Five Michelin Stars Light the Way to Croatia’s Gastronomic Landscape

by Maria Lisella
Five Michelin Stars Light the Way to Croatia’s Gastronomic Landscape

The country’s growing identity is a food-and-wine star. Photo: Croatian National Tourist Board

Coveted Michelin stars have been awarded to two Croatian restaurants, effectively boosting the country’s reputation as a top gourmet destination.

The Croatian restaurants that each received a Michelin star are the Noel (in Zagreb) and Draga di Lovrana (in Lovran). In addition, Pelegrini (in Šibenik), 360º (in Dubrovnik), and Monte (in Rovinj) have successfully retained their Michelin status in 2019.

“This selection shows the potential of the Croatian gastronomic scene, enriched by numerous influences — from the Mediterranean tastes in Dalmatia, Italian influences in Istria, and Slavic flavors from Zagreb to Slavonia — which creates a unique culinary identity,” said Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guide.

Specialty tour operator, Wanda Radetti of Tasteful Journeys, said, “The Michelin stars illuminating the gastronomic scene of Croatia are well-deserved, and I believe this is just the beginning — the birth of a constellation.”

Additionally, Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list now boasts a total of eight Croatian restaurants, twice as many as last year; and 51 restaurants in the country now bear the Michelin Plate label. Recognition is assigned to restaurants offering quality menus at affordable prices. The restaurants are rated by highly-classified and anonymous visits by specially-trained Michelin inspectors.

Last year, Michelin’s Bib Gourmand distinction listed Konoba Mate (in Korcula), Danube (in Ilok), Vuglec Breg (in Krapina), and Konoba Fetivi (in Split). This year, the new additions include Batelina (in Banjole), Konoba Vinko (in Konjevrate), Agava (in Zagreb), and TAC (in Zagreb).

“New stars and recommendations to Croatian restaurants prove that our gastronomic endeavors are able to meet a very demanding international quality criteria, but also that our culinary talents are increasingly being recognized around the world,” said the Kristjan Stanicic, director of the Croatian Tourist Board.

Likewise, regional tourist boards are supporting Croatia’s burgeoning gastronomic tour industry. Richard Gruica, CEO of Captivating Croatia, added: “The Istrian Tourism Board has done a stellar job of raising awareness for what their area has to offer and is leading the way in Croatia in regards to gastronomic tourism. The Dubrovnik Tourist Board has the Good Food Festival. And now, Sibenik, with Croatia's top chef/owner Rudi Stefan leading the way, is doing the Chef’s Stage.” He hopes other regions follow the charge.

Generalist operators add culinary elements
Croatia’s specialty operators are not surprised by the gastronomic appeal, while generalist operators are adding elements to their broad tours that reflect the country’s growing identity as a food-and-wine star.

For instance, Avanti Destinations has added a nine-night program, dubbed “Scents of Croatia,” which includes a truffle hunting trip. Kensington Tours features “Culinary Croatia” this year — with visits to Rovinj, Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik and Zagreb — which includes cooking with a family and hunting for truffles.

The overall product range showcasing programs to Croatia fall into two categories, said Gruica: “There are the ‘see the whole country’ tours organized by operators with expertise in international travel but not specific to Croatia; and you have the specialist operators whose insiders’ knowledge can offer immersive experiences.”

Some insiders confided that Croatia is not the easiest travel destination to navigate, but there are ways to smooth out the journey. “As long as clients understand it is not the simplest trip, and driving is not that easy, agents can create land-and-sea combinations for a few days – with stops in Split and Dubrovnik, then back onboard to sail the coastline and small islands,” said Martin Rapp, senior VP leisure at Altour.

Rapp advises agents who don’t know the terrain firsthand, to consult with good, local DMCs to map out the authentic experiences people want most these days. “Small ships, yachts, and cruises work; if you want to give clients’ the best time, you don’t need luxurious yachts, but ask a DMC to help rent a boat, locate a home chef to cook with, or take a hotel garden or market tour with the hotel chef.”

Croatia has much to offer, but travel professionals agree on one thing: That dining and food are key elements of international travel these days.

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