Zagreb, Croatia

Photo: D. Rostuhar via http://www.infozagreb.hr

It’s true. The way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach. Dubravkin Put just proved it. Your seven-course tasting menu—featuring sweet-corn panna cotta, creamy broccoli soup, crispy Brussels sprouts, and hearty monkfish—was a Mediterranean feast. A chestnut terrine with pear sorbet was the perfect last bite. Plus the wines, including a Malvasia from Istria and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Slavonia, were carefully planned. You instantly fell in love with Zagreb.

You overlooked Zagreb for much too long. Obviously. Croatia’s capital and largest city was long considered a quick layover en route to the Adriatic Sea and its gorgeous islands. Despite having a charming medieval Old Town, it was often passed over for Vienna, Prague, or Budapest, as well. Much has changed since the Balkan country was admitted to the European Union in 2013, though. Desperately needed hotels were built. Restaurants brought in new chefs and updated their menus. Ateliers, jazz clubs, and wine bars followed. Along the way, Zagreb became one of the most vibrant cities in Eastern Europe.

Photo: Dubravkin-Put

Zagreb was established during Roman times. The remains of that settlement, called Andautonia, sits on the south bank of the Sava river. Kaptol, the seat of the Catholic Church, and Gornji Grad, a commercial center, started being built in the 9th century. They’re now called Upper and Lower Towns, and are Zagreb’s historic center. Fires, the plague, and earthquakes ravaged the city in the 17th-19th centuries. The city, along with the rest of the country, became part of Yugoslavia after World War II. Freedom came after the Croatian War of Independence ended in 1995. Zagreb has been rapidly changing ever since.

Your first stop in Zagreb was Hotel President Pantovcak. Its name makes it sound like an old, stuffy hotel. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The boutique hotel is just steps from British Square, which hosts an open-air market, where farmers sell fruit, vegetables, and flowers. The hotel is in a quiet neighborhood with lots of gardens. It even has its own extensive one. The large, individually designed rooms, with floor-to-ceiling windows, look out at bamboo, wild cherry trees, and fragrant lavender. The glass-walled treetop restaurant does, too. You look forward to lingering on the terrace during tomorrow’s bottomless champagne breakfast.

Photo: Hotel President Pantovcak

Once you felt settled into the hotel, you started exploring. The historic center was first on your list, of course. You stopped at the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mark’s Church, and Ban Jelačić Square. You listened to the Grič cannon being fired, as it is every day at noon, from Lotrščak Tower. You stopped at Pod Starim Krovovima, the city’s oldest tavern, for an early pint of Velebitsko. You sampled bread, cheese, and fresh figs in Dolac, an even larger farmers’ market. Then you passed through Kamenita Vrata, the city’s last medieval stone gate.

Along the way, you made notes to return to Amélie (a French cafe), Vinoteka Bornstein (the city’s first privately owned wine shop), and the boutiques on Radiceva Street. You want to go to the Croatian National Theatre and Melin Cafe, a jazz bar, as well. But, keeping your reservation in mind, you returned to the hotel to change before heading up the south slope of Medvednica mountain for dinner on the edge of the Tuškanac forest. That’s where you truly fell in love.

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