Gastronaut Discovers the Mystical Tastes and Traditions of Medjimurje in Northern Croatia

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The gourmet team from Gastronaut held their latest field trip to the northern region of Medjimurje on October 13, 2016, a trip attended by TCN.

I have been fortunate over the years to have been invited on many trips around Croatia, which has led me to some fascinating and undiscovered places, several of which have never been previously written about in English. Some of these trips are much better organised than others, and if there is one thing that I have learned over the years, it is that the trips organised by Karin Mimica and her Gastronaut club are not only among the very best in terms of organisation, but they also go into regions where few venture. I am still recovering from the 9-course lamb feast near Ozalj on the last Gastronaut trip in March, a dinner which was aptly named ‘Her Majesty, the Lamb’ (click here for a blow by blow account), and I took little persuading to be at Zagreb Arena by 09:00 for the short bus journey north to Croatia’s smallest region, Medjimurje.  

Gastronaut membership comprises of owners of leading Croatian restaurants and hotels, gourmet jounalists and other gastro specialists, and the publicity generated from a Gastronaut visit is sizable, while the well-organised programmes focusing on local gourmet specialities give plenty of food for thought for the journalists. 

First stop was restaurant Mamica, where hostess Sandra Nedjelko give a fascinating display in the art of the production of ‘cvarci’, a north Croatian specaility somewhat akin to pork scratchings. 

Domestic production is a strong aspect of much of the Medjimurje scene, and while the pork crackled, other parts of the pig were prepared for guests, including ‘krvavice’, or blood sausage. 

Karin Mimica did the introductions, and she was more than ably assisted by Medjimurje Tourist Board Director, Rudi Grula, who energetically and enthusiastically presented his county through the rich one-day programme.

Medjimurje is an important wine region, lesser known than the popular coastal regions of Dalmatia and Istria, but offering some excellent (mostly white) wines, among whom is Lovrec, whose wine was until recently served on Croatia Airlines.  

Natural Medjimurje, full of creativity. The Mamica garden.  

And then the highlight of the day. One of the joys of Croatia even a little off the beaten path is that it is largely undiscovered, especially by foreigners. The Croatian Colorado? Gold panning in the river Drava – really? And sure enough, off we headed in a tourist train to meet the most fascinating man of the day, 94 year-old Mate Horvat, the last surviving gold prospector on the Drava – read much more about this here.  

Continental Croatia is full of outstanding high quality local production, where visitors are free to taste, buy and experience local produce. Agrotourism and rural tourism in general is on the rise in Croatia, and the Gastronaut team swapped dreams of gold for golden honey at Medeni Vrt (Honey Garden), a delightful complex whose focus was very much on bees. 

As well as plenty of other souvenirs for sale and tradition on display. 

Our hostess took us through the range of products and production methods – the creamy honey on the bottom right of the picture above was my personal favourite.

Food and wine are never far away on a Gastronaut trip, and so it proved with the next stop my most eagerly anticipated of the whole day, restaurant Mala Hiza which is consistently rated as one of the best, if not the best, restaurants in continental Croatia. Enjoying a glass or two of the excellent Stamber wines, it did not take me long to find out why, or to admire the effort and the dedication of owner Branko Tomasic, who built the restaurant and business from nothing. While the location is nothing special as you approach, that changes rapidly upon entering the restaurant, a truly cosy and warming environment, more than matched by the hospitality and outstanding food. It was a recurring theme I came across while travelling through continental Croatia last week – hard-working people providing the very best possible.

How interesting can you make a plate of cold meats? This was outstanding, and I only regret not make a list of the various accompanying flavours. Really delicious.

I had tried pumpkin oil on vanilla ice cream on a previous visit to Varazdin (very tasty), but here was my first pumpkin ice cream, washed down with a rather agreeable glass of Traminac. 

Did I mention that food is not far from the Gastronaut agenda? Our final stop was the delightful Medjimurski Dvori, so much more than a restaurant.

The largest restaurant/entertainment centre, the enterprising owners have a range of attractions in addition to the food, and they operate a side business called Etno Art Travel, which brings tourists closer to the traditional Medjimurje experience. 

I became fascinated by the wonderful background music played by this man, which I had never seen before. A cimbolo, cembula or similar – depending on who you speak to. Ah, the joys of Croatian dialects. The instrument is apparently Hungarian gypsy in origin, and this young man claimed he is one of only four people who play the instrument in Croatia. 

Check out the soothing sounds in the video above. 

Foodies into the kitchen. A cooking class awaiting, and soe of Croatia’s top restauateurs were put to the test. Leading nutritionist Diana Gluhak was clearly enjoying herself. 

Our excellent hosts dressed from a long-gone era gave the warmest of welcomes. 

As did the renowned Medjimurje masks. 

Gorgeous local food, creatively prepared. 

A strong gourmet finish to an outstanding day. 

And while the focus was very much on the food and wines of Medjimurje region, one of the features of a Gastronaut trip is the presentation of wines from some of its members. PZ Svirce director Andrija Caric brought a hint of the Mediterranean with a selection of wines from his native Hvar, which complimented the menu superbly. 

Perhaps the most intriguing guest of the day was this on the left (sitting with organiser Karin Mimica and TCN) – Márk Kincses, the international market manager, South-East Europe for the Hungarian Tourism Agency, who is working on a project to increase cross-border tourism with Austria, southern Hungary, northern Slovenia and northern Croatia. The next Gastronaut trip will be an international one, hosted in Hungary by Kincses – an important step in profiling and promoting the initiative to a Croatian audience. 

A stellar day, matched by some stellar accommodation at Sveti Martin Terme, a 4-star wellness and sporting hotel – the Croatian and Bosnian basketball teams were also in attendance. An ideal end to a wonderful day, and the view from the lift in the morning will be of interest to my two daughters the next time we are in the region. Which will be soon. Medjimurje is a delightful and largely undiscovered region with lots of tourism potential. 

In addition to the wines, cycling is also growing quickly as a magnet to Medjimurje, and the hotel wasted no time in reminding people of the fact, with a welcoming message on the wall by the hotel reception. 

Want to learn more about Medjimurje? Here are 25 things to Know about Medjimurje from the popular TCN series.


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