Dukat is tightly tied to the Slavonian soul. These are golden coins that people wear as a necklace, as part of the Slavonian folk costume. It is passed on though generations, making it one of the most valuable family heritages. Dukat is thus a name that preserves Slavonian culture and habits, and is regarded as very special. And when looking for a very classic and traditional Slavonian homemade cooking in Nova Gradiška, the Restaurant Dukat is prime spot.
Situated on the outskirts of the town, Dukat is beautifully styled as an old Slavonian interior. Wooden indoors welcomes the guests to an ideal family enterprise of rural gastronomy. The family Arić comes from nearby village of Gornji Crnogovci. Two brothers with their families travelled around and found their way to stay in Sava Valley and beautiful Slavonia. Their idea was to produce on their homestead, prepare in on the estate, and present it in their restaurant, which was once horse stable. And they have succeed marvellously!
Family cares for agriculture but also animals, especially the authentic Slavonian species of black swine (fajferica), Slavonian oxen (podolci), Posavac horses, deer, etc. Their products of traditional Slavonian cuisine are prepared according to the highest quality markers in the Nova Gradiška manufactory.
In the old household in Gornji Crnogovci the Arić brothers saw their dreams come true – they reconstructed the old home of their grandparents and made “Matin i Anin stan” (the home of Mate and Ana), a spectacular agritourism close to the Sava River. Orchards, agricultural buildings, and small lake are typical examples of traditional rural architecture in Slavonia, but the agritourism also offers two manifestations presented as heritage to this region, traditional Slavonian pig slaughtering (kolinje, svinjokolja) and traditional women games.
We have visited the restaurant itself to feel the essence of Slavonian hearty cooking and meaty products. With a sip of plum rakija, itself a valuable addition to the local gastronomy, we started the Slavonian gastronomic journey with care for history and originality. The best way to start is to have a plate of Slavonian favourites, homemade dried sausage kulin, sausages, bacon, greaves, cheese, and hot peppers.
Main dish is as meaty as it gets. Smoked pork chops, stuffed pork loin, filled turkey steak and an imaginative array of chicken dishes (chicken fillet in seed crust gives precedence to the pumpkin, sesame, and flax seeds; chicken fillet in ham sauce accentuates homemade ham, while Šokadija is jolly combination of chicken, wine, peppers, mushrooms, and herbs) are included in the best ready meals.
Specialities are rather more interesting. Baked Bread Soup may be considered to be more Central Croatian thing, but it surely gives a local characteristic in Nova Gradiška. Veal baked in a traditional oven with a side dish or rolled veal or turkey made in same oven all bear innovative local names (Bećar, Lola, everything connected to the bohemian lifestyle in Slavonia).
If you order it a day or two before, you may enjoy here roast lamb and baked veal, or you may opt for excellent freshwater fish, especially carp or fish stew (fiš paprikaš). Hake is also present, thus giving a nice alternative to the meat. Unfortunately, given the local readiness to go to the restaurants not so much for the specialties but for the grill, this place serves grilled meat, pizza, and even calamari, which is a sad story repeated all over Croatia.
Because meat specialties are so prevalent, the best wine to go along would be traditionally good Graševina, of which Slavonia is famous and respected, but even more so with excellent Frankovka Ferinčanci which we tried with Bećarski steak. Indeed, the time of the Slavonian red wines has come. And Dukat makes it even better in the natural atmosphere of Slavonian home and hospitality, with an obligation to visit the agritourism as well.
When military border was dissolved in 1871 and the area of Nova Gradiška was adjoined to the rest of continental Croatia, economy drive was huge. The place becomes regional centre, with a railway link to Zagreb from 1888. Economy, culture, and society began to develop. Among the many small enterprises a special one included the grand brewery of nobleman Dragutin pl. Lobe. It was a first steam powered brewery in Croatia and, because of the seasonal production, its first beer was called Ožujsko (March Beer). Accidentally or not, Ožujsko is still one of the two favourite beers in Croatia, produced massively in Zagreb.
Some beer barrels still survive and we were lucky to find one in the Bošnjak family courtyard in village of Sičice, south of Nova Gradiška, near the Sava River. The family is known not only because of the barrel, but because of the homemade craft beer of highest quality, made according to the family recipe. Two brothers, Mario and Dario, run the family homestead, and their father Ivan greets us with a sip of beer brandy (rakija), excellent homemade drink with addition of juniper. The taste is excellent and surprisingly mild, while juniper gives freshness and specific aroma.
Mario comes soon after and takes us in the traditional interior of tasting room, where organised groups can come and enjoy perfect beer. The tradition of craft family brews is not big in Croatia, but the big production is. Still, some families did made beer, due to a simple geographic reason. Wine does not grow near Sava, but there was an abundance of water. Some hundred years ago, Bošnjak family dig a deep well which didn’t run dry even in the greatest droughts. The well was used for mills and for the making of beer. Next to the homemade dried meat and rakija, grand-grandma of today’s owners also made a murky beer, kept in the earthen jars. At the same time, the family made corn rakija, which brings the similar technological process of making beer, as both drinks are made from crops.
Today, the beer is not murky but light and non-filtered, kept in the modern barrels and refrigerators. Their hobby became a new business in 2008 and ever since the Bošnjak Beer makes its brand. Spreading to the full-scale tourist project, today Sičice are a destination for beer lovers and all those who would like to find out how water, barley malt, hops and yeast combine in a beautiful drink.
And indeed it is beautiful! We have tried the original Bošnjak lager. It has nice amber colour and is made according to the traditional Czech recipe in Bošnjak’s manufactory. It contains only water, four kinds of barley malt, three kinds of hops and yeast. Fresh and energizing, non-pasteurised nor filtered, this is light beer that can be used every day. If bottled, it retains freshness for nine months. Bošnjak also makes dark lager.
While we were talking about old times and new beers, Mario brings us some green fluid. It is beer, of course, but green?! The secret addition remains the secret, but the intensive green colour shows also remarkable innovations and marketing strategies of Bošnjaks: this beer is presented for the Saint Patrick Day. And although the cyclists on the bike routes through the Sava villages may drive a bit more jolly, Bošnjak place is for sure one of the must-do gastronomy spots in and around Nova Gradiška.
Bošnjak Brewery is part of the Posavka education road, a local idea of connecting gastronomy, history, archaeology, folklore, and folk heritage, giving an insight in the unique and authentic Posavina architecture, and offering river tourism, hunting, adventures, and cycling. This road of 30 kilometres, leads through the rich Slavonian woodlands and along the Sava River.
OPG Bošnjak Ivan
Just north from Nova Gradiška, mere ten minutes drive from the city centre, lies a village Cernik. It is a lot older settlement than Nova Gradiška and boasts with historical and religious monuments. In 1525 the noble family Dežević gets permission to rule the baroque castle Cernik. Just some ten years afterwards the castle together with strongholds of Šag, Gračanica, and Podvrška falls into the Turkish hands.
Turks used the castle for their regional political, military, economy, craftsmanship and religious centre. It returns in the Austrian/Croatian hands in 1691. Later the castle is transformed in a baroque mansion which changed the owners frequently.
But Cernik is far more famous for its Church of Saint Peter and the Franciscan Monastery. The first Franciscans came here in the end of 17th century, when they lived in the wooden constructions. In 1728 the contemporary monastery starts to be built. Three wings of the monastery encircle the inner garden, while the fourth is closed by the Church of Saint Peter, a beautiful masterpiece of the religious architecture built in 1743/1745. The church has many ornamented altars inside.
But the real treasure lies in the monastery’s museum, where many archaeological artefacts from the Biblical lands are on the permanent display. The time spans from the prehistory up to the Turkish period and items are usually tied to the everyday life. There are also many Bibles and the older manuscript replicas on various languages. It also displays the Croatian translation of Biblical texts. The monastery also houses a very valuable cultural-historical library, among which two very rare incunabula, and some five thousand books of religious, artistic, literature, medicine, and natural content.
The rolling hills of Cernik are slopes of the tongue-twisting Psunj Mountain, the highest mountain of Slavonia (Brezovo polje peak is at mere 988 metres above sea level). Although quite low even by the Croatian standards, Psunj is beautiful place for outdoor pleasures, especially in summer when rich woodlands make so necessary shadows from the hot sun. Hiking, camping, cycling, hunting and fishing are among great possibilities of enjoyment on Psunj.
Many head to the Strmac destination, which is situated in a picturesque mountain valley made by the Šumetlica creek. The air is excellent here and very suitable for the modern psychiatric unit of the Saint Raphael Hospital, run by the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God. In Strmac is also a mountain hut of the Strmac Mountaineering Club from Nova Gradiška, founded in 1932. They care for the hiking trails and paths all over Psunj and one of them leads to the Gračanica Fort, a unique bastion from the Middle Ages, possibly built by the mystical Templar Knights.
When one crosses the river Ilova and comes from the Central Croatia to Slavonia everything seems quite wide. On one side there are reach valleys of Sava River, while on the other low mountains dot the horizon. This is the region where Christianity defended itself in history from the Turkish invasions, and many people still regard themselves as border guards (graničari). First bigger city on the way is Nova Gradiška, a cosy town with specific Slavonian charm and beautiful natural surroundings.
Spending two days in Nova Gradiška was barely enough to learn all the potentialities of this micro-region, only 1,5 hours drive from the Croatian capital Zagreb on the Zagreb-Lipovac motorway and Zagreb-Vinkovci railway. There is lots of history here, lots of religious spots, but also beautiful Slavonian food, hearty and pleasing. And it comes with a wide Slavonian soul, of which this eastern Croatian region is especially proud of.
The city itself is rather new for Croatian standards, and is sometimes called the youngest Croatian city. It was founded in 1748 with support of Vojna Krajina, a special militarised cordon sanitaire that kept the border with the Ottoman Empire for centuries. In 1754 the first building made of bricks was made; it was the Church of Saint Theresa, the old court of law and the prison. Later, the Parochial Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary fulfilled the urban core of the town. These form today the city centre with the central park and square of King Tomislav. Unfortunately, the town was heavily destructed in the Homeland War in early nineties, although just a few areas still have the war scars.
The church of Saint Theresa is indeed an architectural jewel of Nova Gradiška and is known as the stone music. It gives a special significance to the town’s vistas but is excellently seen through the glass roof of the Tomislav Hotel’s cafe bar, which is settled just next door. The central park also hosts much larger parish church of Immaculate Conception, celebrated for the artistic masterpieces of Croatian religious painter Celestin Medović. The park also has Main Guard, the complex combining the old court and prison, with outside vaults. Park itself is French-style park with a central fountain.
The central walking area is the Ulica Slavonskih graničara – the Slavonian border guards’ street. It boasts secession-style buildings but also it is the best place to look at everyday life in the city and behaviour of its citizens. Just south of it is the Square of dr. Franjo Tuđman, Croatian first president, with several statues and monuments dedicated to the Croatian defenders and independence.
Every season brings new joys in Nova Gradiška, and given its surroundings and closeness to the capital, it is the great introduction to the southern Slavonia, land of bohemian people (known as bećar or lola), whose best representative may be famed Croatian poet Matija Antun Relković.
Nova Gradiška is also a very good place to savour excellent Slavonian foods. Specific cuisine of eastern Croatian region is heavily influenced by the Hungarian and Turkish cooking, and as such it is spicier than anywhere else in Croatia. Slavonians like to use paprika and garlic, and they are known for a table where cooking is plentiful, meals hearty and meaty, and always followed by excellent white wines such as Graševina and Traminac, and also red Frankovka.
Rich homemade dry meat products are among the most recognisable features in Nova Gradiška. This includes kulen (kulin), the paprika-flavoured sausage, often served with cottage cheese and pickles, and its sub-variation kulenova seka (literally Kulen’s sister) which is basically the same thing but with different shape and size. Every kind of sausages, but also cracklings and bacon are added to it. All of these you may try to find in local specialised markets in Nova Gradiška, such as the family run Tworek store.
In a more pronounced way you can eat it in the several Nova Gradiška’s restaurants as well as in the agritourisms and family homesteads around the town itself. We have visited the Dukat Restaurant, but very interesting menus may be found in the Slavonski biser restaurant and hotel, very close to the railway and bus station, and in the Tomislav Hotel on the main square.
Going out of the town, the Opođe homestead in Cernik, Slavonski sokak in Novi Varoš, as well as the Eco-Ethno Village in Kapela and Matin and Anin stan (which is part of the Dukat experience) are all cherished as places of homemade food, rural architecture, welcoming hosts, and grandma style accommodation. It is Slavonia on your doorstep!
Tourist Board of Nova Gradiška
Ulica Slavonskih graničara 7
Tel/fax: (035) 361 494
Photos by: TZ Nova Gradiška & Taste of Adriatic
The WineRi festival also included the association Jarbola, named after an autochthonous grape sort from Zvoneća, a mountainous area in the Rijeka’s hinterland. For centuries people cultivated this sort in “Zvonejske njivi”, a splendid example of rural architecture of stone dry walls, akin to the Bakar Prezidi.
Zvonejske njivi date somewhere between 15th and 17th centuries, and cover an area of 60 ha, on rather high 300 up to 450 metres above sea level. This height determines a distinctive acidity of local wine. Today only some 30 per cent of dry walls are cultivated, but nevertheless the locals are happy they are preserved as monument of culture since 1994.
Wine maker Franko Ružić and other Zvoneća enthusiasts (Alen Kinkela, Marin Ružić, Alen Ružić, Gordan Kinkela, Đani Sušanj, and Ervin Stanić) gathered together in 2003 and with help of Institute for agriculture and tourism in Poreč realised a project of protecting the autochthonic sort Jarbola. This authenticity was proved by chemical analysis.
Unprecedented love for culture and heritage drives this association to work hard and accomplish remarkable renewal of the Jarbola. In 2005 they harvested first vine in old dry walls and cared for it full five years to deliver first drops of real wine. Jarbola is not an easy sort. The grape skin is thin, the bunch thick, and this makes it vulnerable to sickness.
Once accomplished, Jarbola gives full quality and freshness, with aromatic potentials, and various possibilities to explore blending it with local food. It has light yellow colour with green nuances, fruity bouquet with some blossoms and very strong aroma of green apple. Today only family homestead Ružić bottles this wine in a unique Kvarner product – Jarbola Ružić.
Zvoneća 17, Jurdani, 51211 Matulji
+385 91 509 7932
Photos by: OPG Ružić
For the first time town of Rijeka hosted an international wine event in its historic Governer’s Palace. An enjoyable event gathered over 70 wine makers on February 22 and 23 to somewhat uncharted territory of wine exploration in the third Croatian largest city and the country’s major sea port.
B2B meetings, lectures, workshops, and not to forget the WTF – Wine Tasting Fest, of course – party in the “Bačva” club and Wine&Coffee Bar “Kod Zajca” adorned the oeno-gastro event with participation of Par Business School, several Croatian counties and cities, tourist organisations and high-level officials.
The grand palace of Rijeka’s history was too small for such a big number of exhibitors and guests looking to try some new stuff and recollect the old wine love. Our own grand tour of the palace began in the atrium, where some of the most famous Croatian wine makers were present. As it was expected in the end of Carnival season, the wine makers and their friends were greeted by the bell ringers.
The entry point occupied Curo distribution, the Jarbola Association with a specific wine story of authentic Zvoneće wine, and Krk’s favourite Ivan Katunar whose žlahtina and chardonnay are nationally famous. Going clockwise, Katunar’s neighbour in clifftop town of Vrbnik is Gospoja wine hotel, a boutique hotel of local traditional architecture and indeed an enjoyable place to spend your wine holiday. Local Rijeka’s pride is LikeRi, a liqueur home of lemon and mint, and aronia liqueur, but special varieties include the white wine Žlahtina’s liqueur and especially interesting cannabis brandy MamyJuana.
This local introduction to the Kvarner wines included also other members of Žlahtina Association, named after famed golden island Krk and Vinodol Wine, which include prize winning Pavlomir Winery (where old traditions of wine growing have been renewed), Šipun Winery, House of Wine Ivan Katunar, Agricultural Association Vrbnik, and Nada Winery (that includes beautiful restaurant), all based in Vrbnik, centre of wine production on largest Croatian Adriatic island. Next to the littoral, the home county also proudly presented excellent and unique story of Vid Arbanas from Gorski Kotar, with his splendid brandies made from handpicked herbs and roots.
Slavonia was overwhelmingly presented at this fair. Slavonia has excellent conditions for winegrowing and winemaking. In the past, the wines of Slavonia were often found on the tables of emperors and noblemen and it is this tradition that the present Slavonian vineyards derive from: Srijem, Baranja and Đakovo in the east and Kutjevo in the west of Slavonia.
The atrium featured excellent Slavonian wineries, Galić from Velika (with standard but top wines from this terroir); Belje wines which proudly presented its “Danube Prince” Graševina that is awarded with numerous praises; and Pinkert from the Baranja’s Kneževi Vinogradi, more than a century old vineyard where Frankovka, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Graševina give the best from the land bounded by two rivers, Drava and Danube. Here is also Trs Winery from Ilok, the easternmost Croatian town, which is an agricultural community that produces “eight jewels of the Srijem terroir” (Graševina, Rhein Riesling, Chardonnay, Traminer, Frankovka, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Franka). The same wine area is home to the Krešić Winery from Šarengrad near Vukovar.
Buhač from Ilok further accentuated the red wines of Slavonia, while Krauthaker, Perak, Mitrović, and Tandara present the legendary wine territory of Kutjevo, wine growing area known from Roman times to the Templar Knights, monastic orders, right to the present day, giving an enduring name of Vallis Auera – the Golden Valley. Iuris Winery from Dalj is yet another example of ever greater tradition of Slavonian wines. This tradition is well known in the Feravino, which inherits two hundred years of tradition of wine making in Ferinčanci region. Wines from Erdut is another Slavonian brand, especially considering the white wines. Vitis Josipović is a great choice for anyone into the sparkling wines.
From Pleternica arrives Vina Markota, a rather unknown winery but with a very nice story of wine-and-rose, which the family cultivates together while offering classic Slavonian white and red wines. Also from Baranja one should try Kusić, Szabo, and Dobrovac wines. Ever growing demand is for the Slavonian red wines, which have great possibilities, such as the line of red wines from Papak Winery. This trend notwithstanding, white wines still make majority of Slavonian offer, such as the beautiful wines from Agricultural Association Orahovica which also grows hazelnuts and freshwater fish. Many Slavonian family homesteads now combine wine growing with additional agricultural business; one of these is Glavaš from Bizovac which also makes excellent semi-hard cow cheese.
Second most presented Croatian region was Istria. Wine has become a must in Istria. Naturally, times have changed, and recently, wine is not so important for the economic prosperity of this region; however, it strongly accounts for the development of a unique Istrian identity.
Noble presenters of Istrian heritage included north-western Istrian wine celebrities such as Prelac from Momjan, Savudrija’s Degrassi, Umag’s Monte Rosso, Buje’s Franković and Kabola; and Moreno Ivančić from Novigrad. This Istrian area is among the most developed wine area in Croatia. Malvasia, Teran, and Muscat grow beautifully here, and wine makers care for the heritage of local viticulture.
Poreč terroir was presented by Banko Winery, which also produces olive oil, while other Central Istrian Wineries were presented by family Deklić which will in 2020 celebrate a centenary of its existence; Legovina from Kaštelir with its beautiful Malvasias; Poletti, where six generations care for the viticulture; Vicinim, where you can also try donkey milk and meat; and sparkling wine producer Peršurić Misal from Višnjan; Pilato and Franc Arman from Vižinada. From Gračišće arrives a newbie Domaine Koquelicot, which produces French style burgundy wines, in a unique and still untested mix of Istria and France.
Medea was a wine emissary from Southern Istria, delivering its “passionate wines”, while from Eastern Istria comes Licul Romeo. A very special Istrian representative is Buzet’s Aura, the house of exclusive Istrian brandies.
Other regions were rather scarcly presented. From Dalmatia came only Skaramuča from Pelješac, giving a pleasure of tasting famous Dingač, while Kopjar from Budinšćina extinguished Zagorje eco-wine with Sauvignon Blanc, Rhein Riesling, and Pinot Noir. Kos-Jurišić winery from Donja Zelina presented the Zelina terroir near Zagreb.
As Slavonia was in the centre of interest on this festival, it is only natural to learn more about palates going along rich red wines and gentle whites of this historical Croatian region.
We await for this noble wine gathering to become a tradition in the European Culture Capital 2020, in the Port of Diversity.
Who is not in favour of chocolate? How about wine? In Brtonigla, a gastronomy paradise near Umag in Northwest Istria, you can easily pair both. For already five years, Tourist Board of Brtonigla prepares Choco&Wine Fest, a unique gastronomy festival in Croatia. New trends in chocolate world and local sweet delicacies have been presented together with wine champions of this Istrian municipality.
Same weekend hosted Seventh Brtonigla Adventure Trek, which gathered some 300 trekkers from several countries. Three trails, of various length and intensity, led many to appreciate the beautiful nature of this part of Istria. All of them could later come to the Brtonigla’s main square in the chocolate tent.
Sweet sense of chocolate tears the air inside, where many chocolate masters showed their expertise. Especially interesting program of cake decoration by Dragica Lukin from Vila Soši in Umag was indeed a delight. Dragica and her son Igor Lukin showed how the chocolate is rightly tempered and decorated. Vila Soši is somewhat a legendary sweet centre of Umag, dedicated to the preservation of traditional sweets and heritage of Croatian delicacies.
Choco art & show of Italian sculptor Stefano Comelli featured the chocolate jewellery, especially chocolate rings, favourite among kids and adults. As the carnival season is high, Vili Radonić from Pula made chocolate masks.
Wine was in no shortage either. Sunny weather gathered also many wine enthusiasts who indulged in wine tastings of renown Brtonigla wine makers Novacco, Veralda, and Ravalico. Istrian Malvasia and Muscat are among the best wine sorts coming from these wine cellars and go excellent with various chocolates.
The tent in Brtonigla was too small for all the guests arriving to this first gastronomy festival in the year in Istria.
Photos by: Elvis Horozović