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Vrlika enjoyments at Ante Budiša

Lake Peruča contributes greatly to the beauty of the Dalmatian Zagora. On the shores of this large artificial lake there are villages that enjoy wonderful views and experiences of nature, and perhaps the luckiest are those in the apartments of Ante Budiša, who also prepares traditional dishes from Vrlika and Dalmatia in his tavern. We inevitably visited it and enjoyed the conversation, hospitality and flavours from the family farm.

Ante was born and raised in this ancestral home. High up in the hill, some 800 meters above the sea, there is a preserved old stone house that has been renovated, equipped with beds and a fireplace, and where certainly guests leave with an unparalleled experience. But the story of the Budiša family developed somewhat further down, as Ante himself says, in the village of Budiše, cadastrally in Koljane, the place Garjak, and the local community Ježević. These are all beautiful places on the eastern side of Lake Peruča. At the time when this lake was not there, there was a wide field here, about which the Croatian writer Dinko Šimunović, who spent his entire childhood in this area, wrote a lot.

We sit in the cozy living room, surrounded by a fireplace and antiques from the past, and we taste great homemade brandy and talk about the beauty of the region as well as about this noble idea of the origin of a tavern and an agricultural household that goes hand in hand with guest apartments. Most of the visitors are foreigners who often wish to extend their stay, and regularly return to Budiše. We soon understood why!

Ante Budiša worked in the Croatian Navy for twenty years, and after retirement he returned to his native region. In 2000 he and his father started raising sheep and planting pears. When his father died in 2008, he took over the stone house properties of his relatives, and especially the oldest house in the village, which has more than 200 years of existence. You can see it at the entrance itself, because the guests first bow to the host, considering that they pass through a low door. That inclination is then answered in a great offer that outlines the nature and culture of Vrlika's homeland!

The former navy commander now has nine donkeys, twenty goats, dogs and cats, pears and a whole range of vegetables grown in a garden that stretches all the way to the lake. Few people in Dalmatia care for donkeys, but Ante Budiša explains his noble vocation of caring for these animals: "I got donkeys as cultural monuments, because in the past they were everything! There were no tractors, and not so many horses, donkeys carried everything. They are not demanding, they adapt very well to the conditions, and they also give the milk that we offer to our guests".

These guests have been staying in the apartments since 2015, and they arrive every day of the year. On the lake itself, two small boats, six kayaks, pedal boats, deckchairs can be used free of charge, and if they want to explore the surroundings in a natural way, they can also use bicycles. We assume that the guests' greatest happiness is when they sit down at the table and taste local food, which we were looking forward too. It is a special attraction for guests to sit by the fireplace in winter, when the fire warms the soul and body, and especially gives pleasure in tasting traditional Vrlika cuisine.

Vrlički uštipak (Vrlika Fritter) is certainly among Budiša's favourite dishes. We watched firsthand how they are made and learned in small steps how to create the perfection of taste. Every year, Ante Budiša competes in the world championship in the making of Vrlički uštipak. Although he never won the first prize, he prides himself on his methods, of what was once poor food turned into a specialty of Croatian gastronomy. He mixes up to four types of home-made flour with eggs, salt, a little sugar and grappa, and bakes in home-made lard, paying close attention to the density. Some people say that the taste and smell remind them of cinnamon, but that beautiful aroma is the result of domestic wheat that grows in Dinara region.

One always encounters hikers and nature lovers here, who will certainly welcome the fact that Ante Budiša gets its energy from solar panels. They enjoy cottage cheese, then sheep's and cow's cheese, which are less and less often found in domestic production. Ante is afraid that all this will die out as a local craft, because there are fewer and fewer people living on the banks of Peruča.

But while we are there, there will also be homemade cheese, eggs, chickens, ducks, roosters, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash. All of this is grown in the immediate vicinity of the old house, including several types of pears from which Ante Budiša makes juices. Pears do well, they rarely require intervention, although there are years when there is no fruit. All of this is subject to the natural conditions of this region. The juice should not be too sweet, about twenty percent of apples are added.

While we talk about all the advantages and disadvantages of modern agrotourism, we taste freshly prepared fritters and play with little kittens. Maybe food was once prepared on the fireplace, but at Budiša, you come across an innovative and yet traditional way of baking. The lid made of a big tractor saucer is replaced with handles and this handy wok becomes a great base for gas grilling, where the temperature is measured in the smallest units, just like the time.

Because of this craftsmanship, we enjoyed the wonderful homemade meat that is baked on homemade lard that the Budiša family melts themselves. Juicy and sweet potatoes accompany this opulence of taste and give a unique pleasure on the shores of Peruča. We enjoyed a rich appetizer and main course, which was accompanied by cabbage from the garden. Everything is homemade and full of flavour!

All this gives strength to the guests who decide to climb the highest peak in Croatia, Sinjal on Dinara (1831m) or the peak of Svilaja (1508m), from which there is a wide view of both the Vrlika region and all the way to the sea. Those who are less ambitious will enjoy a visit to the Plate Bridge, made of stećak stone from the source of Cetina, the Ćulum Cave, which looks much smaller than reality, or a simple walk along Vrlika and a visit to its proud fortress Prozor.

Of course, every visit inevitably includes Dalmatian prosciutto, a protected product of this region, which is dried with the smoke of dry hornbeam and then ripens in the Dinaric wind. There is also pancetta, and they are also proud of the Dinaric honey, made from the hardworking bees that are looking for their place among the wild grasses.

There is immense enjoyment in the stone palace of Ante Budiša, which offers a very special experience of the original enjoyment of the Dalmatian Zagora. Every visit is completely intentional, so it is best to go on the road to Ježević, the hamlet of Budiša, in the end of harsh but exceptional natural beauty, and enjoy the tastes and smells of the Vrlika region:

Apartments & tavern Ante Budiša

Garjak 57, Vrlika

+385 98 769 286

Photos: Taste of Adriatic & Ante Budiša

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