After sailing the idyllic isles of Dalmatia, scaling the Biokovo mountain, wondering at the Roman relics of Split, and checking off the gushing waterfalls of Krka, you finally get to that point in your holiday when it's time to get something for the folks back at home. Cue this guide to Croatia gifts, which has five top suggestions of what to bring home from your sun drenched vacation.Table of contents
Calling all foodies – the truffle is the piece de resistance of the Istrian kitchen. Yep, that region of wood-clad hills and wild river valleys in the far northwest of the country is the place to go a-hunting for the world's most expensive fungi. They're found all over the area by professional truffle hunters and their loyal hounds. In fact, the largest truffle ever recorded was plucked from the soils of Croatian Istria, weighing in at a whopping 1.3kgs!
One of those is going to cost you a mortgage and a half, but there are smaller versions and all manner of truffle-infused products to get stuck into. The place to go is the lush lands between stunning Motovun and the small village of Buzet. That's the heart of Croatian truffle country and there are shops and farms that burst with everything from truffle oil to truffle butter to truffle chocolates.
There are hundreds of years of lacemaking tradition in this sun-baked land on the edge of the Balkan Peninsula. One of the most famous is the long-running practice of aloe thread weaving that takes place in Hvar. There, the Benedictine nuns spin incredibly delicate patterns out of threads obtained from the native agave plants that grow wild on the scrub cliffs above the Adriatic Sea. It's incredibly painstaking work and is now even protected by UNESCO.
The highland mountain town of Lepoglava north of Zagreb is also known for its lace products. The items there are made from more classic braided bobbin lace. Workers weave them into intricate geometric displays and patterns inspired by the upland wildflowers of the Balkans. The finished piece is usually no more than 30cm across but draws the eye with its splendid attention to detail.
Be warned: Proper Croatian lace doesn't come cheap. All of the pieces, from both Hvar and Lepoglava, will be 100% handmade, sometimes taking months and months to complete. What's more, since much of the lace-making in Croatia is protected as cultural heritage, there's something of a captive market – you can only buy Hvar lace in Hvar, for example.
If we were tasked with naming the top lavender-growing regions in Europe, it might go something like this: Provence, Tuscany, Dalmatia. Mhmm, the breezy, sunny south of Croatia has one of the finest climates for nurturing this fragrant purple plant of anywhere on the continent. It just seems to grow everywhere and anywhere – under rocks on the slopes of the Biokovo Mountain, between cracks in the cliffs on Brac and Hvar, along the sides of the coast highways running out of Split.
The locals here have been working and crafting with this gift of the ground since anyone can remember. Shoppers on the souvenir hunt can now pick up soaps, smelly bags that keep folded clothes fresh, lavender handwashes, body scrubs, and car fresheners. You'll smell the shop that sells them before you see it, no doubt. They pop up in most tourist towns but also in bigger cities like Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik.
The Sestine umbrella is an enduring icon of the Croatian capital, Zagreb. It's actually a part of the official folk costume of its namesake region of Sestine, a district that's now almost entirely encompassed by the big city, perched up on the low-lying slopes of Medvednica mountain to the north of the centre.
The umbrella is a distinctive vermillion red with a border of thin yellow, blue, and wood-green lines at both the top and bottom of the canopy. That's all held in place by a polished wood handle that curves elegantly in a horseshoe holder and then to a pinnacle up above. The finished product is a multi-purpose device used to shield walkers from both the highland rains of inland Croatia and the beating sun that arrives between May and August.
There's one place that stands out from the crowd when it comes to sourcing authentic Sestine umbrellas: Umbrellas Cerovecki. Their boutique has been going for more than a century on Ilica street on the edge of the downtown of Zagreb.
Rakija is the liquid gold that can be found all over the Balkans and Eastern Europe, as far afield as Romania and the isles of the Greek Aegean. However, some of the most famous is produced right here in Croatia. Yep, the land on the Adriatic is known for its home-crafted rakija, which can hit anything between 40% and 70% proof (although the real homemade stuff rarely has a label to tell you).
Some folks on our island-hopping tours fall in love with rakija. Others hate it. It's a sort of Marmite of the liquor world, inspiring both loyal followings and winces of disgust. Either way, it's the perfect gift to take home for any booze aficionados. Alternatively, grab yourself a bottle for the wine rack and serve it up as an aperitif before a meal to cleanse the palate.
This guide to Croatia gifts touches on just five of the most tempting souvenirs to return home with after cruising the Adriatic or exploring the inland of the Balkan Peninsula. If it's convinced you to put Croatia on your bucket list for the year, be sure to get in touch – we have sailing tours, cycling tours, and everything in between.