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Vrlika - Gastronomy of Field and Karst

On a summer morning in Vrlika, you can feel all the hustle and bustle of the Dalmatian towns in the hinterland. Less than an hour's drive from all major Dalmatian coastal towns, Vrlika still seems to be an almost mythical place of old stories and monuments, fascinating folk culture and a wonderful natural landscape that includes the artificial lake Peruča, and hiking trails along Svilaja and Dinara.

Old Vrlika is located at the foot of the Prozor fortress, which was built at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries on the territory of the Cetina prince Ivan Nelipić. It's worth going up to it, even if you don't have a car (we don't have that experience, as we pulled up to Prozor on all four wheels). You enter the fortress at your own risk, but just before the fortress itself, there is a wonderful viewpoint on Vrlika field, Peruča lake, the city itself and the surrounding area, the right place for pictures that will cause mass reactions on social networks!

In the very center of Vrlika, we sit with the director of the Tourist Board, Dijana Maras, and talk about the tourist offer of this region. "I can say that there is no guest who accidentally "wanders" into Vrlika. They must be coming in a targeted manner because we are not on the highway, but on the "old road" towards Split", Dijana tells us as we look at the beautiful promotional material of Vrlika and Dalmatian Zagora. They do not suffer from large numbers of guests because they are a smaller place and a large number of tourists would quickly overwhelm them. "We need quality guests, which we have in our private accommodation. In Vrlika, we have many private renters and one campsite. With slow growth, we strive to awaken other tourist offers such as water sports, hiking, cycling and other outdoor activities", explains the director.

Vrlika is also a place that is extremely rich in folk culture and gastronomy. The Vrlika folk costume belongs to the very top of the national ethnographic treasure of Croats. The first weaver took the basic ornament from the old Croatian stone plastic, which was turned into decoration and tradition with its skilled fingers. From ancient times to the present day, Vrlika has cultivated the custom that during Holy Week a group of men from the Brotherhood of the Guardians of Christ's Tomb take part in the rituals and processions of Good Friday, guarding Christ's tomb.

All the power of this karst can be heard in ojkavica, the oldest type of singing in Croatia. A shaking of the voice, a special way of singing from the throat, is characteristic of ojkavica. Until recently, this way of singing served people as a way of daily communication when doing various jobs or traveling in horse-drawn caravans, long evening by the fireplace, and as a way of cheering up shepherds when guarding sheep.

Vrličko kolo is widely known because of Vrlika's history, and also because of the perseverance of the cultural and artistic association "Milan Begović" (named after the famous writer from Vrlika), where they strive to preserve customs and nurture traditions. Vrličko, or silent kolo, is a folk dance that is most often performed in Zagora. UNESCO included the silent kolo in its list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

Vrlika has always been a commercial center, a place where agricultural products from the surrounding villages were traded. Even today, these villages are directed towards Vrlika, primarily Podosoje, Kukar, Garjak, Vinalić, Ježević, Kosore, Cetina, Kijevo, Civljane, Maovice and Otišić. On the other side of Peruča Lake is the village of Koljane, but these are only the remains of the former most fertile and richest village in the Vrlika region. Most of it was submerged in the sixties of the twentieth century, together with the house where the literary Dinko Šimunović spent his childhood.

Wheat, rye, barley, millet and corn were grown in that fertile field. We talk to many older people from Vrlika and ask them what they ate when they were little, and the answer is often the same: cabbage and potatoes, wild greens and sometimes dry sheep, goat or pork meat. Today, these dishes make us drool, but once they were considered poor people's food, just like the famous Vrlika uštipak. In addition, many houses had pears, apples and plums, and the care of these local varieties is still managed by Ante Budiša, who lives on the shores of the lake. In the past, Vrlika was known for planting hemp, flax, tobacco and mulberry, for the needs of the textile and tobacco industry, and silk industry. All this has long been suppressed and only lives on in the records of historians and ethnographers.

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.

Although it has a good climate, viticulture in Vrlika does not have such a long tradition as elsewhere in Dalmatia. The existing vineyards were usually family owned, raised for their own needs to enjoy wine. When the vineyard is dug or at the time of harvesting or plucking of grapes, family and friends gather, which according to the old custom is also a reason for rejoicing. The grapes are usually picked around Rožarica, at the beginning of October. Young wine is made from the grapes, which in Vrlika is called slačica, and brandy is made from the remains of the grapes. Today, there are not many commercial winemakers in Vrlica, except for Cvitko Teskera, whose vineyards are in Kijevo, and whose wine cellar and winery is in Vrlika.

The Teskera winery is located in the very center of Vrlika. Thirsty travelers can get to know it as the first attraction of this town because it is located right next to the bus station, giving wine lovers a nice insight into the tradition of winemaking at the foot of the Dinara Mountain. We are welcomed by the owner of the winery, Cvitko Teskera, a native of Kijevo, who is among the few who returned to winemaking as a means of managing the scarce land in his region. He proudly calls his winery modern in an ancient karst region.

Large herds of sheep and goats have lived on the karst pastures and slopes of Svilaja, Dinara and Debelo brdo since time immemorial, along with the occasional cow, some oxen, but also horses. This was once the most profitable part of the Vrlika economy, as well as the backbone of today's gastronomic offer. Peka (meat under the baking lid) is still the most preferred dish, devoted equally to lamb and pork, but poultry is not far behind, especially turkey and rooster.

The flavours of arambašići, sarma made of mixed minced meat without rice, without which the Christmas table is unimaginable, are influenced by Sinj, which is a little further south. On fasting days, but also for pleasure, homemade trout from Cetina or cod is prepared. Prosciutto and pancetta are cut, and if you want to experience a real country dish, it's pura, corn porridge, topped with varenika or sour milk. Two types of cheese were made in the mountain. Young and unsalted cheese from a wooden mold (zdilica) and salted cheese stored and dried in the special bags. The latter is particularly popular because it has a special form of lumps, it has a spicy taste and is known to everyone simply as sir iz mišine.

Traditional households still make pogačice (cheesecakes), garitula, and padišpanja as the Vrlika native cakes. Children used to enjoy bula, cracked corn kernels, known as town popcorn. However, the unparalleled gastronomic pleasure is Vrlika uštipak (fritter). We tasted it in several places, including at the multiple champion in the international competition in making Vrlika uštipak. Director Dijana Maras tells us: "Everyone who comes to Vrlika must try Vrlika uštipak, which is our delicacy that we are all proud of. There is also prosciutto, cheese, peka, and we also have Vrlika pogača. This year, the Ninth World Competition in the preparation of Vrlika uštipak took place. Everyone likes to show off their methods, but some have to be the best. The jury consists of our fellow citizens who are the most competent to decide on the winner. There are usually between ten and fifteen teams, mostly with two persons. Samples of uštipak are taken before a jury that pays attention to the appearance, colour, saltiness, crispness, whether it is fried in fat or oil."

Česma is a picturesque park from the 19th century, where one of the numerous tributaries of the Cetina River springs. As a gathering place, it had great importance in the life of the people of Vrlika and inspired the writer Milan Begović to write the libretto for the most popular Croatian opera "Ero s onoga svijeta". Therefore, it is very appropriate that the restaurant in that park, the only one in Vrlika, is called "Ero", and it is even more appropriate that it is run by the Lelas family, which has won first place in the world competition for the preparation of Vrlika uštipak (local fritters) on several occasions!

Arriving in this place between the stone plains below the Dinara and the fertile fields of the Cetina River brings plenty of original flavours, hospitable people and beautiful nature.

Tourism Board of Vrlika

Put Česme 4, 21236 Vrlika

+385 21 827 460 +385 21 827 460 +385 91 583 8611



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