Posted by: viewfromtheriva | September 23, 2012

Mushrooming, Velebit and eating wild boar


One of the many Velebit peaks

What a fabulous day with http://www.secretdalmatia.com’s man-about-Croatia Alan Mandic and his family stomping around Velebit looking for mushrooms–and ending the day with a feast at Macola, a must-stop restaurant/outdoor menagerie (even bears!) for pretty much everyone on their way to and from Plitvice lakes.

After climbing over hill and dale, we finally stumbled upon our first beauties in a field!

We began the day in Benkovac, a sweet town about an hour and half from Split with a fascinating past.  We didn’t have the time to visit the town’s centerpiece, a 13thC castle, but we did enjoy a short walk through the charming center and will definitely come back!

Despite its diminutive size, Benkovac is charming

We drove up into the heart of Velebit, the largest mountain range in Croatia–but not its highest. The range forms a part of the Dinaric Alps which stretches almost 150 km from the northwest near Senj, all the way down the Dalmatian coast to Knin.  There’s even a 9 mile long car tunnel under the range!

Velebit is what separates the coast from the interior–two vastly different world’s.  The area also has some of the deepest  caves in the world; one more than 1350 meters pretty much straight down!

Since most of Croatia is interior and rural,  to many living here the zagora (hinterland)  its villages, untouched mountains, rolling hills and lush valleys is what makes the country so indelible.

There’s no doubt that walking in such vast forested areas, discovering mushrooms and amazing flora and fauna just a few hours from the hustle and bustle of Zagreb or Split is extraordinary.

Peeping out from the forest floor, one of the many protected plant species that calls Velebit home

After driving for about an hour, swooping up and down the mountain range, we pulled off the road and started our hunt, mushroom baskets and plastic pails in hand (actually believing we would find at least three or four kilos!).

Natasha heading up, way down below, our cars!

Although the climb was steep, it was easy footing until the timber line, and then it was just picking your way through the forest, hopping on and over rocks, sweeping away dead leaves from the forest floor to hopefully find some great mushrooms!

So much simple, natural beauty!

After going up hill and down dale, halooing each other to make sure we didn’t get lost, we decided to head back to our cars empty handed.  Not a single mushroom!  And we’re no city slickers, Natasha, a Russian, has been picking mushrooms since she was a kid and Alan and his family are savvy pickers too.

But we were having too much fun to be disappointed, so as we hit flat land and began walking in the scrub back to where we left our cars, hey!  white spots, two of them!  Hooray, mushrooms!

At last where they belong, the first of the season!

And guess who spotted these beauties?  The kid from New Jersey, me!  We happily trooped back to the car and drove on to find a better hunting ground and sure enough, struck gold, with Alan’s wife Maria getting a basket full of some real gems.

By now we were famished and decided to chow down at Macola, a famous local restaurant and animal menagerie about 30 minutes from Plitvice lakes, the most popular national park in Croatia (I think they get a million visitors a year!).  Their every day menu always features something wild–deer/wild boar stew, etc. Plus home cooked bread that is extremely hard to stop eating.

And having enjoyed this amazingly tender concoction at their other eatery just off the main Zagreb-Split highway, I ordered it and enjoyed every morsel.

Happily stuffed, we realized it was getting late and we had a 200km drive back to Split, so we said our goodbyes and headed back.  All those hours looking for mushrooms and our basket only had about 200grams–enough for a fat mushroom omelette or two.

As we drove slowly, enjoying the glorious views, we noticed some locals sitting on a fence post or makeshift chair selling local cheese, honey, and wine.  We thought of stopping, but pressed on.  And then we saw it–but even at 70km per hour, it whizzed by and we looked at each other and said, “was that a MUSHROOM stand?”

We made a u turn, zoomed back, crossed over the two lane blacktop and hopped out of the car.  Oh my, we ARE in heaven!

Look at the size of these puppies!!  We couldn’t believe our luck.  So we took out our basket and had a great laugh with the “real” mushroom pickers and began “picking” theirs, filling our basket with their mushrooms and enjoying every single one of them.

Now, that’s a basket of mushrooms!

We felt a little bit guilty, after all, WE didn’t pick these, but at least someone did, and it was a marvelous end to a marvelous day–which we hope to repeat again because the mushroom ladies told us WHERE to pick next time!

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Responses

  1. those look like porcini mushroom, were they? gosh so now you know where to get them from, lucky you!! Just stumbled upon your blog and will come back to read some more 🙂


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