Gorging on eels in the Neretva Delta, Croatia

Gorging on eels in the Neretva Delta, Croatia

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By Jonathan Bousfield
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Nowhere along the Adriatic coast are landscape and food so closely linked as in the Neretva Delta, an hour’s drive north of Dubrovnik. Standing in lush green contrast to the arid mix of limestone and scrub that characterizes much of the Croatian coast, the delta is a dense patchwork of melon plantations, tangerine orchards and reedy marsh.

With a shimmering grid of irrigation channels spreading across the plain, local farmers get to their fields by boat: it’s not uncommon to see a row of stone-built waterside houses with a parked motor launch bobbing up and down outside each one.

The waterways of the delta teem with frogs and eels, and hunting for these slithery creatures is an age-old local preoccupation. Together they provide the backbone of a distinctive delta cuisine, and the area is fast gaining cult gastronomic status among Croatian foodies eager to reconnect with earthy regional traditions.

The hub of the Neretva Delta is the workaday river port of Metković, although the homely konobe (inns) in out-of-town villages like Vid, Prud and Opuzen are the best places to eat. It’s in rustic establishments like these that frogs can fill a page or two of the menu, with the white meat of their hind legs either fried in breadcrumbs, grilled with garlic, or wrapped in slivers of pršut, the delicious local home-cured ham. However it is the tangy, succulent eel that is the real delicacy, especially when used as the key ingredient of brudet – a spicy red stew that’s often accompanied by a glossy yellow mound of polenta.

Aiding the delta’s emergence as a tourist trail for in-the-know travellers is the ultra-modern archeological museum in Vid, a reed-fringed village built on the ruins of the once prosperous second-century Roman market town of Narona. A quick examination of the imposing statues that once graced Narona’s Temple of Augustus, followed by a leisurely lunch in a waterside inn, makes for the perfect delta day out.

There are several family-run inns 3–4km north of Metković; try Konoba Narona (+385 (0) 20 687 555) and Djudja i Mate (+385 020 687500), both in Vid, and Konoba Vrilo in Prud (+385020 687139). Djudja i Mate also offers cosy B&B accommodation. Regular buses (1hr 20min) run from Dubrovnik to Metković, from where you can continue by local bus or taxi to the outlying villages.

 

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