Shopping in Croatia : What to Buy and Where to Buy It
With some of the best olive oil, wine and truffles in Europe and a long tradition of artisanal crafts, Croatia produces a wealth of distinctive and original products. Some, including the tie and fountain pen, were even invented here! So if you’re looking for a little bit of Croatia to take home as a souvenir, a present for a loved one or just a treat to remind you of your fabulous family vacation, then here are some suggestions for when you go shopping in Croatia.
Cravats from Croatia
The French have the beret, Americans have denim and Scots have the kilt, but if you’re after something typically Croatian, then you need a cravat or necktie invented by Croats back in the early 1600’s. The cravat is such an important national cultural symbol that the name even comes from the Croatian for Croat; hrvat.
The Croatian necktie dates back to the Thirty Years War, one of Europe’s longest and deadliest conflicts. Local girls would tie a knotted scarf around their sweetheart’s neck as a token of their love before the men left for the battlefield. Over the years, ties caught on, catching the imagination of the French who took them back to Paris and Louis XIV’s court at Versailles, the center of European fashion. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, one of the main tie-makers in the country is Croata, producing a variety of styles and designs from the necktie to the bow tie to silk scarves. For some quintessential shopping in Croatia, keep an eye out for their stores across the country; Croata’s tie aficionados will even teach you some beautiful new knots to help you dress to impress in Croatian style. Perfect!
Olive Oil from Dalmatia & Istria
Many Croats will tell you that Croatian olive oil is the best in the world. And while some of their Mediterranean neighbors might disagree, the rising number of international awards are testament to the quality of today’s Istrian and Dalmatian olive oil.
The majority of small, family-run farms grows organic olives and still harvests the berries by hand, giving the extra-virgin oil a peppery flavor particular to Croatia. So every time you drizzle a salad with Croatian olive oil back home, its tangy taste will transport you straight back to the olive groves and vineyards that dot the Adriatic landscape. What a fabulous addition to your basket when shopping in Croatia!
Licitar Hearts from Zagreb
Staying up north around the capital of Zagreb you’ll find a uniquely Croatian gift that’s just perfect for your sweetheart, lover or spouse: the licitar heart.
Made from gingerbread or honey dough and decorated with messages of love, licitar hearts date back to the 1500’s when nobles favored highly-decorated cakes. Often sold at fairs and festivals, the licitar heart became a token of affection, with young men presenting the small cakes to their girlfriends to confess their love. And the custom has continued down through the centuries, now forming a large part of Croatian tradition, especially around Valentine’s Day.
Walk around Zagreb for just a few minutes and you’re bound to spot licitar hearts in the shop windows. Just be sure to buy the real gingerbread ones, not the plastic ones, and you’ll have another great addition to your shopping list in Croatia.
Silk & embroidery from Dubrovnik
The Konavle district near Dubrovnik has been famous for the production of silk and handmade embroidery for centuries, ever since silkworms were first brought to Croatia in the 1400’s.
The delicate geometric patterns and designs of the silk ladies of Konavle form the basis for traditional local costumes and clothing for special occasions, especially weddings. Red is the predominant color used for many designs, which symbolizes fertility and is believed to bring good luck. And the hand-sewn silk embroidery makes a beautiful visual reminder of your vacation so why not add a scarf, handkerchief, apron or blouse to your souvenir shopping in Croatia?
Lace from Pag Island
Pag lace, produced solely on the island of Pag to the north of mainland Zadar, is as delicate as a butterfly wing and just as beautiful. Made from fine threads with tiny needles, the women of the island knot the lace onto a paper backing, each family developing their own particular designs that are then passed down from mother to daughter and on to their granddaughters. And the tradition is so exceptional that UNESCO has declared it to be of cultural importance and worthy of being protected.
The intricate thread work once adorned the dresses of queens and princesses across Europe and now is available to you, too. It makes a fabulous memento of some Adriatic island hopping and a unique way to support this dying artisanal craft.
Lavender from Hvar on the Dalmatian coast
Croatia, and particularly the Dalmatian island of Hvar, is one of Europe’s largest sources of lavender. Farms, runs by some of the regions many producers, dot the slopes. And if you are lucky enough to visit Hvar in June or July, you’ll be blessed with the sight of acres of breathtakingly beautiful purple carpets covering the undulating countryside and beyond.
Producers distill the perfumed oil from the purple petals to create cosmetics, fragrances and complimentary aromatic oils to aid relaxation and sleep. A hand-embroidered pillow filled with the dried flowers of Lavandula Croatica, or a bottle of delicate lavender perfume, make an ideal present or memento of this purple-perfumed paradise. And every time you spritz yourself with the cologne or lay your head down to sleep, you’ll be transported back to the blue skies, green hills and sapphire seas of Hvar. What better purchase could you make when shopping in Croatia?
Treat your tastebuds to a glass of Croatian wine
Just as we’ve finally discovered the joys of good quality Croatian olive oil, the wines of the Adriatic are becoming better known and revealing some hidden vineyard gems, too. From Dubrovnik in the south to Hvar and the many Dalmatian wineries to northern Istria, you have a multitude of Croatian wines and vintages to choose from.
To help you understand the difference between the winemaking locations, why not check out some of our favorite wineries in the land? And if your tastebuds like what they sample at one of your guided tastings, there’s always the chance to do some shopping in Croatia and to add some bottles to your wine rack. I’ll drink to that!
Istrian truffle hunting
And finally, how about a bit of truffle hunting in Istria to whet your appetite and accompany your wine?
The scenic, northern county of Istria is renowned for its record-breaking and delicious black and white truffles; the largest one weighed in at a whopping 3.5 lbs! Hunters and their hounds scour the woods and forests of the countryside around Motovun and Livade throughout the autumn and winter and are rewarded with bumper crops, making Istria the largest truffle exporting region in the country.
If you are a foodie, there can be no better reminder of your vacation than shaving a Croatian truffle over a plate of steaming pasta, or drizzling some golden Croatian truffle oil over your steak back home. It is one way to revisit your vacation without leaving the comforts of your kitchen or dining room and a perfect way to support local trade and protect the next generation of truffle hunters in Istria. So make sure you check out the truffles of Istria before you head for home. Bon appetit!
Shopping in Croatia
The best destination for shopping in Croatia depends on your personal taste. The good news is that whether you’re a foodie from Fresno, a wine connoisseur from Wisconsin or a needleworker from New York, there is something for everyone here. And obviously, if you prefer mass-market retail shopping and international brands, then you can always make a beeline for the major cities of Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik, where malls and markets cater to every need. Don’t forget to build some shopping time into your next vacation and, in the meantime, leave us a comment to let us know what will be top of your shopping list. Maybe it’ll be a case of wine, a precious, pungent truffle, a calming lavender pillow or possibly just a bigger suitcase for all your Croatian goodies! Happy shopping!