Food Miles: For a real flavour of Croatia, head inland from the coast
The agricultural landscape of inland Croatia may not rival the country's beautiful Adriatic coastline, but for the adventurous wine lover, heading east from Zagreb into Slavonia and Baranja has its rewards.
There's the chance to sample refreshing, aromatic white wines made from the ancient grape variety of grasevina, common throughout the region, and especially in Kutjevo at the foot of the Krndija and Papuk mountains, and in Ilok, Slavonia's furthest eastern tip. The Ilok Town Museum (00 385 32 827 410; turizamilok.hr) is housed in the beautifully restored 15th-century Odescalchi Castle and contains some fascinating wine-making artefacts.
Although winemaking is well established here, wine tourism is still a work in progress. At the medieval Kutjevo Wine Cellar (kutjevo.com), built in 1232 by Cistercian monks, my guide was unable to answer questions about the history of the winery. A tasting in the atmospheric cellars was brief and topped off with a visit to the shabby retail outlet.
On the plus side, the Croatian tourist board's "Wine Roads" initiative means you can plan your visit to the vineyards of Osijek-Baranja county via an interactive map (bit.ly/WineCroatia) and a new Wine and Tourism centre (00 385 32 590 020; turizamilok.hr) has recently opened in Ilok that will direct you to the region's 17 wineries.
To get an overview of Croatia's wine country, take an electric road train from the old wine cellars at Iloci Podrumi, Ilok (00 385 32 590 003; ilocki-podrumi.hr), for a scenic journey to the nearby Principovac Country Estate (00 385 32 590 088). There are 360-degree views of the vineyards and beyond from the glass cube bar that tops the main building.
A tasting of the award-winning wines at Krauthaker, Kutjevo (00 385 34 315 000; krauthaker.hr), is a real treat. The forward-thinking, ambitious winery supplies The Fat Duck in Bray and other Michelin-starred restaurants.
For some fantastic regional food, head to the "eco-ethno village" of Stara Kapela (00 385 35 384 363; stara-kapela.hr). A five-course lunch here includes kulen, the local cured pork sausage flavoured with paprika and garlic, and freshly made cottage cheese, served with Krauthaker wines.
The speciality of paprikas stew made with carp, pike and catfish from the Danube and spiked with paprika, can be an acquired taste. But properly made, as at Hotel Dunav, Ilok (00 385 32 596 500; hoteldunavilok.com), it can be delicious, especially with a glass of the hotel's own label Dolic Kraljevic grasevina wine.
More info: Croatian National Tourism Board (020-8563 7979; croatia.hr).
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