Friday, 22 January 2021

22 January: Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia

January 22 2021 – January 22 is Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia. Marked significantly in continental winemaking regions, its folk traditions pre-date Christianity and are celebrated with food, wine, music and merriment

Nearing the end of January, it's not uncommon to see snow on the fields of Croatia. The ground can be hard, brittle, frozen. There's little to be done in them right now. And yet, on 22 January in Croatia, winemakers traditionally head to their vineyards. They do this not to undertake a day's work – for today is a day of rest. They instead do this to mark the tradition of Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia.

As a name, Vincent has many variants, Vinko being one popular in Croatia. Similarly, Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, is also known by several different names in the country, depending on the region. You can hear it called Vinceška, Vincekovo, Vincelovo, Vinkovo and even Vinceće.

Vincekovo_GVT-2019-14a_1.jpgVincekovo marked with wine and meat in traditional folk costume in Varaždinske Toplice © Grad Varaždinske Toplice

Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, is mostly marked in the northern continental area of the country and throughout the entire east, in traditional Slavonia and Baranj and the Croatian part of Syrmia, around Ilok. In these places, it is a day inextricably linked with the production of wine. That people seem to associate St Vincent as 'the wine guy' seems reasonable – Vinko and vino (the Croatian word for wine) are almost the same, right? Well, actually it's not so simple.

The related name Viktor (also used in Croatia) gives us the best example for the meaning of the name. Vincent comes from the Latin word 'vincere' (to conquer or to be victorious). But, although it looks similar in Latin ('in vino veritas' - in wine there is truth), the word for wine is much, much older and may have an entirely root.

Ilok2020.jpgVinkovo in Ilok 2020 © Youtube screenshot

Nobody is really sure where the word 'wine' comes from. The ancient Greek word 'oinos' certainly pre-dates the Latin but, truth be told, its true origins have been lost in time, providing entertaining mystery for today. What we do know is that there is a common origin word for wine that crops up in several completely different language groups.

You can find a similar ancient word for wine being used from southern Russia, right the way down through the Caucasus and the non-Indo European languages used in the area of modern-day Georgia, and in the western Semitic languages of the Levant (Arabic: wain, Hebrew: yayin). From the Mediterranean tongues of Latin and Greek, back up again to Russia, this time via Slavic and Germanic lands, the word is the same. It seems that ever since people learned how to cultivate and ferment grapes, different peoples have all know the end product by the same word.

Who knows? Perhaps there is a shared origin for the words? As any winemaker will tell you, the production of excellent vino does indeed require a conquering of the vines. The vines from which we grow grapes actually hail from wild varieties that grew in Russia and central Europe, yet the earliest traces of wine production are found in more southerly regions, where the climate is warmer, this journey itself a conquering act of cultivation. In early Indo-European languages, the root 'wei' means to turn or to bend. The earliest evidence of grapevine cultivation and wine production comes from the South Caucasus, present-day Georgia and dates back at least 8000 years.

1275px-Barry_capitaine._F._25._Grand_vase_pour_la_conservation_du_vin_en_Kacheti_Géorgie._Mission_scientifique_de_Mr_Ernest_Chantre._1881.jpgA Georgian man in traditional dress stands alongside a qvevri, a clay pot used for making Georgian wine in 1881. Once filled, the clay amphora are buried beneath the ground, which helps regulate the temperature of the fermenting wine. Evidence of winemaking in the region is the oldest in the world - it goes back 8000 years  © Public domain

Although several saints share the name Vincent, Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, marks the death of the saint known as Vincent of Saragossa. Born to a well-off family in Saragossa (Zaragoza), north-eastern Spain, Vinncent devoted his life to the church and became deacon in the Church of Saragossa. He was tortured under the persecution of Christians demanded by Roman Emperor Diocletian, asked to renounce his faith - which he refused to do - and was martyred around the year 304. We mark Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia and the western Christian world on 22 January as this is presumed to be the actual day of his death. St Vincent is not only the patron saint of winemakers, but also the patron saint of vinegar makers, which may come as comfort to some of the less able wine producers of the region.

Basilica_del_Pilar-sunset.jpgCathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar and the Puente de Piedra bridge on the Ebro River in Saragossa, the birthplace of St Vincent © Paulo Brandao

As with other mysteries surrounding wine, quite why the midwinter period of 22 January, Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, should be significant to winemakers also poses some questions. “I have no idea!” said one Dalmatian winemaker when asked to explain the significance of the day to his craft. “But you know those Slavonians are all crazy, right?” And, on the surface, his unknowing is quite understandable. There is little happening in the frozen fields right now. But, it is possible that this celebration pre-dates not only St Vincent but Christianity itself.

Vincekovo-slika-Likovna-Republika.jpgA Croatian painting tellingly shows how traditions of St Vincent's Day in Croatia have little changed over the years © Tourist Board Jestrebarsko

Everyone favourite ancient God at the party, Dionysus was the Greek God of wine, the grape harvest, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theatre. His celebration took place in the period from the 11th to the 13th of anthesterion, which corresponds in today's calendar to between around now and February. On the wild feast of Dionysus (who is sometimes called Bacchus or Liber, as in liberty, freedom), barrels of new wine were broken open and the celebration marked the impending arrival of the new season – spring. And, this too is how Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, is marked.

1775px-Cornelis_de_Vos_-_El_triunfo_de_Baco.jpgThe Triumph of Bacchus, a 17th-century painting by Cornelis de Vos © Public domain

Several saints' days in Croatia correspond to significant points in the agricultural calendar, tellingly revealing their pre-Christian roots. Another of those corresponding to winemaking is Martinje – St Martin's Day in Croatia. However, Martinje is traditionally a more proletarian festivity – it comes at the end of the harvest when there is no more hard work for all the manual labourers to do. Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia is a day more traditionally associated with their boss the vineyard owner. It is also traditionally a more testosterone-filled affair – a sausage party, if you will. In more ways than one.

Vinceška-Vina-Belje-2019-21-960x640meats.jpgKulen and other sausages, hung traditionally beside the vines on St Vincent's Day - the company that made these, Belje, is one of the best and most famous in Croatia. They trace their history in the Baranja region back to the year 1697. Without very much fanfare at all, they have been significant contributors of food to the relief effort for the 29 December 2020 earthquake in Sisak Moslavina County. In Baranja, you'll most likely hear this day called Vinceška © Belje

Around this time, vines within the vineyard will be cut back. There is a limited amount of nutrients that may pass down a vine and this cutting back ensures the nutrients are concentrated to help guarantee a limited, good crop. Whether this cutting back has actually taken place in days prior, on Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, vineyard owners are charged with visiting their vines – whatever the weather – and ceremoniously cutting back a vine, usually one with at least three new buds on, which is then traditionally brought into the home and placed in a watered jar. The progress of the buds supposedly predicts the next season's crops, although many other folk traditions associated with Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, also serve the same purpose. Melting snow, rain and sunshine on Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia are also traditionally regarded as predictors of a fine harvest, although water dripping from the eaves on Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia could mean the year will be wet.

Pavlomir_Novi_Vinodol_Primorsko-Goranska.jpgVincekovo celebrated in Pavlomir, Novi Vinodol, Primorsko-Goranska County © Youtube screenshot

As the gregarious Dionysus might have said himself, you can't really have a celebration with just one guy. And, famously gregarious themselves, Slavonians rarely make the trip to the vineyard alone. Neighbours, family, friends and even musicians might make the journey with them to join in the blessing of the vines. In Croatia today, you can still see some people undertaking this ceremony in traditional folk costume.

Vinkovo_in_Ilok_2019.jpgVinkovo in Ilok 2019. Brrrrrr! © Youtube screenshot

The vine that has been pruned is ritually sprinkled with old wine. Song and drinking accompany the ceremony and both old and new wine may make an appearance. No Slavonia or Baranja party is complete without kulen, their king of sausages, and on Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia, it is traditional to hang kulen and/or švargla (another monstrous preserved portion of pig product) from a post in order to encourage the next season's crop to be as fertile and bountiful as these sizeable sausages.

1626px-Sacrificio_a_Baco_Massimo_Stanzione.jpgSacrifice to Bacchus by Massimo Stanzione c. 1634 © Public domain. Some of the folk traditions observed on St Vincent's Day in Croatia probably pre-date Christianity

Hearty snacks usually accompany the celebration in the fields and with the ceremonious part taken care of, the taste for another class acquired and the body accustomed to the cold, now is the traditional time to march around the locale to visit the wine cellars of your neighbouring growers. If you're a winemaker of a Dionysian bent, you'll probably take along some food like kulen, a roasted pig, fis paprikas, a wild meat stew (cobanac) or even the tamburica musicians who came to the fields with you. If not, your neighbouring winemaker might well greet you with these. If you live in an area of traditional winemaking, that's a lot of neighbouring wine cellars to visit and celebrations on Vincekovo - St Vincent's Day in Croatia can extend well into the night.

fishp.jpegFiš paprikaš is a spicy river fish stew, richly red from paprika. It is popular in Slavonia, Baranja and Syrmia. Along with the wild meats stew čobanac and whole šaran (carp), butterflied and cooked outside over an open flame, it is a warming and popular dish to eat in eastern Croatia on St Vincent's Day © Romulić & Stojčić

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Where to Travel in 2021? The Guardian Recommends Ilok

January 3, 2021 - If you can travel in 2021, where would you most like to go? In 21 places to go in 2021, The Guardian recommends Ilok. 

As we say goodbye to a year spent mostly at home, it's safe to say the travel bug in all of us is crawling.

However, tourism may never be the same, and the COVID-test-free days of tour groups and packed planes won't be back so soon. But that doesn't mean we can't still travel and that the most undiscovered places have become the most appealing gems in the corona era. 

In a piece titled 21 Places to Go in 2021, The Guardian has moved away from the travel hotlist they usually launch in January and instead gave the floor to writers across Europe to share the local spots they're dreaming of visiting this year. 

Along with big shots like Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece is Croatia - and instead of the crowded coastal towns we're familiar with seeing in international media, The Guardian recommends Ilok. 

Zrinka Marinović writes:

"The eastern region of Slavonia is off-the-radar Croatia, and I’m planning to go as soon as we can travel. Specifically to Ilok, Croatia’s easternmost town, which is like a fairytale.

Ilok is surrounded by fortifications, including two monuments from Ottoman times and a medieval fortress rising above the Danube, but the main reason to visit is the 15th-century wine cellars. These supplied wine for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, and a bottle can cost £5,000. Happily you can taste it more affordably at the Festival of Traminca, which is usually in June."

Marinovic continues by talking about the food in Ilok, inspired by Austria, Hungary, and Serbia, like the standout fiš paprikaš. However, Marinvoic especially can't wait to dig into a specialty just north of Osijek, at a small winery called Vina Gerstmajer - drunken meat. 

"Where they cook meat in 10 litres of wine. You can prepare it with them and drink rakija (fruit brandy) while it’s cooking. It’s like being at a friend’s place – something we’ve all been missing in lockdown."

You can find the full list on The Guardian HERE.

For the latest travel info, bookmark our main travel info article, which is updated daily

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Saturday, 9 May 2020

Ilok Cellars Brings Extensive Collection To Your Door with New Online Winery

May 9, 2020 - Wine lovers of Ilok Cellars can now order their favorite wine from the comfort and safety of their home, as Ilok Cellars opened the virtual doors of its new online wine shop.

Chances are, you've heard a thing or two about Ilocki Podrumi (Ilok Cellars), as it is perhaps the biggest hit in Croatia's easternmost town of Ilok. It is the winery that provided 11,000 bottles of wine for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in London back in 1953, and more for the royal weddings of William and Kate, and Harry and Meghan. It is also a winery which was the most decorated in the history of Croatian wine, and one which had the most incredible survival story from the Homeland War. 

You could say that Ilok Cellars is quite famous. 

And now, in the corona era, HRTurizam writes that it won't be hard to find your favorite wine in the winery's new online wine shop, as Ilok Cellars has included its entire range in the online offer.

This extensive collection presents an ideal wine for all occasions. Whether you're toasting to good news, surprising your loved one, or just enjoying your favorite book, you'll find a wine that suits you for every moment.

Graševina, Kapistran white and Kapistran red from the classic line of wines go with everything you love, and can be widely applied in gastronomy to pair with your daily menu. 

The new vintage from the selected wine line of Ilok Cellars is ideal for every day and with every lunch, thanks to its youthfulness and freshness.

For special occasions, there are top wines from the unique, richly sunny wine-growing position of Principovac. The limited Principovac line in its palette offers semi-dry and semi-sweet Graševina, Chardonnay and Traminac, which make the perfect wines for a celebration.

In the online wine shop of Ilok Cellars, you will find all the predicate Traminers, from late to ice harvest, for those most special occasions and moments to remember.

Delivery is free for all orders over 350 kuna, and is currently done only in Croatia.

Order your favorite wine from Ilok cellars here.

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

 

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Croatia Border Town Shaken By Migrant Burglaries: Ilok Locals Live in Fear

While EU politicians, leaders, foreign journalists and human rights organizations play political football, assign blame and discuss solutions for the migrant crisis along the Balkan Route; frightened residents of Croatia border towns, like the town of Ilok, are locking themselves in their homes at night out of fear of burglaries and much worse.

“We are scared! In the middle of the night, we caught migrant burglars circling our house. I thought my son was going to work, but sensed something suspicious and saw two masked people at our front door,” reported one shaken Ilok local.

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(Note that Hungary has built an electric fence spanning its border, which has halted migration.)

Croatia Police Not Publicly Reporting Ilok Migrant Burglaries

In the Fall of 2015, during the great migrant crisis, more than half a million migrants passed through Eastern Croatia on their way to more economically desirable Western European countries. Not a single major incident, or even any minor incidents, were reported during the entire relocation process. However, four years later, locals in some border towns in the same part of Eastern Croatia are living in fear, according to Branimir Bradarić/Večernji List on January 25, 2020. Migrants are entering their towns and villages and burglarizing shops, and a recent attempt was even made to break into a house. There have been also reports of car theft and one incident ended with a car accident in which several migrants were injured while trying to escape authorities in a stolen vehicle.

All this has happened over the last half year but there were signs of trouble even before then. However the police have avoided discussing these burglaries in their regular reports the media. Therefore, frightened residents have decided to go public with these incidents on their own. The situation has deteriorated most notably in the Eastern Croatia city of Ilok, where residents are no longer willing to remain silent about their fears for safety in their own homes.

Frightened Ilok Residents Reporting Migrant Burglaries Directly to Media

The last in a series of frightening events occurred ten days ago when two migrants, dressed in dark hooded jackets, tried to break into the home of the Lončar family in Ilok. Remembering that day, Irjana Lončar recalls hearing noises around 4:30am.

“We were sleeping when I heard noises in the yard and by the door. It sounded like someone was walking nearby and I thought it was my son leaving for work. But the lights were off, which was strange, so I got up to see what was happening. At that moment, I saw two unfamiliar masked people at our front door. They were trying to force our door open by destroying the lock with a device, which I think was a drill. I started screaming and yelled for my husband, but the two burglars had escaped by then,” recalls Lončar, who was still trembling with fear.

Since the lock was destroyed, her husband could not get the front door open immediately. After succeeding, he jumped into their car and tried to follow the migrant burglars. Irjana watched from the window as the pair fled down the road. Later, she discovered that the burglars had also been trespassing in their yard and had broken into their attic, where they stole two knives and a knife sharpener. They swiped the Lončar’s New Year's light decorations and made off with her husband's hunting backpack. Then she discovered that the pair had tried to open the kitchen window with a sharp object to enter the house from there. Police responded to her call for help very quickly, but by that time the migrants had long vanished into the darkness.

croatia_migrant_burglaries_06.jpg

Ilok Residents Concerned for Safety and Property

“I'm really scared now. From that day, my life has not been the same. I have a difficult time sleeping and am always on the alert for unusual noises. Every little noise will jolt me wide awake as does the sound of barking dogs. I'm afraid that they'll try to break into my house again. And, I'm particularly scared because nobody knows what these people are prepared to do. Nor does anyone know what they would have done if they had entered our house, or how it all could have ended. We just want to feel safe in our town again, and especially safe in our own home. Unfortunately, that's not the case anymore,” Lončar admits.

She adds that, after their burglary, they started hearing about several similar break-ins throughout town – and other locals have witnessed migrants breaking into homes. She claims that there are currently several unoccupied houses in Ilok, and migrants are breaking into them so they can hide temporarily before continuing their journey further into the interior of Croatia and the rest of Europe.

The Ilok locals have also reported finding discarded clothing all over town as migrants change their clothes before continuing their journey westward. There have also been reports of migrants crossing the border and continuing down the road before they are caught by police.

Ilok Break Ins and Burglaries Widespread

Jadranka Tomašić’s shop has also been hit by migrants. They have succeeded in burglarizing her shop in two out of three attempts. In both of those cases, according to Tomašić, they stole certain brands of cigarettes, some alcohol and Nescafé. About 20,000 HRK (2687 EUR) of merchandise has been stolen from her shop, and the front door of her store was damaged too. They also ran off with all the cash they found.

“I do not feel safe here anymore, and I am not the only one. Other Ilok residents don’t feel safe in their town either. In addition to everything else, you can see the effects of fear in front of elementary schools at the end of the school day. Parents are now coming to school in cars to pick up their children. People are locking themselves in their homes before dark and are avoiding going out in the evening. No matter how you look at it, the situation is not at all simple or straightforward,” Tomašić reveals with concern.

She adds that in addition to the burglaries in her shop, there have been burglaries in the suburban settlements of Bapska and Šarengrad. After the burglary in Šarengrad, the perpetrators were apprehended. After one of the burglaries at her store, a large knife was found, which was to be believed to have belonged to migrants. She also recalls a situation that occurred last summer when a migrant tent was found in a corn field across the street from her store, during the corn harvest. It was in a populated part of Ilok and nobody aware of that it was there until the harvest.

croatia_migrant_burglaries_05.jpg

‘We just want to live and work normally’

“We just want to live and work normally, but that's not the case now. The worst part is that feeling of insecurity. These people have shown no fear, and that is why we are very afraid. It really bothers me that nobody is talking about this. I have no objection to the job the police are doing and do not expect that they, or the mayor, will be able do something overnight. They cannot do anything because they do not have the necessary tools, but this problem must be addressed in a systematic way,” Tomašić points out. She adds that many locals have been reporting burglaries, including those who have had their safes broken into and contents stolen.

The well-known Ilok agronomist and winemaker Ivan Buhač was also hit by migrants, but he managed to avoid burglary. He left his unlocked vehicle parked outside his house. Someone entered it and wanted to start it up and drive off. As the keys were not inside; they emptied the vehicle in search for the keys. However, the car itself was undamaged.

“The fact is that these incidents, which are extremely unusual for Ilok, happen regularly now and so it's not surprising that people do not to feel safe. Recently, burglaries and attempted burglaries have been reported in people’s homes. We all hope that this will all end soon and that we can go back to living normally, because this is not definitely the case now,” Buhač admits.

Commenting on recent events, Ilok Mayor Marina Budimir says the city authorities are aware of the problem and are in constant contact with the Croatia Interior Ministry and police in Ilok.

Ilok Police and Mayor: No Reason to Panic

“Everyone is working as hard as they can to resolve this problem, but I don't think there is any reason to panic. The problem is very present, and it’s important to compare how our residents live now as opposed to before: how they move about in town and go to work and school. Unfortunately, this problem in Ilok will continue since we are right on migrant route through Croatia from Serbia and beyond. Another problem is that the migrant camp in Serbia is located near the border crossing. Migrants are housed there, but they can leave the camp freely. That's why this is happening,” says the frustrated mayor.

She is also quick to point out that she has demanded increased police surveillance of the border and adds that there haven’t been any reported attacks on residents so far. The mayor also indicates that movement over the eastern border will be harder to detect as vegetation begins to grow again, which will make monitoring more difficult. Nevertheless, police have surveillance equipment in place. Indeed,  police patrols are more visible in Ilok and the surrounding area. Unofficial reports from the police indicate that the border has been steadily monitored for months, and that the burglaries and break-ins in Ilok are indeed a problem, but they do not consider this problem dangerous because there haven't been any reports of violence or threats.

Croatia Police Point Out Two Types of Migrants

They also explain that the two types of migrants should be distinguished. There are passers-by who are trying to somehow cross the border illegally and move on. The others, who are thought to be causing the problems in Ilok, are located along the border crossing at the camp in Principovac, which they consider to be the main issue. They can move freely in that camp, and illegally cross the Croatian border to steal from locals so that they can raise money for travel to the West.

The stolen goods are then resold at the migrant camp, which was confirmed by the recent case of two migrants who were arrested after breaking into a shop in Šarengrad. After that, police claim, the burglary indicents stopped. Officers understand the Ilok residents’ sense of insecurity but say that there is absolutely no reason to panic and that the police are on the ground doing their job.

Follow our Politics page for updates on the migrant crisis in Croatia.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Ilocki Podrumi the Star Treasure of Croatia's Easternmost Town of Ilok

January 5, 2020 - Croatia's most decorated winery in Croatia's easternmost town - why a visit to Ilocki Podrumi in Ilok is about much more than wine. 

For many years, I was totally confused by the wines of Ilocki Podrumi. They were simply everywhere, at every wine festival I attended, on most wine lists, and yet I had no idea where this winery was from. Their spicy Traminac wines were more reminiscent of the vineyards of Alsace than those of Dalmatia and Istria that I was getting to know from my island home on Hvar. 

Gradually, and the more I spent time off the island and got to know continental Croatia a little more, I learned about the wines of Slavonia, and then about another vineyard which did not seem to fit into any category or region, for it was much, much further to the east than all the rest. And it had an international pedigree and history that all the others could only dream of. 

 

For, I learned that Ilocki Podrumi was the main story in Croatia's easternmost town of Ilok, and if I had bothered to translate the name of the winery (Ilok Cellars), I might have worked that out for myself. And the more I learned about Ilocki Podrumi, the more I became intrigued. For here was a winery which provided 11,000 bottles of wine for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in London back in 1953, more wines for the nuptials of William and Kate, and then of Harry of Meghan. A winery which was the most decorated in the history of Croatian wine, and one which had the most incredible survival story from the Homeland War. 

 

And a winery which - a few wine expert and journalist friends apart - almost nobody I knew had ever visited. For Ilok was apparently SO far away in the east. So much so, it appears, that the main sales and marketing base seemed to be in Zagreb. 

ilok-ilocki-podrumi.jpg

Except Ilok really wasn't that far away at all - much closer to Zagreb than Split, for example, just over three hours, mostly on the motorway. Once you overcome the stereotype that everything in the east is far away from the rest of Croatia, you realise that there is SO much to see and do starting from the capital that is largely overlooked by most people. Here, for example, is an example of the family fun we managed to have by heading on east for a weekend in October

ilok-traminac_2.png

The perception of Ilok's isolation is somewhat reinforced by the local geography. The town is located on the Danube in Croatia's easternmost spot and surrounded on three sides by Serbia, with various border crossings in three directions. This geography sealed the town's fate back in 1991, as Ilok was overrun by the Serbs, who also took up residence in the historic winery of Ilocki Podrumi, one of the most famous wine house of Croatia and one with arguably the finest tradition. Wine has been made from its vineyards for some 2,000 years. 

 

There was scant respect for the traditions or the quality wines from the invading forces, and the large oak barrels were slashed open, the wine either pouring out or being used to make that Serbian favour, rakija. With an annual production of some 4 million litres, not only was a great quantity of wine being lost, but also some rare quality as in danger. 

There were still some priceless bottles from some of the older vintages in the cellars, including several thousand from that 1947 Traminac vintage, which had so charmed the Queen's royal guests in London almost 40 years before. A daring plan was hatched by some of the winery workers to try and save 8,000 of the most precious bottles. At considerable personal risk, the workers built another brick wall in the cellar around these precious bottles, covering it with the ubiquitous black mold and cobwebs to age the wall like the others in the cellar. 

The plan worked, and when the Croats came back to take possession of Ilok after the war, the workers found that the treasure they had hidden behind the wall lay untouched. At the time of our visit in October, there were still 282 bottles of the famous 1947 Traminac, bottle price today a cool 55,000 kuna (7,400 euro) - and they were selling. A Russian visitor had insisted on trying a bottle on the spot. The winery had decided to sell 182 more, then keep 100 bottles for posterity and promotion. 

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You can still see where the famous wall once was, and behind it today are some of the better vintages of previous years, many of which are reserved for clients. In the photo above, the bottles without much dust in the middle are the most recent addition - reserved by Harry and Meghan for future consumption. 

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A visit to Ilocki Podrum, however, was about much more than looking at old bottles and tasting newer vintages. This was a business which was managing to attract plenty of international tourists, many of them day-trippers from cruise boats down the Danube. Cruise ship tourism on the Adriatic might be making most of the headlines, but the cruising business along Croatia's Danube border is picking up nicely year on year, and Ilok is one of the most-stop destinations on the famous European river. 

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Having booked a tour, I had expected to have the place more or less to ourselves, but Ilocki Podrumi was busy. 

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But due to the surge of interest, our tour was slightly delayed. Not that we minded at all. The area around the old cellars was idyllic. Full of character and history. People may have come for the wine, but the backdrop was really pretty, and it was no surprise to learn that there were also bungalows to rent on site, with gorgeous views of the rolling hills ahead. 

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While we waited, a light snack to be washed down with one of the EIGHT types of Traminac made from one individual vintage - quite extraordinary. And the delightful accompanying pastry had quite a memorable name - torn underpants! They tasted much better than the name suggested. 

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Ilockli Podrumi have made a superb recovery from the devastating effects of the war in the 1990s. A major investment from its new Croatian owner, who took over the winery in 2005, is largely responsible for that, but the cellars were mightily impressive. The majority of the really big wine barrels may have been destroyed during the war, but they have been replaced by an army of smaller ones. 

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Mira, our excellent guide, showed us the biggest barrel in use today, and then told us something that quite surprised me. Ilocki Podrum still uses a lot of the local Slavonian oak, but they are having many more issues of supply these days. Slavonian oak is among the most highly prized int the world (along with French and Californian) for oak barrels in wine production. And yet, since the war, there were no longer any Slavonian craftsmen offering the service. Consequently, the raw oak material would be exported to Italy, where coopers would produce oak barrels, and then the oak would be exported back to Croatia. 

But Mira had some good news - very recently, a company in Slavonia started producing barrels from Slavonian oak once more. A small story for some perhaps, but a great tale of one of the great traditions of Slavonian production returning to its roots. You can learn more about the Slavonian company Pepel Co, which is also making the first Croatian whisky, also in Slavonia

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The wines were exquisite, and if you want a taste of a Royal Wedding, why not savour the wines and vintages served up at Harry and Meghan's wedding?

The big surprise, however, was what happened at the end of the tour of the cellars, for I had assumed that this would be all, but then we hopped into a car and a short drive out of town to one of the most magnificent places I have seen in Croatia - Princips, a spectacular addition to the Ilocki Podrumi tourism offer. 

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Principovac – a unique single vineyard appellation & summer residence of the Odescalchi family.

Near the centre of the historic town of Ilok, on the landscape hill offering stunning views of Ilok, Srijem and Backa, lies the Principovac Castle and Estate that was built in 1864th as summer residence of the Odescalchi family – The Dukes of Ilok, who stayed here during hunting seasons and grape harvestings. Whether you are a true wine connoisseur or you’re just on your way to become one, when you taste the royal Traminer and Graševina from Principovac in different styles you’ll realize that wine is here much more than a profession – it is a lifestyle.

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Inside the restored castle of Odescalchi family is the Principovac restaurant, which has a rich gourmet offer – new age cuisine that is based on indigenous ingredients, flavours of the Croatian Danube and Slavonia prepared in a sophisticated way serving each course with a glass of wine chosen from our rich wine offer. 

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The Odescalchi summer residence offers accommodation in our luxury and modern designed ☆☆☆☆, apartments and one 120m2 De Lux Residential Suite, surrounded by vineyards. The apartments provide comfort and privacy, silence and amazing views. Principovac Summer Residence is offering additional open air recreation facilities. Beside the tennis and badminton courts, playgrounds for children and soon to be opened freshwater fish aquarium, there are 8 km of wine roads ideal for running, romantic walks, bike rides, moped rides or electric car rides through the vineyards. Barbeque points and small wood houses are available in several points though the estate vineyards ideal to spend time in nature for couples, families, and friend gatherings. 

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For those who are passionate golf players or those who want to experience their first golf steps, there is a covered golf shutting place with 3 holes. Teaching lessons can be organised and provided by prior reservation.

Prinicipovac is GORGEOUS. And for those who want to escape from the world in nature, but be surrounded by fine food and wine, here is a little slice of magic I had never heard about until this visit. 

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It would be easy to think that Ilok was all about the winery which dominates it (more than 330 hectares of its own, grapes bought from another 660 hectares, with one row of vines allegedly stretching 10 kilometres), but the town itself is delightful, especially the old fortified area which is a short walk away from the Ilocki cellars.  

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It does feel a little different to the rest of Croatia, and it was nice to experience that change. The roads become a little narrower, and the drive along the Danube was lovely. As a weekend getaway just a few hours from Zagreb, it is on our list for 2020.  

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And, just 30 minutes up the road on the outskirts of Vukovar, is another undiscovered treasure of the east - and one of the most incredible tourist attractions in Croatia, which is currently visited by just 50,000 people a year. Learn more about the incredible Vucedol civilisation and how this region was once one of the most advanced in all Europe. An attraction which was boosted in 2015 by the opening of one of the best museums in Croatia to tell its fantastic story. 

Plan your own trip to the east, and discover a Croatia you did not know existed.  To learn more about Ilocki Podrumi, visit the official website

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

HeadOnEast: How to Make the Most from a Weekend in Eastern Croatia

October 23, 2019 - Even for many Croatian residents, eastern Croatia is a relatively unknown destination, so what is there to explore in a weekend? TCN decided to HeadOnEast on a family road trip to find out.

We had been discussing a weekend in Budapest or Vienna. That is one of the great advantages of living in Varazdin - there is so much that is in driving distance. But in the end, we made a family decision to go in an entirely different direction for a weekend of family discovery - Slavonia.

The initial publicity from the HeadOnEast - [email protected] has died down now that Days of Croatian Tourism is behind us and the tourism chiefs are safely back in Zagreb, but those few days reignited my enthusiasm for eastern Croatia, and the family seemed to like the photos I was sending back. Could we have a more fun weekend in Slavonia rather than Budapest or Vienna? We decided to find out. 

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School finished at 13:15 in Varazdin, and we were on the road by 15:00, destination Bilje just outside Osijek, where we would stay with friends. The journey time was much shorter than I had imagined, just over three hours via Zagreb. Slavonia was actually closer than most of the coast. 

The roads were clear and we made good progress and as we turned off the main Belgrade motorway closing in on Osijek, a huge church appeared on the horizon. But really massive. 

Djakovo Cathedral. It was only just off the road, so we decided to stop for a quick wander around. 

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And what a pretty little place Djakovo is, with one of the nicest main squares in Croatia.

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And the cathedral is outstanding, both inside and out. Mass was underway and so we snuck in - this photo above is just from one of the sides, not the main altar. 

We debated on whether or not to visit the famous Djakovo Lipizzaner horses, but decided that we would save that for next time as we wanted to press on.  

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Downtown Osijek of course his its own mightily impressive cathedral from the same era and architect, some 3.5 million bricks in all towering over the city skyline.

There was a really nice vibe around town early on the Friday night, a wonderful place to walk around and explore the historic streets and buildings. 

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Being on the Drava, Osijek has its own 'riva' just as in Dalmatia, a place of space, nature and people watching. A nice little spot for a coffee on arrival. 

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it was my family's first visit to Slavonia and I wanted them to see as much as possible, and the walk along the river to Tvrda, or Fortress, was magical. And although the fortress and old town date back centuries, some rather impressive changes and upgrades are in process, such as this spectacular new square, which was until recently mostly a muddy parking lot. 

And when the old town comes alive, it really comes alive. Things were a lot quieter during our visit, but take a tour of the HeadOnEast gourmet festival earlier this month in the video above. 

Osijek surprised us all with its beauty and the sheer number of historic buildings and wide tree-lined avenues - gllimpses of its past glories. Get more of a feel in this walking tour above, organised by locals with a lot more knowledge than this fat British blogger. 

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And so to our accommodation, and one which we were all looking forward to. A weekend without gadgets in the natural beauty of OPG Mario Romulic just outside Bilje. 

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Mario is a good friend of mine and is diversifying from his very successful career as one of Croatia's premier photographers to open his own organic farm next to his home. It is fantastic! I stayed there a couple of weeks ago for the first time, slept like a log and woke to the clucking of hens. 

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And all around the wooden house, organic produce leading to the family home. The kids loved it, especially the 15 cats (mostly tiny kittens) which were roaming freely with the hens. 

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But we had also come to explore, and the first stop was a visit to the legendary cellars of Ilocki Podrum, Croatia's most decorated winery and purveyors of wine for the Royal weddings of William and Harry, as well as the Queen's coronation back in 1953 - learn more about that and the most expensive bottle of wine in Croatia

But before the tour of the cellars, a little breakfast. A glass of Traminac with the most unusual-sounding breakfast dish I have ever come across. Literally translated - Torn Underpants. They tasted a lot better than they sounded. 

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The Ilok cellars are incredible, the stories even more so, and the wines even more so than that. There is a separate article coming on TCN, but in the meantime, just visit!

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 And plenty were visiting, even in mid-October. Just one of the day's tour groups from the United States. Despite its position as the easternmost point of Croatia, Ilocki Podrum receives some 70,000 tourists a year, 45,000 of them foreign. 

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But while I was aware of the wines, I had no idea that tourism at Ilocki Podrumi was also booming in addition to the wine. The estate of Principovac is located in splendid isolation outside of town, a very popular wedding venue and complete with restaurant, quality accommodation, tennis courts and even some golf. A really great conference centre and place to escape the stresses of life. 

And to party. The New Year's Eve festivities for 500 guests are quite something apparently. Take in the view in the video above.  

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There was just enough time to visit the compact old part of the town of Ilok as well. Really rather pretty and definitely a destination for a relaxing weekend in its own right.  

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Slavonia is VERY flat and we loved the golden autumnal colours as we drove, as well as several very quirky things along the route. The famous Slavonian straw artist has been busy in the region... 

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And then, finally, the chance to fill in one of the biggest gaps in my knowledge of Croatia - Vucedol.

And what a gap it turned out to be. I knew that there was some claim to ancient civilisation in eastern Croatia, but I had never researched it too much, and so the Vucedol Museum was quite a shock. For this modern-day suburb of Vukovar had once been as important as Paris today in terms of settlements in Europe.  

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And the discoveries of Vucedol place it very favourably with other world-famous cultures such as the pyramids in Egypt, Stonehenge etc. And yet very little is known internationally about Vucedol.  

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A very developed civilisation which gave the world the oldest calendar in Europe, the first metal casting of tools, and some rather funky fashion 5,000 years ago.  

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And rituals of human sacrifice. 

More on Vucedol coming soon, but check out the museum, it is one of the very best in Croatia and a great family attraction. And the enticing thing is this - only 10% of the area has been excavated. Imagine what else is waiting to be found if the other 90% is ever excavated. Croatia could be home to one of the world's most important archaeological sites. 

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From the ancient past to the very recent past, as we visited probably the most famous building in eastern Croatia and symbol of the suffering of the heroic city of Vukovar, which is now under reconstruction.  

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I had planned on exploring Vukovar on a future visit, but as we were so close, we decided to drive through. The iconic water tower in the distance, the Danube separating Croatia from Serbia.  

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And cruise tourism, the type you rarely read about in the news, but growing slowly and bringing tourists to the east - cruises down the River Danube. Still going strong in mid-October.  

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And so to our next stop - to the oldest continuously inhabited town in all Europe, home to some of the more sensational Vucedol finds. Vinkovci, a fascinating town we covered in some detail recently

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And since my visit a few weeks ago, yet one more sensational discovery - wonderfully preserved remains of a Roman chariot and horse.  What other secrets await to be discovered - from Roman times, the Vucedol era, and others?

There was lots to ponder and discuss as we headed back to our organic paradise on Saturday night. 

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Sunday morning was spent with Barba Mario. As far away from the stress of modern life as one could hope to be.  

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We really enjoyed our tour of his wonderful project, which you can learn more about on Facebook. and all the little details, such as this little bug hotel, which provides the right conditions for wild bees to thrive. They are essential as they work in much lower temperatures than ordinary bees, therefore pollinating where pollination would otherwise not happen. 

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And after a tour, a little breakfast - all locally sourced or home-grown.  

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Slavonia is known for many things, including the best hospitality in all Croatia, and while we had planned to leave a little earlier, a tour of Mario's 'Meat Church' and an invitation to lunch proved too hard to resist.  

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And while Mario slow-cooked the meat, we drove the one kilometre necessary to one of the natural jewels of Croatian tourism, Kopacki Rit Nature Park. 

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The weather was perfect, the nature more so - one of the most important wetlands in Europe, with over 300 species of birds. 

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And nicely constructed wooden walkways took you through the marshlands - beautifully done. 

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And we were not alone. Another boat full of tourists heads out into the Kopacki Rit waterways. 

Meanwhile... 

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Romulic the photographer combines with Romulic the masterchef. 

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Cooking as It Once Was. 

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A hearty lunch, great company and fabulous Slavonian hospitality. It was with some regret that we packed our things and headed back west to our regular lives. 

Budapest or Vienna for the weekend? Why not explore the jewels which are much closer to home instead? 

Here are 10 things that I learned about eastern Croatia this month

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Croatia's Most Expensive Wine: Selling Well at 7,400 Euro a Bottle

October 20, 2019 - There are few more fascinating places in Croatia than its easternmost town of Ilok and a prized Traminac with an incredible story. You can have a bottle for just 7,400 euro, but be quick - there are just 182 left for sale. 

I have been fortunate enough to have travelled extensively all over Croatia in the last few years, learning about its many unique stories and experiences. It really is a country like no other, and it has been a joy and privilege to discover and report on many things I find, often for the first time in English. And the more I travel, the more I discover, and the more I want to explore... 

Before this weekend, there were four major places on my list that I had yet to discover in Croatia - Ilok, Vucedol, Kopacki Rit and Palagruza. The list is now down to one, and I have my doubts that I will make it to formidable Palagruza, but the incredible introductions to the other three all in one weekend means I can be patient about Palagruza for now. 

There is SO much to write about Ilok and the incredible Ilocki Podrum, and there will be a big Ilok feature article soon, but I wanted to tell you about the most expensive bottle of wine in Croatia, and one with rather an incredible story, which just keeps on giving. It is a wine I have heard much about over the years, but the visit to Ilocki Podrum was my first chance to hear it from the winery involved. 

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(Photo credit Ilocki Podrum)

The year is 1953, and a young British queen is crowned, with her coronation being a global event attended by dignitaries from all over the world. Upon becoming queen in early 1952, gifts appeared from all over the world, including from then Yugoslavia. Among them, a white wine called Traminac from Ilocki Podrum on the Danube. Queen Elizabeth II apparently took a liking to the wine's label and asked to try it. The rest is history, and some 11,000 bottles of the 1947 Ilocki Podrum Traminac were ordered for the coronation.  

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(Photo credit Ilocki Podrum)

It was the start of a royal connection between Ilocki Podrum and the British Royal Family, which continues to this day, and royal sommeliers descend upon Ilok each year to taste and buy fresh stocks for the royal cellars. Traminac from Ilok was served at the weddings of both Prince William and Prince Harry, and their father was gifted a rare bottle of the 1947 Traminac enjoyed all those years ago at his mother's coronation on a 2016 visit to Croatia. President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic was on hand to pass on the rare gift from Ilocki Podrum owner Juraj Mihaljevic. 

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Not only rare, but a very generous gift as it turns out. The current retail price of the 1947 Traminac is an astonishing 55,000 kuna a bottle (7,400 euro) I discovered on our excellent tour of the Ilok cellars yesterday. 

"Yes, but price is one thing, finding a buyer is another," I replied when I heard the price. "When was the last bottle sold?"

"About 2 weeks ago," came the reply. "A Russian visitor heard the story, wanted to try, and we opened the bottle for him during his visit." And it appears that the Russian visitor is not alone. Five years ago, there were about 1,200 bottles left. Today, just 282, so they have been selling at almost 200 a year at that rate. Plans are to sell 182 more only, then keep the remaining 100. So be quick if you are interested! 

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But the British royal connection is not the most interesting part of the story of the 1947 Traminac, for without the bravery and ingenuity of a few good men during the 1991 regional conflict, there would have been no wine to gift Prince Charles. 

As you can see from the map above, Ilok is surrounded on three sides by Serbia, and it was not long before the town and its wine cellars succumbed to the enemy. Barrels were smashed, wine was poured out or used to make rakija, and a proud winery faced the same fate of destruction that was sadly prevalent all over the region.  

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(Photo credit Vinske Price - and I do encourage Croatian readers to check out the in-depth article with Franjo Volf, the Traminac saviour)

A plan was hatched to try and save the most precious archive wines from the enemy by a few good men, and the project was led by longtime employee Franjo Volf, pictured above. Volf and his few assistants managed to build a wall to block off this section of the winery, then cover the new wall with the black mold and cobwebs found elsewhere, so that it looked as though the wall had been there for years.  

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One floor below, Volf and his helpers managed to preserve some more bottles by placing them behind these big barrels and covering them with sand. They went untouched and undiscovered. Some 8,000 archive bottles in all, including the precious 1947 bottles. 

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After liberation, Volf and his merry men returned to find that their heroics had worked. His wall was destroyed and this gate put in its place, where most of the precious archive wines are stored today.  

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And while most of the bottles are covered in the dust and grime that one accumulates in a cellar dating back centuries, there is one newer section of bottles - these have been ordered and reserved for a couple named Harry and Meghan.  

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But the most interesting section is directly opposite the gate above - wooden steps to the place where the remaining 1947 Traminac now lives. 

As for Franjo Volf, he apparently retired. Due to the war, he missed out on 5 years in his workbook and so ended up on a minimal pension. Owner Mihaljevic adds to the pension each month as a token of gratitude to the man who saved so much precious wine. Now 83 and still living in Ilok, Volf is rightly regarded as a hero locally.  

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More on Ilok and the wines of Ilocki Podrum coming soon, but a quick mention of the greeting which awaited us when we arrived. A delicious welcome Traminac to accompany one of the most unusually named pastries I have ever tried - literally translated as Torn Underpants! 

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And they take their Traminac seriously in Ilok, with no less than 8 Traminac varieties in one vintage, picked at various times of the year, from late August to December, in years when there is ice wine. Incredible variety in colour from the same grape variety.  

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And if you are a fan of the British Royal Family and want to drink like a Royal, but can't afford the 55,000 kuna price tag for a bottle of the 1947 Traminac, why not check out the wines enjoyed by the guests of Harry and Meghan instead (above)? Both were delicious. 

To learn more about the fabulous world of Ilocki Podrum, visit the official website

Friday, 12 July 2019

On the Road with Domovina Birthright Program: Ilok and Vukovar

July 12, 2019 - As previously reported on TCN, the first Domovina Birthright Program is taking place in Croatia at the moment, an initiative between the American Croatian Association of Professionals, and the Croatian Government.

The idea of the program is to take the young adults of Croatian descent (ages 18 – 30), who wish to learn about their heritage, explore Croatia, connect with their Croatian identity and meet other young Croatian adults on an amazing trip to Croatia.

Kristiana Banđen is one of the 34 initial participants in the program, and she has kindly agreed to document her journey as she explores the country of her heritage. Over to Kristiana:

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Wow - what a journey so far, and it is only two days into the Domovina Birthright Program! It has been absolutely amazing so far.  

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Day 1

Upon meeting all the participants, with welcome messages from the organizers, we started our journey towards Ilok where we spent the afternoon drinking lots of wine to say the least!  

Once we arrived to Ilok, we were welcomed by local students who were joining us for lunch accompanied by the mayor of Ilok. Mayor Marina Budimir who welcomed us to her city with a lovely speech before the start of lunch, which by the way, was absolutely delicious. I can speak for the group and say we are all enjoying the food so much. At first, I was a bit unsure about how much food we will be getting. I eat a lot, and wondered if I would need to pack along snacks. This has not been the case at all! After a fulfilling breakfast we enjoyed a three-course meal at Iločki Podrumi with the mayor and local students. Juha, meso, palačinke and given that we were at a winery, lots and lots of vino!    

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After our lunch, we walked through the Odescalchi Palace, the central building situated in the medieval Ilok, the church and a scenic car ride down to Principovac where we enjoyed the beautiful view with, of course, more vino!  

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Day 2 was an emotional and empowering day in Vukovar visiting the hospital, the memorial centre for Vukovar’s homeland war, Ovacara Memorial Centre and payed our respects to the victims at the Memorial Cemetery of the Victims of Homeland War.  A great way to start our trip. The battle of Vukovar is what founded the independence of Croatia and is absolutely important for all Croatian descendants to know the history. Speaking to local veterans of the war along with tours of the memorial sights gave us all a great perspective and a feeling of love for the strength of our country and what we have rebuilt and overcome.  

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Follow #domovina2019 and @kristianabanden for more photos and insights.

To follow the latest news from the Croatian diaspora, follow the dedicated TCN section

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Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Gourmet Croatia – How to Brand Croatia as a Gourmet Destination?

The closing conference of the Gourmet Croatia project was held at the Principovac estate near the easternmost Croatian town of Ilok. Neven Ivandić and Neda Telišman Košuta from the Institute of Tourism presented the project and the brochure “Croatia - the New Gastronomic Icon of Europe (Strategy for the Development of Gastronomy, Gourmet and Gastronomic Tourism of Croatia with the Action Plan 2019-2022)”. The overall objectives of the project are to link the food processing sector and the tourism sector through the establishment of local production systems, as well as the territorial branding of Croatia as a recognisable gourmet destination.

After a public tender, the project was entrusted to the WYG Consulting, the Institute of Development and International Relations (IRMO) and the Institute of Tourism (IT), in cooperation with the chef Rudi Štefan. The project brochure explains that the growth of interest in food and beverages reflects profound social changes driven by the improvements in education and prosperity, technology and growing environmental pollution, while the key trends for the development of global gastronomy are experience buying, sustainability, healthy food, multiculturalism, return to tradition, good-quality fast food and growing media influence. That is the framework that supports further development of gastronomy and gastronomic tourism in the direction of creativity, authenticity and sustainability.

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Gourmet refers to the highest-quality segment of gastronomy. Although gourmet restaurants represent less than 0.5% of the total gastronomic offer, they have a disproportionately large influence on gastronomy trends. The characteristics of gourmet cuisine are excellence in ingredients and the preparation and presentation of food, and in particular creativity and specific "trademark" of the chef as a person not only knowledgeable in food preparation but deeply dedicated to the "philosophy" of the cuisine he or she offers. The core of the gastronomic tourism is the eating experience itself that must reflect authentic cuisine, the knowledge of learning about local gastronomy and its protagonists, and ultimately the emotional experience of socialising.

The panel discussion "Value Chains for Gastronomy" was attended by Assistant Agriculture Minister Krunoslav Karalić, Jakša Puljiz from IRMO, Nives Kljajić as a representative of the distributor Portus Croatia, Dimitrije Sinović from the Sin Ravnice company as a representative of the producers, and Tomica Đukić, the chef of the Osijek Hotel restaurant. The discussion was moderated by Ivana Jurić, director of the Osijek-Baranja County Tourist Board.

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Rudolf Štefan, the chef of the Pelegrini restaurant, spoke about the development of education in the gourmet area. "There are about sixty catering schools in Croatia, huge resources are being spent, but unfortunately not all of these schools produce good staff. We need one high-quality institution that will create the foundations for high-quality gastronomic future of Croatia.”

The second panel discussion "Promotion of Croatian Gastronomy" included Darija Tödling as a representative of the Croatian National Tourist Board, Rujana Bušić Srpak, director of the Vukovar-Srijem County Tourism Board, and Lucija Bilandžić as a representative of the Academy of Gastronomy. It was moderated by Snježana Boranić Živoder from the Institute of Tourism.

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The tourism manager of Iločki Podrumi, Vesna Steiner, discussed the promotion of a destination through wine tourism, and the conference concluded with wine tasting – presentation of the Iločki Podrumi wines.

More news about Croatian gastronomy can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

2nd DunavArt Festival Concludes

It was another successful edition of the festival fcocused on the Danube region.

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