Croatia on the Cusp of Something Big for 2009
Croatia extends from the Alps to the famous Danube, and its history reaches as far back in time as the Roman Empire. The most visited areas of the country are Dubrovnik, the Adriatic resorts of Split, the island of Hvar, and the capital of Zagreb.
The island of Hvar ranked 11 on the New York Times list of the “53 Places to Go in 2008.” Said Nena Komarica, general manager North America for the Croatian National Tourist Office in New York, “Some of the leading Tour Operators have already sold their programs for 2008 featuring Croatia, and are committed to planning 2009 brochures, because Croatia continues to garner publicity and popularity.”
Known as the Pearl of the Adriatic, the seaport city of Dubrovnik has long been one of the premier destinations in the Mediterranean. During the Middle Ages it rivaled Venice in terms of commerce, culture and all-around beauty. Apart from many miles of coastline, the Dubrovnik Highlands are also a favorite place to visit, where mountains and pine forests serve as the setting for great hiking, fishing and winter sports.
Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, is a 900-year-old city of cobblestone streets that resembles Vienna, Prague and other great Central European cities. A must-see in Zagreb is Kaptol, the medieval complex of churches, palaces and museums that provide a glimpse of Croatian history.
New Products Roll Out Gently
This season, Travel Impressions has expanded its European portfolio with the addition of Croatia..
Said John Hanratty, chief marketing officer for Travel Impressions. “After seeing interest from our agents and their clients, we felt that now was the right time to enter the market in Croatia,” he noted.
Travel Impressions is offering vacation packages to the seaport city of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic resort areas of Split and the island of Hvar, as well as Zagreb.
To introduce travel agents and their clients to its Croatia products, Travel Impressions is featuring specially priced five-night hotel packages, which include accommodations, airport transfers, and hotel tax.
Sample prices, based on double occupancy, are: on Hvar: Riva Hotel Hvar – from $539 per person; Adriana Marina Hotel & Spa – priced from $915 per person; in Split, Le Meridien Lav including private airport/hotel transfers and is priced from $915 per person; and finally, the Dubrovnik Palace Hotel -- includes private airport/hotel transfers and full breakfast is priced from $995 per person double; for accommodations at the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik plus private airport/hotel transfers, the price starts from $1,199 per person double.
Agents will earn standard commission on sightseeing tours plus a 1% commission bonus when booking on the website. Tours include a full-day tour in Dubrovnik, which is on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites. Participants will take a motorcoach drive along the coastal highway for a panoramic view of the city walls, ancient rooftops and surroundings. During the walking tour of the city, the group will see Rector’s Palace, the Dominical Monastery, fortresses and a treasure trove of architectural masterpieces preserved over centuries. The tour is $59 per person.
Half-day tours of Split also include a visit to a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site -- Diocletian’s Palace Basements and Peristyle, its ceremonial entrance court – as well as Jupiter’s Temple and Cathedral. The tour includes breakfast and the services of an English-speaking guide and driver. The tour is $62 per person.
A half-day tour of Zagreb includes the fortified Upper Town and its historic center, St. Mark’s Church with its multi-colored roof, the Cathedral and the Croatian National Theater and University. Participants spend the afternoon at leisure, visiting Tkalciceva Street’s galleries, open market, coffee houses, restaurants and parks. The tour costs $247 per person. Visit www.travelimpressions.com
Dubrovnik by the Sea
Said Komarica, “Dubrovnik is the most popular cruise destination in Croatia, but we are developing other ports as well, and they are becoming part of many cruise lines’ itineraries such as Zadar, Korcula, Pula, Split, Sibenik.”
The M/S “Monet” for instance, cruises along the Adriatic stopping in all of these ports-of-call. “Zadar port is undergoing huge renovation to upgrade its current facilities and be able to receive more big cruisers,” she added.
Akuas Dubrovnik, a water-shuttle and island-transfer service, is now offering shuttle-transfers between Gruz Port and Old City Harbor to provide passengers with a 30-minute panoramic view of the city. Cruise travelers visiting the destination have been caught in a series of pedestrian grid-locks lasting up to an hour and a half going into the walled-city, so Akuas’ shuttles provide an alternate way to see the city. The fleet is comprised of modern cruisers that include seven 40-passenger boats and one 60-passenger vessel that are currently providing continuous transfer service to Dubrovnik’s cruise passengers.
The company also offers island-transfer service to visitors and locals who desire to visit the Elafiti islands located just off the coast. Visit www.akuas.hr
Currently, there are still no nonstop, direct lines from the U.S. to Croatia but Skyservice Airlines continues to operate direct service between Toronto and Zagreb through October.
At the same time, Croatia Airlines signed code share agreement with United Airlines, which will help U.S. travelers find more connections to Croatia.
For more information, contact the Croatian National Tourist Office at 800-829-4416 or visit www.croatia.hr
April 2008 Feature
Discovering Croatia’s Wine Country
By Tatijana Shoan
Croatia’s allure in the summer months has brought visitors from around the globe to take advantage of its many islands, beaches, food, and culture. However, autumn is also a special time of year when the busy days of summer have slowed down, the weather is still warm and temperate, and the year’s harvest has ushered in comfort food and great wine. This last autumn I toured Croatia’s mainland and Istrian region and indulged my senses with some of the best food, sights, and wine Europe has to offer.
Slavonia’s Rich Countryside
My journey started in a place called Brodski Stupik in the Slavonian region. The two-hour drive east of Zagreb took me through rustic farmland and small villages where local farmers sold their harvest street side. Slowly, the sprawling wheat and cornfields were replaced with rolling hills covered with grape orchards. The final destination was a winery and hotel called Zdjelarevic (011-385-35-427-775; fax 011-385-35-427-040). The friendly, English speaking owners, Davor and Visnja Zdjelarevic, greeted me and ushered me into the wine cellar where they gave a brief lesson on the wine making process before being allowed to indulge in libations. In fact, this prelude only helped to heighten my anticipation, as the smell of fermenting grapes in oak barrels stimulated my taste buds. Due to the favorable climate, wine in this region is exceptional, and this particular vintner won both the silver and bronze Chardonnay du Monde competition in France though I highly recommend their reserve Cabernet, as its complexity rivals wines from Tuscany.
Visitors can choose to extend their visit by staying at Zdjelarevic Hotel. Clean, modest rooms are cozy and bright, and over-look their sprawling vineyard. They also have an exceptional rustic restaurant serving delicious, authentic Slavonian fare. Wine tasting and sightseeing in the region proves that this is the perfect destination for those craving the Tuscan experience, but whose pocket books won’t allow the expense. It is a great option for travelers seeking to experience more of Croatia and is also a formula for a relaxing weekend in the Slavonian region.
Croatian Soul in Wine
My next stop was the region of Istria in the northwestern part of the country on the coast. Start on the island of Krk where the surrounding sea provides the perfect setting for a wine tasting tour – and drinking wine with the locals is the ideal opportunity to be embraced by the culture, for it is said that the soul of Croatian people can be found in their wine. A popular wine on this island is Zlahtina made from the indigenous Zlahtina grape.
The popularity of this wine is growing and it can now be found in many high-end New York restaurants. In the town of Vrbnik, Brothers Anton and Ivan Katunar offer some of the best Zlahtina wine (011-385 51 857 393). But my favorite is their Biser Mora, a sparkling wine and the perfect answer to those craving Proseco. The wineries of Toljanic and Juranic are also in and around Vrbnik and each have a comfortable wine tasting cellar.
I soon learned that the tasting glasses are generously poured everywhere you go, which is why they offer bread, cheese and olives. But it was PB Vrbnik Winery that offered something unique. Cases of wine were placed 90 feet deep into the sea where they stay at a steady temperature and get an equal amount of sunlight and darkness. Sealed with a bottle cap to prevent seawater from seeping inside, they are removed after one year and sealed with a cork. They’ve called this wine “Valomet,” which is the Croatian word for water crashing against the rocks.
While visiting the island of Krk and its surrounding areas Hotel Draga di Lovrana (011-385-51-294-166) is a picturesque place to stay. Located high on a hill on the mainland it offers panoramic views of the sea and islands, while providing guests top quality service and cuisine in an equally elegant restaurant. This former villa has been lovingly restored and includes a quaint breakfast bar serving frothy coffee drinks and homemade pastries.
Some of the most chic villas in the Mediterranean can be found on the seaside in Lovran, many of which are summer homes owned by wealthy Europeans. Those who prefer a more exclusive retreat can now experience them.
Just a 20-minute drive up the coast from Lovran is the elegant city of Opatija, which has played host to Royalty and dignitaries from around the world and offers five-star accommodations such as the elegant waterfront Hotel Millennium (011-385-51-202-000), and The Ambassador Hotel (011-385-51-743-333).
Opatija offers four and five-star accommodations, an abundance of wellness centers and an informative tourist office with multi-lingual representatives. Diners staying in Opatija and Lovran can also enjoy the seaside restaurant Plavi Podrun (011-385-51-701-223), just below the hill in the small fishermen’s town of Volosko. The owner, also a master chef, prepares nuevo Istrian cuisine on artistically presented platters.
Daytrips During Truffle Season
I highly recommend day trips to the city of Pula and the medieval mountain town of Motovun. Pula is an archeological gem and perfect for travelers wishing to experience ancient history without the crowds Rome is known for. Neolithic and Illyrian remains can be found around the city nestled on the grounds of museums and government buildings. But perhaps the biggest lure to Pula is its 1st-century amphitheatre, one of the best preserved in the world. I visited in the middle of the day and was amazed to find just one local and a stray cat wandering the site. However, travelers should not miss Motovun. Situated high on a hilltop with medieval houses peppering the peak, this is a perfect example of Venetian colonial architecture.
Istria celebrates truffle season in October when recipes, including desserts, are infused with this rare, delicious mushroom. Visitors can sample these delights in small cafes and restaurants in Motovun and anywhere throughout Istria, but it is the town of Livade, below Motovun, where the festival takes place.
Known as Tartufada, Livade’s celebration brings farmers and villagers from around the region together to sample and show off their truffle harvest. Livade is so proud of its truffle tradition that a statue in the shape of a truffle greets visitors as they drive in. Zigante Restaurant (011-385-52-664-302) is best known for serving truffle dishes, and the proprietor is in the Guinness Book of World Records for finding the largest white truffle in history.
Wine and Wellness
A stone’s throw away from Livade is Istarske Toplice (011-385-52 -603-000), a therapeutic spa resort where travelers can relax and be pampered. Located near a hot mineral spring, its medicinal powers have been proven to aid dermatological and respiratory diseases.
The northern Istrian coastal towns of Novigrad, Porec, Rovinj and Umag are known to house and attract artists, so they have a free and colorful atmosphere. Exceptional wellness and spa programs are offered at Valamar Crystal Hotel in Porec (011-385-52-451-440); and at Sol Koralj in Umag (011-385-52-701-000).
Here, I visited the wineries of CO Winery (011-385-52-77 91-77) and Kozlovic (011-385-992-77-91-77), both well-known producers of Malvazija, Muskat and Teran. Malvasija can be made sweet or dry, white or red. But any wine aficionado traveling within this region must try Teran - aggressive is the best characteristic to describe it.
Made from the Refosk grape it has a dark, ruby-red color and smells buttery and rich. However, it’s extremely powerful and acidic; a favorite among locals who value it for its medicinal powers, for it has been proven to stimulate digestion and is rich in iron.
Locals say it is an “acquired taste,” while one vintner tells me, “The Teran is a wild mustang who must be tamed. Those who drink Teran take on the characteristics of the mustang, that is why we are passionate people.”
While visiting this region I highly recommend staying at San Rocco Hotel Restaurant and Wellness Center (011-385-52-725-000; fax: 011-385-52-725-026). Located in the picturesque village of Brtonigla, The San Rocco is the perfect lodging for visitors craving Croatian luxury and elegance. Landscaped to provide privacy and intimacy, and constructed with natural stone allowing visitors to indulge in Istrian charm.
The Wellness Center offers the traditional features of steam and sauna rooms, baths and jacuzzi while providing exceptional and face and body treatments. Dining at San Rocco is also a pleasure as meals are prepared with utmost care using the best quality, local ingredients.
As the days grow shorter and the tangerine sun sets behind the calm Adriatic Sea nothing can be more ideal than a Croatian sojourn in autumn.
Currently, there are still no nonstop, direct lines from the U.S. to Croatia. However, direct service between Toronto and Zagreb operated last season (Skyservice Airlines); which reported a load factor of over 75%. Skyservice Airlines plans extended service to one more destination (either Split or Dubrovnik) from May to October.
At the same time, Croatia Airlines signed code share agreement with United Airlines, which will help U.S. travelers find more connections to fly to Croatia.
For more information contact the Croatian National Tourist Office at 800-829-4416 or visit www.croatia.hr
Croatia: Media Darling for 2008
Nena Komarica, Director of
Croatia National Tourist Office
By Maria Lisella
Croatia was named a “hot and upcoming destination” for 2008 by USTOA and Travel & Leisure’s “World’s Best Awards” issue ranked the Dalmatian Islands second in the European islands category, and seventh in the World Islands category. Not long afterwards, the New York Times ranked the island of Hvar ranked 11th on the list of the “53 Places to Go in 2008.” Not surprisingly, Croatia reported a total of 215,025 visitor arrivals from North America (179,227 U.S., 35,798 Canada), which represents an increase of 20% compared to 2006 for a total of 563,773 overnight stays in 2007, also reflecting an increase of 19%. JF spoke with Nena Komarica, the director who is the energy and inspiration for the wealth of coverage this relatively new nation has received.
JF: It is amazing how much coverage Croatia has been receiving in recent years. You have no public relations firm, a small budget and yet you manage to win wonderful placements, what is your secret?
CNTO: We are very pleased with the amount of media coverage Croatia has garnered as it has raised its profile among Americans, making it more popular each year. With our small budget, we place ads strategically and assist journalist to plan their visits to Croatia and publish their articles in trade and consumer publications. The CNTO organizes press trips twice a year for prominent American journalists. In 2007, there were 146 articles about Croatia published in North America, which helped Croatia become one of the most popular European destinations among American tourists.
Croatia has also received national TV coverage on PBS channels, 24 pfs production, Mojo production, NBC and Pulitzer prize winner Rudy Maxxa’s “Smart Travels” ran a great episode on Croatia.
JF: Would you say Croatia is a Best Buy for 2008?
CNTO: Definitely, Croatia still has its own currency, so the dollar can be stretched further than in neighboring countries.
JF: Is Croatia appearing on more itineraries as well?
CNTO: Some of the leading tour operators have already sold their programs for 2008 featuring Croatia, and are committed to planning 2009 brochures.
JF: With all this fast growth and publicity, aren’t you afraid the environment will become spoiled and overrun with tourists?
CNTO: Croatia has very strict laws protecting nature and the environment; the accent to our plans is on sustainable tourism. The Adriatic Sea ranks among the cleanest in the Mediterranean, and sea life is cared for. Great attention is given to sea pollution, so cruisers and yachts coming to Croatia are monitored and they have to follow the regulations regarding waste, recycling etc. Additionally, Croatia is rich in natural beauty, it has eight national parks and 11 nature parks; among five other attractions, the National Park at Plitvice Lakes was declared a UNESCO site. We promote Croatia as a boutique, not a mass tourist destination, therefore it will be carefully developed and preserved.
JF: And what about preserving old traditions?
CNTO: Cultural preservation is also very important in Croatia, many archeological excavations are taking place in Croatia in Zadar, Umag, old architecture is being restored. Old crafts have been rediscovered, forgotten trades are getting interest again like jewelry making, based on old traditional art and jewelry pieces, some of the art pieces have been based on old and traditional jewelry pieces that can be seen only in museums.
Old jewelry designs have been reproduced in Dubrovnik, in the Northern area of Morcic such as Rijeka and Kvarner areas.
These objects carry the tag, “original souvenir of Croatia.” Some of the great art designers in Zagreb on Tkalciceva Street, are also reintroducing old jewelry designs making reproductions in their shops so the old designs continue to be relevant and popular. Croatia is rich in regional and national costumes that vary from place to place such as Slavonia, Zagorje, Istria, Lika, island of Susak (mini skirts have their root in women’s costumes from Susak), and Konavle (Dubrovnik region) for instance.
JF: Any new attractions in old places?
CNTO: Popular tourist destinations in Croatia like Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar always strive to offer something new, but also keep the tradition, like festivals that are taking place every year: Dubrovnik Summer Festival, Split Summer Festival, Zadar Donat Evenings – taking place every summer, as well as Umag antique festival in August. Zadar has world famous “Sea Organs”, like original Heferer organs from Zagreb, one of the old European craftsmen. Sea waves are producing music when entering organ’s pipes, this is unique in the world. The ancient city of Zadar dates back to 9th Century BC, and is one of two cities in the whole world that never changed its historical core or location (another one is Damascus in Syria).
The entire city was built on bedrock. Just across from Zadar and Sibenik, is an archipelago of unspoiled islands and crystal clear waters of Adriatic Sea that form the National Park Kornati. A new national Institute and Museum of underwater archeology, as well as restoration center has opened in 2007, in Zadar. The Museum has the largest collection of Roman and Antique glass objects of art. It’s worth mentioning that the Adriatic Sea has a great number (around 4,000) of potential underwater excavation sites, dating back to Illyrian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine times. UNESCO is supporting the underwater excavations here.
The “Museum of Tourism,” the first of its kind in Croatia, located in Villa Angiolina on the Kvarner Riviera, one of the most well-known tourism resorts, has recently opened.
JF: Can you cite any trends?
CNTO: Along the coast, and inland, agro tourism is becoming popular. Many local farms and wineries offer locally produced fresh food and wine, olive picking, truffle hunting, in Istria indigenous “oxen” are protected. In Kvarner, on the island of Cres, “white sup” or wild culture is protected.
JF: Our cover story revolves around harvest time and wines, how is this relevant to travel agents?
CNTO: Wines from Croatia are becoming very popular around the world, in the U.S. as well. Famous wines from Istria, the island of Krk, Slavonia, Hvar, Peljesac, and regions around Zadar/Sibenik region. Bibic Wines, Toljanic, Enjegi from Kutjevo, Zdjelarevic, Plenkovic, Dingac from Peljesac, just some of the wines. Wine routes are becoming part of more and more tourist itineraries, featuring Croatia’s food and wine especially in the Kutjevo region, where our press trips feature the Zdjelarevic winery as well as the other above metioned regions. Travel Agents love to explore wine routes (vinske ceste), since wine is always associated with good food and become part of gastronomy programs.
JF: How important are cruises to Croatia?
CNTO: Known names in cruise industry like Holland America, Silver Sea, Radisson, Carnival, and small yachts cruise along the Adriatic stopping in many ports-of-call. While Dubrovnik remains the most popular, cruise destination in Croatia, other ports such as Zadar, Korcula, Split, Sibenik, Pula are also appearing on many cruise lines’ itineraries.
Currently, the port of Zadar is undergoing a huge renovation that will upgrade its current facilities and be able to receive more big cruisers. Additionally, smaller vessels like the m/s Monet and m/s Dalmacija will also feature Croatian ports of call this year.
For more information on Croatia and land operators, visit www.croatia.hr
October 2007 Issue
Croatia’s Cultural Circle
By Maria Lisella
“People say the Mediterranean is the ‘cradle of civilization’,” says Nena Komarica, director of the Croatian National Tourist Office in New York, “although Croatia lies on the Adriatic, it literally closes that European Cultural Circle.” Komarica has been a long-time advocate of cultural tourism since she first stepped into her job with the tourist office back in the late 1970s when there was a Yugoslavia, a destination that enjoyed enormous popularity among Americans.
Interrupted by political conflict and a struggle for independence, Croatia has captured an enormous rebuilding of faith and interest and for the past two years has consistently reported significant increases in arrivals and overnights from the North American market reaching a 35% rise in 2006 compared to 2005; similar results are expected this year.
The most popular destinations have also been consistent and not surprising: Dubrovnik, Plitvice Lakes, islands (especially Hvar), Zagreb and Istrian peninsula. Part of this success is due to the presence of Croatia in the media – from new editions of guidebooks devoted exclusively to Croatia, to articles focusing on art, islands and as of late, the wine routes are garnering some well-deserved attention. Komarica reports that today almost 70 U.S.-based tour operators now include Croatia in their packaged programs, 15 consolidating agencies, nine operators specializing in religious programs, and 28 cruise lines that call in at least one Croatian port.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Most recently, Komarica was behind the hosting of the American Tourism Society Conference that took place in Croatia just a few months ago, which brought some of the U.S.’s most important tourism executives together but she has been working closely with UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the World Monuments Watch (WMF), which issues a List of 100 Most Endangered Sites every two years. It is a nonprofit organization that, for more than 40 years, has helped save hundreds of endangered architectural and cultural sites around the world.
Komarica participated in fundraising and consciousness-raising efforts back in 1997 and is reaching a 10-year anniversary in the work that helped to save several sites in Dubrovnik and Split. Other sites might one day include Zagreb’s Upper Town and Zadar’s S. Donat Cathedral. Although the choices are made by a panel of experts in archeology, arts, culture and many other specialties, Komarica has advocated that some sites appear on the endangered monuments lists since inclusion can often be the best, and sometimes the only, hope for survival. “It is important to preserve cultural institutions to further develop tourism so we can leave something of ourselves and our histories for future generations,” says Komarica.
Among the many developments within Croatia is the plan to extend the travel season from March to Nov. rather than from the edge of spring to the edge of fall as an alternative to the high-priced summer months.
In Zagreb, a cluster of art institutions that includes the Mimara Museum, Gradec and the Lotrscak Tower, and the Klovicevi Dvori Gallery works as part of the Museum Gallery Center in the heart of the city. Exhibitions of domestic and foreign artists alternate in the Gallery offering a broad range of works of cultural and national importance. Lotrscak Tower is home to the Vidikovac, the highest point of the Upper Town that offers a panoramic view of the Lower Town and the surrounding areas.
Through Oct. 21, an exhibit on “Dalmatinska Zagora, or Unknown Land” is the name of the exhibition will continue at one of Zagreb’s most popular galleries — the Klovicevi Dvori. This exhibition is dedicated to less known inland area, just behind the Dalmatian coast called Zagora. Almost 3 thousand exhibits will bring this region, situated at the crossroads of cultures, closer to visitors. www.galerijaklovic.hr
The lively cultural season will be further highlighted by the debut of the new National Institute and Museum of Underwater Archeology in the north Dalmatian city of Zadar. The Museum will hold the biggest collection of Roman and Antique glass objects of art. It’s worth mentioning that Adriatic Sea has a great number (around 4000) of potential underwater excavation sites, dating back to Illyrian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine times. UNESCO is supporting the project of underwater excavations in the Adriatic.
Zadar is very popular as a tourist destination nowadays, especially for its culture and history tourism. Ancient city of Zadar dates back to 9th Century BC, and is one of 2 cities in the whole world that never changed its historical core or location.
For information on Croatia, call 800-829-4416; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; www..croatia.hr
April 2007 Cover Feature
The Way to Heart and Soul Croatia’s
By Maria Lisella
Rooted in the new Old Europe, Croatia’s capital, Zagreb is a classy city that doesn’t call attention to itself in the fast-paced 21st century ways: no big ferris wheels, no splashy strips, no brouhaha or frenetic pace. This is a cosmopolitan city that knows itself, has a deep commitment to its artists, musicians and high culture, while its central location and infrastructure make it an ideal base from which to visit its outskirts, dotted with villages that keep Croatia’s ancient heart and soul alive.
Yet it is precisely this subtle identity that keeps Zagreb a mystery – it does not open easily to visitors. It is as if the city wants to know your intentions before she divulges her secrets. The city has a definite feminine air as its gardens have been planted from the curbs of the streets right up to the doors of the classically-designed buildings in the center of town reminding visitors that the outdoors is never far away.
One can easily slip into the 19th century as the city was planned so well and so logically around eight parks dubbed the Lenucci horseshoe because it is the name of the urban planner responsible for the design, a semi-circle of green space anchored by a series of must-see attractions. So hungry was Croatia that it imported culture and architects from all over Europe to design the buildings that have come to characterize the city.
You will see grand old houses in the Lower Town built in the 19th century in neoclassical style, Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance. Among the eye-catching buildings are the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences created by a Viennese architect in a Tuscan Renaissance style; the Arts and Crafts Museum in German Renaissance style and the Art Pavilion and Croatian National Theater designed by Viennese architects in Art Nouveau style.
Surprisingly, Zagreb’s commitment to keeping it green is based on a long history of being sure green space, fountains and long avenues of trees and flowers ribbon through the city from the town center to the railways station, through the botanical gardens and up to Marulic and Tito Squares where the theater dominates another square. This love of the outdoors also propels natives to rush to the nearest parks outside the city such as Plitvice with its winding trails and spectacular waterfalls and birdlife.
One of the best places from which to view the city is the Regent Esplanade Zagreb Hotel (www.regenthotels.com). Set along the Orient Express track, the Regent Esplanade was the choice for upscale rail aficionados. Throughout its life, the hotel has hosted kings, journalists, artists and politicians with a courtly style one is not apt to find in glassy, brassy modern hotels. Although the property has seen several owners including InterContinental, it has recently been refurbished to reflect its sumptuous heritage.
The first park in this chain of botanical wealth is Nikola Subic Zrinski both surrounded and interspersed with graceful buildings such as the Archeological Museum, Gallery of Modern Art, the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences, picture galleries, gazebos in the middle and the meteorological column at one end, take visitors into the city’s historical past. There are eight such parks in the center of the city.
The heart of Zagreb is the Ban Josip Jelacic Square, dominated by the statue of Ban Josip Jelacic balanced by the Mandusevac well where a carefully tossed coin can bring you luck as the present and past converge. This is Zagreb’s St. Mark’s Square – where visitors meet guides, teenagers meet each other and lovers discreetly rendezvous.
Walking through the pedestrian walkways throughout the Lower Town to the Upper Old Town is a quick orientation as is sipping a beer in the city’s oldest tavern, shopping in market square for stukli and coffee, meditating in the pink and white stuccoed Baroque Jesuit Church of St. Katherine or revisiting the Mestrovic Museum, set inside the artist’s former home can all give clues to this graceful Central European city.
Zagreb’s cultural impact reached beyond Croatia’s borders. According to a comment made by Giacomo Puccini, author of the famous opera Tosca, it was the Croatian opera diva, Milka Trnina (left) (1863-1941) who was the best Tosca he had ever heard when she performed at Covent Garden in London. Her legacy remains with us as she won the heart of a Swiss chocolatier who named MILKA chocolate in her honor.
Ivan Mestrovic, who is now often referred to as the Croatian-born American Expressionist Sculptor was a native son of the city although with the rise of Fascism, he abandoned his home to live and die in the U.S. Many of his works remain outside the country, but for the great exceptions of his two homes – one in Zagreb and one in Split. His work can also be viewed in the U.S. Later this year, the Mestrovic Gallery at Notre Dame University in Indiana will present an exhibition of his work and other samples of his work are on exhibit at Harvard University Museum in Massachusetts and, in Washington, D.C., at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Ivan Mestrovic at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Perhaps his most well-known work is Indian on Horseback with a Bow, at the main entrance to Grant Park in Chicago. [www.mdc.hr/mestrovic/video-en.htm]
Zagreb and its environs are not only about the past. Each year, the city hosts a series of cultural events such as the Springtime Jazz Festival in Zagreb with a series of concerts at the Zagreb Jazz club (B.P. Club) by both international and domestic Jazz artists. (www.bpclub.hr). And the International Folkore Festival has been taking place in Zagreb for more than 30 years usually for six days in July. Folkdancers from around the world descend on the city in colorful traditional outfits and the public is free to join workshops on music, dance and art designed to introduce the uninitiated and aficionados to Croatian culture. (www.zagreb-convention.hr)
But there are other clues to Croatia’s heart seen through its people who gather on chilly Sunday afternoons crowding the Tkalciceva Street restaurants (right) for a platter of grilled meats cooked on an open fire. Restoran Kaptolska Klet opposite the cathedral is such an option. With its worn wooden floors, long tables and endless flavorful aromas, this is a good place to meet people and dine well on hearty Zagreb soups.
As the weather warms, however, city dwellers contemplate excursions outside the city where they can revisit their own roots throughout the countryside, dine at small inns, or have coffee in castle courtyards.
In September locals and international visitors arrive for the Vinkonci Autumn, one of the best known festivals featuring original Croatian folklore that has become an annual event for nearly 40 years. It is a competition of top culture and art societies from Croatia and Croatian emigrant communities. Events feature original folklore music, dances and customs performed daily in the town of Vinkovci, located in the region of Slavonia. www.vk-jeseni.hr
Varazdin Baroque Evenings, classical music festival at beginning of October in this baroque town not far away from Zagreb (www.vbv.hr). Spancirfest is another festival held every year for a week at the end of August, featuring local folklore and costumes (www.spancirfest.com)
By early October, Croatians go mad over tartufada or truffles. One of the most expensive mushrooms in the world, truffles grow in the Istrian region.
In the forest area near the old town of Motovun, as well as in other surrounding towns and villages there are white and black truffles in abundance. One of the biggest festivals celebrating the ugly mushroom is Tartufada (Truffle Days), taking place in the village of Livade, in the valley of river Mirna. From Oct. 1 – Nov.12 there are exhibitions and tastings of various agricultural products, while truffles are prepared in many different dishes in local restaurants.
This year marks the 6th anniversary celebration of the biggest white truffle in the world discovered in Istria and holding its place in the Guinness Book of Records. Truffle season generally starts in September and lasts through the end of March. www.livadetartufi.com
Lika is a highland region just two -hour drive south of Zagreb, recognized for its well preserved natural attractions. The world-renown UNESCO site, National Park Plitvice Lakes, is located in the heart of Lika. www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr
Not far from Plitvice is the village of Smiljan, where Croatian inventor Nikola Tesla was born 150 years ago. A memorial center and museum opened last year, dedicated to this great scientist. Springtime is perfect for visiting this unspoiled region and to savor the local delicacies such as poppy seed cake. www.tz-gospic.hr
And, going further, you can visit another National park, “North Velebit,” known for its breathtaking nature. www.np-sjeverni-velebit.hr
Cerovac Caves are located nearby, and are part of Velebit Nature Park. Discovered some 100 years ago, during the construction of Zagreb-Split railroad no one was prepared for its wealth of geological ornaments, The Croatian National Railway Company operates new excursion trains to wend their way around the caves. Many archeological remnants from the Bronze and Iron Ages have also been found here. (www.pp-velebit.hr)
Risnjak Park (www.risnjak.hr) is located in the region of Gorski Kotar, which is rich with forests, lakes, caves, flora and fauna and breathtaking views.
Located on the route from Rijeka to Zagreb, it is easily accessible from the newly-built highway. Many new hotels are planned, most of which are in the 4-star category.
The area is ideal for soft adventure enthusiasts -- for cycling, hiking and walking and the rivers are used for rafting and kayaking. For the winter, a bobsledding run is in the works to enhance existing ski areas.
If clients crave a little more adventure suggest one of many Croatian rivers (Dobra, Kupa, Mreznica, Krka, and Cetina to name a few). The Huck-Finn Agency specializes in river packages. www.huck-finn.hr
No matter how many times I have been to Zagreb I regret not having enough time to savor its nuances. Agents will notice there are dozens of two and three-night city-packs on the market that include Zagreb, but try to convince clients to stretch their stay a night or two longer. They will not regret it.
For more information please contact Croatian National Tourist Office at 800-829-4416 or visit www.croatia.hr