In a relaxed surrounding of Brestanica fish pond since 1986 family Dular runs a restaurant attracting fish lovers and fans of traditional Slovenian cuisine. Nearby forest gives brilliant background in any time of the year, and also reminds that every dish on your plate stems from nearby farms or as a gift of nature.

We were greeted by host Mr. Bogdan Dular and his excellent staff, headed by the chef Anton Barbarovič, famous for innovative approach to the traditional dishes. Family Dular also makes own wine, served in the restaurant, as well as in wine cellar in Kostanjek where wine is produced in an environmentally and human friendly way.

Dry Dular’s Sauvignon from 2016 introduced us immediately to the family passion, with a bite of Slovenian salted bread. It was a nice welcome to the dining hall with a glass wall overlooking the pond and forest, and with a pleasant feeling of fireplace. Very soon we tried homemade smoked ham with horseradish foam and creamy boiled egg, a testimony of ingenuity of the chef. Indeed, instead of just serving ham with horseradish, in Ribnik we were surprised with foamy and mild horseradish, next to thinly and neatly sliced ham. Custom asks for this dish to be served for Easter, but healthy horseradish is ever needed in winter, to open all the airways inside our bodies.

Soup is unavoidable part of Slovenian lunch, and we got an opportunity to try two very specific Slovenian everyday soups: beef soup with noodles and meat dumplings and mushroom soup. Refreshing beef soup is somewhat an opposite to the thick mushroom soup with a touch of cream. The mushrooms, of course, are from local forest. Mushroom soup (gobova juha) is deemed to be Slovenian national soup, given the geography of this mostly Alpine land with many woodlands and hills. Appetizer and soups are followed with Modra Frankinja 2015, dry wine from Dular wine cellar and pride of the Posavje region.

Main course is the signature dish of this restaurant, perch fillet with pine nuts and baked polenta. Rich freshwater fish has always been a rewarding basis for culinary imagination and perch in Ribnik confirms that. Close to the restaurant is also a home of Fishing association Brestanica – Krško that celebrated in 2016 seventy years of existence. After the industrialisation, river Sava became off the limit for fishing, and thus the locals renewed the old Trappist fishing ponds. Besides perch, trout is the main offer in Ribnik, and both go excellent with Duler Laški Riesling 2015, which balances the flavours with its acidity.

Dessert in Ribnik was homemade cheesecake, a spectacular and not to sweet finish that leaves places for more gastronomy enjoyment in the Krško region. Dular Family is not only favourite among the fish lovers, as it offers good burgers, various salads, vegetarian meals, both for children and adults.

Gostilna Ribnik
Naselje Srečka Kosovela 2b, Zagorje ob Savi
030 225 929, 05 916 78 59


When you come to Krško, be sure to visits its surroundings. The countryside of Posavje region is the land of pristine flavours, traditional food, and excellent wines. These delights locals call the “River of Flavours” and indeed it is. You will first receive a warm greeting and an amazing hospitality, just as we experienced it in the restaurant Ribnik near Brestanica.

Typical local dishes in Posavje include flat cake with overheated cream (puhla s pregreto smetano), flat cake with cottage cheese (cop na lop), buckwheat cake (bizeljski ajdov kolač), cottage cheese dumplings (pečeni sirovi štruklji), carrot soup (korejevc), Krško-polje pig delicacies, colt, fish… everything cooked with fresh, authentic and local ingredients. Local action group Posavje is very active in raising the value of local products and services, establishing locally based sustainable food supply, and overall development of rural regions.

One such product is Krško-polje pig (krškopoljski prašič), the only autochthonic Slovenian pig sort. It is historically raised in the Dolenjska region, which abounds with valleys, already in 1850ies. This black-and-white pig gives particularly soft and delicious ham and praised lard. Especially pleasing are dried meat products, which go well with cviček.

In place of Raka, the Tourist Association Lovrenc Raka began a project “Best from Raka”, an innovative conception of presenting the autochthon onion sort (čebula, raška č’bula). They try to promote this piece of local agricultural heritage further in local and national restaurants and inns, as unavoidable part of the Slovenian culinary offer.

Raka was once famous for red onion, grown in hard but fertile ground. Almost every household had onions to sell, and the seed was carefully preserved. Raška č’bula was once staple food, used every day in local homes. It is powerful antiseptic which protects from illness and strengthens immunity. It is eaten raw, with sausages, ham, or just with bread. Local folk medicine also used this onion to cure. Today, probably the most famous čebula grower was Mr Učnik, grandfather of Melanija Trump who was born in nearby Sevnica!

We learn more about raška č’bula in the Cvičkov hram wine house. This is the centre point of Raka events. Day of St. Lawrence is onion and wine day, and traditional fire-fighter party is being held. People also walk through the Čebula path from Raka to Krakovski gozd and Kostanjevica. We try the specific čebula onion soup with bits of bread soaked in it (čebulova juha). Quite simple and different from the famous French onion soup, it replenishes body and soul. No wonder, as it was usually served after the Sunday church mass. This onion blends well with marinated trout, with mushrooms and salad, as basis for onion jam together with pork roast, or as an onion pie.

Tourist Association Lovrenc Raka
Raka 36a, 8274 Raka
041/532 727

Čebula also goes well with cviček, wine classified with recognised traditional name. It has quite unique blend of various reds (modra frankinja, žametna črtnina – 70 per cent) and white varieties (kraljevina, laški rizling, rumeni plavec, zeleni silvanec – 30 per cent). It is a dry wine with low alcohol, up to maximum 10 per cent, and somewhat higher acidity. Cviček enchants with its light red colour and ruby casts; Slovenes are particularly proud of it. It has fresh fruity aromas, with an emphasis on raspberry and cherry. Our hosts claim it also has healing properties!

Cviček is known in this region since 1500’s and mentioned even in the great Slovenian historian Valvasor’s work as Marwein, a jolly wine of Dolenjska. Today, some 20 million litres of cviček is produced in Dolenjska region, and cviček wine maker association numbers more than 200 people. In Raka they gather in Cvičkov hram (the embassy of cviček), which has educative and pleasurable parts. In the basement is a wine cellar that can accommodate up to 70 guests. We enjoyed it with opnion soup and homemade sausages and bacon, while listening to gorgeous Lovrenci male a cappela band. The upper floor is made of oak logs and is a modern version of the 18th century house (gorniki).

Another famous wine of Posavje region is Modra Frankinja (Blue Franconian). It is one of the most favourite red sorts in continental parts of ex-Austro-Hungarian Empire. In Slovenia, Posavje and Podravje (regions characterised by the Sava and Drava rivers) offer a particularly good terroir for this wine. It contains lots of antioxidants, making it perfect wine for meaty and fatty meals, full of cholesterols. Modra frankinja is also part of cviček.

A special treat is to book your accommodation in a vineyard cottage (zidanice). It is a unique trademark of Posavje, where lots of vineyard cottages, wineries, and wine cellars make a heaven for wine tourists. Most wine cottages are not at all small or excessively rustic – they are now real villas in the rural surroundings of Posavje wine hills.


Perched on sixty metres rock above Sava River and village of Brestanica, the Rajhenburg Castle stands as a spectacular historical attraction of Krško. It is also the first medieval castle mentioned in Slovenian texts from 895. The original castle was demolished and later rebuild by Bishop Konrad of Salzburg in early 12th century. Among many owners of this castle, the Trappist monks stand out. They lived here from 1881 until 1941, and gave a specific gastronomic heritage to this castle.

The fort has thick walls and entrance leads to a cobbled square surrounded by white walls of this beautiful castle. The nobility ruled this estate until 1881 when Trappists bought the castle and made a strict monastery. German occupation in 1941 moved the monks out and used the premises for Slovenian refugees. After Second World War, the communist government nationalised Rajhenburg and transformed it into a female political prison. Only in 2004 did Krško Municipality gain the ownership of Rajhenburg and started its renaissance to the present state.

We first got warm with tea and excellent pastry inside the castle cafe, before embarking on a quick one-hour tour of the castle led by knowledgeable Mrs Helena Rožman. Within an hour we were astonished by the development of castle’s architecture, beginning in Romanesque period and travelling through Gothic and Renaissance features until the present day.

Castle is known for its not yet fully explored Romanesque chapel from 12th century and Renaissance chapel from 16th century. Exquisite Renaissance frescos still exist in one room, making Rajhenburg one of the most important Middle Age castle architecture in Slovenia. The scenic position and exemplary interior make the castle ideal for weddings, celebrations, concerts, and cultural events.

The museum inside the castle features the destiny of Slovene deportees and the time when various correctional institutions operated in the castle. Visitors can also see the castle furniture from the collection of the National Museum of Slovenia. Postcards show Brestanica from the end of the 19th century and motifs from the social life in this small and picturesque village that hosts one of the biggest churches in Slovenia, the Basilica of the Mary of Lourdes. The castle also includes exhibited medals from the Olympic games and world championships won by Primož Kozmus, the most famous athlete from Brestanica.

Castle Rajhenburg
Cesta izgnancev 3, 8280 Brestanica
07 620 42 16

In the home of Silent Monks

The main attraction is, of course, the Trappists. The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.) is a Roman Catholic religious order of cloistered contemplative monasticrs who follow the Rule of St. Benedict. They are branch of the Order of Cistercians and one of the strictest orders in Catholicism. “Silent monks”, as they are sometimes called, came to Rajhenburg from Trappist monastery of Dumb near Lyon and dedicated it to the Mary the Rescuer.

At first only French monks were present, but over time Slovenian brothers entered the monastery. In Rajhenburg they worked for 17 hours a day, of which six hours they spent in prayer and meditation. They were strictly forbidden to talk or even communicate with the body language. Those who have taken the vows were no longer allowed eating meat, fish, and eggs, and they only made Trappist cheese. It was possible to eat this cheese at non-fasting days, making it the only food of animal origin on the monastery’s dining table.

Extensive farmlands in the area were the basis of Trappists’ survival. The monks were breeding cows, horses, pigs, and chickens, whose meat they sold. They cultivated the land, had vineyards and orchards. In 1929 Trappists bought the first tractor in Posavje region and they planted first vine in Sremič, now known as top wine area. In 1896 monks also built first hydroelectric power plant in the area.

Chocolate wine

One heritage that lasts is chocolate. The Trappists were first producers of chocolate and liqueurs in Slovenia. They imported the necessary machinery from France in 1896, and used the hydro energy of Brestanica brook to produce first chocolate dragees. The Viennese Imperial Court was especially pleased of its quality, so they bought regularly chocolate bars from the monastery. In fact, Emperor and King Franz Joseph gave the honorary title of Imperial, which soon became their brand name. The Imperial chocolate was sold all over Europe. They also produced Cocoa, Trapistin and the Grand liqueur, three kinds of liqueurs, of which some became basis for modern day chocolate wine.

We tried the famous chocolates and chocolate wine in Rajhenburg itself, presented by Lojze Kunej. The family tradition of wine making in Kunej family goes back to the end of the 19th century. In 2013, the production of vines and wine is joined by production of chocolate.

The Kunej family partnered with the City museum of Krško and Rajhenburg Castle in the project entitled “The influence of Trappist order on the Posavje countryside, acronym Trapistin” and began producing chocolate products inspired by the Trappist heritage. The chocolate products are produced in the House of Mozer in the direct vicinity of the renovated Rajhenburg Castle.

Kunej’s major product, Chocolat Impérial, is a new beverage based on dark red wine from unique grape variety selection, which can be combined with its gentle tannin with dark chocolate. This is a harmonious fusion, which takes us into the world of sensual pleasure and comfort. It can be enjoyed by itself as an aperitif or with selected snacks or deserts, dark chocolate, truffles, forest berries, nuts, berries and selected gourmet food. The wine is not as sweet as one might expect, mostly because of the high-quality Ecuadorian 76 per cent dark chocolate used to produce it. The wine itself is cuvee of dornfelder, acolon, cabernet cubin, and cabernet dorsa.

But real treat is a newly made wine with white chocolate, Chocolat Imperial Blanc. This unique dessert wine is based on chardonnay, sauvignon, and Laški Riesling, with addition of aromatic white chocolate. The complex aroma gives the feelings and tastes of white chocolate, sherry, vanilla, coffee. Indeed, it is a perfect, romantic, pleasurable dessert drink that goes well with soft and mild chocolates.

The best chocolates for these wines can also be found at Kunej’s manufactory. These are again based on Trappists’ tradition, and you can choose from handmade chocolate candies, chocolate bars, and chocolate round bars. The most difficult part is to try all combinations with a drop of excellent wine.

Kunej Ales s.p.
Cesta prvih borcev 40
8280 Brestanica, Slovenia
Phone: 00386 (0)7 49 73 330
GSM: 00386 (0)31 337 526
Fax: 00386 (0) 599 54 671

From Rukavac to Bregi and Žejane – Bell ringers and Carnival Foods

The wearing of masks, with which man performs fertility rites, drives away evil spirits and marks the passage of winter into spring, has been present in almost all civilizations and all parts of the world since times long past. This custom has particularly taken deep roots in the localities of the North Croatian Littoral, namely its backcountry – Kastavština.

In the course of the historical context of emergence of carnival customs in our region, various bell – ringer groups (zvončari) appeared. They became an inevitable part of the carnival ritual, not only in the Kvarner area, but wider. The bell-ringers mark the very beginning of the Carnival – hence the first bell-ringer bells make themselves heard in Mune and Žejane on Epiphany (6th January), and in the other localities on the Saint Anthony holiday (17th January).

Today we differentiate the bell-ringer groups of Rukavac, Zvoneće, Bregi, Brgud, Mučići, Žejane, Mune and Halubje. The distinctions between these groups are in pieces of garments they dress in, or in the characteristic bell-ringers’ gait and the additional elements they wear. However, they all wear white trousers (some with a red or blue stripe, though some wear jute trousers with sewn on ribbons) and sailor’s striped jerseys, sheepskins around the neck or waist, three bells or a single one respectively, head scarf or bandanna.

The bell-ringers of Rukavac, Bregi, Brgud, Mučići and Zvoneće wear hats with colorful crepe paper flower decorations, while the bell-ringers of Mune and Žejane wear hats with varicolored strips from the top of the hat to the ground. Only the Halubian bell-ringers wear large beast-like masks instead of hats. All the bell-ringer groups wore such masks until the beginning of the Italian occupation, when they were prohibited.

Photo by: S. Drechlser

Mune and Žejane are quite specific in whole region not only because its inhabitants are descendants of Romanian Vlach population, but also of carnival traditions. When bell ringers come in a village, their leader first enters a home to greet the owner and only then all other bell ringers enter. They gather in their baskets eggs and money and on long sticks bits of bacon. Eggs and bacon are used for big omellette. Main difference between Žejanski zvončari and Munski zvončari is in the colours and styles of strips and hats. Žejane is also specific for using sour beet instead of sauerkraut, in a classic winter dish consisting of beans, dried meat, bacon, and garlic (Huverova repa). Fritule, which is fabourite winter dessert in the Adriatic, is made with yoghurt, which is again very unique.

Photo: S.Rubinić, TZ Matulji

Place of Rukavac has its special bell ringers’ association, Rukavački zvončari. They are known for their elaborate outfit, similar to Halubje bell ringers but without animal mask. Two places, Rukavac and Zvoneća have same bell ringers who are followed by partenjaki, boys and girls who walk around asking for gifts.

Photo by: M. Gracin, Novi list

There is also a little devil, all in black but with red horns. You may try to run away from him, but he will find a way to make two black strips on your cheeks! In every time of year you can also see the Bell ringers’ Museum in Rukavac, but be sure to check with the Tourist Board if it is open.

All the restaurants, inns and taverns in the area offer something from our wide range of traditional dishes: turnip, pork loin, sauerkraut, home-made bread, sausages, pršut dry-cured ham, various sweets (supice, presnac, grašnjaki) and much more. The choice is yours, but we have visited the famed Stancija Kovačići:

Winter Rhapsody in Stancija Kovačići

Another very old bell ringers’ association is Brežanski zvončari from place of Bregi, high above Opatija. They have similar features to the Rukavački zvončari, but add with a very specific dish – olita or sweet blood sausage. The recipe is family heritage for more than 150 years, it is traditionally made only for the carnival season, although it is already rare to find. This blood sausage has addition of sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and raisins. It is indeed a very special thing to try!

Matulji Tourism Office:

Address: Trg maršala Tita 3, 51211 Matulji, County of Primorje-Gorski kotar, Croatia
VAT ID (OIB): 60986406974
Telephone: +385 (0)51 276 789
Fax: +385 (0)51 276 221


Winter Rhapsody in Stancija Kovačići

The search for traditional Liburnian gastronomy in times of carnival led us to a homestead located in the less familiar place Rukavac, near Matulji. A rural estate has found its place among family homes. It was built in 1880s and since then has remained in the same family, who converted the estate into a refined experience of gastronomy pleasures, with quite unique view of Lisina Mountain. It is a gorgeous wood park at a foot of mountain chain Ćićarija, which provides numerous short and long walkways thought it as well as hiking paths.

Former house for labourers in the field, for whom homesteads were intended, heirs to the Ružić and Frlan family now turned it into a holiday home for gastronomads. They enjoy the rich variety of tastes among which are Grobnik cheese and curd, Istrian prosciutto, truffles, all aroma and flavour with the addition of olive oil and seasoning with herbs growing around the restaurant, which the chef and owner, Vinko Frlan, carefully chooses when creates his exquisite meals.

His father still makes excellent brandies based on herbs and fruits in the region. Rukavac herb brandy (rukavačka travarica) is of his making, as he handpicks Mediterranean herbs and makes indeed great brandy. We also tried fig brandy, which has excellent aroma and even better taste. It is great aperitif for imaginative winter menu we have tried in Stancija.

Elaborative start began with smoked beef carpaccio with Grobnik cheese and olives. Slightly smoky carpaccio reminds on the meat freshness and enchants with its red colour, while grated Grobnik cheese is usually salty but also young and without strong taste. It comes from another famous carnival region of Grobnik. Everyone here is connected by bell ringers’ tradition and indeed Mr Frlan is also Halubje bell ringer. The cheese saltiness is additionally eased with extra virgin olive oil from Nino Činić in Krasica near Buje. He cultivates leccino sort; young olive oil with an aroma of mowed grass fits well with black olives and rucola on the carpaccio.

We enjoy homemade bread, small round bites of traditional perfectness, still warm from the oven. Home wine, cabernet blend and Malvasia would go well with all Stancija meals, but more elaborative wine list is available, mostly of Istrian wines.

Main course consisted of crisp pastry, bacon and boškarin sausage, leek, prosciutto and curd. Boškarin is popular name for authentic Istrian beef and its sausage is finely baked; more and more flavours open up when you chew the sausage and enjoy its mild and meaty taste. The sausage lays on basis of crisp pastry and curd, which gives specific milky aroma and balanced essence of leek. On top comes rich and salty prosciutto.

Almost as a surprise comes poached egg inside this dish, and it completely changes the flavour, giving an impression of two dishes inside one. Very balanced combination emerges as arty expressions of winter and carnival traditions of this region between sea and mountains. Sausages are unavoidable feature of carnival food, while its origin gives local authenticity. And everyone knows what kind of combination eggs and bacon give!

Second main course was again pleasure for senses; in a basket made of dough beef Bolognese with mushrooms and béchamel sauce is served. First comes the strong essence of boletus, picked often in neighbouring woodlands. The dish is rich, layered, and meaty, with big chunks of mushrooms.

Dessert of this winterish gastronomic journey is chestnut tiramisu, with caramel and cream dressing, excellent finish for anyone who likes less sweet desserts. In special occasions one can also try rukavački presnac here, which is gastronomic heritage of this place.

In the restaurant of the homestead Kovačići you can always taste homemade pasta and fresh baked bread. These culinary challenges and delights are not hidden away from the guests. Homestead offers many cooking schools, which combines Croatian traditional culinary delicacies in a memorable, interactive and imaginative way. We surely did experience it in the beautiful, cosy and warm dining room.

A complete offer if fulfilled with four spacious double bedrooms and one single bedroom, equipped with all the necessary modern day appliances. Although the rooms do not reflect a traditional style, they are tastefully decorated in accordance with the view from the window. Guests also have access to bikes with which you could explore the whole surrounding area of Matulji, and for those looking for more adrenaline there are mountain bikes, hiking and tennis courts.

Stancija Kovačići
Rukavac 51, 51211, Matulji
+ 385 51 272 106

Photos by Stancija Kovačići and Taste of Adriatic

Carnival Foods in Viškovo

Viškovo is a place situated north of Rijeka, effectively Rijeka’s suburb, but retains its special status as a town and proud itself for a long tradition of mask festivals. The area is known as Halubje, so the carnival is called Halubajski karnival, which has very longstanding tradition with Halubje bell ringers (Halubajski zvončari). Many tend to associate Rijeka carnival with Halubajski zvončari, who are indeed kings of carnival festivities.

Horrific animal mask on head, big bell on backs, seaman shirt, white trousers with red stripe, black shoes, white sheep skin, everything is part of Halubje bell ringer. The ringer must be a strong man, able to carry a heavy bell around his waist. Some 400 men are today proud part of this tradition, which begins for St Anthony the Great (Antonja, January 17th). The ringers walk through traditional routes in Viškovo and regularly visit all the other places in vicinity. Everything starts in front of the St. Mathew Church, where Pust is hanged.

Once, these strong men carried five to six small bells around their waists. Then, it fell to three, while today they ring with one big and one small bell. Some even carry just one, but it is five kilos heavy. Ringing is indeed a very tiresome and heavy job! That is why they should be fed well and with a traditional winter food from Viškovo.

We found it in celebrated Mladenka restaurant in the very heart of town.

Mladenka – The Gastronomy Home of Halubje Bell Ringers

Apart from Mladenka, Viškovo boasts other places with traditional cuisine. Among these are Restaurant Ronjgi, widely recognised for its wild meat specialties; Restaurant Nono Frane, with its exquisite barbecue and homemade pasta; Tavern Maretina, famous for its fish specialties; and homemade Viškovo meals in Tavern Kume in place Kosi, and Šmrika in Marčelji.

In all these places, you may find traditional winter foods of Viškovo. Fish lovers will enjoy the cod brodetto, one of the characteristic Adriatic comfort food in winter. Simple mix of cod, potatoes, garlic, tomato paste, parsley and olive oil is combined with polenta or bread for a very satisfying meal. Staple for winter days is certainly sauerkraut. Old way to make good sauerkraut is to drown it into the water, in order to lessen the sourness. Fatty bacon is mixed with garlic (mix is called zapešt) and is added to sauerkraut together with few bay leaves. Usually, smoked ham is made with the sauerkraut.

A bit south of Viškovo, already within the Rijeka town boundaries, is neighbourhood Pehlin, home of Pehinarski feštari and Pehinarska gospoda, two carnival groups with long historical background. Dark uniform, beret cap with peacock or pheasant feather, with yellow tie and sign of cock (symbol of Pehlin, which has its name because of it – peteh) – this is official dress of Pehinarski feštari.

The group came to be in 1953, with some 50 members today, and they begin their carnival walk on St. Anthony the Great from the Pehlin school, where Pust is being hanged. The Pust is traditionally called Mate, who changes his surname every year according to the happenings in country and the world. The reason for his name comes from local proverb: „Mate puste kvragu šal, se si žepi obašal“, which pointed to the wrong habit of spending scarce money for carnival escapades.

Their counterpart in Pehlin are Pehinarska gospoda (Pehlin bourgeois). In 1920ies some young men took their finest garb, bowler hats, walking stick, and walked around Pehlin with accordion and drum music. A bit later ladies also joined, wearing the urban dress from the beginning of 20th century.

The ladies also inherited cherished knowledge of their grandmas about the carnival foods. Most famous one in Pehlin is cauliflower with salted fish (broskva i slane ribi), an easy dish to make. A specific cauliflower from the northern Adriatic region is cooked in salted water. Also potatoes are cooked in another pot. Cooked cauliflower is then mixed with garlic fried on olive oil, with addition of pepper and salt. Salted fish should be then fried for a minute or two in olive oil and added to cauliflower. Cooked potatoe is a side dish and is eaten with white wine.

Another cherished gastronomy tradition is Pehinarski presnac and Presnac z Kuta. Main difference between these two cakes is in additional cocoa or chocolate, as well as apple, cinnamon, and clove in Pehinarski presnac. Basis for both is practically the same, consisting of dough (Presnac z Kuta adds rum inside), and filling is based on rice and raisins.

For more information visit the Tourist Board of Viškovo:

Viškovo 31, 51216 Viškovo
Tel. 051 257 591
Fax. 051 257 591

Mladenka – The Gastronomy Home of Halubje Bell Ringers

In northern part of Viškovo centre, on a crossroad marked by a wooden statue of Halubje bell ringer, for already fifty years stands the Restaurant Mladenka. It was opened by Bezjak family in 1968. and has a near-legendary status ever since. We have visited the place in time of famous carnival, which features in Viškovo the Halubje bell ringers (Halubajski zvončari).

We were greeted by Mr Bezjak and his staff and taken to the table next to the big animal head, used by bell ringers in their traditional walks. The welcome was extended with homemade excellent herb brandy (travarica), an excellent aperitif by all Croatian standards. Restaurant’s interior is very pleasing, combining natural and local features of wood and stone. In a corner stands beautiful fireplace with real fire, adorned with specific wine jars – bukaleta. There is a whole local history written on the sides of porcelan jar, such as the traditional festivals, good wishes to the owners, and specifically of Halubje bell ringers.

Mladenka gave us a special treat – a fascinating introduction to the winter Carnival food! It is a mix of staple and comfort food in winter months, when heavy northeast bura wind make you feel bitter cold, although the temperatures never drop very low. This food is a traditional way to preserve strength, warmth, and health in these months.

One such dish is jota, probably most memorable winter dish for many older people in North Adriatic region, including Istria, littoral Slovenia and Italian province of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Italians call it iota, iotta, or minestra di crauti, and has several varieties. For example, in Trieste you will not find meat, while Gorizia version adds barley inside. After Second World War, following easier approach to meat, jota is being replenished with meat and potatoes.

Such was jota we tried in Mladenka. Jota is a thick stew, based on beans, sauerkraut, and potatoes. Essential parts of jota are dried meat cooked in the stew itself, bits of bacon, and zapešt (mix of bacon, parsley, and garlic). Put inside carrots and onions, bay leaf and olive oil, and jota will give you excellent combination of aroma and taste.

Sauerkraut is also unavoidable side dish for other gastronomic pleasures in Mladenka. These are famous sausages and pork steaks done in old fashion. One such thing is zarebrnik, dried pork chops, fried on both sides on fat, and then cooked in white wine (traditionally it should be local belica, but most restaurants serve it cooked in Istrian malvasia). No carnival can pass without sausages, which are often smoked and give excellent tone to the meal. Beside sauerkraut, Mladenka serves also cooked potatoes with fried onions, tomato, and bacon paste, also with bits of sausage inside. Everything mixes well in almost a main dish itself!

Mladenka is favourite place for lunches (marenda), when the restaurant is packed full with guests enjoying excellent local dishes for minimal prices. Depending on day and season, one may find here cod stew, minestrone, bean stew with sausages, various meat stews with pasta and gnocchi (a special treat would be the horse stew), local fish delicacies, and grill.

Specialties of the house include zarebrnik and sausages in wine, which we tried, but there are lots of other gastronomy delights in Mladenka. One such meal is horse steak in wine with parmesan cheese, a great combination for anyone enjoying the horse meat. Pork and veal shank is another treat, while those caring for fruits of the sea should really consider trying octopus baked under the baking lid. You can’t get more traditional than that.

As Viškovo is surrounded by forests and mountains, no wonder Mladenka offers game dishes as well. The restaurant will offer you venison sausages, mushroom dishes, bear, venison, boar meat, made both as a stew and as a steak, with various pasta on side. Steaks and grill come along, as well as many pasta dishes and some fish offers. Mladenka is not fish restaurant, and should be regarded as prime destination for meat dishes.

Pancakes and cakes make sweet finish, but if you want to try traditional stuff, you should go for presnac. This famed cake of Northern Adriatic is made in numerous different ways, based on the specific heritage in a particular place. In Mladenka presnac is done by owner’s grandma, and partly resembles local presnac recipes (halubajski, z Kuta). We tried it, and it is sheer mouth-watering experience, as it contains raisins and dried fruit. Carnival cannot go without fritule, made often with a drop of rum or brandy.

Mladenka has a solid wine list, and we enjoyed particularly good Merlot made by homestead Maurović in Istria. Full of fruity-berry bouquet and with a beautiful ruby colour, Merlot is very easy to drink but sadly comes in very small quantities. That choice of home wine is great decision of Mladenka staff.

Vozišće 28, 51216 Viškovo
+385 51 256 461, +385911256461

Sutla Valley – Rolling Hills and Heritage of Brdovec, Marija Gorica and Dubravica

The River Sutla flows as a border stream between Slovenia and Croatia, and is a tributary to the Sava River. The wetlands and hills on spot where Sutla and Sava join is first point of our two-day journey along the Sutla Valley. Three municipalities – Brdovec, Dubravica, and Marija Gorica, form a picturesque tourist destination very close to Zagreb, capital of Croatia.

Our first visit of the day was Lužnica Castle, a tremendous experience we would recommend to everyone visiting this area.

Food for Body and Soul in Castle Lužnica

Afterwards we got acquainted with the past of this region in the local museum of Brdovec. Very interesting archaeology collection from places Šibice, Javorje, Drenje and Sveti Križ shows long history of life here. Findings from the Stone Age include axes, a helmet, graveyard items, etc. Romans were also present in the region, as it lies on the main corridor from Zagreb to Ljubljana, has tranquil hills with woodlands and vineyards. Even today, the area is packed with weekend retreats, as well as noblemen homes and curias.

In fact, there are three castles which take the visitors’ breath away. Apart from Lužnica, there is Januševac Castle in Prigorje Brdovečko, one of the most representative classicistic castle in Croatia, built in 1830 for baron Josip Vrkljan, and later owned by several other families. Another beautiful example of manor house is castle and park in Laduč, built in end of 19th century on place of an older estate. Last owners were barons of Vranyczany-Dobrinović, an important family for economy, politics, and culture of Croatia on turn of century. Today, it houses a social care institution for children.

Brdovec is one of the oldest parishes in Zagreb Archbishopric, founded in 1334. Famous Croatian personalities were born here, such as Zagreb canon priest Baltazar Adam Krčelić, first Croatian professional journalist, literate and politician Ivan Perkovac, painter Mihovil Krušlin, and especially Ante Kovačić, greatest writer of Croatian realism. He was writing about life of ordinary peasants and their psychology. Where these peasants were living is visible in the Brdovec ethnographic part of museum, in two replicas of traditional village houses. Next to it, one can also see religious scenes made in wood by local artists.

In such traditional houses, homemade foods consisted of staples found in the area. One such place worth of visit is the rural homestead Stara Preša, in place Šenkovec. The homestead includes restaurant, large wine cellar, and two accommodation facilities for five people all together. Here you can try best gastronomy offer of the traditional and family background, such as Zagorje soup, štrukli soup, turkey with mlinci, roasted duck, filled veal breasts, filled chicken, roasted pork, suckling pig and lamb on grill, wild game salami, homemade sausages and cheese, cheese and sour cream, apple pie. Especially in winter, Stara Preša will offer you variety of hearty local products, such as venison stew with homemade gnocchi, pork with potatoes and sauerkraut, blood sausages, garlic sausages, etc. Wine cellar is especially pleasing as it includes some of the best wines in Croatia. House wines include Green Silvaner, Sauvignon, Yellow Muscat, Frankovka, and Pinot Noir.

Adresa Ivana Turka 50, Šenkovec
Tel +385 1 3391 129
GSM +385 98 9978 333, +385 98 1980 694

Kovačić was born in a village close to Marija Gorica, a hilly municipality with beautiful panorama all around. The municipality is famous for its parish church of Holy Virgin Mary, but even more for its official emblem. It is an elephant, and many wonder what does an elephant in Croatia? It is in fact an elephant ancestor from the Ice Age, whose remains were found in Marija Gorica.

Marija Gorica is also place of an old and excellent gastronomy venue Ladanjski Raj. Situated close to the centre of Marija Gorica, on Lipa Hill, with a tremendous view on Sutla Valley and Slovenian hills, this place caters guests already 43 years, seven days a week. Many locals come here for cheap and plentiful meals based on everyday nutrition of continental Croatia.

Rajski put 3, Hrastina, Marija Gorica
Tel +385 1 3395 806
Fax +385 1 3395 846

Third municipality, Dubravica, is moreover known for its forests and rare plants, including those from bogs and fens near the Sutla river. Also the emblem of Dubravica is one of such rare plants, endemic carnivorous plant. Most of these plants can be seen in special botanical garden in Dubravica. This municipality is also known for preserved old authentic village houses.

A special dialect of this region, beautiful castles, tranquil nature, Sutla-Sava valley and rolling hills with great vistas, old traditions and heritage together with some delicious homemade foods is indeed a very good reason to visit this area so close to Zagreb. Our visit would not have been the same without help and suggestions of Mr Stjepan Esih, director of Tourist Board of Sava-Sutla area, whom we thank in this way.

Ilije Gregorića 13, Brdovec
TEL.: 00385 3398-747
FAX.: 00 385 3398-747

Food for Body and Soul in Castle Lužnica

A massive Christmas tree stands decorated in front of an old castle. It is chilly but sunny, and the sun rays catch us through the naked branches of castle’s park. Lazy cat just finished stretching, wondering who the funny looking guys are. Here and there we hear cock crowing and we definitely saw at least one nun caring for the chickens. It is morning in Lužnica, peace on earth near town of Zaprešić in Zagreb county. It is our staring trip along the Sutla River, which makes the state border between Croatia and Slovenia. And it is good we began here, as Lužnica is indeed a very special place.

Lužnica is today owned by Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, and withing the castle and newly built monastery nearby works Spiritual-education centre Castle of Mary, led by the nuns. Beautiful castle is built in second half of 18th century, on a place of previous fort. It was built by noble family Čikulin, then Moscon, and finally baron Pavao Rauch, Croatian ban (viceroy) from 1908 until 1910, whose father was also very much involved in building the castle. Lužnica became main seat of the baron and his family amblem is seen in many places in the castle itself. In 1925 the castle became property of the Daughters of Charity and remains such until this day.

The place is near magical, as it offers stay, relaxation, spiritual rebuilding, conference halls, and standard programs run by nuns. The castle includes 8 hectares of English yard with a lake, woodlands, walking paths, banks and wooden tables, ideal for finding peace, relaxation, and meditation. Nuns are always busy with preparing spiritual and educational programs for every age and interest. Especially romantic feeling is when castle shuts down all electricity and makes light only with candles.

We were greeted with a bright smile of sister Tea and introductory talk went immediately to the Suggestions of Saint Hildegard. This saint from German Benedictine order was a writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, and lived from 1098 until 1179. She is also known as a Doctor of the Church because of her medicine writings. Based on the recipes of St. Hildegard, nuns recovered middle age cuisine, which tells what is good and healthy in both body and soul.

The recipes are taken from old books and mostly mix meat with vegetables and various natural spices such as cinnamon, mint, cumin, savoury, and clove. Sister Laura is true master of Hildegard’s cuisine and cares several times a year for the one-day event of Saint Hildegard. Advices for body and soul are then received by numerous guests. Among more pronounced dietary suggestion of St. Hildegard is use of spelt flour. Everything in the monastery is done with it, including coffee.

More elaborate meals include turkey or chicken, often with dill sauce. Sweets shouldn’t be too sweet, and you should very well take home two of the most famous souvenirs from Lužnica. One are anti-stress cookies, a complex mix of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, butter, sugar, and eggs; daily five cookies should be enough to feel well. With cookies you can also try Lužnica tea, sort of official souvenir, made from 15 various herbs.

Sixteen nuns care for vast castle, park, and monastery, pray and work for the benefit of all men. Always welcoming and always smiling, they bring happiness to every visitor. Many other products can be found in Lužnica, those caring for body and those for soul. Who would describe the beauty of long hallways, beautiful works of art, peace of the castle’s chapel, vistas from windows, blissfulness of spring, and comfort in winter?

For our part, we would strongly recommend everyone to visit Lužnica and take part on one of its programs. You can easily contact the castle and nuns here:

Duhovno-obrazovni centar Marijin dvor, Lužnica
Lužnički odvojak 3, HR-10290 Zaprešić
Telefon: +385(0)1-3350-944
Fax: +385(0)1-3311-487

Photos by: Andrea Seifert,

Croatian Gastronomy Secrets