Only half an hour away from the azure coasts of Split is Stella Croatica, an authentic tavern and vegetable garden offering delicious homemade meals to our Contiki travellers. Run by the Dabelić family, Stella Croatica’s garden and tavern is a labour of love designed to let Dalmatia’s culinary heritage shine.
All natural, locally grown and sourced ingredients make for mouth-watering food and wine tastings. But that’s not all this place is about. We’re proud to support Stella Croatica as one of our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences on a few of our dazzling Croatian trips. Travellers are free to tour Stella Croatica’s charming and rustic property which includes an olive museum as well as the beautiful and aromatic herb and vegetable garden. It’s a farm-to-table experience which not only involves a mouth-watering traditional dinner but also full interaction for the guests. It doesn’t get much better than this!
Could this setting be any more idyllic?
Up in the arid hills just outside of Split, Stella Croatica is a monument to Dalmatian culture. The Dalmatian Coast is one of four historic regions in Croatia and it’s represented by a sprawling strip of white cliffs and even whiter beaches, aquamarine water, and terracotta-roofed towns and cities.
The coast includes several islands adrift off mainland Croatia’s shores, including the island of Mljet where Stella Croatica’s story begins. Blessed with stunning natural parks and landscapes, Mljet doesn’t have the same hustle and bustle as Split, but it’s a playground for all nature lovers. The Dabelić family grew up here with an inherited olive grove which sparked a generation-long foodie love story…
Image source:Stella Croatica
The MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Pledge
We’re committed to providing our travellers with unique and meaningful experiences across the globe which they can cherish for years to come. Our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER®Experiences are all about giving back to the local communities we travel to, as well as supporting sustainable businesses and experiences which are dedicated to helping the planet, its people, and animals.
The meals served at Stella Croatica are entirely made from their own organic produce and locally sourced ingredients, and the food and beauty products sold in their shop are manufactured by hand by local Croatian women, utilising the same ingredients and homemade essential oils. As such they’re a perfect MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience and we are so proud to partner with them.
Contiki reveals its 5-year sustainability goals to help you make your travel matter
I was lucky enough to have a hearty family meal with my new Contiki friends set around a gingham laid table and olive groves, fueled by velvety homemade wine and some of the best tapenade I’ve ever tasted. Then I caught up with Marin Jerković to talk about what makes Stella Croatica truly special.
Hey Marin, can you tell me a little bit about the history of Stella Croatica’s farm?
“So, the idea for Stella Croatica, our farm and restaurant, was born on an island called Mljet, where the owners are originally from. They had always grown up living with nature, and learning to cultivate it as Mljet is quite disconnected from the mainland and has its own agriculture. They inherited an olive grove and they took care of these olives for years until they finally moved to Split.”
“When they moved to Split it was their dream to bring their passion over and provide an all natural cultural and gastronomic experience of Dalmatian heritage. Stella Croatica opened in 2011 and we have been running ever since.”
How long has Stella Croatica been a family business?
“As a brand it’s existed for about 20 years. On top of owning the farm and restaurant we also sell natural cosmetics and food supplements, as well as things like wine and olive oil.”
“All generations of the family are involved in the business and help out, especially during the summer seasons. And we also employ local women from Split who hand produce traditional delicacies as well as taking care of our botanical garden.”
What kinds of herbs and plants do you grow in the botanical garden?
“We have a collection of over 500 species in our garden, and we work closely with the Botanical Garden of Zagreb to help maintain them. We’re very proud of this garden because we can honestly say that we have everything we need to represent Dalmatia’s natural heritage.”
“When it comes to the vegetables and spices that we use in our tavern, one of the most important is definitely the collard greens. Once considered a “poor man’s dish”, collard greens are now a local highly sought-out delicacy. It’s considered an extremely healthy ingredient, which is low in calories, and this explains why Hollywood has gone crazy over it”
“Other than collard greens, we grow our own peppers, lettuce, chilly peppers, leek, zucchini, rosemary, lavender, basil etc. Also, all the meat that we prepare comes from the local farmers. In that way, we are really offering nothing but local authentic food. We are proud to serve traditional food, local wine and natural juices to all our visitors.”
How important is hosting and communal eating to your cultural heritage?
“It’s very important!- it’s part of our tradition to share food with other people. In Dalmatia it’s normal for several generations in a family to live under the same household, and these families always have guests over. We eat all our meals together and share stories over food and wine – that’s kind of what Mediterranean food and life is all about.”
“Offering bread, salt, and olive oil to your guests once they enter your home is part of an old custom. It’s a way of saying that you are safe and welcome under our roof, and this is a tradition that we still cherish at Stella Croatica, so when guests arrive the table is already laid with these things.”
Is it important to you that all your food be sourced locally?
“It’s extremely important to us, and to everyone in Dalmatia to be honest. Most people here have their own gardens at home and it’s so common for us to grow our own produce like tomatoes, lettuces, zucchinis, and potatoes. Generally each household produces its own olive oil and wine as well and we all like to boast that ours is the best.”
“We’re especially aware today of where food comes from, and by growing our own produce we know for certain that these are good ingredients and they aren’t filled with any unnecessary chemicals or preservatives, like a lot of things you might find in the supermarket. If we’re using ingredients that we ourselves haven’t produced, like meat for example, then the least we can do is ensure that we know who did produce it and where it’s coming from and make sure it’s the best possible quality.”
“This policy is reflected in our households and in our experiences: what we would be happy to consume is what we offer our guests as well.”
What is ‘peka’ and what are the origins of this style of cooking?
“Peka is basically an iron bell which is used for preparing bread and other dishes the traditional way. In the old days each household had to make their own bread, and typically you would make one loaf a day. One person in the household, generally the grandmother, would wake up early to prepare the dough and start a fire in the oven. When the dough is ready she’d place it directly on the hot surface and cover it with the peka and surround it with ash. This way the bread would get an even cook on all sides and it gets this delicious smoky aroma.”
“So, we still use this style of cooking at our tavern when we prepare meat, potatoes, and all our vegetables. When you put it all together and cover it with the peka, all those aromas and flavours are intertwined and it is a real delicacy”
Image source:Stella Croatica
Do the meals you offer at the tavern change with the seasons?
“Since we’re only open in the Summertime our menu doesn’t have to change that much, but we like to add some new and interesting twists each year. If we think that a specific vegetable or herb or spice will add something interesting to a dish then we make those changes the following year and that way if guests come back they don’t get the same thing twice.”
How does tourism affect your business and what can travellers expect from a visit to Stella Croatica?
“Tourism makes up a wonderful part of our business as we are able to host many people from around the world and share our culture with them. On top of the farm-to-table meal, we produce many goods like olive oils, jams, sweets, honeys, cakes, as well as natural cosmetics. These are sold in different shops across Croatia and Europe, and also here at Stella Croatica, so guests are welcome to buy a few souvenirs if they’d like!”
“When people visit us they are greeted with warmth and they can roam around the property to discover our herb and vegetable gardens, as well as discovering the beautiful setting of our traditional village which will give you a glimpse into life in the hinterlands during the 1900s.”
“Then there’s of course the meal which is cooked by local women who prepare these meals as they would for members of their own family: with much love! It’s a three course meal and we offer our homemade wine to go with it as well. After the meal visitors may have a tour of our gift shop and buy some of the locally made products listed above as well.”
What about your work makes you most proud?
“Presenting our heritage to our guests and getting to see their smiles when they spend time here with us. There’s real joy to be had when our visitors appreciate what we’ve done to create this experience, and all the energy we’ve put into it. It’s the greatest reward one can hope to get in this line of business.”