Local Voices Croatia: Iva & Vanja, Kuchica

Kuchica is Croatia’s coolest little house. Literally: Kućica means little house in Croatian, and this little house’s cool.

I fell in love with this rural retreat close to Zagreb when I first “discovered” it through word of mouth a couple of years ago.

The owners, Ivana Boras and Vanja Blumenšajn, both work in advertising in Zagreb. In their spare time and with low funds, they created this special hideaway that’s totally unique in Croatia. They run Kuchica so lovingly and creatively that I just had to pick their brains.

Tell us a little about Kuchica. What and where is it, and how did it all start?

Kuchica is a traditional oak-wood cottage that’s about 100 years old. It’s situated 15 miles northwest of Zagreb, where it was actually moved from the region of Turopolje thirty years ago. Once we found the house, we fell in love with it, its surroundings and the peace it offers.

This part of Croatia, called Zagorje is a very picturesque region, known for idyllic landscapes of rivers, old castles and an excavation site of a 100,000-year-old Neanderthal man.

It all started very spontaneously. We basically did what we felt had to be done in order to make it more enjoyable. One thing led to another. The work never stops; there’s always something to do or redo. Our friends, and even guests, fall in love and join in. We love organizing “workshops”, painting furniture, fixing the shed, planting or just barbecuing and hanging out in the sun.

There was no model we were trying to imitate. We enjoy design and tried to mix everything that we liked on an almost nonexistent budget. Most of the furniture was found in the cottage, bought in flea markets and yard sales.

We tried to keep basic colors to emphasize the simplicity of peasant life. The idea behind Kuchica is the explore the times when life was simpler, maybe even more beautiful and healthier.

We also have a small orchard – with apples, peaches, oak trees – and we grow a small organic garden with tomatoes, onions, peppers, peas, strawberries, herbs…. This year we are starting a little raspberry experiment.

Having visited Kuchica, I think it is absolutely adorable. I know you’re always “cooking” something new. So what’s next for Kuchica?

We are never out of ideas, just sometimes out of free time. Right now we are organizing a virtual humanitarian flea market , where people are donating and buying things and services. The twist is – instead to the buyer they are paying to the NGO they support.

Someone gets rid of the stuff he doesn’t need, someone gets something he always wanted and the NGO gets support that enables them to work. It’s a win-win-win situation! It is pretty successful on Facebook and right now we are trying to push it to the next level – a website or even to different counties. If you like the idea, please contact us.

Something that never goes out of fashion in our lives is cooking. We are always experimenting and trying new things. Expect to get an invitation to the opening of our small restaurant in the near future!

Also, we are always in search of old furniture. Chairs are our absolute obsession. Our most recent crush is enamel dishware. If you know where to find some, do let us know.

Kuchica is so close to Zagreb but it feels worlds apart. What made you “leave” the city to start this labor of love in the countryside?

We work in advertising and have a pretty hectic daily routine. Have you tried spending a whole day in the office? We love being out in the open, laying in the grass or listening to birds chirping instead of deadlines ticking.

We feel balance is very important and Kuchica is our way of compensating for all the stress of our everyday jobs. We enjoy it too, as we feel people are meant to be in closer contact with nature.

Are there any similar places elsewhere in Croatia, with a comparable sensibility? Kuchica’s siblings, so to speak.

If you find out, please do let us know. We are sure there are and would love to discover them and meet their owners. There are some more commercial places that we know of but we somehow feel they lack heart. Our unwritten rule for Kuchica is to do everything as if we are doing it for ourselves. If you don’t like it, we do take it personally. 🙂

You obviously love nature and countryside. What are some of your favorite wilderness spots in Croatia?

Oh, there are so many. We really do believe that Croatia is amazing. The mountains of Gorski Kotar and Velebit, the more or less secluded islands like Lastovo, Mljet, Dugi Otok, Cres… we could go on forever. Even the most touristy places have their beauties, although we usually try to avoid them and look for our secret hideouts.

What’s your favorite season at Kuchica?

All year round. Well, it depends on your mood. Late spring is beautiful because everything is in full bloom, green and young, and it is still not too hot. September brings autumn colors and fresh organic fruits. Is there anything more romantic than lighting a wooden stove and watching snow fall in the winter?

Which three places in Croatia do you consider “tourist traps”? Places you’d tell your friends from out-of-town to avoid?

It depends on the things you like and the type of a traveler/person you are: a party animal, adrenaline junkie or a poetic soul, for example.

Like we mentioned, we are not fond of crowded touristy places like, for example, Vodice or Malinska. We definitely prefer southern to northern Adriatic, islands to the coast. In Istria, we recommend exploring its interior and then hopping south for a swim.

But why stop on the coast? We always encourage people to explore other parts of Croatia like Gorski Kotar, touristy but must-see Plitvička Jezera, Velebit and eastern Slavonia.

You both still live in Zagreb so can you describe a typical ‘Zagreb moment’?

My great-aunt says you can tell a city by its market. We love sunny Saturday mornings when you can browse through the crowded market picking fresh vegetables for lunch. Then with full bags and newspapers, we meet friends for coffee and make plans for the rest of the weekend.

Would you share your three secret spots? Could be anywhere at all in Croatia. Places you love to go.
We do like you, but there is no way we are telling you this. 🙂 Part of the fun is exploring and finding your own.

OK, if you twist our arms we would say Proizd (a small island one hour away from Korčula) on the coast. Inland, we love the mountain retreat of Zavižan and the village of Krasno (be sure to try their cheese škripavac) in Northern Velebit National Park .

We also love Vagabundina Koliba in the village of Lukovo in Gorski Kotar. Try their wild herbs with polenta or go crazy and let them surprise you with some of their specialties.

That’s all we’re saying. Google it, or even better – go there!

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