Croatian Food & Wine at 400 Meters: A Sunday in Split

In Croatia’s Dalmatia region, the people are warm, engaging, and generous with invitations to share a shot of rakia, a plate of pršut (dry-cured ham) or a hearty peka meal. Our Dalmatian friends are no different, and in the past weeks they’ve been keeping us entertained with things to do in Split. Let’s just say that Croatian food and wine have been featuring prominently on the agenda.

One Sunday afternoon, we met our friends, Srđan and Jakša, in a cluster of seven towns next to Split called Kaštela. Although it was late morning, a few fishermen were still out on the bay. Jakša’s friend had recently delivered a fresh catch of seafood to Jakša’s seaside home and business. We would grill the fish later in the afternoon at Jakša’s vineyard cottage, 400 meters above the steel-grey Adriatic Sea.

The four of us hopped into Jakša’s so-called ‘vineyard car’ and as soon as we hit the bumpy roads on the way up Kozjak Mountain, we knew why Jakša favored the heavy-duty truck. The crates of lunch and dinner provisions danced  in their receptacles; wine bottles clinked against each other, and stray branches whipped against the windows of Jakša’s truck.

As we ascended the mountain, the views of the Croatian islands and Adriatic became increasingly phenomenal. Sensing Shawn’s and my enthusiasm at the sight of ruins and a tiny stone church, Jakša pulled off the rugged roads and allowed us to take in the sensational panorama. He and Srđan also encouraged me to ring the church’s bell. I felt incredibly mischievous as I pulled the long string, causing the sound of the bells to echo off the mountain and down into Kaštela.

Arriving at Jakša’s vineyard cottage, which he built himself six years ago, the views took our breath away. Split and the surrounding area now looked miniature in scale. The islands of Brač, Hvar, and Šolta emerged from the sparkling water, and the rocky slopes of Kozjak Mountain dwarfed Jakša’s stone house. Our friends lamented that we weren’t seeing the grounds dressed in summer foliage, but we were wowed by the sight of massive rosemary bushes, olive trees, and wild green vegetation. Jakša’s three acres of vineyards had the cliché million-dollar view. Actually, it was more like two-million.

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”

– Cesar Chavez

Jakša wasted no time in offering us a shot of walnut rakia, starting a fire in the stone fireplace, prepping a lunchtime omelette and the palamida (a beautiful mackerel-like fish known in English as Atlantic Bonito). As we would soon discover over a delightful glass of  Jakša’s own 2011 Marastina white wine, the omelette was studded with other goodies, including onions sautéed in Jakša’s own olive oil, bacon, sage, and escargots. The snails had been gathered from the premises. While I abstained from eating the bacon and snails to suit my ‘selectarian’ diet, the gentlemen devoured them with great gusto.

White wine gradually transitioned to a series of brilliant reds, including a 2011 Bedalov Zinfandel (Crljenak), a 2010 Kairos Zinfandel and a 2003 Stagnum Plavac. (Plavac is a blend between Zinfandel and Dobričić grapes.) Since we were in the ancestral home of Zinfandel, it seemed fitting to enjoy the exceptional bottles from Jakša’s vineyard, Kairos and Stagnum, while overlooking the surrounding hillsides on which Zinfandel wine has been grown for the past 1,000 years.

As Srđan, Shawn and I savored the 11 year-old Stagnum, Jakša tended to the fish grilling in the fireplace. Eventually, he brought out a stainless steel platter loaded with fish steaks, glimmering in olive oil perfection. He also presented a pot brimming with a mélange of 10 types of cooked, wild greens drizzled with olive oil. From fennel, to dandelion and wild onions, the simple combination was superb. Jakša would later marinate the remaining fish-steak in a marinade of olive oil, onions, red wine vinegar, and rosemary, creating leftovers that we would savor at our apartment in the following days.

“When I am creating these dishes, I am looking for flavors I grew up with. I am inspired by wine flavors my grandfather created, and the food flavors from my grandmother. As a result, they’re making their way into the future.”

– Jakša Bedalov

While relaxing on the terrace, we marveled at how natural and sustainable so much of the experience was. Jakša’s home was solar-powered and the food was sourced from his property or the nearby sea. And, he expressed a great passion for holding on to family traditions.

“When I am creating these dishes, I am looking for flavors I grew up with. I am inspired by wine flavors my grandfather created, and the food flavors from my grandmother. As a result, they’re making their way into the future,” he explained through Srđan, who acted as translator.

Srđan was quick to point out that such a practice is becoming increasingly uncommon, even in Croatia. Srđan himself runs the
Art of Wine, a small business dedicated to providing customized wine and culinary experiences to small groups of tourists. He partners with winemakers and chefs like Jakša.

“Jakša’s family eats just like this, and this is how he cooks for them. He also enjoys sharing his food and wine with others,” Srđan added.

Since Shawn and I have so far had a penchant for off-season-travel to Croatia, we asked Srđan what Dalmatian foods he might offer to guests who go on his summer tours.

“The menu usually includes smoked fish, mussels, oysters, peka, squid or cuttlefish. Young lamb and goat are exceptionally delicious in Croatia, and we slow cook them on a spit. We focus on local cuisine from local producers. Depending on the time of year, you’ll get what’s in season,” he said.

“I decided to dedicate time to telling stories of people like Jakša. People like him have stories that deserve to be told. We don’t want massive tourism to destroy this. Our experiences are for small numbers of people. We want people who will appreciate it.”

The sun had transitioned into a magnificent, orange hue. Since our Croatian friends had their backs to the sunset, I decided to draw their attention to it.

“Oooh,” Jakša said with awe, as if seeing it for the first time.

I find it refreshing that Jakša had seen so many of these sunsets, but yet he doesn’t take the beauty for granted.

It was a fitting way to end a splendid afternoon brimming with Croatian food, wine, and culture, from a Dalmatian vineyard 400 meters above the Adriatic. Hvala lijepa, friends!

Kastela View of Split Fisherman
Seagulls watch on as a fishing boat sits on the bay separating Split from Kaštela.
View from Kastela and Mussels
Gorgeous views of the Adriatic Sea from Kaštela, and clusters of mussels hug a seaside wall.
Rugged Vineyard Road on Kozjak Mountain
The rugged road weaving up Kozjak Mountain towards Jakša’s vineyard cottage and hillside ruins.
Church on Kozjak Mountain near Split
A small stone church on Kozjak Mountain. With our Croatian hosts’ urging, I couldn’t resist ringing the bell. :)
View of Adriatic from Kastela Vineyard
The stunning Adriatic Sea, and the islands of Brač, Hvar, and Šolta off in the distance.
Admiring view of Adriatic from Kozjak Vineyards
Shawn, Srđan and Jakša take in the stunning panorama before continuing our final ascent.
Jaksa and Srdjan and our basket of wine for the grill
Next to ruins on Kozjak Mountain, Srđan and Jakša pose by the “vineyard car.” On the right, a wine caddy holds bottles of Croatian red and white wine.
Tending Fire and Walnut Rakia in Bottle
Tending to the fire in which our fish will be grilled. On the right, a bottle of walnut-flavored Rakia, Croatia’s version of Grappa or moonshine. The stuff is so strong that I can only taste it with my tongue!
Fresh Olives and Palamida Fish in Split Croatia
Unharvested olives and the beautiful palamida fish, which Jakša would later grill for the four of us.
Picking Olives near Split Croatia
With a splendid view of the Adriatic Sea, Croatian islands and Split in the background, I pick olives from one of the trees on Jakša’s vineyard. The olive harvest usually takes place in October or November. Jakša explained that these trees were considered too young to harvest, so their olives were left unpicked.
View of Adriatic Sea and Croatian Islands from Kastela near Split

Views of Croatian Islands and Adriatic near Split

Croatian Marastina wine and wine cork trivet
Srđan pours a scintillating, straw-colored glass of 2011 Marastina, from the Bedalov Winery. As Srđan noted, Marastina is similar to a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc. On the right, corks creatively form a trivet to support hot dishes.
Fresh Rosemary for Croatian Cooking in Split
Jakša’s yard is dotted with waist-height bushes of rosemary, even in January. He uses the rosemary in copious amounts to flavor his Croatian cuisine.
glasses of Croatian wine marastina and hands toasting
Cheers! Or, as they say in Croatia, Živjeli!
Croatian food in Split Omelette with bacon escargot and onions and flowers
Golden hues abound: an omelette filled with escargots and bacon, a glass of Marastina, and the vibrant flowers of a succulent plant.
Croatian Grilled Seafood Lunch near Split
Jakša’s south-facing terrace is bathed in sunlight from sunrise to sunset. He referred to this as a “natural anti-depressant.”
Croatian food and bread in Split

Croatian Wine and View of Adriatic
Srđan described this view as having “Central Dalmatia in the palm of your hand.” On the right, he opens a 2003 Stagnum Plavac.
The Art of Wine Tour

Wine Tasting in Split Croatia

The Art of Wine Tasting Tour Split Grill

Mountains near Split Croatia

Croatian Food Grilled Palamida Fish Split
The cozy gathering room and kitchen in Jakša’s cottage and the fireplace where Jakša grilled our Croatian seafood, caught by his friend that morning.
Croatian Seafood Grilled Palamida
Croatian food at its best: grilled palamida, a mackerel-like fish known in English as Atlantic bonito. On the side, Jakša served a brilliant blend of ten wild greens (mišanca) which he picked himself from the surrounding hillsides. Both were drizzled with bountiful amounts of Dalmatian olive oil. We marveled that we’d never sampled these vegetables before!
Croatian Winemaker Sun Hat
Jakša’s father’s sunhat, which adorns his cottage fireplace. When I asked him about the hat’s origins, Jakša fetched his own and started hamming it up for the camera.
Winemaker Jakša Bedalov in Split Croatia

Grapevines in Winter in croatia
A dormant grape vine overlooking the islands of Central Dalmatia.
Kozjak Mountain Vineyards Split Croatia

Croatian Red Wine and Grapevine near Split 3

Croatian Rosemary
Rosemary bushes in the late afternoon sunlight.
View of Adriatic Sea and Croatian Islands near Split 2
Jakša’s vineyard and the view.
Wine Tasting in Split Croatia
Jakša, me, and Shawn.
Srdjan Mitrovic and Jaksa Bedalov on Art of Wine Tour
Srđan and Jakša.
Srdjan Mitrovic and Jaksa Bedalov on Art of Wine Tour2

Croatian dinner group shot

Sunset and Moonlight Split Croatia

Video of This Experience:

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • You’re probably thinking that we’re lucky to count Srđan and Jakša among our circle of Croatian friends, and we are! If you’ll be in the Split area and also want to learn about Croatian food and wine, get in touch with them through Bedalov Winery or the Art of Wine. Be sure to give them at least one day’s notice.
  • Shawn and I have spent two winters in Split, finding accommodation in apartments that would be packed during the summer months, but are practically empty during winter. During our first 2.5 months there, we stayed at the lovely Kaleta Apartments (affiliate link), which are located within Diocletian’s Palace. Our studio apartment (called the ‘Diocletian’s Suite’) featured much character, including Roman brickwork embedded into our wall, and overhead views of Split’s Old Town streets. Owners Novica and Negri were thoughtful citizen ambassadors too. Two years later, we returned to Split, staying in the charming Varoš neighborhood, characterized by quirky stone homes with hunter-green shutters. For those 2 months, we stayed in quaint studio apartments at the Guesthouse F (affiliate link). We especially enjoyed our tiny terrace and the kindness of our hosts, Anja and Miro. One of Guesthouse F’s apartments was originally a horseshoe maker’s workshop, which previously belonged to Anja’s grandfather. Shawn and I dubbed it the ‘horseshoe cottage’.
  • If you’ll be staying in Split for a few days, you might be interested in the Split Card, which gives you free entry to certain museums and galleries, and reduced rates to others. Back in 2014, people staying in Split for 3 days or more could pick up the Split Card for free, but as of 2016, there is a fee to purchase the card. The link above details the current cost, as well as the participating museums and businesses.
  • Need more ideas as you plan your Croatian holidays? This link contains an index of all my posts from Croatia.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. My husband, Shawn, created the video.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

67 thoughts on “Croatian Food & Wine at 400 Meters: A Sunday in Split

    1. Dalo, happy to hear that you enjoyed the video! My husband, Shawn, is the video enthusiast and creator behind that – he’ll be happy to hear your kind feedback.

      Learning all about a place’s food is such a great way to better understand the culture. We’re quite lucky to have friends that are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about Croatian cuisine!

  1. That’s the kind of eating experience that really appeals to me. Great local food, cooked with lots of local ingredients, olive oil and herbs, washed down with good local wine and sparkling company. The views are of course a tremendous bonus.

    1. Dorothy, hearing how much you enjoy local, authentic cuisine, it sounds as though a trip to Dalmatia might be in order. :) Having grown up in the cold American Midwest, I’ve been regularly amazed by the bounty of produce growing here even in the winter months.

  2. Looks like a lot of fun, I’ve just started drinking red wine after 11 years without, it’s so nice to be back on, dinner at the weekends is so nice now.

    1. Mark – to celebrate your return to reds, you should make a point to come to Croatia, the home of the original Zinfandel! Which wines are your favorites? As they say here in Croatia, Živjeli – cheers!

  3. What a beautiful location – love those scenic pictures of the sea. And what a beautiful celebration – foods prepared from scratch, some wine, a fire, good company – the age-old gesture of friendship.

    1. Annette, with mountain and sea views, I’m not sure our friend’s vantage point could get much better. Our friends do want us to see the vineyards when they’re in their full glory someday, but I enjoyed being in this spot on a crisp, winter afternoon. (That made the roaring fire all the more appreciated!) Are you enjoying the occasional glass of wine in Virginia to get you through the winter? :)

      1. Strangely, I don’t enjoy wine that much. I prefer a kettle full of freshly brewed tea with some local honey in it. And I don’t like beer at all (I know that’s heresy for a German to admit to…) :-)

      2. Though I used to enjoy the occasional Radler before going gluten-free, I don’t drink beer any more. If you favor herbal tea, you’d probably appreciate all the herbal blends harvested here, plus all the Croatian honey. We’ve recently discovered thyme tea, and have really taken a liking to it. :)

    1. Ina, thank you for re-blogging the tales of our memorable excursion.

      The expression that comes to mind when I think of this special day filled with kind friends, fantastic cuisine and natural surroundings is ‘la dolce vita.’ Does the Croatian language have a similar expression? Dalmatians do seem to have a way of experiencing the ‘sweet life’ so I’m sure there must be one.

  4. Tricia, the best ever of posts….. your husband Shawn is really mastering the videos, and you are just such a beautiful model in it!!! The islands of Brac and Hvar I have visited as a child, since my parents took us on many travels. You both seem to have such a blast of good times there. Enjoy what you get and what you can give!!! Bis bald, Cornelia

    1. I’m blushing. Thank you, Cornelia for the kind words. It’s true that I had fun introducing the latest of Shawn’s videos. When I was a child, I had a fleeting desire to be a broadcast journalist, so perhaps moments like this let me live that old dream. :) I really liked your quote, “Enjoy what you get and what you can give.” An important reminder to try to give back whenever possible while traveling.

      I think a return trip to Hvar or Brač is in order for you the next time you visit Europe. Hint, hint. :)

    1. Vesna, I’m glad you enjoyed the post – hvala lijepa for your kind comment. We feel lucky to be spending a few months in Croatia, among generously-kind people and beautiful scenery, so it’s a pleasure to share our stories here. Are you from Dalmatia, or another region?

      1. I am not from Dalmatia, I am from zagreb, but I the best time od the year for me is tj+he time spent in dalmatia – summer, seaside, sun…

      2. Zagreb is a city that I’d like to explore more. I was once there during the winter, and thought the architecture was quite interesting! And, our fingers are crossed that we might spend an upcoming summer in Dalmatia. It sounds very inviting.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the set, Carole. From beautiful food and wine to rugged natural scenes, there was so much to appreciate and photograph at this spot. I was pleased to see that our friend seems to appreciate his home’s surroundings just as much, even though it’s not a new spot to him.

    1. Hi Lynne, what a great thing to say! If you have any connections in the State Department, we’d love the role… :-)

      As you know, it’s the people at a destination that make a place come alive. We’re so lucky to have met Srdjan last year and to have struck up a friendship. And, here’s hoping you and Ron might have the chance to voyage here soon. I think you’d really enjoy interacting with the people, and all this wonderful culture, scenery, and history.

    1. That’s really kind of you to say, Carol – thank you! So much beauty surrounded us that afternoon; it was fun trying to capture it on film and then beam it out to the world. Now, since we’re experiencing some rainier days in Dalmatia, it’s nice to ‘escape’ via this set of photographs. :)

      1. My maternal grandparents were from Croatia. They fled when the Communists took over. By the way, I have my grandmother’s recipe foe Chicken Paprikash. I rock it.LOL. Hugs, Barbara

      2. Barbara, it’s great that you can remember your grandparents while rocking that Chicken Paprikash! Have you shared the recipe on your blog, or is it a top family secret? :) What part of the country were your grandparents from?

      3. I have not shared it except with my kids. I don’t know where. Grandpa was determined to be an American when he got here. His English was perfect, no accent. He was the best man I have ever known. He passed in 1972. Hugs, Barbara

      4. Barbara, I’ve heard that our German relatives who came to the United States were much the same way (wished to assimilate into American society). I’m sure your grandfather would be proud that you celebrate his Croatian heritage and remember him so fondly. :) Later this afternoon, I’ll be sharing our Croatian friend’s recipe for Zinfandel Risotto. It’s rather simple to make and quite fitting given that Croatia is the ancestral home of Zinfandel! Hope you enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

  5. Just beautiful!!! My husband’s Grandparents were both from Zagreb and we would love to take our kids there someday. Such beautiful pictures you have here of your travels.

    1. A Curious Gal, thanks for reading and for your compliment. Have your husband or his family members been back to visit Croatia recently? I can imagine how meaningful a visit would be for them. (I don’t have any Croatian ancestry, but greatly enjoyed tracing some of my family’s roots in a handful of other spots around Europe.) I haven’t been to Zagreb for a few years, and only spent a day there during the winter months. Still, it piqued my curiosity enough that I hope to return someday soon. I hope you and your family will also have the same opportunity!

      1. Hi Tricia, My husband’s sisters and his Father have been to Croatia but it has been years. My husband’s Dad was born here, but again, both his parents came over to the U.S. From Croatia before World War II. I remember when my husband’s Grandma passed away and left some land for the family over in Croatia. It was quite the predicament trying to sell the land and having to work with a Croatian attorney. My Father-In-Law had rebelled as a child and did not want to speak the Croatian language like his parents did, therefore, difficult for him to understand the language and laws of Croatia during that sale. Anyways, the country is indeed so beautiful and I would love to take my own family there someday. Enjoy your weekend, Tricia….nice to meet you. ~Barb

      2. Barb, indeed it’s a pleasure to meet you too. I have heard a bit about Croatian bureaucracy, so I can imagine what a challenge it must have been selling an international property from afar! In some respects, I can see why your father-in-law shied away from learning the language. Though it certainly would be easier learning it as a child from native speakers, we have a tough time with the pronunciation from time to time when we try to repeat words our friends teach us. Our native-speaking friends also say that the grammar is extremely challenging. That said, our vocabulary has now probably reached about 20 words. We’ve got the phrases for buying apples, peanuts, and eggs covered. :) I’ll be posting a recipe for Zinfandel Risotto this afternoon, as it was taught to us by our Croatian friend with culinary and winemaking skills. Do your husband’s family members ever try their hand at cooking Croatian cuisine?

      3. Hi Tricia,

        I’m so glad I found your blog. My in-laws are so passionate about their Croatian heritage and my hubby’s Dad wishes now he would have embraced it when he was younger. Isn’t that just the way it goes. My Father-in-law did do quite a bit of winemaking in his thirties, he’s now close to eighty so that has fallen by the wayside. We’ve had so many dishes made by my Mother-in-law that I’m sure most or some are Croatian cuisine. She just adored her Mother-in-law and I know she was taught how to make noodles by hand from Maria(my hubby’s Grandma). I so remember when my hubby’s Grandma would answer the phone, I could never understand her….this was when we first started dating. She’d basically say, “yes, yes,” and then call out, “Marco”…. My hubby is Mark. Enjoy Sunday….look forward to more posts!!

      4. Hi Tricia, I just got off the phone with my In-laws and they are going to follow your blog. It will be nice for my Father-in-law as he has not been back to Croatia since the 80’s. I would love to take my children there…it is on my bucket list👍👍🙋

      5. Barb, that’s lovely to have them on board; hvala for letting them know about my blog! Here’s hoping that the stories will transport you all virtually to Croatia and perhaps give you the extra push to return sometime soon.

    1. Jenna, the views were very special. Whenever we visit this spot, I keep hoping that no real-estate development will take place there. What’s surprising is that there’s only a handful of winemakers with vineyards on the slopes of this mountain today. Our friends told us that hundreds of years ago, the villagers actually resided there, and today you can see the remnants of their settlement (stone walls, presumably from terraced farming). If any development were to take place, it only seems fitting that it would be winemakers starting to grow more Zinfandel and other native varietals on the same slopes their ancestors worked hundreds of years ago! :)

  6. Hello,
    Great blog and food day in Kastela. Here you can find more information about this area – no commercial just pictures taken by two crazy foreigners that fall in love in that bay of Kastela [url=]KASTELA[/url]

    Have anyone told you the story of Romeo and Juliet of Kastela? [url=]ROMEOandJULIET[url]

    I hope you do not mind that I will put link to your blog on our facebook fan page…


    1. Dobar dan Aga, and thanks for your message! Unfortunately, your comment landed in my Spam folder, and that’s why I’m only now finding it. Hvala lijepa for sharing our story with your readers. Though we have left Split, we’re hoping to return to Dalmatia in the autumn; when we do, we’re planning on exploring more of the Kastelas. What are some of your other favorite spots there?

  7. Superbly described and beautifully photographed, Tricia.
    Have been in touch with ‘The Art of Wine’ and arranged to drop in the shop when I’m over in May.
    I’m already ludicrously excited about the prospect!!

    1. Jon, many thanks for these kind words about the post. As you’ll see in May, this area’s gorgeous and the slow-cooked food is photogenic. We met Srđan last winter, established a friendship, and are now having a great time learning about the region’s cuisine and wine through him. Make sure to try the Vinoleto, which Srđan dubbed the ‘Crowed Pleaser.’ It’s a blend of red wine, liqueur and spices. We first had it last March, and at the time noted how good it might taste as a Christmas holiday treat. Fast forward to this past December when we returned, and we confirmed that assumption. Aside from all the wonderful wine and food we’ve tried with Srđan, we also enjoyed a rather unique concoction of vanilla ice cream with Dalmatian olive oil drizzled on top of it.

      Will you be using Split as your base of operations? :) I’ll be curious to hear how your trip unfolds and am happy to help with any questions. Perhaps someday we can ask you for pointers about Pula, Rovinj and Zadar too.

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