Thursday, 14 April 2022

Only European Rural Tourism Congress That Exists to be Held in Cavtat

April the 14th, 2022 - The only European rural tourism congress that currently exists is set to be held in the southernmost Croatian town of Cavtat at the end of this month, firmly placing this already popular holiday destination on the map, but this time quite a different one.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Sergej Novosel Vuckovic writes, just how far the digitalisation process of rural Croatian villages has come, whether the global coronavirus crisis was an opportunity for rural tourism or actually caused losses, how family farms can be branded and what Croatian rural tourism is like compared to the same sector in other countries, are just several of the topics which will be discussed during the 5th International Congress on Rural Tourism, being held from the 27th to the 30th of April in Cavtat.

The gathering organised by the Croatian Association for Tourism and Rural Development will see the coming together of the Village Club with the support of educational institutions from across Croatia and the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, more than 300 participants from the state sector, tourist boards, family farms and others from the wider tourism sector.

A special feature of the upcoming European Rural Tourism Congress is that it is the only one of its kind in the whole of Europe, which is why experts from 10 countries will head to Cavtat to talk more about their projects.

"This year's slogan is Rural Tourism: Quality, Sustainability, Inclusion, and the main topic is competitiveness and the positioning of rural tourism after the crisis experienced by the tourism sector caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The European Rural Tourism Congress enables a continuous exchange of experiences and knowledge, with the connection of science and profession also involved. The competitiveness of a tourist offer is only strengthened by an increased level of awareness and education about rural tourist destinations, and thus improves the way services are provided,'' the organisers pointed out.

For the ninth year in a row, the Sunflower Rural Tourism Award of Croatia, ie the Sunflower Award, will be awarded (in 8 different categories) at this April's European Rural Tourism Congress, with 138 projects from 19 counties competing.

For more, check out our travel section.

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Educational Workshops On Rural Tourism in Dalmatia Have Started

November 24, 2021 - The first of 12 educational workshops on rural tourism in Dalmatia, organized by the Croatian Rural Tourism Association and the Zagora Local Action Group, was held in Dugopolje on Monday. You can still sign up in order to receive more information to promote your services.

The workshop discussed the legislative framework and challenges, new tourism trends, the importance of cultural heritage, and the importance of regular digital communication, reports HrTurizam. Participants were also introduced to the Digital Catalog of Rural Tourism, which provides rural tourism service providers with free promotion in domestic and foreign markets. The catalog includes agricultural holdings that have registered wineries, tasting rooms, picnic areas, agritourism, rural accommodation facilities, and the like. 

“The digital catalog is an extraordinary opportunity to finally consolidate data on rural tourism service providers throughout Croatia. Not only is this important for their promotion, but it will also help us in the tourist boards, but also colleagues from domestic and foreign travel agencies who will be able to see the entire offer of rural tourism in a particular destination in one place", said Tomislav Balić at the workshop, director of the Tourist Board of the Municipality of Dugopolje. 

The participants of the workshop pointed out numerous problems of rural space that they encounter in their work, from basic working conditions such as water, sewerage, etc., to spatial plans that often change in a non-transparent way without taking into account the development needs of the real sector. 

Agriculture and tourism are the mainstays of rural development, and rural tourism provides a handful of opportunities to generate additional income, thus increasing the overall well-being of local communities. By joint cooperation of all actors, especially those involved in local action groups, these problems should be solved faster and more efficiently, which we will work on in the future", said Marijana Botić Rogošić, head of the LAG Zagora. 

The two-hour workshops are organized in cooperation with tourist boards and local action groups, with the financial support of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, and are led by Aleksandra Kuratko Pani, head of the Croatian Rural Tourism Association. 

Interested participants attend workshops on rural tourism in Dalmatia, in the Split-Dalmatia and Dubrovnik-Neretva counties, which will be held until 3.12. they can apply via the form on the website of the Association, where they can also get additional information about the workshops. Applications for workshops in Zadar and Šibenik-Knin County will be possible from next week. 

The association invites all providers of services of rural tourism in Dalmatia, such as farmers who are also engaged in the provision of catering or tourism services to attend workshops in as many numbers as possible to get important information about opportunities for free promotion of their facilities.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Discovering Authentic Croatia's Secrets With Seoski Tourism

November 4, 2021 – Village tourism or countryside tourism - Seoski tourism in Croatia - offers authentic, traditional experiences. Aleksandra Kuratko, secretary of Udruga ruralnog turizma Hrvatske (Croatian Rural Tourism Association) tells us more about it, and their work to help facilitate it

Croatia's visitor offer is evolving and expanding. There are exciting aspects of authentic Croatia to be discovered. Away from the beach, villages inland often look remarkably similar to how they did one hundred years ago. There, crops are grown and produce made in ways passed down through generations of families. And, in some lucky instances, these family farmers are willing to open their doors, invite you inside and show you how they live.

25_-_Pelje_ac_-_Bread_under_bell_at_Agroturizam_Antunovi_.jpgBread from the peka at Agroturizam Antunović on Pelješac

Seoski Tourism – translated as either village tourism or countryside tourism – is just that. Family farms that offer hospitality. These are some of the most homely and most welcoming accommodation experiences you can have in Croatia. Offering sights and sounds, tastes and flavours that you can't find anywhere else, visits or stays in Seoski Tourism places have long been loved by locals for weekend breaks or holidays outside peak summer. But, increasingly, these authentic Croatia experiences are being discovered by international visitors.

14_-_Moslavina_-_Goats_at_Kezele_family_farm.jpgMoslavina goats at Kezele family farm © Davor Konjikušić

One institution trying to facilitate the growth in interest is Udruga ruralnog turizma Hrvatske - Croatian Rural Tourism Association. Since it was formed in 2016, they have tried to bring together Croatia's family farm hosts, to promote them and educate them, and to build bridges between these independents and tourist boards, tourist agencies, educators and even the wider world outside Croatia.

16_-_Moslavina_-_renewed_traditional_house_at_Kezelefamily_farm.jpgSeoski turizam Kezele in Šumećani, on the border of Zagreb County and Bjelovar Bilogora County © Davor Konjikušić

Based in Ivanić-Grad, Zagreb County, the Croatian Rural Tourism Association is currently touring the length and breadth of the country, holding workshops with as many Seoski Tourism family farms that will come. And if the farmwork doesn't allow them free time, then they can attend Croatian Rural Tourism Association workshops online.

On the eve of the association's online Seoski Tourism workshops for Central Croatia and Slavonia, TCN interviewed Aleksandra Kuratko, secretary of Udruga ruralnog turizma Hrvatske, to find out more about Seoski Tourism in Croatia.

18_-_Prigorje_-_Local_specialties_at_Raki__family_farm.jpgPrigorje specialties at Rakić family farm

My name is Aleksandra Kuratko and I am secretary of Udruga ruralnog turizma Hrvatske. As an association, we are 5 years old.

We have 35 members, most of whom are service providers in what we call Seoski Tourism. We also have several tourist boards and two educational institutions as members.

19_-_Bilogora_-_Horses_in_autumn_at_Agroturizam_Na_malenom_brijegu.jpgBilogora horses in autumn at Agroturizam Na malenom brijegu © Vladimir Vlajinić

Seoski tourism is not quite the same as rural tourism, because rural tourism is many different types of tourism that happen in rural areas. Seoski tourism - which you might translate as village tourism - is quite specific. We assemble people who work in agriculture and who, at the same time, are also offering hospitality. In English, you might call them Farm Stays. Or Agro-tourism – a merging of agriculture and tourism.

28_-_Pelje_ac_-_fresh_vegetables_from_Agroturizam_Antunovi_.jpgFresh vegetables at Agroturizam Antunović on Pelješac

People who work on agricultural estates often take care of local cultural heritage. For example, they might maintain and renew traditional wooden or stone houses. Many also have etno collections, in which they preserve different objects from their region. Some of these objects might have been used in agriculture and households hundreds of years ago. So, they are preserving the cultural heritage of Croatian villages. This is what we call material cultural heritage. But, there's another kind.

Ethno0017.jpgCultural heritage preserved in one Slavonian village © Mario Romulić

Non-material cultural heritage is also a part. That might be preserving old recipes of traditional, regionally-specific dishes. Or, it might be showcasing the songs and dance of local music.

We are currently running a project which is supported by the Croatian Ministry of Tourism and Sports in which we hold 37 Seoski Tourism workshops in the field all over Croatia. There will also be around 15 online workshops. The workshops are aimed at colleagues who currently operate in Seoski Tourism – they work in agriculture and offer hospitality. Also invited are local tourist boards and local action groups.

31_-_Photo_from_URTH_workshop_at_Slatina.jpgPhoto from URTH workshop in Slatina

So far, we conducted 20 workshops in the regions of Central Croatia, Slavonia and Baranja, and Podunavlje. From next week until the end of the year, we will conduct the workshops in Istria, Kvarner, Lika and Dalmatia. Some service providers were not able to attend earlier workshops, because of work commitments of Covid. So, we decided to also offer access to the workshops online. Tomorrow is our first online workshop for Central Croatia and on Friday it's the online workshop for Slavonia.

These workshops are interactive discussions between our association, service providers and all other stakeholders. We discuss the legislative framework, which can be extremely complex. We talk about new trends in tourism for the post-pandemic era. We also discuss the importance of integrating cultural heritage in digital promotion.

26_-_Pelješac_-_Donkey_farm_at_Agroturizam_Antunović.jpgDonkey farm at Agroturizam Antunović on Pelješac

For the legislative framework, we have initiated the formation of a working group for the development of Seoski Tourism, which is now operating in the Croatian Ministry of Tourism and Sports. So, at the workshops, we ask if anyone is having issues. We collect the responses and address them in the working group.

Part of the workshop is the presentation of a new web application of Seoski Tourism, which we have developed with Croatian Ministry of Tourism and Sports. It has two purposes. One is to create a digital catalogue of Croatian Seoski Tourism. You can see region by region some of the Seoski Tourism options – currently around 40, those who have already enrolled.

30_-_Podravina_-_Etno_rooms_at_Zlatni_klas_Otrovanec.jpgPodravina Etno rooms at Zlatni klas Otrovanec

A version of the app is currently available on the website of the National Tourist Board. But, they are building a new website. The forthcoming version of the catalogue will likely be more user-friendly with many more functions and options. On the new website, Croatia's Seoski Tourism options will be detailed in many different languages. It should be a great resource not only for tourists but for travel agencies, journalists like you and for educational institutions. That's the reason we are devoting time in our workshops to encourage Seoski Tourism providers to enroll. We are just at the beginning of the process.

11_-_Hrvatsko_zagorje_-_Grešna_pilnica.jpgGrešna pilnica in Zagorje © Jasna Podboj

The second purpose of the app is to collect information about the service providers. This info will be used by our working group when defining a Croatian model of Seoski Tourism. So far, we have taken examples from Slovenia, Italy and other countries that are successful with Seoski Tourism. But, these models were entered into our legislative system without fully considering our distinct business and cultural environments. That is now about to change.

We are very happy that, following many years of partially successful advocacy, there is now political will at a ministerial level to really shape things up, to change the laws and regulations in order to facilitate Seoski Tourism. We want to encourage more Seoski Tourism, not to have people from agriculture being turned away because of the difficulty of the process and bureaucracy.

22_-_Istria_-_Medieval_theme_park_San_Michael.jpgMedieval Theme Park San Michael © Silvia Otočan

You said part of the workshops will focus on new trends. What are some of these?

Research has been done by a working group that is developing a new tourism strategy for Croatia. It's called Strategy for Sustainable Tourism to 2030. Under the auspices of this group, a number of research fields have been analysed.

The collected data shows that a huge percentage of tourists are now more inclined to eat locally grown and healthy food. They want to spend their time on estates that are run in accordance with ecological principles. So, they really care about issues like how waste is disposed of etc. They also pay a lot of attention to culture. They are curious to learn exactly how we are living, how we are working and how we produce things. They want to learn about our society and culture. And, importantly, they really care about how they spend their money. Above all, they want to spend money in areas that can help support local communities.

17_-_Prigorje_-_Breakfast_at_Rakić_Family_Farm.jpgPrigorje Breakfast at Rakić Family Farm

For us, this is really important. Because Seoski Tourism answers these demands to an incredibly high level. We do produce local, healthy food. Not only on the agricultural estates where you can experience Seoski Tourism, but also from their neighbours who just do agriculture. We are concerned with ecology, we protect cultural heritage and the money spent in Seoski Tourism stays in local communities, where it has very beneficial effects.

In the digital promotion part of the workshops we are trying to persuade people about the importance of their online presence. Basically, these days, if you're not online, it's almost like you don't exist. So, we try to explain the importance of having good-quality photos, short videos and a regular online presence.

1_-_Baranja_-_Kulen__varci_nd_other_specialties_at_Baranjska_ku_a.jpgKulen, čvarci and other specialties at Baranjska kuća © Denis Despot

That's interesting. In some cases, it might be like two different worlds colliding - people who work in a traditional industry and a traditional environment having to adapt to a very modern way of operating. There's also another potential collision when providers learn of the expectations within modern tourism. Because these people can no longer just work in agriculture. To operate in Seoski Tourism, you're also very much expected to also be a host.

Yes. All of our current service providers who are successful within Seoski Tourism are also great hosts. It's essential. You can see it in almost all of the reviews for this kind of tourism. Guests come for the food and drinks and surroundings, yes. But, what they value the most, what they remember the most, is the host part of the experience. On the estates of Croatian Seoski Tourism, guests are welcomed like family. Across all of Croatian tourism we are expected to be good hosts. It's part of our reputation and the reason why many people come here from all over the world. In Seoski Tourism, it is vital we live up to those expectations.

13_-_Moslavina_-_Bread_from_bread_owen_at_Kezele_family_farm.jpgKezele family farm © Davor Konjikušić

Another aspect of this, which is a more recently-observed element, is that visitors often want an insight into the actual lives, even the personalities of their hosts. They want not only to taste the homemade sausages you make, but they also want to know how you do it, where you do it, how you learned to do that. When they go to Spain, they want to know how the people there make their wine. And, when they come to Croatia, they want to learn how we do it here.

So, all in all, those of us in Seoski Tourism are really busy. We are in agriculture, yes, but we are also in tourism and we are also online. With this more recently-observed aspect, we will need to try and devote even more time to our hosting. It can be difficult to balance the demands on your time. But, in our workshops, we are trying to persuade people to talk more about themselves, their lives, their cultural heritage. And, if there isn't time to do everything themselves, then to involve different and often younger generations of the family. Sometimes within the hosting or alternatively just with the online promotion and presence.

15_-_Moslavina_-_Kezele_family_farm_ethno_collection.jpgKezele family farm ethno collection © Davor Konjikušić

I've visited some family farms that were right at the start of their journey with Seoski Tourism and they seemed surprised that I was at all interested in what they do and how they do it. I think maybe they thought I was a bit crazy.

Yes, that is a response we sometimes also see at first. I think it's because our generation takes a lot of things for granted. We sometimes think that what we do is just what we do. We are not so good at showcasing it. “Why would I show someone how I make my cheese? I make my cheese like my grandmother used to make it” But, for those who open their doors to Seoski Tourism, inquiries about how they do what they do are only increasing. So, they seem to appreciate how we advise them in the workshops.

5_-_Me_imurje_-_Picnic_by_Me_imurski_dvori_restaurant.jpgPicnic by Restaurant Međimurski dvori © Igor Nobilo

We are trying to let our producers know that Seoski Tourism is not just a platform to sell their produce and an overnight stay, but it's a full experience they can sell. There are agricultural farms in Austria that are established in tourism that you must pay only to visit. Of course, that doesn't happen currently anywhere in Croatia, even though some of our Seoski Tourism estates have sections that look like museums.

Some of these aspects are very new. And the feedback is great. I truly believe there are hidden treasures to be discovered in some Croatian villages. We are here to tell that story.

IMG_0239fghj.jpgSelection of food from a Slavonian village © Mario Romulić

What is so rewarding about Croatian Seoski Tourism that international visitors would want to go to a traditional farm in some inland village instead of lying on the beach in Dalmatia for 14 days?

People come because they really want to see a different side of Croatia. And, there are many different aspects of Croatia to discover – not just Seoski Tourism, but also National Parks and Nature Parks. All of our current trends show us that more and more tourists are willing to come inland from the coast or to explore a different part of Croatia – inland Istria, for example, or continental Croatia.

20_-_Karlovac_-_Kamačnik_river_canyon.jpgKamačnik river canyon © Aleksandra Kuratko Pani

They really want to try authentic, local food. They want to eat healthy, to know what they are eating and how it is made. And, they want to experience flavours that are different from the usual ones they get from the supermarket.

6_-_Me_imurje_-_Traditional_Me_imurje_table_at_etno_restaurant_Me_imurski_dvori.jpgTraditional Međimurje table at Etno restaurant Međimurski dvori

Also, I would say that with Seoski Tourism, people get to know better an authentic version of Croatia and its culture. It's a story we hear very often from our members. Some of them are visited by large groups from cruisers. These are people who might be on a cruise on the Adriatic and who journey inland for a day trip. Or, it might be a group who are cruising the Danube and disembark to visit a family farm in Slavonia, Baranja or Srijem.

24_-__ibenik_-_Drnis_prosciutto_Ivana_Kalpi__Agroturizam_Kalpi_.jpgProsciutto from Drniš at Agrotourism Kalpić © Ivana Kalpić

When they visit farming estates on day trips, it's very often a huge 'wow' moment for them. For many, in their minds, Croatia is simply sun and sea. And that's not entirely their fault. We, as a country, have done very little until now to promote alternative sides of Croatia. The visitors experience these wow moments because of the hospitality they receive and because of the tangible aspect of the visit. This is a modern aspect – people want to touch things, know how things feel, taste, smell. They want to ride on horses or feed them. Or take part in cultural activities. These parts of a visit to Seoski Tourism are very difficult to experience anywhere else.

img_0261.jpg__648x432_q85_subsampling-2.jpg(left) Ivana Alilović, director of Zagreb County Tourist Board (right) Aleksandra Kuratko, secretary of Udruga ruralnog turizma Hrvatske (Croatian Rural Tourism Association) © Zagreb County

Udruga ruralnog turizma Hrvatske's online Seoski Tourism workshops begin today and their physical workshops continue next week in Istria.

If you'd like to read more about rural tourism in Croatia, then look here

Thursday, 13 May 2021

OPG Čudesna šuma: Paradise Reimagined in Beautiful, Traditional Baranja

May 13, 2021 – OPG Čudesna šuma: How an unexpected turn of events helped world-renowned photographer Mario Romulić realise his lifelong dream.

War and genocide and the aftermath. Famine. Disease. Death. In a former life, harrowing images filled the lens of internationally renowned photographer Mario Romulić. But thankfully, we're now far from such scenes.

In fact, at OPG Čudesna šuma - Mario Romulić's home and family farm - we're pretty much far from everything. One other eco-farm is his only neighbour. Well, unless you count the llamas the Romulić family keep out back. Occasionally, through the rich green of surrounding trees, you see birds flying above the branches. Probably they're toing and froing from Kopački rit. The nearby Nature Park is less than a kilometre from OPG Čudesna šuma. Famously, the wetlands are home to over 250 species of birds. They are also the reason why Mario Romulić is here.

ReeeeeMG_2366_DxO-GŠ-e1559901697596.jpgKopački rit Nature Park © Kopački rit Nature Park.

“Back then, I was very occupied with Kopački rit,” remembers Mario of the time, 21 years ago, when he moved to what is now OPG Čudesna šuma. “I was working as a cameraman for people like Reuters, all over the world. The assignments would last 7-10 days and I'd be in places like Afghanistan, Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, Bosnia. It was often quite dangerous. For the next 20 days, I would spend a lot of time in Kopački rit, trying to calm my nerves. It was something like a cure after seeing all these horrible scenes. Eventually, instead of travelling every day from my home in Osijek to Kopački rit, I decided to try and find something close by. And this is what I found.”

Just as this beautiful, natural landscape in Bilje, Baranja once served as a peaceful getaway for Mario Romulić, his OPG Čudesna šuma today does the same for others. Because, after dreaming for two decades of turning this blissful plot and homestead into a forest farm and eco-village, Mario Romulić is finally turning that vision into a reality.

REEEEE123849689_631301844230484_3242943399468051911_n.jpgThe impossibly pretty OPG Čudesna near Kopački rit Nature Park, Bilje Municipality, Baranja © OPG Čudesna šuma.

“Because of my job - first, travelling all around the world, then travelling Croatia - I did not even have much time to think about it, let alone do it,” says Mario. “But, then Corona came. Finally, I found myself at home. At last, I had time to work on my dream.”

OPG Čudesna šuma in the Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje)

A group of 30 or so are Mario's guests today at OPG Čudesna šuma. They're here for a presentation of speciality cooking. It's the grand finale of the Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje).

Over previous weeks, OPGs from all across the region have welcomed guests to try goulash, soups, stews, perklet and other traditional foods of the area. While visiting, they've been embraced by the beautiful landscape of Baranja. Not only have they discovered how this delightful, distinct cuisine tastes, but also they've learned exactly how it's prepared. However, they've evidently saved the best for last. On the menu today, river fish inventively cooked, accompanied by a riotous rainbow of seasonal vegetables.

reOPG_Čudesna_šuma181580000_726510768042924_6910637969151864081_n.jpgSeasonal vegetables of Baranja in springtime at the Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje) © OPG Čudesna šuma.

It's a beautifully sunny day, right at the start of May. It depends on your preference, but looking across this happy vista in the glorious sunshine, it's difficult to imagine this not being the perfect time to be in Baranja. Young children are raised to chest height by their parents so they can meet Mario's free-roaming llamas face-to-face. The children's faces flit between surprise, curiosity and delight. The llamas return their stare. They're used to welcoming new guests.

re182218841_3395418300561357_8222892496436052806_n.jpgMeeting the Romulić family llamas at OPG Čudesna šuma © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

Partially shaded by trees, the smiling adult guests sit casually on wooden benches around a central, outdoor cooking area. Several open fires display a range of traditional cooking methods. Steam rises from a cast-iron stove suspended over one. Beneath the vapours, you can make out the dish is fish paprikash. It's unmistakable because of the deeply red coloured bubbles, a result of generous amounts of paprika.

RErommy.jpgGuests enjoy a warm springtime day at OPG Čudesna šuma during the Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje), as fish paprikas cooks over an open fire © OPG Čudesna šuma.

A huge bag of this paprika sits propped up, close by. It's from another organic OPG, just a kilometre or so from here. The colour is vivid, impossibly red, unrecognisable from anything store-bought. At the next fire, pike impaled on wooden sticks are placed far enough from the flickering flames so they cook slowly and do not burn.

RRRRRRMG_9076.jpgPike impaled on sticks, cooking by an open fire at OPG Čudesna šuma @ Marc Rowlands.

In the outdoor kitchen, Mario Romulić's co-chefs prepare an unending supply of fish dishes and vegetables. Carp, catfish, trout, bream. There's a bounty of fresh asparagus. It's that time of year. With the restraint of experience, they've cooked it perfectly. After the crunch of the bite, the flavour explodes. They're seasoned simply – delicious olive oil and sea salt.

RRRRRMG_9083.jpgSeasonal asparagus, perfectly cooked, served with smoked river fish © Marc Rowlands.

A group of peers – accomplished chefs from Osijek-Baranja restaurants – peak over the shoulders of Romulić's co-chefs. They're admiring the inventive techniques employed. Although, being chefs, they can't help themselves. They end up briefly forgetting their families in order to help out.

Mario Romulić, the host with the most

re181662505_3395417317228122_5675229268416633172_n.jpgMario Romulić © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

After all the guests arrive, Mario Romulić holds court. Cheerily he welcomes us all to OPG Čudesna šuma and the event. Without question, the success of rural, village tourism depends on the personalities of the hosts. It's no good plonking a group of visitors in a pretty place and throwing some food in front of them. We've all seen trees, grass and food before. Rural tourism is not just about the place, it's about the experience, the ambience. And, especially, it's about the people.

Hands down, the OPGs of Slavonia and Baranja are the best in Croatia at this. The folks here are famous for their friendliness, warm welcome and big personalities. And, Mario Romulić has one of the biggest of them all.

In the research for this reportage, looking back at archive pictures of Mario Romulić is startling. During his years spent as an international photographer, he himself has been photographed many times – on assignment in distant countries, at the opening of exhibitions that have showcased his celebrated work. In most, there's an intensity to his stare. It's sometimes difficult to look at. He looks like a man who has tales you never want to hear, like a man who has seen too much.

re181833835_3395419193894601_1580949382978993421_n.jpg(L- R) OPG Čudesna šuma co-chef at the event Mihael Tomić, renowned Osijek chef Ivan Đukić currently of Osijek's Lipov Hlad and a happy Mario Romulić © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

By comparison, the Mario Romulić that welcomes us at OPG Čudesna šuma today is unrecognisable. Sure, there's a little more grey to his long hair and beard but, otherwise, he looks incredibly healthy and happy. The intense stare is gone, replaced by a warm, wide smile that shows across his entire face. Even in early May, he has a darkened skin tone, the telltale signs of a man who spends much of the day outdoors. Romulić's enthusiasm for his guests and the event is palpable. After his sincere welcome, this enthusiasm is immediately transferred to each of his guests.

Mrs Romulić ensures everyone's glass is overflowing with wine or juice. One of Mario's teenage sons helps out with the food, while the other is taking photographs of the event. Well, someone has to do the photography now that dad wants to be a chef and host! Mario himself is engulfed in smoke. Among the other duties he's assumed today, Mario is tending a smoker. Without a doubt, this is the most revelatory cooking method we meet today.

RAFGGMG_9033.jpgMario Romulić tends to smoked river fish, a revelatory gastronomic experience at OPG Čudesna šuma © Marc Rowlands.

Smoked fish of Slavonia and Baranja at OPG Čudesna šuma

reOPG_Čudesna_šuma181569372_726510701376264_2349368327366088172_n.jpgAn American-style smoker, loaded with river fish. TOP TIP: A great way to stop fish sticking to the grill of your barbecue or smoker is to place them on top of a layer of lemon slices © OPG Čudesna šuma.

“We do have smoked fish here, but not in this way,” he says. “This is more like an American grill. I never heard of anyone trying Baranja cooking like this. Actually, I never heard of anyone nearby who has a smoker like this. The first time I tried stuka (pike) in the smoker, that was unbelievable. It's incomparable, really special.”

re182065042_3395417427228111_6987374227558501361_n.jpgExquisite presentation of river fish by the enthusiastic team of OPG Čudesna šuma © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

“In Slavonia and Baranja, there are just a few ways we usually cook our river fish - carp on sticks, fish paprikash, perklet and fried fish. So, we tried something new, to expand the palette. For instance, almost nobody eats Babuška (a type of carp). They feed it instead to their pigs. It costs 5 kuna a kilo! But, if you cook it in this completely natural way, it's delicious.”

re181464507_3395417533894767_3887484501591319798_n.jpgMore river fish, cooked by the team of OPG Čudesna šuma © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

He's not wrong. Today's mountain of different smoked fish is the talk on most of the adult lips. The rich flavours surprise. Compliments and returns for second helpings ensue. Mario stands to one side, happily watching as his smoked fish secret escapes. In the future, he plans similar events based on other regional foods - Black Slavonian pig, wild meats like deer or boar. Eventually, in the seven hectares of land he owns here, he would like to expand OPG Čudesna šuma as an eco-village, with beds for visitors, a natural swimming pool and then surround it with a food forest. Big plans. It looks as though the camera may stay more permanently in the hands of his son. Because it's difficult to imagine Mario Romulić leaving his happy place and the realisation of his long-held dream.

re60723980_10157204309393875_1954899380326629376_n.jpgMario Romulić in his happy place, with a friend © OPG Čudesna šuma.

Both the author and Total Croatia News would like to thank the following for their invaluable help in creating this article: Ivana Jurić and the Tourist Board of Osijek-Baranja County, OPG Čudesna šuma, Mario Romulić and family, Renata Forjan and Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit and Domagoj Butković of expert travel guides to Slavonia and Baranja, Kulen travel.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Rural Tourism in Croatia: Another Ace For the Season

April 22, 2021 - While this year's season is still leaving the country in suspense, another advantage for successful results can be seen in the development of rural tourism in Croatia.

Numerous experts and scientists participated earlier this month in an online panel „Quality and Sustainability in Rural Tourism“, reports Klubselo.hr, an official website of the Croatian Association for Tourism and Rural Development. This is just one part of the Quality and Sustainability in Rural Tourism project backed by the Ministry of Tourism. The project concluded on April 15, and it saw panels, education, and a concluded study of management in rural tourism to help the development of the field.  

It's established that introducing quality standards and a special law on rural tourism is needed. 

„The Croatian wine scene has strongly developed. We can't compete with quantity, but we can with quality and richness of wine sorts, particularly native sorts which the world craves for more and more“, said faculty professor in Zagreb, Edi Maletić, for Klubselo.hr Agronomy.

Quality over quantity can, of course, be applied to rural tourism in general. That particular field saw raised interest with the novel coronavirus pandemic as tourists are now more interested in loneliness, peace, and authenticity.

Božo Skoko, an expert on PR and marketing and a professor at the Faculty of Political Science in Zagreb, says that traveling limitations encourage exploration of rural areas and consumption of local products. 

„Crisis is an opportunity for further touristic development. New norms and behavior rules appeared. We have more free time for family, contemplating, hobbies, meditation… social responsibility and ecological consciousness arise, and these factors have a more and more significant role in choosing destinations“, said Skoko to Klubselo.hr.

Dijana Katica, president of the Croatian Association for Tourism and Rural Development, says that there is a lot to learn from Italy, France, and Austria who have a long tradition of rural tourism.  

„Big attention is given to quality standards that aim at the diverse offer, specialization of services and to guarantee quality to users which are measured by elaborated standards“, describes Katica of the practice of the three mentioned countries. 

vacation_house_Slavonka_-c-Hrvatska_udruga_za_turizam_i_ruralni_razvoj_Klub_članova_Selo.jpg

Vacation House "Slavonka" © Hrvatska udruga za turizam i ruralni razvoj "Klub članova Selo"

Hard work for season preparation already done

Croatia is trying to secure the uncertain season of 2021. While destinations as Vir seems to hold quite good, the overall strategy of vaccination and testing points by the Croatian Tourist Board is seen as a good way to make people safe while visiting Croatia. Apart from that, as TCN already reported, a lot is investing in health tourism, nautical tourism sees the digitalization of its system for easier arrival, and local initiatives in Novalja are also committed to expanding its offer further from party tourism of Zrće beach.

No doubt that further development of rural tourism can only be a hidden ace for the 2021 season rescue. And the still relevant Touch of Baranja photo exhibition in Zagreb is the first step of a specific action. 

As Croatian wine is one of the more developed parts of the rural offer, learn more about Croatia's wine on our TC page

For more about travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Tourism Opportunity for Rural Areas in Croatia and Region

ZAGREB, Sept 27, 2020 - Tourism is an opportunity for the development of rural areas, but urban and mass tourism should be avoided there, experts said on the occasion of World Tourism Day, September 27, which this year is dedicated to the topic of "Tourism and Rural Development".

World Tourism Organisation UNWTO chose the topic of World Tourism Day 2020 before the pandemic, and the demand for tourist services has this year been more pronounced in rural areas than in cities and big destinations, mostly due to health reasons.

Something similar has also happened in Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, said experts on rural tourism from the three countries.

What those countries and the entire region have in common is that rural areas make up about 90% of the total area, which is mostly neglected and unused and suffers from the rural flight, which is, according to experts, a great shame because the area has great potential to develop due to its authentic natural, traditional, historical and cultural values.

After Istria, which was among the first to start, nearly all parts of Croatia are developing tourism in rural areas. They offer not only family-run farms but also wine and heritage hotels, different tourist attractions, and activities in the countryside, said Dijana Katica, president of Croatian tourism and rural development association.

She thinks that COVID-19 in a way contributed to demand, and now is the right time to start planning the promotion of rural tourism for 2021 and further development of rural areas because of EU funding.

"In the entire region, including Croatia, the biggest problem is the low level of public awareness that tourism can present an opportunity for the development of villages and rural areas, that it can be a source of income. There is no tradition of tourism there," said the head of the Institute for Tourism, Damir Kresic.

He also said that care should be taken that tourist activities do not have too much of an impact on the environment and nature.

According to him, rural areas have the potential for development, which can be seen from official data -- family-run farms generated more than 66,300 overnight stays in the first eight months, which is less than 1% of the total number but compared with other accommodation facilities, they came very close to last year's results and stand at 78%.

"It can be said that the crisis has harmed them the least and that it has put the spotlight on that type of tourist services," Kresic said, adding that rural tourism also makes the tourist season last longer.

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Friday, 8 February 2019

'Rural Tourism 365 in Split-Dalmatia County' Presented at Adriatic Gastro Show

February 8, 2019 - "Split-Dalmatia County, as well as Croatia, has a significant natural and socio-cultural basis for the development of rural tourism. However, this foundation is not used in the right way, and despite the enormous potential, rural tourism in our county and Croatia, compared to that in the seaside, occupies a relatively small share and is still not sufficiently developed," said Nataša Bušić from the Croatian Chamber of Commerce Split at the panel "Rural Tourism 365 Split-Dalmatia County”.

The Panel, which was part of the Adriatic Gastro Show held on February 8th, was organized by HGK ŽK Split to look into the situation of rural tourism, and the potential of which we have the opportunity to vigorously develop this significant and insufficiently developed segment of tourism that can significantly enrich the tourism offer and extend the season.

The Croatian Association for Tourism and Rural Development "Village Club" is actively working on the development and promotion of rural tourism in Croatia. "We are carrying out numerous education for OPGs, projects - from cultural routes to branding, and actions, such as the organization of the Suncokret Rural Tourism in Croatia, to develop rural tourism," said the president of the Association Dijana Katica.

rural_tourism_1.jpg

The Tourist Board of Imota is the only tourist community in the area of Split-Dalmatia County, and its director, Luka Kolovrat, said that the last few years achieved excellent results, i.e., an increase in the number of accommodation facilities and the number of overnight stays. 

"Several factors have led to this positive change and growth - the transport infrastructure and the tunnel of Sv. Illija is a great wind on our backs, and there is a prevailing trend for family homes, the pace of renters themselves, the emergence of several strong tourist agencies, media promotion and various incentives,” says Kolovrat.

The destination of Inland Dalmatia, which was declared the most successful destination of rural tourism in 2018, was presented by the director of the Sinj Tourist Board, Monika Vrgoč. 

“From year to year, we note the growth in the number of accommodation facilities. Between 2016 and 2017 the number of newly opened accommodation facilities increased by 60% and from 2017 - 2018, 40%,” Vrgoč said

The LAG Adrion, whose activities were presented by LAG manager, Ivanka Ribičić, is an aid to agricultural holdings when applying for projects. An excellent example of rural tourism development is Winery Matković, one of the LAG members. Domagoj Matković, the owner of the winery Matković, who has been operating since 1998, opened a wine tasting booth last year, which has already resulted in significant business results.

The first-hand experience in working with tourists, trends and demand was shared by Ivana Kapić from the Nova Sol Split Travel Agency. 

“Along with beds and a pool, today's guests in rural areas need to be offered additional facilities such as children's playgrounds, wine cellars and the like,” Kapić said.

Rural tourism in Split-Dalmatia County has shown growth in recent years, but overall, it is still at a low level. For its development, the critical cooperation of all institutions, the creation of a destination and a genuine tourist product, and the learning of those who have already done so, concluded the panel.

To read more about Inland Dalmatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Another Face of Incredible Croatia - Continental Croatia

Croatia away from the coast may not have all the glitz and the glamour of Dalmatia and its yachts, but what it does have isn't worth missing...

Monday, 14 May 2018

Good Prospects for Rural Tourism in Croatia

ZAGREB, May 14, 2018 - There are currently about 500 family-run farms which also cater to tourists, and this is still insufficient in comparison to the potential for developing rural tourism, which will require a broader support, including an improved legislative framework, Dijana Katica, the head of the Croatian association for tourism and rural development, said in an interview with Hina.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Croatian Rural Tourism: Karanac, Baranja, Full of Life

Continuing TCN's look at Croatian rural tourism on October 29, 2016, a visit to the eastern region of Baranja, where the rise of tourism representing a previous era is growing in popularity and offers hope to stop alarming depopulation in the region. 

Tucked away on the banks of the Danube in distant eastern Croatia is a region quite unlike any other in the country. Bordering Serbia to the east and its strong Hungarian influence shared with half of its region located across the Hungarian border, Baranja has a completely different feel to the Croatia I have come to know and love over the last fourteen years, and I was delighted to accept an offer from the Croatian Rural Tourism Association to visit some of their members, as part of a four-day tour exploring the potential of Croatia's continental rural tourism.  

First stop the fascinating village of Zmajevac, and I had certainly never seen a street quite like this in Croatia, but the external view was only part of the story, as I was about to find out. 

All these charming houses looked cute and quite small, but they all had a secret or two when you entered inside. 

We were here to try the wines of one of Baranja's best-known producers, Josic, and any thoughts that we might be the only visitors in mid-October were soon dispelled - the winery, as with much of the Baranja region, was teeming with tourists, a stark contrast with the island of Hvar from where I had come, now in full winter mode after another season largely based on the summer sun. 

And then the first secret - each of these houses had a large area built into the hill behind it. Far from being just a quaint little street, it was in fact an important wine production and storage centre, which had been busier in a previous era, but where producers such as Josic where still extremely active, and a magnet for tourists. 

An intelligent use of blending of traditional architecture with the needs of modern tourism produced this delightful restaurant next to the winery. But still it seemed quite an intimate and charming space. Until I was led into another arched tunnel, with steps leading up.  

And just above the houses to the left of the original picture of the street, a modern winery in full operational mode, with the grape harvest in full swing.  

The production facility inspected, it was time to move on, but not before passing this traditional preparation of lunch. Baranja does things differently, and I was already hooked. 

Our main destination was the village of Karanac, a village which was dying until recently, but whose population is now in excess of 1,000 people, and a village which has a sense of life and purpose, dspite its relatively remote location.  We stayed at Ivica i Marica, the latest etho tourism to open in the village, a wonderful enclosed complex with central courtyard, which offered quality modern accommodation in an authentic traditional setting, and which - just like the rest of Baranja it seemed - was completely full. And, as with other places in the village, Ivica i Marica was busy expanding, building extra accommodation units to cope with the increasing demand. It was relaxing sitting with a glass of wine outside watching the little ones run around with various animals, and activities such as horse riding are proving extremely popular. 

The pioneers of rural tourism in Karanac (and one of the best purveyors of this type of tourism in all Croatia) are the team from Baranjska Kuca, a project to bring back the traditions and crafts of the past, combinging them with excellent local cuisine and fine hospitality, to create an unforgettable experience. And, like others in the region, the expansion continues - here is one of the later accommodation units after the success of the initial project. And, like other places we encountered, it was completely full, the most memorable guests a group of lively Slovenians who had come by chartered bus from Zagreb. They clearly knew where to find a good time in Croatia in October.  

I think this was my favourite part of the Baranjska Kuca experience, a visit to the Street of a Forgotten Time.

A wonderful collection of traditional buildings, each allocated to an expert trade - the miller, the blacksmith, the cobbler etc. - and each rich in traditional artefacts, as well as regular workshops for children to explain and explore the crafts of the traditional way of life in a bygone era. A true educational paradise for the youth of today. 

Shoes, anyone?

There was something very quaint about the street signs in Karanac too, and this young man appeared in several places by the side of the road, with a variety of messages.  

There was food, and the famous Baranja fish specialities were being cooked up for yet another full house. Just where were all these people coming from? 

We were lucky to find a table, but we were more than content to sit in a corner and watch the evening entertainment as the live music came on, encouraging many guests to enter into the spirit of the evening and start dancing. This was not a party which was going to finish early, and I heard later that things finally broke up about 4am. Croatia, Full of Life, in the middle of October.  

Baranja is of course a great natural paradise, with its most famous local attraction the magnicent nature park of Kopacki Rit.  

The call of nature and the bond with the land was never far away - workers from the corn harvest taking a well-earned break. I now regret not taking up their offer to drive the combine harvester to collect a little corn myself, but it was probably the best decision from a safety point of view.  

And there was always something new to learn - I did not realise that Croatia was a producer of sugar until we drove by this mound.  

No sugar cane here, but this is how the raw materials of Croatian sugar look.  

Even the graveyards were mightily impressive and full of life. Neatly arranged, superbly maintained and full of a range of colourful flowers.  

And a surprise around every corner - a huge, part Russian-funded memorial to the Battle of Baranja in 1944, which today looks over the Danube and Serbia, and to the left the self-proclaimed Free State of Liberland.  

Did I say full of life? Those visitors came in all shapes and forms, and a police escort accompanied more than 100 cyclists coming the other way as we finally departed. Is Croatia a 12-month tourist destination? It certainly has the potential to be, especially if the true potential of continental Croatia is realised. 

And although it was too early for snow, what a romantic image to advertise a visit to Baranja in winter. 

A truly delightful region, with some of the warmest hospitality and best food and wine in the country. Learn a little more about Baranjska Kuca in the video below.

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