We recently returned from a wonderful two weeks in sunny, friendly Croatia. It was my third time there, but my first with the children, and the bulk of this post will cover various experiences we had. But I’ll kick things off with a recipe for those of you who may only be interested in 1) how we self-catered veggie meals using a small aparthotel kitchenette 2) a simple, customisable meal idea made with the most rudimentary collection of pantry staples.
I must preface this recipe by stating that I don’t know if ‘stew’ is exactly the right word to describe it. ‘Mish-mash of whatever-we-were-able-to-purchase-that-was-kind-of-healthy’ would be a more appropriate recipe title, but it clearly doesn’t “work”. The flavours, on the other hand, do. They could definitely be enhanced with a splash of tamari, a squeeze of lime juice, coconut milk in place of soy and the addition of fresh leafy greens. Having said that, the ingredients you will see listed below were the exact things we had access to where we stayed. And this recipe is, of course, highly customisable.
If you ever find yourself in Tucepi, with access to basic self-catering facilities, and in need of a wholesome vegetarian meal, give it a go! 😉
NUTTY CHICKPEA STEW
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper/capsicum, chopped
1 can chickpeas, drained & well-rinsed
100 ml crushed tomatoes/passata
75- 100 ml peanut butter
100-150 ml plant milk (we used organic soy)
1-2 tbsp turmeric
A good squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Salt to taste (we used local sea salt infused with dried herbs)
SERVE WITH (optional)
Fresh sliced cucumber
Pan-fried turmeric-dusted tofu (1 block, sliced)
2 sweet potatoes, sliced and sautéed
Pepitas & sunflower seeds
- In a frying pan, saute chopped onion in a little olive oil over medium heat until turning golden and translucent.
- Add chopped red pepper and tip in the chickpeas. Allow to cook, stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes.
- Add passata, peanut butter, plant milk and turmeric to the pan. Stir gently to combine. Simmer for around 5 minutes, adding more plant milk for a thinner consistency if you like.
- When done, add lemon juice and season to taste. Serve with quinoa and additions of choice.
For those looking for travel tips in the Dalmatian region of Croatia, specifically ones that cover fun and stress-free travel with young children, wellness and healthy/vegetarian food, feel free to read on.
I have illustrated the post with personal photographs and videos captured almost exclusively using Instagram Stories on my iPhone. And, rather than merely paraphrasing information about locations/services that you would be able to locate elsewhere online, I am limiting the information in this post to include our own personal experiences and tips based around them.
I hope you are all “travelling well” no matter where in the world you are! 🙂
Happy weekend, all!
❤ Marisa xx
Tucepi was our home base for two weeks. Famous for having one of the best beaches in the Makarska area, the water in Tucepi is crystal clear, the people are friendly, and it’s not as busy as some other areas (although there is still a lot of activity during the day). It finds itself positioned – with a gorgeous mountain backdrop – in between charming little Podgora and bigger, more cosmopolitan Makarska. It has to be my personal pick of towns to stay in along the Makarska Riviera for all of those reasons… and more.
I can’t recommend Hotel Tamaris enough. It has excellent reviews from guests, is a Tripadvisor Traveller’s Choice winner and the location is perfect. The staff members are professional, friendly, warm, accommodating and wonderful with children. The entertainment is refined, simple and optional (eg, traditional klapa performances during special dinners, as opposed to cheesy music blaring 24/7 😛 ).
We stayed in apartment 106; a perfect location away from the noise of the perpetual pool party at Bluesun Hotel Neptun next door (you wouldn’t even know it was there) with balcony views of the sea and pool.
First impressions count. Ours was as follows.
We arrived at Split airport around 9pm. It was warm, and although our flight was only 2 hours and 40 minutes long, we’d left our place in Stockholm at 2pm. So were a little travel weary already. Apollo (with whom we booked our trip) were on the case. Exiting the airport was an efficient procedure once luggage was collected, and bottled water awaited us as we boarded the comfortable transfer bus. Around two hours later, our excited and over-tired family checked into Hotel Tamaris.
Friendliest. Hotel. Check-in. Experience. Ever.
The restaurant kitchen had closed, but the staff (all of them!) stayed on for an extra hour so that we could have a meal and not feel hurried. If you are a parent, traveling with small children, acts of such kindness and true “hospitality” are beyond appreciated.
It also needs to be said that the folks at reception are absolute gems with children. Yes, the ladies will give your kids candy (everyday 😛 ), but far more importantly, they are always up for a cuddle and keen to listen to tales of their little adventures. We are not the only ones to be thoroughly impressed with the above-and-beyond service at Tamaris.
The apartments are perfect for families. Perfect. My husband and I had one large bedroom which we shared with Oliver (his portable snuggle nest was positioned in between us on the bed, just as his baby nest is when we are at home). Louie and Lillian shared a double fold-out bed (which they loved) in the generously proportioned open-plan lounge area.
The kitchenette was a godsend. Featuring a fridge-freezer, sink, microwave and small stove top and containing cupboard space, cutlery, crockery and utensils, it had everything we needed for quiet self-catered breakfasts, cosy afternoon teas and a few healthy home cooked lunches and dinners.
Healthy ricecake “donuts”, prepared in our kitchenette (as shared on Instagram)
The balconies are spacious, plenty of room to sit together… or dry clothes. There is ample storage space, with several large built-in wardrobes that make it incredibly easy to get organised, feel at home and not be ‘living out of suitcases’. The sides of the bathtubs are high, but if you supervise your kids getting in and out (we do, as ours are little), then you’ll find them perfect for bubble baths at the end of a salty beach day.
Our children loved what they referred to as “kids club”, an area designed for playing computer games and drawing. The pool is not huge, but lovely, clean and never over crowded. We swam daily. There always seemed to be a sun lounger if we wanted one. The gym is nothing to write home about (it doesn’t have to be with sea/pools/hiking/jogging opportunities on the doorstep), but it’s good to have as a backup if the weather turns bad and I happily used it a couple of times.
The restaurant (Freyja Restaurant) is one of the top rated restaurants in the region and serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks. The prices are good, the food is fresh and made with care and, again, the staff are excellent, friendly and always happy to assist.
The one downside at Hotel Tamaris? We found wifi to be somewhat unreliable. I am not sure if it was an issue with our apartment in particular, but connectivity seemed to come and go for no apparent reason. To be honest, this was not a big issue as I wanted to minimise my time online. But, here’s a tip if you happen to stay in our old room; the wifi connection is best on the balcony. So grab a bottle of mineral water and your laptop… and head out for some sunshine. 😉
Last impressions count. This was ours.
Louie refused to say goodbye to Silva at reception. He was too sad. Silva wrapped her arm around Louie and said, “You cannot leave me like this. You must be happy. We will see you again… come here…” and with that she passed him a 1 kilogram bag of candy*. And he held it like a favourite toy… and sat on the bus and cried in a way I have never seen him cry before, half the journey to the airport in Split.
I still miss Croatia. We all do! And we would all happily stay at Hotel Tamaris again.
Having a cuddle with Silva at Hotel Tamaris
*The packet remains unopened. Louie is happy just knowing he has a present from Silva for now, and I am sure the trick-or-treating children of our neighbourhood will appreciate sharing the bounty soon.
There is a small playground near Kastelet, and several trampolines and coin operated kiddie rides are dotted about near the promenade. Paddle boats are available for hire right on the beach (we went with the blue ones near Tamaris: 50 Kuna for 30 minutes, 70 Kuna for 1 hour). The paddle boats are a great option for little ones; a private boat, a slide via which to enter the sea (with a splash and a giggle), and a place to rest little legs if tiredness creeps in, all in one.
Of course there is the beach itself; nature’s playground! And water sports for the more adventurous. 5 year-old Louie went parasailing with the company located on the beach front outside Tamaris. As someone who is afraid of heights (really afraid), seeing my little boy 350 meters up in the air was both fabulous and nerve-wracking. He also went ziplining with Tip Extreme, who run an excellent, friendly and professional service. They even do pick-ups direct from local hotels. Louie still raves about both experiences.
Lillian and Louie both had a speed boat adventure too. Lillian didn’t appreciate the water in her face (there were a few tears), but found the actual boat more comfortable to sit in than the inflatable ring and enjoyed the “modified” experience. The watersport businesses that operate along the beach are accustomed to accommodating families and have life jackets in various sizes. They will also reduce boat speeds if asked.
Mid-way along the promenade is a large floating playground with various obstacles to climb, slide down and jump on. My husband tested it out with Louie and, although they had fun, the verdict was that it probably isn’t the best of activities for younger children that cannot move about freely without assistance from an adult.
Bicycles can be rented on the promenade (near the tennis courts), and all of the larger hotels have swimming pools, which are understandably the most popular places to be aside from the beach.
There’s a small convenience store known as Paula. It’s open late and, for those eating dairy-free, they do sell soy milk. Yes, there is fresh fruit and veg to be found in Tucepi as one might expect, but other staples upon which you may ordinarily rely could be hard to come by. Spices, for example. I saw paprika in the supermarket. That was seriously it (excluding black pepper). The Konzum supermarket has a larger range of products that veggie whole foods lovers may appreciate. I found quinoa, chia seeds, sweet potatoes, aubergines, nuts, seeds, plant-based milks and natural muesli.
For spices, tofu, ready-made veggie products (burgers, sausages, etc.) and larger assortment of organic grocery items, your best bet is DM in Makarska, which also stocks an impressive range of cosmetic products, including local pure essential oils from Hvar.
Fresh produce can be purchased at market stalls, supermarkets and also from fruit and veg boats that stop at various points along the beach.
A small selection of grocery items purchased from Konzum & DM
Paula: Dračevice 46, 21325, Tučepi
Konzum Tucepi: Kraj, 21325 Tučepi
DM Makarska: Šetalište Dr. Franje Tuđmana 1, 21300, Makarska
Fruit & Veg boats: you’ll come across them if you spend time on the beach!
If you’re a dedicated omnivore (as most of my family members are, including my parents who travelled with us), you will make your way quite easily when it comes to Croatian food. Paleo people, you’ll encounter obstacles of a grainy, cheesy nature, but you will also be ok. But if you visit this region of Dalmatia, you’re vegetarian and used to eating fairly healthy food, you may be in for a surprise; a donutty, french fry-covered, drenched-in-melted-cheese pizza kind of surprise. And if you’re vegan, you’re definitely in a spot of bother.
Right here I am going to have to interrupt myself and give a shout-out to Freyja Restaurant. There were restaurants and cafés we came across that would modify a sandwich by removing the ham from the usual mix of fillings, but at Freyja they will actually cook good, wholesome vegetarian/vegan food, from scratch… and with seasonal, fresh produce. It’s a shame that they are hesitant to state this officially (they will do so upon request quite happily, though). They probably don’t see a reason for it, or don’t want to add non-traditional dishes to a rather classic Dalmatian menu. That being said, things are slowly changing. As I said to Silva at reception, I see no need for them to totally abandon the classics in favour of a revamped raw vegan menu, rather the addition of one or two complimentary vegetarian meals made with local produce and flavours could only serve to bring more positive (and well-deserved) attention to Freyja Restaurant.
Cocktail bars abound, but surprisingly “real” juice bars are in short supply. Having said that, it is possible to get juices and smoothies from some of the cocktail bars, and juice-based mocktails are a much-enjoyed treat for little ones.
When out and about in Croatia and looking for meals on the veggie-friendly side of things, be open to modifying menu items. The virgin coladas with whipped cream on every cocktail bar menu, for example? Ask for one to be made with only pineapple juice and coconut milk. Boom! A healthier, dairy-free colada smoothie.
Virgin Colada Smoothie
With Scandinavians loving Croatia as they do, and companies such as Apollo having well-established partnerships with various venues in the region, it is only a matter of time before someone decides it prudent to capitalise on the growing trend towards plant-based eating that Swedes are following. During our stay I met someone who had been discussing the possibility of opening a healthy food and juice bar in Tucepi with family members. So, who knows? It might be there when we return, and it would certainly fill a niche.
Louie with one of his friends at Restaurant Freyja
There are various walking trails (some can be found clearly marked on local maps), but right in Tucepi we discovered two places of particular interest to the children. Our Grand Designs-obsessed, 5-year-old future architect, Louie, was utterly fascinated by the charming and beautifully kept St. George Church next door to our hotel. Built in 1311, this little church has a surprisingly active life. During our time in Tucepi we saw several gatherings there and a Christening.
On the other side of the road partially hidden by trees, lies what was once the jewel of Tucepi, now the abandoned and derelict Hotel Jadran; socialist Yugoslavia’s first hotel. Several hundred German POWs provided the manual labor for its construction. The hotel itself is off-limits, but a walk around the site is eerily fascinating.
Little explorers discussing Hotel Jadran
The young woman who runs the massage stand closest to Tamaris and neighboring Bluesun Hotel Neptun is excellent. She is kind, professional and provides a great service for a very fair price. She has a little girl not that much older than my Oliver, so we chatted a little about “mama stuff”. After telling her that Louie is slightly enamoured with the idea of having “spa treatments”, she gave him a free leg massage!
The price for a 25 minute back or leg massage (I had both. Several times!) is 100 Kuna. Full body massage, facial massages and others are also available.
HAIRDRESSING & SALON SERVICES
On a whim, my father decided to book a haircut for himself at Bluesun Hotel Alga. Louie ended up getting one too. The prices were fair (70 Kuna for Louie, if I recall correctly), and the hairdresser was lovely. Both my dad and Louie emerged from the hotel salon happy… and looking sharp!
For manicures and other beauty treatments, Aura at Tamaris seems to have very good reviews. I almost booked a facial there, based upon recommendation.
If you want to get the most out of Croatian beach life, invest in a pair. You can walk in them, hop straight into the sea with them on (via pebbly beaches), pedal in paddle boats wearing them, etc. The ones with drawstrings are more secure than those with velcro. You can buy them everywhere (prices range between 70-200 Kuna or thereabouts, depending on the type). Oh, and forget about knock-off Crocs.
At various points along the beach you will encounter large signs with photographs of boats and text with mention of a “fish picnic”. I had been on one such boat before (in 2009); a small one that departed from Podgora, went to a few beach locations and was quiet and comfortably Spartan, if you can imagine what I mean. On this recent trip, we were charmed by the look of Calypso, and won over by the guarantee of a few things we had small concern over. The salesman was quick to allay our fears. Unfortunately the exact things we were concerned about were the very things that were not delivered in the end. For one thing, we were promised vegetarian food that sounded rather wonderful: locally grown vegetables grilled right on the boat, fresh salad, bread… plus drinks included. Wine (or some kind of mysterious alcoholic beverage) was one such drink on offer and, as I don’t drink alcohol, I ended up with cordial. I can live with that. But lunch was a far cry from what was promised. Two slices of some kind of pre-sliced cheese, some tomato, a few slices of cucumber and some white bread. Had I been in a complaining mood (I wasn’t, as it happens), this would not have sat very well with me.
We were told it was a family-friendly boat and that there would be “reserved seats”. The first point is debatable. The second couldn’t have been further from the truth. By the time we arrived in Makarska to board, the boat was packed. There was literally only one place left for us to sit (inside) and it turns out reservations are never made. Everyone else seated in the same area looked beyond miserable. Some even complained, as almost everyone had expected/been promised sea views and sunshine. Luckily we had a perfect spot for the children, away from the blaring music that was to come on the homeward journey, with soft bench seating just made for little people naps.
A quieter moment aboard Calypso
The young lady who works aboard Calypso (with the cat ear headband) is friendly and sweet. Louie gave her several enthusiastic high fives throughout the day. And we did end up having a great time 1) because we always put a positive spin on things in my family (it must be genetic) and try to make the best of every situation, 2) because we got lucky and happened to end up with seats no one else wanted but that were perfect for us, and 3) because we ended up meeting some truly sweet people on the boat (from Poland, Germany and Switzerland) who were great with the kids, even giving them trinkets and hugs. But it could have been quite a disaster. Let it be known, Calypso is a party boat. It’s packed to the rafters, and people drink and dance on the tables. My kids thought this was hilarious. We even joined the dance party on deck for a bit (sans Oliver!). And it must be said that I have no regrets about doing the trip for many reasons. We had a great time at Brac/Bol renting a buggy boat, swimming in the sea, catching a mini train and stumbling across a juice bar. The children thought it was all good fun, and I only write this detailed, honest review to give you an accurate picture of what it’s like, in case you’re ever in a position to decide to make a trip on Calypso (or not).
Back at the hotel, Silva at reception enquired as to what we had been up to while she gave the children their nightly cuddles and cheek kisses.
“Oh lovely! Which boat did you go on?”, she asked.
We told her.
“Say no more! I know all about that Calypso…”, she remarked, tutting in exaggerated exasperation.
I still don’t know exactly what Calypso’s reputation is, but I imagine there’s a modicum of promise-breaking involved… and some alcohol… and dancing on tables.
If a party boat trip takes your fancy: www.shiptour.info/calypso/
If a slightly more subdued trip to Brac is preferable: Apollo’s day trip to Brac costs 407 SEK for adults, 204 SEK for children and infants are free. “Fish picnic” lunch is included.
There’s much more of a town vibe here, more residential housing, a lot more bustle down by the waterfront and, as my sun-sensitive mum noticed, less shade than can be found near Tucepi’s beach front. The promenade is hectic compared to Tucepi’s (and certainly to Podgora’s). But there’s fun to be had there, nice walks/views, amusement rides, some lovely eateries, mini trains, etc. And it’s certainly worth visiting if you are already in the general area and staying in the riviera.
It should be noted that although it is possible to walk from Tucepi to Makarska, it is not recommended. And buses can be unreliable. Your best bet is to order a taxi via your hotel.
I travelled to Podgora in 2009 (also with Apollo) and opted for an all-inclusive package at Aurora (although I did eat some meals elsewhere). I was traveling with a girlfriend (pre-children), so the experience of Croatia and the area was rather different, but it’s a lovely town. This year, I had my birthday lunch (a rather decent veggie pizza) at Obala and followed it up with a trip in a semi-submersible with the children, an iced coffee and a swim in the sea.
En route to Podgora from Tucepi
The walk between Tucepi and Podgora is rather lovely; a tad awkward in part with a buggy (as we discovered), but nonetheless doable.
Lillian fascinated by fish
If you’re truly interested in exploring Hvar (which I believe is one of the loveliest Croatian islands), it’s best to make a day of it. Otherwise, if catching one of the “island hopping” vessels, you may well find yourself struggling to do more than have a short stroll and an iced coffee in the time allocated to your visit.
My second time in Croatia, I booked a day trip with Apollo and spent far more time in Hvar than is possible with a “fish picnic” boat excursion (where the majority of the time is inevitably spent on Brac at the famous Bol beach).
We decided to do a day trip to Dubrovnik with the children and travelled with Apollo. The bus departed Tucepi in the afternoon, the ride taking 3 hours in total, with a pause for refreshments in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Those of you who are aware of my Game of Thrones fan status, may be surprised to read that I did not do the famous walking tour of GoT-related sites. Firstly, our main purpose for visiting Dubrovnik was to have dinner with my friend Maja, otherwise known as @delicious_and_healthy_by_maya; Croatia’s foremost healthy food blogger. Secondly, our actual time in Dubrovnik amounted to around 4 hours and a walking tour was already included. And thirdly, there was bound to be some content inappropriate for little ears!
Funnily, after dinner, Maja took us to some of the more famous GoT sites. At the site where Cersei’s walk of atonement was filmed, Louie overheard people saying “shame”. He came over to me repeating it, pretending to ring a bell, and smiling, knowing he was being cheeky, but not understanding the context at all. Shortly afterward, Lillian approached, pointed at me and declared, “Shane!”. 😀
After our walking tour, which covered some of the main sites of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, we met Maja at Nishta, the only exclusively vegetarian restaurant in the area, I believe. We had been told to book well in advance and the hotel staff helped us to do so, but when we arrived (around 5pm) it was not busy at all. It is, however, a small establishment. So booking a table is prudent. The chef at Nishta kindly made special meals for the children (pizzas with kid-friendly toppings of an appropriate size). I ordered the veggie burger; a vegan quinoa-chickpea burger served with baby spinach, radicchio and sweet potato. Maja had a tofu dish and my husband ordered the a vegan version of ‘Tempehritos’ (tempeh-filled burritos). Maja and I both agreed that the food was good, and certainly far better than the average vegetarian meal one might expect at other Croatian establishments, however it was not mind-blowingly spectacular. Having said that, the service was friendly, the menu diverse (with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options) and, if and when we return to Dubrovnik, I’ll happily eat there again.
To reserve a table at Nishta in Dubrovnik: +385 (0) 20 322 088
To relive Cersei’s walk of atonement: Head to Dubrovnik’s Jesuit steps, located on the south side of Gundulic Square. The stone staircase leads to the Poljana Rudera Boskovica.
Important to note if traveling to Dubrovnik: You will need your passport if traveling to Dubrovnik from the Makarska Riviera due to the Bosnia and Herzegovina border crossing. There may not be a toilet on the bus (there was not one on ours) and the trip is a long one, so encourage children to use bathrooms when they are available and consider popping a pull-up on little ones recently toilet trained.
Travelling on excursion with Apollo: If your bus pick-up is from Tucepi (Hotel Tamaris or Bluesun Hotel Neptun), you should note that the pick-up location is not directly outside the hotel, but further up the road leading to the hotel, near the olive trees and before the main road. Two people almost missed our trip by getting the pick-up location wrong.
One of Europe’s oldest cities, Trogir was founded by the Greeks and is surrounded by a city wall dating from the Middle Ages. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there are several historic buildings, including the oldest pharmacy in Europe (where we incidentally found ourselves purchasing cold & flu medication for my dad!).
We travelled to Trogir on a combination excursion trip with Apollo where most of the day was dedicated to visiting National Park Krka, however we did have a little walk around the pretty waterfront area and relaxed in one of the many alfresco cafés. I noted that there were a few places in Trogir advertising vegetarian dishes on chalkboard menus, which I thought was interesting as it is something I didn’t see elsewhere in Croatia (with the exception of Dubrovnik).
National Park Krka
Abundantly rich in flora and fauna, National Park Krka‘s most popular attractions are comprised of several impressive walks and waterfalls. Gentle hiking or exploring along the well-marked and kept boardwalks around the falls, or swimming around them, have to be the activity highlights. But my children were also fascinated by the old mill and the wildlife (particularly the fish).
It was so much more crowded by the falls than we imagined it would be and we were more than slightly surprised to be informed by locals that we had luckily arrived on a perfect and “rather quiet” day. The scenery is stunning and bathing near the waterfalls (you cannot bathe directly in one) is a joy. Floaties for children are available to purchase on location, or you can pack your own. The walks around the park are wonderful, there is shade (nice if the temperature is over 30°C, which it was for most of our holiday) and the scenery is breathtaking. We managed well with a buggy, despite encountering steps here and there.
We travelled with Apollo on a combination full-day excursion, during which we had a short visit to Trogir.
Excursion price: Adults 623 SEK, Children 312 SEK, Infants free
Duration: Full day (including visit to Trogir)
Note: The tour is conducted in Swedish. Our tour guide was half Croatian, half Norwegian and thoroughly entertaining and informative.
Cost for entrance to the park alone: 150.00 Kuna (in July and August)
Thank you for making us feel at home, Croatia!