Winding road takes us through evergreen forest, giving us beautiful vistas on the Klek rock. We pass the mountain village of Bjelsko, a traditional starting point for ascending the Mt. Klek. The road ascends more and more until it comes to a mountain valley of Jasenak. This village was once shepherd’s paradise, while nowadays most of its inhabitants live from tourism and wood industry. Only Mrs Dušanka Čavrag makes beautiful cheese, as it was custom when Jasenak was full of cattle.
The woodlands are part of the Ogulin fairytales and indeed it seems all the fairies and the woodland spirits inhabit this area. We weren’t first to discover this. Close to Jasenak, in an old hamlet of Konaci, there is an agritourism close to the Path of the Woodland Spirits. Don’t be scared; it is only a treasure hunt game, lasting 1,5 hours in the vicinity of the household. But the culinary fairytale may begin right at the wooden terrace of the Konaci Inn.
Family Jankov decided to leave the Croatian capital Zagreb and settle in the old homeland, where everyday existence is bound to the harmonious coexistence of man and nature. The family decided to build ecological raspberry plantation, which now exceeds two kilometres in rows. When season permits, you may taste beautiful these beautiful wood berries alone, with raspberry strudel, as raspberry jam or the homemade raspberry juice, all of which will make you a total raspberry fan. Apart from raspberries, the owners cares for elder, makes juices, ajvar, salads, and homemade potato, excellent ingredient for the delicious croquettes.
We came a bit earlier than expected but it was perfect time to begin our visit, as we enjoyed beautiful wooden terrace overlooking the lush bosket with just a few weekend houses and sipping just perfect homemade plum brandy (šljivovica). We wonder how is it to live in the wild, especially when kind summer sun fades and the murky cold weather takes its place. Indeed, to live here, notwithstanding the modern utensils, one is close to the life of forefathers. And just like them, the family Jankov knows how to cook homemade meals!
Some traits of this cuisine we tasted in the restaurant of the Konaci household. It is supplemented by products from the local area, notably the cheese coming from the Čavrag dairy. We had the opportunity to taste three kinds of cheese, cheese with chive, cheese with peppers, and smoked cheese, of which you can read more here.
Together with cheese we were offered with homemade pork sausage, with strong scent and rich texture, mild and nicely chopped. We ask what is necessary to make such a sausage. Mrs Jankov tells us first one needs lots of love – which doesn’t sounds so kitschy in this environment where everything is harsh – but also garlic, water, salt, pepper, and red pepper. The ingredients are mixed for three days, and whole procedure is made without recipe, according to the old ways of preparing food.
While talking with the owner, at times interrupted by the family’s heir two year-old boy, we scented a notably familiar sweet smell. It was sign that our main course is ready, bear steak with homemade gnocchi, and blackcurrant jam. Bear is one of the more odd meals in Europe. Gorski kotar and Kvarner are especially known for the bear dishes, mostly made as a steak or as thick goulash, served best with gnocchi. Another way of using bear’s meat is to make sausages.
Bear is protected in Croatia, but recently more and more are visible in the nature. In last few years winter hunting season is extended and more bears are available on the table. As all other kinds of wild, bear meat is hard and it takes time to make it right and soft. First, it is baked in bigger pieces, and afterwards cut in smaller ones and slowly stirred with same amount of carrot and onion. In this way, meat becomes softer and milder. Usually it is served with cranberry sauce, but we tried it with blackcurrants, which is indeed a terrific idea for a new taste. Blackcurrants are not as sweet as cranberries and it balances flavours.
In Konaci inn, the bear is soft, sweet, with beautiful sauce, and gnocchi are fresh and tasty. Ordinarily, dry red wine fits best with bear steak, but we weren’t sorry for the Jarec white wine, produced in the Zelina vineyards, in the vicinity of Zagreb. Still, Frankovka (Blaufränkisch) is much better option to saviour bear dishes. Local product is also smisan bread, made out of five kinds of crops.
Whether you are here to enjoy the nature, or to indulge yourself in venison, bear steaks, boar and roe deer goulash, grill, pasta, omelettes, or roast meat, you may also spend few nights in this wonderful natural surroundings. Just above the restaurant there are two triple rooms, equipped with TV and bathroom, but also with peace and quiet in fresh mountain air.