the scooter

Photographing the view of the sea while on the back of the scooter

crvview4

crvview6

A Private Tour and Wine Tasting

After another day of cruising around on our scooter, we headed back to the hotel for a quick shower.  We were excited for our private tour but weren’t expecting too much.  Touring an island by car doesn’t seem that appealing but we had nothing else to do and were hoping to see some parts of the island that we may have missed on our scooter journey.

We got ready and headed out to meet Mr. Ivan Pecarevic – the owner of a local vineyard, a taxi company and more.  We arrive and learn that instead of Ivan we meet up with his son, Josko Pecarevic.  Lucky for us, Josko was closer to our age and spoke perfect English.  He was young, extremely knowledgeable and fun.  We set out by car to see some of the lesser visited areas of Vis.

As we headed up through the mountains we learned more about the culture and history of Vis.  We saw old churches, abandoned schools, an olive oil mill where the oil is pressed, and breathtaking views of the island all while learning about the daily life of Croatians on the island.  We talk non-stop about the adventures we’ve had so far and question our guide about everything we were hard-pressed to know…much of this was about the vast amount of vineyards.  The question of wine brought up the fact that the Pecarevic family are winemakers.  Our faces lit up!  We had no idea that our tour would be ending at the family cellar where we would be tasting (and buying) lots of wine.  What luck!  I think I did a little dance in the back seat and from this point I couldn’t wait to get there…but not too fast.  We had one more place to see.  Tito’s Cave.  Unimpressive but a beautiful hike up the mountain.  Thanks to my excitement of wine, I was lost on the history part of Tito’s Cave.  Lost as in, not so interested rather than a lack of understanding.  But if you know me, I tend to lose focus once my mind is set of food or wine.

Josko Pecarevic at the door to his family's wine cellar

Josko Pecarevic at the door to his family’s wine cellar

The grand finale of our private tour – the wine cellar!  Thank goodness we sent home our dirty clothes to make room for wine because Jonathan wanted to buy everything there was to offer.  We tried a white, red, a dessert wine, a liquor and olive oil all produced and bottled by the Pecarevic’s.  Jonathan was not holding back and tried several hefty pours from a bottle of white wine and the dessert wine.  The red was lacking in my opinion but Jonathan was excitement for his choices led us to walk out with several bottles in tow.  All in all, this was an unforgettable experience.  We learned so much and loved how easy and laid back the tour was.  Private tours can be quite affordable and the experience is always more personal than a group tour – for this reason, we will be taking advantage whenever the occasion arises.

The tasting begins...

The tasting begins…

The lushes

The lushes

Happy as a clam...

Happy as a clam…

The damage...Josko was kind enough to open anything that we like in order to try it

The damage…Josko was kind enough to open anything that we were interested in so we could try it

Beautiful door to the cellar

Beautiful door to the cellar

Savoring the Moment

I find spontaneity and the ability to welcome a last-minute change of plans a must in a traveler.  Jonathan and I can adapt at a moments notice when plans don’t necessarily go our way.  We brush it off and move on and often find ourselves more content with the unexpected.  This day was one of those…we didn’t let our cancelled trip get in the way of enjoying our day.  It was our last evening on the island and we made the most of it.  From a detour on our way across the island, a lovely afternoon on the beach, a long and peaceful ride around the island to an amazing tour with a local winemaker – we had to stop and take it all in.  What a day so far!  We took some time to enjoy the lovely view and sunset on our patio, savoring the moment before heading out for dinner.

View from our patio

View from our patio

Enjoying the sun on my back

Enjoying the sun on my back

Dinner at Villa Kaliopa

Everyone we met in Vis who knew we were on our honeymoon recommended that we go to dinner at Villa Kaliopa before leaving the island.  From locals’ recommendations and online reviews, this restaurant was touted as one of the most romantic places to dine in the world.  To me that’s a bold statement that is hard to live up to.  This restaurant is first mentioned for the ambiance and then the food.  Not sure what to expect, we made reservations for a late night dinner.  A long busy day makes for a big appetite so as dinner approached we were ravenous and ready to try everything on the menu.

Villa Kaliopa (courtesy of Google Images)

Villa Kaliopa (courtesy of Google Images)

Menu?  No menu here.  You get what is fresh, local and in season.  Those words had me wanting to jump out of my seat with glee!  To me, this means everything is made to order and must be damn good.  I was right.  The waiter ran off the options for the day and asked us to describe the type of wine we like.  She came back with a delicious bottle of white wine (from a vineyard we passed along our way exploring) and then a plate of cheese.  Heaven…no better way to start a meal.  We enjoyed a bowl of the soup of the day as well as two whole lobsters and ended with a local treat for dessert.  Delicious and worthy of the price (be careful what you order here – without a menu it is hard to remember what you are spending if you are on a budget).

Seafood bisque - creamy yet light and flavorful

Seafood bisque – creamy yet light and flavorful

Lobster, typical Croatian potatoes (boiled then drizzled with olive oil and herbs) and swiss chard - not pictured

Lobster, typical Croatian potatoes (boiled then drizzled with olive oil and herbs) and swiss chard – not pictured

Playing with my food. Don't worry - I made sure no one was looking, never want my immaturity to be offensive

Playing with my food. Don’t worry – I made sure no one was looking, never want my immaturity to be offensive

As for the ambiance…I don’t think this place is really one of the most romantic restaurants in the world but it is certainly romantic and a definite ‘eat here’ recommendation.  The restaurant was built in the 16th century as a summer-house.  Over centuries the garden expanded and was then walled.  In recent history, this summer-house was turned into a restaurant serving only local food grown on the island or caught by seasoned fisherman.  The garden is lined with palm trees and has various walkways that lead to tables.  The tables seem to be hidden throughout the garden and even though the space isn’t huge it is hard to see other tables while you are dining.  Really, if you couldn’t hear the faint echoes of laughter you would feel like you are the only guests there.  I decided to take a few pictures after dinner from where we were sitting but due to the lack of lighting and a basic point and shoot camera I was unable to capture the real beauty of Villa Kaliopa at night.

The garden at night

The garden at night

After dinner we headed back to our hotel, ready to relax and drift off to sleep in one of the best hotels we’ve ever stayed in…sweet dreams of the island, the food, and the people.

Verdict ~ Looking to book your honeymoon?  Go to Croatia, especially the island of Vis, it is the most romantic place we have ever traveled to.  Croatia is for lovers.  Period.  But Vis is for honeymooners.  Plan to take long walks, indulge in great food and wine and relax at some of the most beautiful, crystal clear beaches around.  There’s very little shopping in Vis which means that you can spend your time browsing boutiques that offer up goods by local artisans rather than international chain stores.  Food is all locally grown, most of which is organic.  The wines found on the island are made there.   Tourists mingle right in with the locals..leaving you  feeling like you belong – with everything so new and beautiful you will take none of it for granted.  Vis has much to offer but it’s best attributes are the leisurely pace of life and beautiful landscape…

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As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life. — Siddhārtha Gautama

VIS, CROATIA

July 24 – 27, 2012

Island of Vis, Croatia

A Haven for Honeymooners

After two hours or so of traveling by ferry from Split, Jonathan and I finally arrived to Vis. We grabbed our luggage and met our driver. We were in awe of the quaintness of Vis. It had the look of a small, old European town and was flanked by the most beautiful mountains in all directions with the exception of the sea to the north of the town. We had no idea that the Adriatic Sea would be so breathtaking and romantic.

We were dropped off a quarter of a mile from our hotel. The main road that follows the coastline (in the town of Vis) is closed during the day to allow for people to safely walk about. This meant we had to drive up the mountainside and back down to get to our hotel. Once we walked into our hotel – we knew right away that walk with heavy luggage, weighed down by an enormous amount of wine, was worth every step.

Hotel San Giorgio (on the left)

Our hotel, San Giorgio, is, in my opinion, the best on the island. The hotel is situated in the oldest part of the island. It’s modern and elegant yet is able to retain old world charm. There are only 10 rooms in the hotel. We were lucky enough to get the best one – the deluxe. This was set up by Alan, from Secret Dalmatia (more about him in a future post). He was kind enough to not only secure the best room on the island but to also have a table of fruit and champagne waiting upon our arrival – the latter was put together by the hotel owner as a honeymoon welcome gift. She would have never known if Alan hadn’t mentioned this to her on his own accord.

Our room at Hotel San Giorgio was by far our favorite of our two-week honeymoon. Even though we always find ourselves out and about rather than hanging out in our room – this room holds many memories for us. The deluxe room had a patio tucked into the mountainside with a grand view of Vis. The patio was large and had a table as well as two sunning chairs. It was spacious with all the usual amenities of an upscale hotel. But what took the cake…the jacuzzi! After 9 or 10 days of traveling and being constantly on the go, this was a feature that certainly didn’t go unused.

The Deluxe Room
….the second best part of the room
…and the BEST part of the room!
Best hotel welcome gift ever...enough fruit to last a few days
Best hotel welcome gift ever…enough fruit to last a few days

DAY ONE

After relaxing, taking in the views from the patio and enjoying a bottle of champagne, we left to explore the area and find a post office – we desperately needed room in our luggage for more wine to bring home. It is about a 20 minute walk from Hotel San Giorgio to the port…the beauty of Vis can only be enjoyed by taking your time to absorb all of its beauty. We made our way back and forth several times daily and always found something new to look at or stop and see; sometimes a fantastic doorway, many times to peek inside a little boutique and often to just to take a break and enjoy the beauty of the sea.

If you have a sweet tooth, you are in trouble. There is so many places to drop in for a pastry or ice cream. I’m the salty, savory type so I was a bit out of luck but Jonathan was a happy to try out everything in his path – making a short walk into a lengthy stroll.

The mission was to find the post office to buy a box to ship clothes (making room for wine) but someone I know got sidetracked...
The mission was to find the post office to buy a box to ship clothes (making room for wine) but someone I know got sidetracked…
Croatian style baklava
Croatian style baklava
Cherry filled pastry
Cherry filled pastry

Wine Tasting at Hotel San Giorgio

The rest of the evening went a little like this…wine tasting, eat, drink more, eat even more, fall asleep fully satiated and in complete bliss…somewhere in that was the jacuzzi because we hear it helps with digestion and hangovers!

Wine tasting at the hotel restaurant..all wines made on the island.  A great introduction to local wines and made ordering at restaurants much easier for the rest of the trip..if you don't stay here at least reserve a spot one evening for the daily tasting
Wine tasting at the hotel restaurant..all wines made on the island. A great introduction to local wines and made ordering at restaurants much easier for the rest of the trip..if you don’t stay here at least reserve a spot one evening for the daily tasting
Plavac Mali from LIpanovic Vineyards nearby  - The favorite from our tasting...yes, this went in our suitcase!
Plavac Mali from Lipanovic Vineyards nearby – The favorite from our tasting…yes, this went in our suitcase!
Someone got caught eating my cheese...I'm not amused but he is
Someone got caught eating my cheese…I’m not amused but he is

Dinner at Pojoda

If you don’t know what to order when going to Croatia you can’t go wrong with fish – Croatians have mastered the art of cooking the whole fish. Years ago I would have made a little face and been reluctant to dig my fork into fish on a platter with its head still attached. I’ve matured, my tastes have changed and now I see what I have been missing all along. The flavor of fresh caught and grilled fish is like no other.

With recommendations from Alan and great reviews from Trip Advisor we decided to head to Pojoda. We were lucky to arrive and be seated without a reservation, although this meant we had to eat inside rather outside in the large, beautiful garden. The food was unbelievable. I was running low on battery and only took a few pictures but at least captured our two favorites from Pojoda.

The daily catch is brought to each table when ordering. You pick the fish you like and that’s what goes on the grill for you. Great way to see what you are getting and determine the freshness before ordering, that is if you happen to have a skillful eye for such things…next photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Fresh fish selection
Fresh fish selection
Appetizer - tuna with a capers sauce
Appetizer – tuna with a capers sauce
Our fish - oh how I wish I could remember the name of this fish.  Although it was certainly not a pretty fish - it sure did taste delicious!
Our fish – oh how I wish I could remember the name of this fish. Although it was certainly not a pretty fish – it sure did taste delicious!

Champagne, Wine, Beer, and…

Rakija! When in Croatia…a little over indulgence never hurt anyone right?! Let’s just say it was a long day and we had lots to try and enjoy.

Post dinner rakija...Jonathan can't contain his excitement and wonder for this traditional croatian drink
Post dinner rakija back at the hotel…Jonathan can’t contain his excitement and wonder for this traditional Croatian drink
So lesson learned...making a bubble bath in a jacuzzi is not a good idea, unless you like cleaning up afterwards this is before it got out of control
So lesson learned…making a bubble bath in a jacuzzi is not a good idea, unless you like cleaning up afterwards! This is before it got out of control..

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The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. – St. Augustine

SPLIT, CROATIA

July 22 – 24, 2012

Choosing Croatia for our Honeymoon

Several years ago, shortly after getting engaged, Jonathan and I were out to dinner and having a lovely conversation with our waiter. He had traveled throughout the world and was inquiring about where we thought we would go for our honeymoon. At this point, we had tossed around many ideas but hadn’t given it considerable thought. Loving his personality and his traveling spirit, we asked him as he was walking away from our table to think of any place in the world that he’s been that would be the perfect honeymoon spot. He seemed to brighten up and bounce off with joy in helping us decide on a place.

He came back a few minutes later with a big smile, announcing that he had the perfect place. Croatia. We were intrigued. We knew very little about Croatia and as curious as we are, we knew he might be on to something. He explained that is was the most romantic place he has ever been with a coastline that rivals Italy yet better because it is less touched by tourism. Several hours and google searches later we were fairly certain that Croatia would be our honeymoon destination.

One of our best decisions ever. Stunning. Romantic. Peaceful. Charming. Relaxing. Fulfilling.

C R O A T I A  I S  F O R  L O V E R S !

Croatia Itinerary

We spent a week in Croatia but this post is only dedicated to the time we spent in Split as well as a morning/afternoon in Trogir. In case you’re interested in other cities, here’s our itinerary.

Split/Trogir – 2 nights, 2 days

Vis Island – 3 nights, 3 days

Zagreb – 2 nights, 1 day

Split: Day One

My first impression…not so good. From the moment our driver dropped us off by the port in Split I thought I just arrived in the land of annoying tourists. Every inch surrounding me was a souvenir stand or a cafe touting prices that rival New York. This was not what I was expecting. Luckily, by evening my impression had changed and I was beginning to see the beauty in this city.

Our hotel, and as a matter of fact – almost everything we had planned in Croatia, had been hand-picked and booked by an amazing, brilliant and interesting man, Alan Mandic (founder of Secret Dalmatia). I look forward to revealing how we came about working with Alan in another post but for now, what you need to know is that he found us an amazing place to stay and planned two of the most memorable experiences of our honeymoon.

Hotel Peristil

Hotel Peristil within the Diocletian Palace

Hotel Peristil has 12 rooms. It is intimate and it’s located within the Diocletian Palace. The location perfect. The service very attentive but not overly so. The downside is that the air-conditioning and the beds are not up to par. But who cares! If you travel to Croatia and plan to spend your time inside your room then you deserve to be uncomfortable. Best part of this hotel, other than the location…you can hear the Dalmatian folk singing in the open terraces along the palace from your room. At night, there’s almost always an artist performing at the main square just a few feet from Hotel Peristil. Open your windows and enjoy the music while you are preparing to go out for the evening!

After getting settled into our room we grabbed lunch at the hotel restaurant, Tifani, then set out to explore before a scheduled wine tasting in the evening.

Jonathan enjoying a brew and seafood salad at Tifani…perfect choice for the hot and humid weather.

In typical Miranda fashion, I chose a plate of local cheese with Croatian wine. This is paski sir, a creamy and well-balanced sheep’s milk cheese from the Island of Pag. Get this in Croatia…it’s easy to find and why miss out – it won the prestigious Barber Award and was named the Word’s Best New Cheese in 2010.

Klub Gurmana i Hedonista

This is the point when my perception began to change. We had a wine tasting booked at Klub Gurmana i Hedonista. Our driver came to pick us up and took us just outside of the palace walls. Once we arrived we realized we could have easily walked.  Although the drive was short, we got a quick introduction to the city outside of the palace walls.  Our driver introduced us to the expert of Croatian wines, at least in my opinion. The man behind it all, Igor Beros. A very intelligent and friendly man. Connoisseur of wines and pop culture. A great conversationalist and several hours later…a friend. I didn’t want to leave. No, this is not the wine speaking through months later. I swear. Go here and you will see for yourself!

Over the course of about three hours, Igor offered us about 5 wines to taste.  We learned about Croatian wine, wine-making in general and how to distinguish the age and quality of a wine by sight and smell.  We were not always this civilized…at some point we were discussing South Park and funny British television.  In fact, by the end of the tasting we were both calling Igor, Croatian Dave…in honor of our friend whom we sometimes refer to as British Dave.  Both men endearing, funny, tall as hell and owners of the most obscure knowledge of random things.  In short, we loved Igor like a friend.

The wine we tasted greatly varied.  We got a taste of a few young and old wines.  Bold, elegant and light varieties.  All of this came with some of the best anchovies I’ve ever had.  I’m saddened that I’m unsure if I will ever get them as good as those again.  I ate all of mine on the tasting board and Igor quietly slipped away for a moment to bring out a heaping plate full to keep me going.  I was, for a moment, embarrassed.  That lasted only until I had another  bite and then about 10 more…why try to hide my appetite and gluttonous spirit?  I’m all about embracing it these days…

Us and Igor at Klub Gurmana i Hedonista!

Enjoying a toast together!

The tasting board…before I demolish it!

On our way out Jonathan and I decided to buy two bottles of our favorite from the tasting and one that we could drink in five years on our anniversary.  After talking about the beauty of an aged wine, we set Igor to the task of finding a wine that would be perfect for opening after 5 years.  He jumped to the task like a joyous schoolboy!  Very cute!  He walked around his cellar deep in thoughts until he found the perfect one.  Now our task – be patient and wait before opening!  As we were walking out with our goods, Igor gave us a gift as a honeymoon present…he told us that we would have to try it and tell him what it is – the flavor was a surprise and something of a local treat!  We’ve yet to open this bottle.  It’s kind of like unwrapping a gift slowly to save the suspense.  It sits beautifully upon our counter as a reminder of an amazing Croatian evening.  I know all too well that we will open this sooner rather than later and I look forward to contacting him in regards to our best guess!

First Croatian Dinner

After indulging in the hearty cuisines of Czech Republic and Hungary, we were so excited to try Croatian food.  I can say, it was a welcome surprise.  Much lighter in comparison to the previous countries and still full of flavor!  After leaving our wine tasting and really not very hungry, we still found ourselves back in the palace walls and sitting down to dinner.

Using Trip Advisor as our dining guide, we headed to Trattoria Bajamonte.   This restaurant sits inside the palace and is a bit hard to find.  With tables spread out in a few streets just wide enough to walk down in twos, and no restaurant sign or kitchen to be found, you can easily miss this place.  We luckily happened to read a cork board by some tables and noticed that the handwritten menu was in fact for the restaurant we were looking for.  We happily set down and ordered what we read would be a very local/typical dinner.  We shared a plate of mussels and I went for the seafood risotto while Jonathan got the fish with potatoes and swiss chard.  Delicious!!!

Seafood risotto…a bit soupy but seriously good!

Fish with lemon, olive oil and fresh herbs with a side of swiss chard and potatoes

The Art of Manliness

As we were finishing up our last bites it began to rain.  This is when officially, without any doubt, Split won me over.  After hiding from the first few minutes of drizzle we headed back to our hotel.  If you are like me, a good rain storm is more romantic than most other imaginable things…gifts, cards, snuggles, poems or what have you.  Stand outside in the rain with the one you love and walk side by side like it’s a sunny day and instantly my heart becomes all gooey…and girly.  The palace is confusing with hard to find, let alone read, street signs coupled by the fact that the streets look all too similar to not feel like you are walking in circles.  I was swooned by Split and by the man holding my hand and running along with me to the next overhang or archway.  I found so much beauty in this moment that I don’t think I spoke much…at least that’s how I remember it.

Hiding from the drizzle at the end of dinner

Trogir & Split:  Day Two

Cooking with Tatjana Ciciliani

My obsession with taking a cooking class while traveling all stems from one day several years ago…in Thailand.  The quick version of the story (yes Jonathan, I can tell a quick story)…we were traveling with our friends, Dave and Alex.  It was our second full day in Chiang Mai and we had planned a day long cooking class.  I was stoked!  Thai food ranks among my favorite.  Although extremely tired, I remembered to set my alarm.  Unfortunately to the wrong time zone.  I woke Dave and Alex up twice, the first only hours after we all went to bed…Dave was nice about my mistake and stumbled back in bed.  I reset my alarm and was still wrong…just a few hours later, I woke them again, all ready for the class.  We still had at least two hours before we needed to be up.  He wasn’t laughing at my mistake a second time.  Jonathan and I went back to bed.  This time…Jonathan and I did not get up.  The intermittent sleep and jet lag got the best of us.  We stayed in bed while Dave and Alex went off to learn the fine art of Thai cooking.  I finally awoke in the late afternoon…this time angry that I missed out.

So, in preparing for our honeymoon, I knew we had to give a cooking class another try.  One thing that I didn’t know…it was going to be one of the most special days of our trip.

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing Tatjana is.  What I can say for sure and in the most simplest terms – she is passionate, kind, interesting, and above all,  one damn good cook.  In the few hours that we got to know her I felt a connection.  She is warm and funny with such a good spirit, a person who can make anyone feel at home and at ease…even with a cleaver in her hand.

Our day of cooking in Trogir with Tatjana must have its own post.  I look forward to sharing every detail no matter how small.  But here’s a peek for now!

Cooking with Tatjana Ciciliani

Jonathan and Tatjana prepping the fish…

Risotto, fish stock, fried sardines, and bread rising…just a few of the things we had going on!

Diocletian’s Palace

After our morning and afternoon with Tatjana, Jonathan and I headed back to Split for an official tour of Diocletian’s Palace.  I’m no history buff but I certainly loved the tour.  Our tour guide, a young vibrant Croatian woman, gathered us up at the port and took us for a walk through the palace.  One of the first things she told us was, “if you get bored or tired, I’ll take you to a fun bar for a pit stop”.  How could you not love her?!  After a huge meal, sitting down to a glass of wine and relaxing sounded great but her enthusiasm and love for history bled through.  Off we gladly went for a tour!

Unfortunately, my mind only recalls details of things that I’m passionate about…history, not so much.  So I have to say, all I have of this tour is my photographs.  If you’re looking for information about Diocletian’s Palace…google it.

A model of the palace…see how easy it can be to get lost here!

Narrowest street in Split – appropriately named, Pusti Me Da Prodjem (translation: Let me pass)

Grgur Ninski Statue – touch his toe for good luck!

The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Monument – pretty cool that many people have homes within..

Near the monumental court and our hotel…

Rakija – National Drink of Croatia

At the end of our tour, our guide introduced us to rakija.  Rakija is a popular Croatian drink, similar to brandy, and is often taken just before dinner or on your way out for the evening.  As our tour came to an end and we were headed to the bar, we stopped at Rakijarnica to try out our first rakija and to toast to an amazing evening.

Best tour guide ever!

Rakijarnica (within Diocletian’s Palace) – loads of choices for flavors…we went for the sour cherry

Ghetto Club for drinks! A very bohemian and artsy bar with more locals than tourists…photo courtesy of Time Out Croatia (my camera died by this point in the evening)

On to Vis

On the morning of our third day, we awoke with excitement to begin a new adventure on Vis Island.  We enjoyed our time in Split but were ready for something more….beach, good food and relaxing?  Yes!

View of Split from the ferry to Vis

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A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine. – Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

Day Two

…and we said, “Let there be wine!”

On the morning of our second day in Budapest, we awoke with renewed energy and were ready to conquer our second favorite thing after finding delicious food – it was our day to explore Hungarian wine! To do so, we decided to escape our side of the Danube and head towards Buda. After doing our own separate research on things to do in Budapest, Jonathan and I descovered that we both had written down the same wine cellar. This meant that our day as oenephiles would begin there…Faust Wine Cellar on Castle Hill. Lucky for us, it was right next to other must see places – why not check a few things off on our way?

Labyrinth of Buda Castle

We were staying in Pest so we opted for a quick, although expensive, taxi ride to Buda. There we would go directly to Castle Hill and spend our time exploring while waiting for the first wine tasting of the day. The architecture in Budapest is the most amazing I’ve ever seen and from Castle Hill you are able to take in the breathtaking views of both sides of the Danube at once.

Castle Hill is flooded with activities that will engage every traveler out there. We arrived with much to do but decided since it was already becoming quite a hot morning to go to the underground labyrinth of Buda Castle where we could cool off a bit. There wasn’t much to the labyrinth, after about 20 minutes of roaming around inside we were bored and ready to resurface. The history behind the caves and labyrinth is interesting but much of what we learned was at the entrance – in my opinion, only go here if you need a place to cool down or you want to play around like zombies…

Labyrinth of Buda Castle – map

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace is a beautiful sight to see although the best views are from the Danube at night. We strolled through the grounds and found a few fun things along the way…pretzels, over-priced souvenirs, archery, and ‘Chippy’ the hawk!

Royal Palace

A little archery while exploring the palace grounds

Not bad for a first timer!

Husband taking his weapons seriously…

Chippy, my new best friend! I really wanted to free him but was sure the outcome would not be in my favor…

Matthias Church & Fisherman’s Bastion

Just a few hundred yards away from the palace lies Matthias Church and just beyond, the Fisherman’s Bastion. We decided not to tour the church – the outside view is magnificent and was enough to satisfy us. We did have more to see and little time before the wine tasting so at this point we became a bit conservative with time.

Matthias Church

For the best views I recommend paying the few forint and taking a walk on the Fisherman’s Bastion. There are at times many people to skirt around but just walking along and seeing the Danube and Pest from this area will be worth every effort!

Fisherman’s Bastion – view from one end looking across to the other

Views of Pest from the Fisherman’s Bastion

Faust Wine Cellar

If you’re looking for an introduction into Hungarian wines – your journey should start here. Prior to this trip, I don’t ever remember hearing much about Hungarian wine and am pretty sure I have never tried any before. Faust Wine Cellar is ranked #1 in the top 100 best things to do in Budapest, or at least was at the time of our honeymoon. It has honestly earned this rating for good reason. The service is brilliant and the location, simply beautiful. The cellar is located under the Hilton on Castle Hill. It is situated deep in the caves below and sets the perfect stage for a wine tasting.

Our visit started a bit of a craze for the two of us. After this tasting we bought several bottles of wine and mailed clothes home so that we had room to fit these treasures in our luggage. This was our most memorable and favorite experience while in Budapest so, as I have done in previous posts, I will save a solo post on Faust for the future. If you are curious now, check out their website for a look into what Faust Wine Cellar has to offer – http://www.gbwine.eu/palinka_tasting_wine_tasting_budapest.html

Faust Wine Cellar

Pool Time!

After several hours of tasting wine we decided to head back to our hotel and relax a bit before dinner. We were staying Continental Hotel Zara in the Jewish District. I highly recommend this hotel for several reasons. First, it’s just beautiful! From the moment you walk in the front door you know you are staying somewhere special. The rooms are small yet comfortable with modern decor that adds a luxurious feel for the size. The location of the hotel is probably the best part – it is so close to some amazing restaraunts and just a few blocks away for the most popular ruin pubs. But on a hot and busy day – the pool is where it’s at! Continental Hotel Zara has an outdoor rooftop pool and just inside and next to it is an indoor pool, jacuzzi and saunas. No better way to relax while traveling.

We packed a few beers in our bag and headed up to the rooftop for a swim and some down time. The views from the pool are unbelievable. You find yourself inside a modern swimming pool looking at the roofs of building that are centuries old with the mountains and beautiful surroundings peppering the horizon.

Continental Hotel Zara – entrance

Rooftop pool at Continental Hotel Zara

Dinner time – Costes

After long day of touring, drinking, and well…relaxing we set off to dinner at Costes. This was the third of three of Jonathan’s planned-in-advanced honeymoon dinners. Costes is one of two Michelin Star restaurants in Budapest (both of which he reserved) and was his favorite of the three.

Costes, like many things from this journey, will have it’s own post once I complete my day to day breakdown of our trip. Interested now, check out Onyx’s website and drool over the next pic! http://www.costes.hu/en#etlapunk

Costes Restuarant in Budapest

Another ruin pub!

After visiting the most famous ruin pub, Szimpla Kert, the night before I had already become a ruin pub fan. So next up for a night out after an unforgettable dinner was Convintetö. This ruin pub consisted of two floors (that we know of) and the second being the rooftop. From the entrance you immediately get the sense that you are entering somewhere unique and off the radar. Corvinteto is built on the top of an old socialist type department store building. It’s a cool hangout spot in the city with the one and only openair rooftop underground club in Budapest! Sunset, heavy duty elevator, huge open space, pálinka, panorama, ice-cold beer, comfortable sofas, dancing ’till dawn, sunrise in the middle of the city, on the top of the once state owned department store…go here!

Corvinteto – ruin pub

Beer after a long day of….wine, late night at Corvinteto

I love this picture! We have no idea where this leads to or how you get in but it’s inside Corvinteto and is the perfect background for hilarious pictures…

Day Two in a Nutshell:

  • Exploring Buda
  • Royal Palace
  • Buda Castle
  • Labyrinths of Castle Hill
  • Fisherman’s Bastion
  • Faust Wine Cellar
  • Dinner at Costes
  • Ruin Pub ~ Corvintetö

Day Three at a Glance: (Writing Soon)

  • Lunch at Paprika Étterem
  • Turkish Baths – Széchenyi fürdő
  • Alcatraz Pub
  • Evening cruise on the Danube
  • Dinner at Borkonyha Wine Kitchen

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Architecture in general is frozen music. – Friedrich von Schelling

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

July 18 – 22, 2012

Budapest in 10:

  1. Romantic
  2. Wine
  3. Divided city
  4. Goulash
  5. Danube
  6. Ruin bars
  7. Wordly
  8. Castles
  9. Paprika
  10. Architectural paradise
    The honeymoon continues…

    Leaving Prague

    Spending our last few crowns on the train

    …and this is how you sleep on a train.

    Arrival Day
    After a very long day on the train from Prague to Budapest we finally arrive to our hotel.  We were sleep deprived but what was worse was our hunger!  We boarded the train without knowing that the cafe car only accepted cash and sadly, we had just enough crowns to buy two beers or nothing at all.  So first thing on our agenda was to find some food!  Unless you want to eat at McDonald’s it’s quite hard to find late night food in Budapest.  It was well after midnight and our search began…sorry but I’d rather go hungry for the night than end my day with a whopper.
    Lucky for us, the only place that the concierge knew of that was open this late happened to be within walking distance.  Off to Montenegroi Gurman we went.  This happened to be a Serbian restaurant.  Until this night, I was completely unfamiliar with this cuisine.  Now, I’m still unfamiliar but know that you best be a carnivore if you want to eat here… or better yet, if you’re not into beef, lamb, pork or goat, then go elsewhere!  This was really a true challenge for me since I’m still new to eating meat.  I had no idea what to order, not just because there were no understandable translations but I also couldn’t decipher from the pictures of the menus what I would be eating.  So what did I do?  I ordered two dinners and crossed my fingers with hope that I would like one.  Here’s what we had..

    So the plate Jonathan is eating off of is his dinner. Everything else, mine. He had some beef something or other and enjoyed it. My plate farthest to the left is filled with sausages of some sort. They were good. I couldn’t eat them all but when eaten with the bits of tomatoes and cucumbers the meat was even better. The plate directly in front of me was translated to be something like ham and cheese. See next photo…

Serbian ham and cheese.  A teaser with the cheese – I only found evidence of something cheese-like that tasted more like butter. Was this good, yes. Just not enough of it on the sandwich. So, I deconstructed my meat sandwich. Hopefully I didn’t offend anyone but really a plate full of sausages and then a sandwich with an infinite number of slices of pork was just too much. I will however try Serbian food again – everything deserves more than one chance.

Day One

Breakfast/Lunch

After a long journey the day before, we were ready to hit the ground running.  We woke up with the energy to conquer Budapest.  After comparing many reviews and consulting multiple websites we heading out for the day.  First on our list – eat Hungarian food.  After reading some reviews on restaurants near our hotel, we headed to Ladó Cafe, a family run restaurant and jazz bar.  Good choice!  We got there just past breakfast time so we ordered lunch.  To my delight, Hungarian was unexpectedly delicious and a bit lighter than the Czech cuisine we had just acquainted ourselves with.  I would recommend this for lunch or suggest going here for dinner if you’re in the mood for great food and live jazz.

Gulyás (goulash soup)…oh so tasty! The broth is full of flavor with tender meat and potatoes.

Hideg meggyleves (cold fruit soup – sour cherry)…this one surprised us – it was delicious and not too sweet.

Pörkölt (beef stew). This is a winner! Obviously, we practically finished it before I remembered to get out the camera.  This was a hearty, full-flavored beef stew with tarhonya (egg barley).  Tarhonya or spatzle is served with many Hungarian dishes and is so yummy.

Fungarian

After lunch, we decided to start checking off some of our Budapest to-dos and signed up for a Hungarian language class.  We found an available teacher and was there ready to learn within an hour.   And because we loved it so much, Fungarian deserves its own post…stay tuned!  But for a sneak peek here’s Jonathan and I studying.

Fungarian – Hungarian language class.

Central Market Hall

We spent the next few hours exploring the neighborhood and Central Market Hall (Vámház körúti Vásárcsarnok).  Central Market is one of the largest market halls in Europe and worthy of visiting if you are in Budapest.  The market consists of three levels.  On the ground level you will find meats, cheeses, spices, fruits and vegetables.  Go upstairs for prepared foods and souvenirs.  The basement (we never made it this far) consists of more meat stalls and fresh fish as well as a small supermarket.

Vámház körúti Vásárcsarnok (Central Market Hall)

Central Market – dried fruits and more

We decided to make a lunch out of this visit.  Jonathan scooped up some hungarian sausages, caviar, and goose liver pate while I sought out some local, pungent cheese and crackers.  Nothing beats a thrown together meal like this!

Local market selections for a quick and delicious lunch!

My favorite market find – stinky cheese!

Jonathan’s favorite market find – Dobos cake! (sponge cake layered with chocolate paste and glazed with caramel and nuts)

Exploring Belvaros – District V

After the market we had some time to roam around the streets.  We found ourselves zig-zagging through busy tourist filled streets* (see note below) and then into quite, desolated streets shortly after closer to the Danube and further away from the market.  It was nice to get away from the bustle and be able to walk quietly and admire the beauty of the architecture in Budapest.  It is such an interesting mix of Roman, gothic, neo-gothic, Turkish and baroque styles.  It really is an architectural paradise.  I don’t believe I’ve been anywhere in the world that had such a striking variety dispersed throughout the city.

*Avoid Vací Street – for some crazy reason this street was on a few must-do lists for Budapest.  I have no idea why anyone would want to go here.  It is a street lined with souvenirs and restaurants all competing for your business.  As you walk by everyone feels it’s okay to interrupt you and ask you to sit down and eat at their place or buy their merchandise.   The rest of Budapest is nothing like this – don’t let this tarnish your views of the city, just avoid it.  The souvenirs aren’t worthy and the rest of the street is filled with overpriced goods and jewelry.  Spend your time elsewhere…

The honeymooners – roaming the streets of the Belvaros district next to the Danube

Dinner

On to dinner…my favorite part of everyday!

As mentioned in a previous post about Czech Republic, Jonathan made reservations before our trip to several Michelin Star restaurants – it was our honeymoon, so why not splurge!  On this evening we had a table at Onyx.  For me, this was my most memorable meal in Budapest.  And of course – I’m only going to give you a teaser photo – Onyx is being saved for its own lovely post in the future!

Onyx – One of only two Michelin Starred Restaurants in Budapest

After dinner drinks

One big meal and I’m done!  Or so I thought.  We decided to walk for a bit and see what we might feel like doing once some of our food digested.  As expected, the walk perked us up a bit and we settled on trying one of Budapest’s famous ruinpubs.

Trip Advisor reviews led us to the ruin pub, Szimpla Kert in the Jewish district, only a few blocks from our hotel.  The reviews were spot on.   I later learned that this pub, Szimpla Kert, happens to be voted as the third best bar in the world by Lonely Planet readers.  I cannot argue against this one.

The website, www.ruinpubs.com, explains ruinpubs far better than I can so here’s a tidbit on what they are…

The beginning of the 21st century was an exciting turning point in the nightlife of Budapest: in the central area of the city new places were opened one after another in tenement houses and factory buildings doomed to destruction. These were equipped with rejected furniture of old community centres, cinemas, and grandmothers’ flats, bringing a retro feeling into these places. They were soon called ruinpubs and became popular very fast among the youth of Budapest – ruinpub is the exact translation of the Hungarian name.

Ruinpubs often move to a new place, or close for some years, then open in a new place again. They are not only good places to drink and have a party but also function as cultural community areas with film clubs, theatre performances, concerts, exhibitions, and creative workshops, too. They do not work in a franchise system, there is no specified design, and there are no rules, how to make them. Every place has a unique style and atmosphere. In Szimpla kert, (Simple Garden) you can have a beer in a cannibalized old Trabant car. In Instant, you can stroll around in the labyrinth of the tenement house. In Kertem, (My Garden) you can feel the atmosphere of a socialist beer-garden of the 1980s. From Corvin tető, (Corvin Roofgarden) you can have a view at the nightlife of this cosmopolitan city. Some of the ruinpubs are open in Summer only, while others have indoor areas, so you can visit them all year.

My advice – when in Budapest go to a ruinpub!  Here’s some photos taken at Szimpla Kert…

In the corner at Szimpla Kert – taking it all in for a moment before we explore the second floor and garden

Awesome stairway!

Relaxing outside in Szimpla’s garden where a black and white film is being projected on the exterior wall of the pub.

Second floor, overlooking the ground floor entry way

Day One in a Nutshell:

  • Brunch at Ladó Cafe
  • Fungarian – Hungarian language class
  • Central Market Hall – farmer’s market and picnic lunch
  • Exploring Belvaros, District V
  • Dinner at Onyx
  • Drinks at Szimpla Kert

Day Two at a Glance: (Writing Soon)

  • Exploring Buda
  • Buda Castle
  • Labyrinths of Castle Hill
  • Fisherman’s Bastion
  • Faust Wine Cellar
  • Dinner at Costes
  • Drinks at Corvin Tetö

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