Crystal-clear waters, a peaceful atmosphere, breathtaking scenery and unspoilt natural landscapes – if you’re looking for a special holiday, Cavtat, a delightful hidden gem in Croatia, ticks all the boxes. This region makes an excellent base for exploring nearby Dubrovnik (easily accessible either by boat or bus), a city awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO. However, Cavtat is also fascinating in its own right, thanks to its old-world charm and lively streets full of colourful cafes and excellent restaurants.
Among the main attractions for visitors, the town’s crystal-clear waters offer welcome respite during the hot summer months. However, the sea at Cavtat also hides priceless treasures, such as old shipwrecks containing precious cargo of amphorae that once transported wine from southern Italy to the East. A collection of around twenty exhibits can be admired in the Archaeology Department of the Museums and Galleries of Konavle.
A wreck from the Napoleonic era (18C or 19C) has also been found in the so-called “Bermuda Triangle” of Cavtat. This ship is smaller than commercial vessels and armed with six iron cannons. Along with the cannons, anchors, cannon balls and small artefacts were also found, some of which can still be seen on the seafront at Cavtat. Preserved and protected thanks to the work of Croatian scuba divers, these precious historical artefacts lie in relatively shallow waters, making them a popular destination for tourists and diving enthusiasts. Non-scuba divers can still experience this sense of immersion in Cavtat’s waters via the BLUEMED project financed by the European Union, which showcases this magical underwater experience through a multi-media presentation at the Archaeology Department in San Biagio Franciscan monastery in Pridvorje. Meanwhile, above ground Cavtat’s seafront is as beautiful as its seabed thanks to the palm trees that give the town the feel of a Croatian Saint Tropez.
Cavtat is a perfect destination for visitors keen to relax and enjoy its beautiful natural surroundings. In addition to the sea, there are cycling and horse-riding trails through the olive groves, as well as guided tours and wine-tastings to vineyards and wineries in this wine-producing area.
Given that wine destinations and restaurants often go hand-in-hand, we can highly recommend a superb restaurant that is renowned for its top-quality ingredients and excellent value for money, namely the Bib Gourmand Bugenvila. This long-established restaurant overlooking Cavtat harbour boasts a delightful terrace decked with colourful plants and flowers visible from the seafront promenade.
Bugenvila has a long and fascinating history. “The restaurant opened in Cavtat in 2012”, explains owner Igor Korousic. “Before working here, I was involved in the Dubrovnik real estate market, which was badly affected by the global financial crisis of 2009-2012. During this time, my wife Monika and I thought that we would like a change of lifestyle, opening our own business such as a restaurant or a boutique hotel. However, despite the economic crisis, finding a suitable property in a good location and within our budget proved a difficult task. Then, a bit like in a fairytale, an unexpected opportunity presented itself – a friend approached us, wondering if we were interested in taking over his restaurant which was not working out and was in financial trouble. We jumped at the chance”.
“It was a real adventure”, owner Igor Korousic continues, “because we had no experience of working in the restaurant sector. Our first year in business was successful financially, but we wanted something more than a busy restaurant – we wanted to offer guests a top-quality experience. And so, we decided to restructure Bugenvila, creating a new high-tech, open-view kitchen. We made major investments in new machinery, such as sous-vide and Green Egg equipment. We also completely redesigned the outdoor terrace, transforming it into a lovely garden and removing barriers between the terrace and the street, which has created a pleasant atmosphere.”
“We have a strong connection with our region”, the owner continues. “The restaurant is named after bougainvillea, a strong and resistant evergreen plant that is covered with colourful flowers in the long days of summer. When my wife and I moved to Cavtat twenty-two years ago, we were fascinated by the region’s bright colours, and we have tried to capture this quality in the atmosphere at our restaurant. Just as these flowers brighten their surroundings, so we have endeavoured to “liven up” the culinary scene in Cavtat and Dubrovnik, where there are so many commercial restaurants. Our efforts were aimed at offering an exceptional culinary experience and we realise that many other restaurants are fortunately following in our footsteps nowadays. Our aim is to rediscover the evocative scents and flavours of authentic Mediterranean cuisine, serving carefully prepared dishes in a tranquil and relaxed setting.”
At Bugenvila, careful consideration is given to seasonality. “Simplicity, creativity and fresh ingredients are the key tenets of our philosophy. We often change our menus to ensure that dishes make the most of seasonal ingredients. Most of our fruit and vegetables are sourced from a group of local producers from the picturesque Konavle valley, with whom we have maintained a successful working relationship over the past few years. These extraordinary growers provide us with a huge array of delicious seasonal ingredients, including wild asparagus, strawberries, beans, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, rocket, tomatoes, aubergines, peaches, figs, watermelons, potatoes, onions, garlic and much more besides! During the winter, we buy lots of locally grown lemons and mandarins, which we carefully preserve and transform into delicious lemon sorbets and mandarin ice cream for the summer season.
During the summer, we also buy plenty of local tomatoes which we use to make a rich tomato preserve that adds flavour to numerous dishes throughout the year. Our commitment to local produce extends to fish and seafood – we buy local bluefin tuna, monkfish and hake directly from local fishermen. And to enhance our range of fish, we buy ikejime seabass directly from the local fish farm, Marfish, which is located in Split. During the winter months, we also support our local communities by sourcing octopus and cuttlefish from local inhabitants. We also have a huge choice of meat. For example, we use top-quality Croatian lamb purchased from Skokic butchers in Split, our pork comes from a supplier in Slavonia in eastern Croatia, while our quail are sourced from a trusted farmer in Zagorje. We are particularly proud to work with the renowned Kumparicka goat farm in Istria, which produces some of the world’s best fresh and aged goats’ cheese. It is also from Istria that we buy our prized black truffles, which lend a unique flavour to our dishes”.
Sustainability is also key at Bugenvila. “Our efforts are also aimed at reducing our energy consumption and food waste”, Korousic emphasises. “For example, we have bought energy-efficient appliances and always choose the most environmentally friendly machinery. In addition to our commitment to sustainability, we are a proud partner of the FishEUtrust project financed by the European Union. This project aims to create a transparent and traceable seafood supply chain, which meets the needs of consumers who are increasingly conscious of the need to protect fish and seafood and to guarantee their quality and freshness.”
“We have immense love for Croatia and we feel that our cuisine should always reflect the ingredients available in our region. For us, the Mediterranean is a multi-faceted tapestry of cultures and stories, all connected by a common spirit – that of the sun, the sea, and of fresh ingredients and vibrant colours. It is this evocative spirit that we aim to represent on the plate!”
The most popular dishes at Bugenvila include agnolotti pasta filled with ricotta, honey and olives, served with seasonal vegetables in a tomato sauce; bluefin tuna loin with fregola pasta and red pepper gel; and lobster bisque with wild boar cheeks.
The cuttlefish with black rice and chorizo, which our MICHELIN inspectors particularly enjoyed, is also a must. “This is a contemporary version of the traditional Mediterranean black ink risotto, which substitutes the heavy cuttlefish ink with an exquisite dark wild rice,” explains owner Korousic. “First of all, we fry the cuttlefish, then we bring out the flavour with a gremolata of garlic, parsley and lemon zest. To enhance the depth of the dish, we add a delicate foam of smoked chorizo, while the use of blanched sea fennel adds an extra layer of taste and texture. This dish cleverly reinterprets a classic Mediterranean recipe, giving it a touch of elegance and finesse.”
Vegetable dishes also feature on the menu, including a delicious risotto with pumpkin, porcini mushrooms, pine nuts and pecorino. In the summer months, Bugenvila also serves a refreshing watermelon consommé infused with tomato essence, accompanied by colourful tomatoes and a virgin Bloody Mary granita. Other options include five healthy salads, including one with peaches, tomatoes, toasted almonds and delicious stracciatella.
The wine list also focuses on the region. For example, we recommend the 2019 Rhein Riesling Jakopic to accompany the lobster soup with wild boar cheeks. This fresh Riesling offers a pleasant contrast to the creaminess of the bisque and the intense flavours of the wild boar. And to finish your meal, don’t miss the sublime mouth-watering tiramisù, which is made from top-quality ingredients.
At Bugenvila you’ll find excellent cuisine plus a friendly welcome and attentive service that will definitely enhance your mood! As a result, the MICHELIN inspectors are certain that this restaurant and this delightful corner of Croatia will quickly become one of your favourite places to visit.
Hero image - Bugenvila