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Croatia: The Mediterranean as it once was

Written by  Barbara Radcliffe and Stillman Rogers

Europe1Croatia may have made international news by joining the EU in July, but this country on the Adriatic’s eastern shore is not news to European travelers. As word - and pictures - of golden beaches, historic cities filled with Venetian architecture (many towns along the coast were once part of Venice’s vast empire) and turquoise sailing waters has spread, Americans have joined them to become Croatia’s second-largest tourism market.

Billing itself as “The Mediterranean as it once was,” Croatia’s Ministry of Tourism (www.croatia.hr) notes growing interest in its cultural and natural heritage as well as food and wine tourism. Add a coast dotted with 116 Blue Flag beaches and 1,244 islands, red-roofed coastal cities wrapped in Medieval walls, 16 UNESCO Heritage Sites and eight national parks, plus an easy lifestyle, a growing wine industry and an infrastructure of new hotels, this growing popularity is easy to understand. 

Start in Istria

Suggest clients visit the Istrian peninsula, Croatia’s westernmost point, for first-century Roman sites, unspoiled natural beauty and gastronomy that includes prized local white truffles. Food lovers should consider a fall trip, for Days of Truffles (September-November), the Marunada chestnut festival in October, the International Prosciutto Fair and the mid-November Days of New Olive Oil. Seafood is, of course, fresh and plentiful year-round. 

Pula is Istria’s main city, known for the Pula Film Festival, in its 60th year and Croatia’s most visited cultural event. Business and leisure clients will settle happily into one of Park Plaza Histria Pula’s 368 newly renovated guest rooms with private sea-view balconies, while families will like neighboring Park Plaza Verudela Pula’s modern self-catering apartments and the pools, play zone and well-equipped kids’ club (www.parkplaza.com). In a stunning setting with views of the Adriatic and nearby vineyards, Kempinski Hotel Adriatic’s private terraces and balconies, golf course, spa, kids club and concierge will please your most discriminating clients (www.kempinski.com/en/istria/hotel-adriatic)

Historic Dubrovnik

Finding the right hotel for those visiting beautiful old Dubrovnik will be easy. Overlooking the Adriatic adjacent to the UNESCO-acclaimed Old Town, Hotel Excelsior has been a local landmark since opening exactly 100 years ago. Complete refurbishment in 2008 added state-of-the-art technology; four restaurants, a spa, indoor children’s pool and its location assures repeat stays (www.masonrose.com/excelsior).

Boutique hotel Villa Orsula opened last year, its beautiful cloisters and terraced gardens dropping to the sea creating a sense of privacy only a five-minute walk from Old Town Dubrovnik (www.adriaticluxuryhotels.com/en/villa-orsula). Five-star Sun Gardens resort overlooking the sea 30 minutes from Old Town, includes Radisson Blu Hotel, a Spa by OCCO, its own private beach and three pools (www.radissonblu.com/resort-dubrovnik). Clients traveling with a large family or group may like the option of renting nearby Villa Sunrise through The Big Domain (www.thebigdomain.com/large-houses/villa-sunrise).

Be sure clients allow time for historic Split’s beautiful harbor and historic center containing Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The huge complex of living space, temples and plazas is still lived in -- a village inside a Roman wall. In contrast to this ancient wonder, 20 minutes away, Dalmatia Water Park is under construction to open in 2014 and includes several swimming pools, river rides, splash pools, a lake with boats and a hydrotherapy pool.

Croatia’s Islands

Your clients would feel cheated without time to explore at least one of the islands, each with its own personality. Losinj’s five islands are abloom with 1,200 different plant species, reached by 150 miles of walkways. Losinj Hotels & Villas has workshops in preparing botanical skin care products, and Wellness Hotel Aurora offers aromatic massages (www.losinj-ho tels.com
tels.com)
. Holistic and natural healing reach back into antiquity on Mljet Island, where Natural Cura offers a rejuvenating program of outdoor exercise, local organic foods and shuiatsu
(www.natural-cura.com/en)

New this year, helicopter and small plane transfers allow faster access from Dubrovnik to Hvar, an island also known for its diverse flora and fauna. Along with scenery, beaches and villages like laid-back Stari Grad, Hvar also produces some of Croatia’s best wines and has just launched wine tours (www.total-hvar.com).

The most remote island of Vis, a two-hour ferry ride from Split and only 60 miles from the Italian coast, was once the Adriatic’s most powerful city-state. It is covered with Roman remains, but its most famous site is the Blue Grotto, a sea cave accessible only by boat. Seafood restaurants, local wines, sea kayaking, hiking, sailing and beaches also lure travelers (www.visinfo.org). The most popular accommodations are in villas and apartments (www.visvillas.com).

Visitors stopping in Zagreb will want to know of the recently renovated Hotel Jadran, Zagreb’s oldest hotel, in the heart of the city (www.hotel-jadran.com.hr/en) and of the hottest new restaurant, Peta Cetvrtina, opened by the same chef whose unique vision for his Prasac restaurant revolutionized Zagreb’s dining scene (www.petacetvrtina.com).

Several attractive options invite clients who prefer tours to FIT. Wine-lovers can join Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours for Dubrovnik New Year Wine Holiday to appreciate the country’s recent wine renaissance. The trip includes a gala dinner, rustic traditional lunches, Slow Food dinners and a 5-star hotel (www.winetours.co.uk). Kompas tours explore little-visited northern Croatia, beginning in Zagreb (www.kompas.net). High-end clients will appreciate the details in Butterfield & Robinson’s Bespoke guided trips: custom designed family vacations, walking adventures through little-known archipelagos and private cruises around the Dalmatian islands (www.butterfield.com).

As you can see, EU membership is not all that’s new in Croatia!

 

 

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