Gastronaut Discovers the Gourmet, Heritage and Natural Treasures of Croatia's Ozalj Region

By 3 April 2016

 The latest journalist excursion by leading gourmet group Gastronaut visited the region of Ozalj close to the Slovenian border on March 31, 2016. A full report. 

Gourmet journalists, winemakers and leading Croatian restaurateurs gathered in the central town of Ozalj last week for the latest Gastronaut voyage of discovery of the regional treasures of Croatia's varied cuisine, an event attended by TCN.

Now in its third decade, Gastronaut produces the annual 100 Leading Croatian Restaurants and Their Recipes, a prestigious tome, and which last year came out in an English edition for the first town. Founded by Karin Mimica, Gastronaut has been an energetic force for positive gourmet promotion over the years, with a particular focus on the lesser-known destinations.

Gastronaut members consist of gastro journalists, leading winemakers and restaurateurs, and food industry sponsors, and each trip generates plenty of national media coverage - print, online, radio and television. As the only member outside the region, it has been a fascinating introduction to the real Croatia for me personally over the years, and I was more than delighted that the trip to Ozalj coincided with a gap in my diary.  

(All photos by Helena Pletkovic, G.E.T. Report)

I had not been to the region before and knew little about it, but I have learned by now to leave the programme to the Gastronaut experts, whose programmes are always innovative, superbly organised and full of fascinating discoveries. And so it proved... 

Ozalj is a historic town close to the city of Karlovac and the border with Slovenian, easily accessible from the main Split - Zagreb motorway. First stop was Restaurant Zganjer - a co-sponsor of the trip and also a leading tourism light in the region, for various regions.

A Guinness Book of Records entrant, for example, for the longest strudel in the world, more than 1.4 km long (see video below). The event started with a strudel demonstration at the restaurant. 


After a welcome drink, it was time to sit on the bus and start the tour of the region, whose rich natural beauty was very much in evidence.  

A key theme of the trip was on the high quality local produce, all sourced very locally, whose freshness and quality complimented the pristine nature. First stop Mata's Mill with its 400-year tradition, and a tasting of homemade bread from different types of flour.  

The Ozalj region is wine country, with its own established wine road. The wines are predominantly white - Grasevina, Riesling, Sauignon Blanc. OPG Gustin was the first on the list, a delightful spot with a gorgeous view, just one of a number of families who are slowly building the tourism story in the region.  

After that, a visit to Culig, who has built up an nice agro-business, and who only sells his wines on-site.  

There was time for sightseeing along the way, with a stop at the oldest power station in Croatia, where Nikola Tesla was said to have conducted experiments with alternating current, although a little research suggests that this actually took place in another location a few kilometres further down the river. True or not, it is a delightful and historic spot, looking over to the small but spectacular old town of Ozalj perched a hill on the other side of the bridge.  

(Photo TCN)

The main event, however, was lamb. And more lamb. Restaurant Zganjer is famous for its lamb, bringing live lambs from the top island-producing locations of Krk and Pag, and with their mobile spits, they are able to cater to guests all over the region. Their speciality is a 9-course feast called Her Majesty the Lamb (8 of which are lamb). For a blow by blow account of one of the outstanding gourmet experiences in Croatia, click here.

Day 2 started with a traditional breakfast - and quite a spread it was - whose ingredients had one thing in common: they were all sourced from within 1km of the restaurant. Regional tourist board director Dina Begic welcomed guests with an overview of the county's natural approach to tourism.  

Onto the bus again throught the forests and rolling vineyards. Winery Vrbanek 1881 in Vivodina. 

Another small family business with a fine estate, working hard to make a contribution to this emerging wine region.  

They were followed by the Girl Power of the ladies of Lescanec.  

And a final visit to the one whose wines I personally enjoyed the most, Darko Vrbanek. Located just 20 metres from the Slovenian border, if you want to get a feeling for how the Slovenian border wire fence is affecting regions where no refugees have arrived, click here.  

The final leg of an excellent and intense 27 hours was a tour of the tiny but delightful old town of Ozalj, perched high on a hill, and offering excellent views. 

A tour of the old town museum detailing the history and heritage...  

before a final glass of wine to accompany the delicous wine goulash prepared by the excellent hosts. The final glass of wine in the old town of Ozalj was given by winery Šoštar accompanied with specialities with walnuts and pumpkins from OPG Kovač. View the entire programme here

A little-known fascinating region, easily accessible from the motorway, Zagreb and Slovenia. Looking to escape the crowds and find out why the Ozalj region is part of the 'Green Heart of Croatia'? Why not pay a visit, especially if you are fan of lamb and strudel... 

With thanks to our outstanding hosts, Ivan Zganjer, owner of Restaurant Zganjer, and Gordana Lipsinic, Mayor of Ozalj. Learn more about Ozalj in the promotional video below.