It’s late winter in southern Croatia and the sun is high in the sky. The calm water off the coast is a deep shade of aquamarine. The coastline is as dramatic as ever—with rocky mountains pushing all the way up to the sky and islands dotting the horizon everywhere you look.
Today, my partner and I have slipped out of busy Dubrovnik—the tiny walled city that has become so beloved by travellers that the local government is talking about introducing strict limits on tourism—and made our way 20 minutes down the coast to the smaller, quieter, less discovered coastal town of Cavtat.
Located in its own tiny, tucked-away cove with deep blue Adriatic views as far as the eye can see, Cavtat is hardly undiscovered. It draws savvy travellers down the coast for its beaches, Renaissance mansion and well-kept coastal walking paths perfect for a sunny stroll. But despite its vibrant tourist bustle, it’s much calmer, smaller and less crowded than its northern neighbour—a fact we revelled in on that sunny winter day as we explored the coastline, only occasionally passing another traveller.
But that isn’t the only reason we ventured down the coast. We’ve also come to eat some of Croatia’s best food—at a little stone-walled waterfront restaurant called Bugenvila—with some globetrotting friends.
And so that’s where we find ourselves: seated on a sunny patio at a dark wood table, ordering up the house specialties, hopeful they’ll be as delicious as I’ve heard.
To start, butter arrives infused with rosemary and truffles—a delicacy of Northern Croatia—and accompanied by soft, homemade rolls. They’re to die for.
Our dining companions order oysters, served fresh from the Adriatic and doused in lemon. We start with the chicken pate served with tangerine jelly. It’s moulded into the shape of a piece of fruit, decorated with a clean leaf masquerading as the jelly-fruit’s stem and served with toast. Like the truffle butter, it takes our breath away.
The main course is a perfectly prepared steak, served medium rare with truffle foam and potatoes sliced so thin and prepared so delicately that they melt the moment they hit our tongues. We exchange delighted looks. This restaurant was even better than we expected—and well worth the trip.
We let the conversation lapse as we close our eyes and savour the last bites—the flavours as intense and rich as the views—and we all promise to make our way back down this same stretch of coast someday to have another meal as beautiful as this one.
Later, after we linger long at our sunny table, tasting sorbets and talking travel, we finally force ourselves to head back home to Dubrovnik on a small, speedy boat over miles of blue-turquoise water, past bright white sailboats, terracotta rooftops, white-gray rocks and deep green shrubs growing alongside the water. Above the whir of the boat engine and the sound of water crashing alongside us, we all agree that it was the best meal we’ve had in Croatia.