What makes Croatia such a cool place to visit?
More and more people are discovering this slice of Paradise, and the photogenic shots of (particularly) the coast and islands, but also increasingly Zagreb and continental Croatia, are being shared through social media.
But there are also many cool things which promote Croatia to different audiences, some of them Croatian artists and personalities, others foreign events in Croatia, and others Croatian producers of innovative and excellent products. Put them all together and what a package you have for the Cool Croatia, a country definitely worth visiting.
So what are your top ten things and symbols to characterise the cool modern Croatia? These are my top ten, compiled after some discussion with fellow TCN writers. As they did not agree with all in the list, I don't expect you to either, so list your top ten in the Facebook comments on the TCN page.
How interesting can you make playing the cello? And is it possible to catch popular culture with such a classical instrument? Two young men called Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser managed to do just that, wowing audiences all over the world with their unique repertoire, from AC/DC to Bach. Known as the 2Cellos, they are a fantastic live act, and I was fortunate to see them in Jelsa a couple of years ago. Great performers - here they are in the fabulous Pula Arena (where they will play again this summer), with a cover version of U2's With or Without You.
2. Mate Rimac and Concept One (including Tesla Rally)
Imagine a country with no car industry, and along comes a private citizen who designs and builds his own cars, which are so good that the first one not only wows the Geneva Car Show, but also sells for a million dollars. Mate Rimac and his company Rimac Automobili need no introduction, but here they are racing their electric car against a Ferrari. A wonderful tale of Croatian excellence and success, operating within Croatia, and still succeeding despite the bureaucracy.
Rimac's electric car genius is all happening in the country of Tesla's birth, of course. It has always baffled me why a country so dependent on tourism makes such little use of its potential when it comes to the great inventors who hail from it - in addition to Tesla, the pen, the parachute and the cravat. Where are the festivals and tourist attractions to celebrate these? It is particularly puzzling with Tesla, but one of my favourite events in Croatia does exatly that - the Nikola Tesla Electric Vehicle Rally, which takes place again from May 31 (see the trailer below). It is where I met Mate briefly and got to interview the first ever purchaser of Concept One - you can read the interview here.
3. Game of Thrones
"Croatia has become a home away from home for us." There are few shows with more global appeal than Game of Thrones, and although I have never watched a minute of the show, I am clearly in the minority. Croatia has been successfully branded with GoT, Kings Landing, aka Dubrovnik in particular, which has helped bring this wonderful country to the attention of new audienes. If Game of Thrones tourism can be developed to 10% of what New Zealand managed with Lord of the Rings, the future is looking rosy indeed. And while Game of Thrones is the biggest name out there, Croatia is developing a great reputation as a cool filmset, with both Star Wars and Robin Hood: Origins also filmed in the country recently.
4. Startas Sneakers
Croatia has many great fashion designers, but perhaps the one clothing story which encompasses the cool of Croatia is the Startas sneakers from the Vukovar region in eastern Croatia, which first started 40 years ago as a sports shoe for table tennis in socialist former Yugoslavia, and these days has come back, with the new generation of Startas attracting gushing praise from the likes of New York Times and Vogue Magazine. Here is the full story about the company in other international media - Croatia's Hippest Shoe Company is a Relic of Its Socialist Past.
Invented in 1959, there is no global food icon from Croatia than Vegeta, the star in the Podravka team, a food condiment mix which many swear by. Still cool today? Well the first Vegeta Podravka factory in Africa opened earlier this year, and as this video from New York states below, it is the top selling item in its field in Europe. It is exported to over 50 countries in the world.
6. Smart Technology of Ivan Mrvos and Energomobil
If there is one field where Croatia is really punching above its weight, it is in technology. Although Zagreb does not have the big name companies with offices there, there are some incredible IT products being developed by individuals. One which has captured attention is a young man called Ivan Mrvos from Solin near Split, whose smart benches powered by the sun, have become a hit in both at home and abroad. Here he is being interviewed.
And not just Mrvos - there are other companies in the same field making waves in the international market, including Energomobil, whose range of solar products is much more extensive, including solar bus stops. I particularly enjoyed their solar powered mobile coffee shop, when it premiered at the Days of Croatian Small Boatbuilders fair in Split a couple of years ago. Learn more about them here.
7. Romulic and Stojcic Timelapse Genius
Croatia is of course a stunning country, but conveying that beauty is not so straightforward, and my biggest regret as a writer is that my photography skills are inversely proportional to my writing ability. Thankfully, help is at hand, and the genius of the Osijek Maestros, aka Romulic and Stojcic, have enabled millions to see magical Croatia - and not just the coast, close up with their outstanding timelaspes.
Their first viral timelapse, called Timelapse Croatia, was named in the national media as one of the finest promotions of Croatia ever, and there have been several fabulous ones since, the best of which (in my opinion) is their latest from Krka National Park.
8. Ultra Europe
Followers of Total Hvar over the years will have noted my strong opposition to Ultra Europe on Hvar (not that the opinion of a foreigner matters in Croatia, as we have established before), and its presence in peak season Hvar has (in my opinion) contributed to Hvar Town's demise as a quality tourism destination in favour of the quick buck party tourism which is all the rage, but there is no doubting the effect it has had on Split and its reputation as a cool destination. Check it out for yourself in this 2015 Ultra Europe aftermovie.
9. Sporting Excellence - Sinkovic Twins, Sandra Perkovic, Sara Kolak, Marin Cilic and Luka Modric
Sport has always been an area where Croatia has excelled; it is said that Split has more Olympic medal winners per capita than the rest of the world for example, and at the last Olympic Games in Rio, Croatia would have taken the bronze if the medals table reflected medals per capita. And while the more famous and highly paid footballers and tennis stars such as Modric, Rakitic and Cilic may be more famous, the really cool Croatian sportsmen and women perhaps are those Olympic athletes consitently setting the standards: the rowing phenomenon know as the Sinkovic brothers, Sandra Perkovic with the discus, and Croatia's latest gold-medal sensation, Sara Kolak with the javelin.
New technologies are changing the way we do things. The arrival of companies such as Uber, Airb`n`b and others have turned traditional markets on their head, and become instantly recognisable global brands of technology providing simple and cost-effective options for their sector. And so the launch of a new Uber product is something which will grab instant global attention, and when UberBOAT launches this summer (it has previously existed only in a couple of one-off instances) on the Dalmatian coast, there is bound to be massive international media interest. And what more picturesque setting to promote the cool image of Croatian tourism that speeding along from Split to islands like Hvar and Brac?
One small country. Lots of amazing things. Are you packing your bags to visit this summer?