Thursday, 25 March 2021

Valamar Lifestyle Brand [PLACES] to Launch with Hotel on Hvar

March 25, 2021 - The brand new Valamar lifestyle brand [PLACES], aiming to target younger travelers, will launch with a hotel opening on Hvar later this spring. 

HRTurizam reports that lifestyle hotels have been a trend in the international hotel industry in recent years because they aim to create an authentic experience and push the boundaries of the traditional hotel concept. They are especially sought after among the younger target group of tourists, i.e., millennials.

Following new trends and signals from the market, Valamar has launched a new lifestyle brand called [PLACES] by Valamar.

The new hotel concept is based on getting to know the destination's true local Mediterranean lifestyle, focusing on authenticity. The brand is intended for guests seeking freedom of choice, modern design, and an authentic destination experience with full respect for nature and the environment.

One of the most significant features of this hotel is the [PLACESFLEXI] offer, which gives guests complete freedom to enjoy the restaurant offer in the rhythm that suits them best, according to Valamar. If for any reason they missed lunch or dinner - 25 euros of their daily credit can be used in a restaurant or hotel bar. What they don't spend that day, they can transfer to the next. Attention should also be drawn to the pool complex, which becomes the center of daily entertainment with live music by local bands and DJs, and the party continues after sunset.

With the introduction of the [PLACES] brand, Valamar continues to follow the latest trends in the hotel industry, said Davor Brenko, Valamar Riviera's vice president of sales and marketing, adding that this is a hotel concept intended primarily for millennials, young professionals, and those who recognize themselves in the specific lifestyle values that [PLACES] promotes.

The first Valamar hotel under the new brand will be HVAR [PLACESHOTEL] by Valamar in Stari Grad on Hvar (ex hotel Lavanda), for a renovation of which a total of around HRK 53 million will be invested. According to current plans, it will open in mid-May. The hotel has 179 rooms which, in addition to high-quality workmanship and equipment, will also have the possibility of cashless payment with a bracelet and contactless check-in.

"For HVAR [PLACESHOTEL], the most important will be the markets of Great Britain, the United States, Germany, Austria, and of course, the Croatian market. Hvar is a destination that has successfully positioned itself in the market segments of younger, relaxed, and at the same time experientially and environmentally aware people. That is why we chose Hvar as a destination and an ideal place to launch our new brand, from which we have high expectations in the future. In the next period, we plan to open several more hotels under the [PLACES] brand," Brenko points out.

The visual identity of the [PLACES] brand by Valamar is signed by Studio Sonda from Vižinada near Poreč, and it is one of five Valamar product brands that operate under the umbrella identity All you can holiday (Valamar Collection, Valamar Hotels & Resorts, Sunny by Valamar, and Camping Adriatic by Valamar).

For the latest travel updates and COVID-19 news from Croatia, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Plastic-Free Croatia: Croatian Cities and Islands Moving to Reduce Plastic Waste

February 7, 2021 - Dubrovnik, Trogir, Stari Grad on Hvar, and Sali on Dugi Otok will be the first in Croatia to reduce plastic waste and use alternative solutions by participating in projects implemented by the Split Association "Sunce" for Nature, Environment, and Sustainable Development, setting the pace for a plastic-free Croatia. 

Glas Istre reports that "Plastic Smart Cities Croatia" and "For Plastic Free Croatian Islands" aim to reduce plastic waste and use alternative solutions. They analyze the use of disposable plastics and waste plastic management in the local communities involved, develop and implement a "Plastic-Free Plan" with a participatory approach and workshops, as well as organize "plastic-free" public events, i.e., events and public forums aimed at raising awareness in the local population about the consequences of plastic pollution.

One of the important activities is implementing a national campaign to raise awareness of the impact of plastic pollution on the marine environment and available sustainable solutions in the island communities on Hvar and Dugi Otok. The Split Association for Nature, Environment and Sustainable Development "Sunce"is currently working on organizing workshops for networking partners and environmental organizations engaged in this topic.

It is in this project that the pioneer association "Sunce" began implementing the projects "Plastic Smart Cities Croatia" and "For Plastic Free Croatian Islands" to reduce the plastic footprint in various segments of social life in local communities by reducing the use of disposable plastic and encouraging the use of alternative solutions for plastic waste. One of their project goals is to raise the awareness of citizens and the public about plastic waste.

After the completion of the project, a final conference will be held aimed at disseminating the project results and encouraging the further reduction of plastic waste for representatives of local island authorities, national and international NGOs, local government units, representatives of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, tourism, relevant ministries, and other stakeholders, with the message "Reduce the use of disposable plastics and look for more sustainable solutions!", which the Sunce Split Association has been advocating for many years.

They remind that a new Law on Waste should be adopted in Croatia this year, which, among other things, contains some provisions of the EU Directive on reducing the impact of certain plastic products on the environment. At the end of last year, independently and in cooperation with other environmental protection associations in Croatia, they sent their comments on the Waste Act's draft proposal.

They add that the European organization "Seas at Risk," which brings together several associations dealing with protecting the marine environment, assessed last summer that the EU directive is an ambitious plan to dispose of ten non-reusable plastic items, and which can most often be found on beaches across Europe, but that its implementation into national legislation in most European countries has been halted.

The COVID-19 crisis has led to a dramatic increase in the use and the rejection of disposable plastic objects in nature.

"The Mediterranean Sea is one of the world's most polluted seas, and half of this enormous amount of waste comes from the mainland. With 400 kilotons of waste generated annually, Croatia ranks third in the region. Hence, it is imperative to take urgent measures and raise awareness to numerous visitors about the need for urgent action, i.e., reducing disposable plastic use.

Namely, tourism has been identified as one of the key actors, so part of the awareness campaign within the "Plastic Smart Cities" project is aimed at foreign and domestic tourists, the Sunce Split Association points out.

The EU directive on plastic waste was adopted in 2019 after a trialogue, i.e., negotiations between the European Parliament, the Commission, and the EU Council. This year, all EU countries must finally implement it. The Law on Waste in Croatia should be adopted by July 3 at the latest. Croatia should also throw out disposable plastic products, namely plastic q-tips, cutlery, plates, straws, drink sticks, and balloon holders.

After adopting the directive in the European Parliament, the then Croatian MEP Davor Škrlec from the Green Group said that the directive should be used to encourage change for us as a society to produce less garbage and become sustainable.

"If we do not change our attitude towards production, consumption, and waste, the human species will become consumable like a disposable coffee cup. This directive will help us abandon disposable plastics on the road to less consumption, better designed reusable products, more innovation, and a cleaner environment," Škrlec said then.

The directive also includes provisions for the disposal of cigarette butts, which are a significant polluter, the objectives of collecting beverage bottles, and the requirement to redesign beverage stoppers to connect them to bottles. The directive also includes national targets for reducing the consumption of plastic cups and food containers, and ultimately a total ban on oxo-degradable plastics often referred to as biodegradable but in reality fragmented into microplastics.

Disposable plastic products and fishing gear together account for 70 percent of Europe's marine litter, so it is expected that Europe's seas will be significantly cleaner by implementing the directive.

According to the Commission, the directive will bring many benefits for the environment and the economy. Environmental damage would be avoided, costing €22 billion by 2030, and saving consumers up to €6.5 billion, with an adjustment cost estimated at €3.2 billion for manufacturers.

At the end of last year, the Commission adopted new rules on the import and ban on exports of plastic waste to third countries that do not have the capacity to manage it in a sustainable way, which is one of the main points of the European Green Plan and EU Circular Action Plan.

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

New Promo Video for a Very Old Town: Meet Stari Grad on Hvar

January 3, 2021 - Its 2400-history is reflected in its name ('Old Town' in Croatian) and a new promotional video - meet Stari Grad on Hvar.

With distance comes perspective. 

For 13 years, I viewed the town of Stari Grad on Hvar from a close distance - my beloved adopted home town of Jelsa 8 kilometres away. 

Both Jelsa and Stari Grad are located in the centre of the island, less fashionable and less popular than their more glamorous neighbour to the west - Hvar Town. 

Jelsa and Stari Grad were similar but different, and both very pleasant places to hang out. As a patriot, of course, Jelsa was the better place to be.

Moving away from the island 4 years ago, perspectives have changed, and so too is Stari Grad. 

It is partly the investment in the new hotels we featured recently in The Rise of the Quality Hotel Scene in Stari Grad on Hvar. It is partly the rise in nautical tourism brought on by the extension of the waterfront in the historic old town, which dates back to the arrival of the Ancient Greeks in 385 BC. It is partly due to the town's commendable direction to avoid party tourism and focus on its authenticity, heritage and natural beauty.

Perhaps the changes are due to my perspective only, but I don't think so. In recent years, Stari Grad has seemed to be more at ease with itself as a destination, with great new restaurants opening (several all year), local arts and craft shops rather than cheap Chinese souvenirs, and an ever more diverse tourism offer.

The Stari Grad Tourist Board released a new promo video for the destination a few days ago, which I really liked. And for the first time, I saw Stari Grad for what it has become - a complete destination.   

Here is the new video above. I am sure that an English-language version (at least with subtitles - I would be happy to help with this) is forthcoming. But even if you don't speak Croatia while we wait, the footage is excellent. 

Looking to learn more about Stari Grad on Hvar? Here are 25 things to know

Sunday, 6 December 2020

6 December Nikolinje: Celebration of St Nicholas Day in Croatia

December 6, 2020 – Over much of the Christian world, 6 December is celebrated as St Nicholas Day. Croatia is no exception. Famous as the inspiration for Father Christmas, St Nicholas Day in Croatia is a time of gift-giving and tradition.

Nowadays, Croatian kids get gifts twice in December. Once on Christmas Day and also on 6 December, St Nicholas Day in Croatia (although, in some parts of southern and north-eastern Croatia, the traditional day of gift-giving is St. Lucia's Day - 13th December). On the evening of 5 December, children place their shoes or boots by the window, within easy reach of St Nicholas as he passes. When they wake on 6 December morning, they rush out of bed to see if St Nicholas has visited. If they've been good, their shoes might contain gifts like chocolates and sweets. If they've been bad, the shoes might contain a piece of birch wood or a rod – something with which they should be reprimanded. No youngster is all good or all bad. It's very common for Croatian children to receive both – a lighthearted acknowledgment of their changeable behaviour.

Jaroslav_Čermák_(1831_-_1878)_-_Sv._Mikuláš.jpg
St Nicholas by Jaroslav Čermák (1831 - 1878)

Saint Nicholas of Myra, also known as Nicholas of Bari, was an early Christian bishop of Greek descent from the maritime city of Myra in modern-day Turkey. He is thought to have lived between 270 – 343 AD, during the time of the Roman Empire. Little written evidence from the time of his life exists about St Nicholas, but he was persistently eulogised in writings and in art after his death and for hundreds of years afterward. There are three sources that mention Nicholas of Myra of Lycia being present in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea, convened by the Christian Roman Emperor Constantine I. Constantine is said to have freed Saint Nicholas from prison after he had been placed there by the preceding Emperor Diocletian.

Many stories about his life have made St Nicholas one of the most popular and celebrated of Christian saints. He is the patron saint of children, coopers, sailors, fishermen, merchants, broadcasters, the falsely accused, students repentant thieves, brewers, pharmacists, archers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, Russia, Greece, Liverpool, Moscow and Amsterdam and many other places. St Nicholas is one of the most popular names for churches in the Croatian diaspora.

It is the secret giving of gifts that lies at St Nicholas's inspiration for Father Christmas, indeed the name Santa Claus is partially derived from Sinterklaas, Nicholas's name in Dutch. This reputation comes from one of the most consistently repeated tales about Nicholas's life.

Gerard_David_010_Nikola.jpg
The Three Legends of St Nicholas by Gerard David, painted sometime in the 1450s. The picture shows St Nicholas anonymously leaving dowry money for the sleeping sisters.

It is said that Nicholas heard of a formerly wealthy devout man who had lost his money and could no longer afford dowries for his three daughters. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably be forced into prostitution. Nicholas decided to help them and went to the house at night. He reached in and anonymously left a purse filled with gold coins, a dowry for the first daughter. After her wedding, Nicholas repeated his secret generosity for the next two sisters. In some tellings, Nicholas was discovered by the girls' father on his third visit and Nicholas told him he must remain silent about the identity of the gift giver. The story is so unique and so often retold, many historians believe that it must stem from some truth.

nikola15b46ecace4051cc8307525c_L.jpg
St Nicholas Day in Komiza, Vis island © TZ Komiza

As the patron saint of fishermen and sailors, St Nicholas Day in Croatia is marked in some very distinct ways at different points on the coast. In the fishing village of Komiza, on Vis island, when a boat is in line with its Church of St Nicholas, sailors doff their hats, greet the saint, and pray, “Saint Nicholas help us with our voyage and fishing.” His statue is removed from the church on 6 December, St Nicholas Day in Croatia and leads a procession around the village. An old boat is set alight and burned as an offering.

sveti-nikola-baska-voda66.jpgThe statue of St Nicholas in Baska Voda sits next to the harbour. St Nicholas blesses all those who arrive or depart by boat © TZ Baska Voda

In Baška Voda, the impressive statue of Saint Nicholas sits by the waterside in the town centre, looking out to sea, his hand raised as he blesses all who visit and depart from Baška Voda by boat. Town residents gather by the statue on St Nicholas Day in Croatia.

sv-nikola-stari-3VedranJanic.jpg
St Nicholas Day in Stari grad, Hvar Island © Vedran Janic

In Stari Grad on Hvar island, it's the eve of St Nicholas Day in Croatia which is the focus. They burn an old boat that night and, following a Mass for children, adult attendees throw apples down to the children from the choir gallery upstairs.

These days, the gift-giving of St Nicholas Day in Croatia is a token affair, marking tradition. But, in regards specifically to the exchanging of presents, St Nicholas Day in Croatia used to be the main event – Christmas Day was free of gift-giving, reserved as a day to mark the birth of Jesus Christ. Perhaps Christmas was better celebrated in this traditional way? Still, few kids in Croatia will complain about receiving gifts twice in the month of December.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

PHOTOS: The 21 Most Incredible Croatia Castles To See Year-Round

November 25, 2020 – Serving as Christian Europe's defensive front line for centuries, incredible Croatia castles can be found throughout the country. Whether on a summertime day trip, set next to the spectacular backdrop of autumn's colours or postcard-pretty covered in winter's snow, here are 21 of the best to visit year-round

Castle Mailáth
DM-DvoracZdenko Brkanić.jpg© Zdenko Brkanić

Mailáth Castle is located in Donji Miholjac in Osijek-Baranja County, just next to the Hungarian border in Slavonia. It's well worth making the trip to see this wonderful building, not least because it sits right next door to an earlier grandiose structure. After being gifted lands for services in fighting the Ottomans, in 1818 the Prandau family built its first castle in Miholjac in the Baroque style. But, in 1901 its grandeur was supplanted by Mailáth castle. Built over four floors, its decorative chimneys, spacious terraces with neoclassical balustrades and wrought iron fences identify its debt to the Tudor style. The building has some 50 rooms over around 3500 square meters. Its interior was decorated with hunting trophies from Count Mailáth's travels in Asia and Africa, set above oak panelling which lines every room. In recent times, the building was used to house city authorities, but considerable effort has been made to restore the building and open it up to visitors. Its grand hall now acts as an impressive host to events such as classical music performances, as do the immediate grounds in warmer months. These grounds extend out into a 16-hectare public park which was curated by the family and bequeathed to the town inhabitants. This is now one of the few Croatia castles to have a nationally certified horticultural monument attached. It has been classed as such since 1961.
croatia_slavonija_donji_miholjac_004NTB.jpgDonji Miholjac in Slavonija gives you two adjoined Croatia castles, Mailáth (right) and Castle Prandau (left)  © Croatian National Tourist Board

Maruševec Castle
AnyConv.com__2880px-Dvorac_Marusevec3MaGa.jpeg© MaGa

During its lifetime, the extraordinary Maruševec castle in Varaždin County has passed through a confusingly long series of different owners, many of whom have left a significant mark on the building. The original structure dates back to 1547 and it was privately owned from that time up until 1945 when it was seized by Yugoslavian Communist authorities from the Pongratz family. They fled to Austria, having established with zeal the splendid gardens that surround the building. In the first years after independence, the building was used by a section of the Protestant church in Croatia. However, over the last two decades the government began the process of returning many such Croatia castles to their rightful owners and Maruševec Castle now once again lies in the hands of the Pongratz family. Needless to say, the grounds are once again superb.
slika-dvoracOpćina Maruševec.jpg© Općine Maruševec

Prandau Normann in Valpovo
dvorac-air1greenroom.jpeg© Greenroom Festival Valpovo

The pictures don't do it justice. Prandau Normann in Valpovo is one of the Croatia castles that has to be visited to get a true sense of its size, significance and history. One of the oldest and largest castles in Slavonia, it sits within a small area of greenery upon which the surrounding settlement closely encroaches. Some trees at the edges of these thin grounds partially obstruct the view. However, stretching out from the southern ends of this green island is a glorious public park of 25 hectares. Formerly part of the hunting grounds of the castle inhabitants, it was designed as a grandiose garden in the English style and has been declared a national monument of natural and horticultural architecture. The castle sections now form a three-walled complex with an inner courtyard. The original triangular-shaped fortress and the shorter, round tower date back to the beginning of the 15th century at which time it was surrounded by defensive moats. During the first half of the 18th century, the Prandau family rebuilt one side of the medieval structure with the Baroque palace which now lies at the front. Its tower is 37 metres high. Badly damaged in a fire on New Year's Eve in 1801, it stylings were somewhat altered when reconstructed. A true giant, it has over 60 rooms and, together with the inner courtyard, has an impressive ground space of 4031 m2. The Museum of the Valpovo Region was established here as far back as 1956. Its continuous running was halted by both war and reconstruction work, but it is once again open. Although the building is of significant national importance, it is to the immense credit of its forward-thinking governance that the building and grounds have in recent years been utilised for public events, including very contemporary youth culture happenings such as the Reunited Festival. and Greenroom Festival
Dvorac_Prandau-Normann_dvorac_iz_zrakaRoko Poljak.jpg© Roko Poljak

Ozalj Castle
ozalj-stari-grad-za-web-ivo-biocina_0NTB.jpg© Ivo Biočina / Croatian National Tourist Board

Around 60 kilometres from Zagreb, in Karlovac County, Ozalj is one of the most picturesque Croatia castles. It has simply everything you would want from a visit to a castle – an impressive approach, towers, defensive walls, surrounding waters, incredible views and a fascinating amalgam of different buildings. Sat spectacularly on a cliff above the Kupa river and the surrounding settlement of Ozalj, this castle was once the entire town. First mentioned as a free royal city as far back as 1244, the walled medieval stronghold was gradually built to become a castle in the 18th century. It is a building of great national significance as the site of the Zrinski–Frankopan conspiracy which, although unsuccessful, is an important marker in the country's struggle for autonomy. Between them, the Croatian families of Zrinski and Frankopan owned the castle from 1398 until 1671, when both family lines were severed with the execution of the conspirators by the ruling Habsburgs. The effects were felt throughout the region – some 2000 nobles were also arrested, the Protestant church was suppressed, Habsburg troops attacked commoners in both Croatia and Hungary and the position of Ban of Croatia, formerly held by Nikola Zrinski, would be left completely vacant for the next 60 years. The conspirators were executed on April 30 which became the city day of Ozalj in remembrance.
AnyConv.com__2880px-Zugang_Schloss_Ozalj1BernBartsch.jpeg© Bern Bartsch

Trakošćan Castle
TURISTIČKA ZAJEDNICA OPCINA BEDNJA.jpg© Turistička zajednica Trakošćan - Općina Bednja

One of the most-recognisable Croatia castles, from its surroundings Trakošćan looks like something out of a fairytale. Its position on a hill near Krapina, Varaždin County, not far from the Slovenia border, was obviously made for defensive reasons. But, today, it serves to bolster this romantic vista. Trakošćan dates back to the 13th century, although local legend says that it stands on the site of an even earlier fortress. Nobody really knows who commissioned it nor who originally lived there. In 1556 the castle came under state control, but just 18 years later it was gifted to the Drašković family. In the second half of the 18th century, the castle was abandoned. The Drašković family resumed interest in the building in the middle of the 19th century, renovating the house and constructing the surrounding gardens which are such a highlight to visit today. The family lived there until 1944 when the Drašković's were forced to emigrate to Austria and the state assumed ownership. It is today owned by the Republic of Croatia, has been renovated considerably and holds a permanent museum.
TrakoscanCroatiaTZ.jpg© Croatian National Tourist Board

Trsat Castle
Domagoj BlaževićTrsatKvarner.jpg© Domagoj Blažević / Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner)

The city of Rijeka rises sharply from sea-level into nearby heights, the cause of its above-average rainfall. The cityscape vista is superb from some balconies of the residential tower blocks located in these overlooking neighbourhoods. But, the best view of Rijeka is from Trsat. The Rječina valley separates you from these competing high rises, the river itself immediately below you, scoring a path through an industrial landscape, to it right the old city and beyond, Kvarner Bay. Sitting 150 metres above Rijeka, it's thought that the castle lies on top of an earlier Illyrian and Roman fortress. Today, Trsat is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rijeka, the grounds containing a restaurant and its courtyard serving as a wonderful backdrop for cultural events like theatre and music concerts.
5.-TRSAT_gradina-trsat01-pogled-domagoj-blazevic-19.07-724x500.jpg© Domagoj Blažević / Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner)

Stara Sušica Castle
DomagojBlaeviStaraKvarner.jpeg© Domagoj Blažević / Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner)

One of the most bewildering Croatia castles, the fantastical architecture of Stara Sušica comes from a series of restorations and additions that have taken place over many generations. It's far from being the biggest of Croatia castles, but it's certainly one of the most intriguing. By prior arrangement, you can actually stay in this castle. It has previously hosted organised groups of fantasy role-playing games, the mysterious-looking building acting as the perfect backdrop to wild imagination. This architectural gem of a castle is located 60 kilometres to the east of the city of Rijeka. It sits in the shadows of tall coniferous trees, just outside of the town of Stara Sušica, near Ravna Gora.
Stara_Susica_0004Domagoj BlaževićKvarner.jpg© Domagoj Blažević / Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner)

Veliki Tabor
veliki-tabor-optimizirano-za-web-ivo-biocina_1600x900_0Croatia.jpeg© Ivo Biočina / Croatian National Tourist Board

The sizeable Veliki Tabor is another of the Croatia castles that sits atop a hill for defensive purposes. It dominates a beautiful rural landscape of agricultural land, gently rising hills and vineyards near Desinić in Zagorje, less than an hour's drive from Zagreb. Dating from the middle of 15th century, most of the castle was built by the Ráttkay family from Hungary, in whose ownership it remained until 1793. The castle is said to be haunted. Legend says a local woman was murdered upon false accusations of witchcraft and entombed within the actual castle walls, the ulterior motive being that the castle's then-owner did not wish his son to marry her. Her voice is said to still inhabit the building. Today, owned by the state, it holds a permanent museum and is a popular tourist attraction. It plays host to events of significance to the local culture, such as food festivals and also nationally recognised happenings, such as its famous short film festival.
veliki-tabor-web-ivo-biocina-1CROATIA.jpg© Ivo Biočina / Croatian National Tourist Board

Lužnica Castle
Luznica2ZCTY.png© Zagreb County Tourist Board

Set back from the main road and obscured by ancient trees, the immediate approach to Lužnica is impressive. Surrounded by neatly trimmed lawns, you can reach the castle from several different directions, the pathways leading to the building bordered by low-lying hedges. At the end of these sits a baroque castle that shares its name with the nearby settlement, just a few miles to the west of Zaprešić in Zagreb County. The castle was built in 1791 as a residence for a noble family but, since 1925, the building has been owned by the Convent of St. Vincent de Paul, with nuns thereafter using the building as a residential and care home for elderly members of the sisterhood. From 1935 the building was used for the care of poor children, and then for educational classes organised by the nuns. In 2005, a purpose-built modern property was constructed to assume the residential care of retired nuns, allowing greater public access to the castle. The nuns still hold spiritual and educational programs there and the castle also hosts secular conferences and seminars.
LuznicZaagrebCounty.jpg© Zagreb County Tourist Board

Krašić
KrasicZgC.jpg© Zagreb County Tourist Board

So well suited to its contemporary purpose as a church does Krašić look that it's difficult to imagine that it was ever anything other. But, this complex of buildings originally dates back much further than the hundred or so years it has served as such. It was first built in the Gothic style of the late 14th century and later reconstructed in the Baroque style, only beginning its current role after reconstructions that took place between 1911 to 1913. It is now the Parish church of the Holy Trinity, serving the population of Krašić, which is located near Jastrebarsko, about 50 km southwest of Zagreb. Enthusiastic hunters of Croatia castles who are visiting Zagreb and Zagreb County will also not want to miss the nearby Pribić, which is located just three kilometres east of Krašić. It is the site of an incredible triumvirate of spectacular neighbouring buildings, two castles and one Greek Catholic church.
krasic08RegionalDevelopment agencyZagrebCounty.jpg© Regional Development Agency Zagreb County

Pejačević Castle
Dvorac_Pejačević._NašiceSamir Budimčić.jpg© Samir Budimčić

Though they were natives of Slavonia, eastern Croatia, the name of the Pejačević family extends significantly further than the borders of Pannonia or modern-day Croatia. Their name dates back to at least the 14th century, during which time some of them settled in north-west Bulgaria. Alongside Bosnians and Germans attracted to that region by mining, these immigrants were responsible for bringing Catholicism to the area around Chiprovtsi, the site of a famous 1688 uprising of Catholics and Orthodox Christians against the ruling Ottomans. For their services in the defence of Christian Europe, the Pejačević family were rewarded with significant lands in their native Slavonia and for centuries were very influential in the region's political, social, economic and cultural life. Pejačević Castle, Našice was the main family seat, although they have another castle in Virovitica, some 80 kilometres to the northwest, which is also called, rather confusingly, Pejačević Castle.
dvorac-velikaTZnasice.jpg© Našice Tourist Board

Stari Grad Varaždin
VarazdinZup.jpg© Turistička Zajednica Varaždinske Županije

The city of Varaždin once served as the capital of Croatia and, as its focal point, Stari Grad fortress is therefore of significant national importance. In acknowledgment, an image of the fortress used to appear on the back of the old 5 kuna bank notes, although presumably due to some printer's error, the image appeared in reverse to how it sits naturally. The building is mentioned as far back as the 12th century but was reconstructed as a Renaissance fortification in the 16th century. At the end of that century, it came into the hands of the Hungarian-Croatian family Erdödy. Today, Stari Grad holds a permanent museum and is one of the most-famous tourist attractions in a city not short of reasons to visit.
varazdin-ivo-biocina-NTZ.jpg© Ivo Biočina / Croatian National Tourist Board

Bosiljevo Castle
Dvorac,_Bosiljevo_-_panoramioKrittinskiy.jpg© Krittinskiy

Something of a bratić (cousin) to Ozalj Castle, Bosiljevo again lies in Karlovac County and was also owned by the Frankopan family. It is a sprawling structure, impressively situated on a hillside within forest land. The nature of the building and its remote location perhaps contribute to the fact that it is unrestored. However, it is still one of the Croatia castles worth visiting year-round, not least because the surrounding trees grant a spectacular backdrop that changes throughout the year's seasons. Although access is limited, you can get up close to the fascinating buildings, intricately decorated defensive walls and the towers of the complex. The earliest sections date back to at least 1344. Following its seizure by the Austrians in 1671, it passed through the hands of a series of private owners, including the Irish-born Laval Nugent von Westmeath, who started his career as a loyal soldier to Austria but finished his life in Bosiljevo as something closer to a Croatian patriot. The property was seized by Communist authorities after the Second World War, its decline beginning with its ill-purposing as a retirement home, restaurant and cheap motel between the 1960s and the 1980s when it was finally abandoned.
bosiljevoopcinacas.jpg© Općina Bosiljevo

Čakovec Castle
stari_gradcakovectz.jpg© Čakovec City Tourist Board

Situated within a sizeable park, right in the town centre of Čakovec, Međimurje, Čakovec Castle is a beast of a building. Like several Croatia castles, it is actually several buildings. Access to the park is great from all sides of the site and, this being the case, the grounds are a section of greenery much-enjoyed by residents and visitors, as are the spectacular buildings which lie at the centre. The original 13th-century fortress was built by Count Dmitri Čak, hence the town's name. Its walls form the basis of the complex's front section, behind which the 16th Century Zrinski Castle sits detached. The Zrinski castle houses Croatia's biggest museum, the Međimurje County Museum, and its courtyard plays host to cultural happenings like music concerts, theatre and gastro events. Although we call this independent structure the Zrinski Castle, they were not in fact responsible for the building's original construction, but rather rebuilt it. Also, the modern-day appearance of this palace cannot be wholly attributed to the Zrinski family, as it was severely damaged in an earthquake and rebuilt by later owners. However, this is one of the most significant of Croatia castles because it was the family seat of the Zrinski during a time in which several family members served as Ban of Croatia. As the most important man in the land, the building naturally held a similar stature.
MuseumMedimurjeCak.jpg© Museum of Međimurje, Čakovec

Feštetić Castle, Pribislavec
dvorac_festetic_01visit medimurje.jpg© Visit Međimurje

One of the most singular-looking of all Croatia castles, not least because of its unforgettable neogothic tower, Feštetić Castle in Međimurje actually pre-dates the Feštetić family who lends it their name. The original building dated back to at least the beginning of the 18th Century. Throughout its life, the structure that lay here was ravaged by war, fire and natural disasters, but we can attribute its striking neogothic stylings to the Feštetić family, whose work on the castle began in 1870. The building has been in continuous use ever since, serving at times as a retirement home and a school. It is therefore in great condition and sits in grounds that are also enjoyable upon any visit.
Feštetićvisitnorthcroatia.jpgGosh! The occasional darkened skies above Međimurje seem to suit the neogothic Feštetić Castle almost as much as do the clear blue! © Visit North Croatia

Nova Kraljevica Castle
Domagoj BlaževićKraljevicaKvarner.jpg© Domagoj Blažević / Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner)

Located atop the start of a peninsula at the entrance to the Bay of Bakar, less than 20 kilometres east of Rijeka, Petar Zrinski started to build Nova Kraljevica in 1651. The castle has large towers at the corners of each of its four walls. They surround an inner courtyard decorated with archways on both floors. Petar's wife, Katarina Frankopan, is said to have paid close attention to its interior design and the couple spent much time within what is one of the few Croatia castles to sit upon the mainland's shoreline. The castle's main salon was decorated with gilded leather wallpaper, had marble fireplaces, floors paved with a marble mosaic and doors made of black and white marble. This spectacular and well-preserved castle also once held one of Croatia's very first museums. It is not only great to visit on foot but a spectacular sight when approached from the Adriatic by boat.
dvorac-nova-kraljevica07-atrij-domagoj-blazevic-11.07-1200x800.jpgThe ornate inner courtyard of Kraljevica Castle © Domagoj Blažević / Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner)

Miljana Castle, near Kumrovec
DSC_0248-visitZagorje.jpg© Visit Zagorje

Though not open to spontaneous visit by the public like many of the Croatia castles on this list, you can go to the Baroque castle of Miljana near Kumrovec, Zagorje. You just have to arrange to do so in advance, as this picturesque building is undergoing gradual restoration. Miljana is impossibly pretty, as are its grounds. Three wings surround a central courtyard and striking black plaster covers the walls, periodically interspersed with white plaster ornamentation. Its construction began in the late 16th century under the Rattkay family although it was expanded and adapted several times before its last substantial remodelling in the 18th century. Its first floor has eight salons, seven of which hold frescos on the walls. These form much of the current restoration work and it promises to be incredible once the painstaking work is complete.
Miljana Castle, near KumroveKrapina Zagorje County Tourism Board.jpg© Zagreb County Tourist Board

Kutjevo Castle
dvorac-kutjevoTZK.jpeg© Tourism Board of Kutjevo

Built on the site of a much earlier monastery, Kutjevo castle still holds a wine cellar belonging to its predecessor. It dates back to the year 1232. The original buildings were destroyed by the Ottomans. After they left, the land was gifted to Zagreb canon Ivan Josip Babić in 1689 and he invited Jesuits to make a home for themselves there. They cleared the land and built the castle between 1704 till 1735. One side of the castle is a church, the other three wings have a less overtly religious feel to their architecture. They surround an inner courtyard and, beyond them stretches a large park area. It has a circular motif located centrally, around which pathways wind through the grounds and the large trees which live there. Perhaps the most striking feature of the building is its polygonal tower on which sits a bulb-shaped roof. The building is privately owned and its interior not open to spontaneous visits from the public.
Kutjevo-ParkCROATIA.jpg© Croatian National Tourist Board

Eltz Castle, Vukovar
Vukovar_Dvorac_Eltz_SKStjepkoKrehula.jpeg© Stjepko Krehula

One of the most famous, spectacular and oldest castles in Germany is called Eltz Castle. This one, located in Vukovar, eastern Croatia, is clearly something other. However, the two are connected by the same Eltz family, the descendants of which still inhabit the German castle, just as their ancestors did in the 12th Century. The family owned huge tracts of land around this section of the Danube, by far their most significant territory outside Germany, and Eltz Castle in Vukovar was their main residence until 1945, when they were expelled by the Yugoslav communist regime. The front facade is a sea of ornate baroque windows, painstakingly (but speedily) reconstructed following the building's near-complete destruction by bombing during the 1990s. Since 1968, the castle has housed the Vukovar City Museum, one of the most significant in Pannonia. It charts the history of all the peoples who have inhabited this area of the Danube and contains valuable exhibits returned to it from Zagreb, Novi Sad and Belgrade.
GradskiMuzejVuko.jpg© Gradski muzej Vukovar

Lukavec Castle, Turopolje
LukavecTZZC1.jpg© Zagreb County Tourist Board

Built on the site of a wooden fort first mentioned in 1256, could some of the wooden bridge that gives access to this castle be made of remnants of its ancestor? Maybe not, but it's nice to imagine the lineage being so palpable. This replacement structure dates from 1752 and is marked by golden plastered outer walls which contrast beautifully against white borders, the red-tiled roof and the darkened top of the main tower. In the building's courtyard sits an old cannon, this remnant of its military past perhaps surprising when you see just how well preserved and unblemished this building is. It is an integral part of the local community's cultural and social life and hosts many events.
The_Old_Town_of_Lukavec_6Zeljko.filipin.jpeg© Zeljko Filipin

Kerestinec Castle
kerestinec2-10svetaned.jpg© Grad Sveta Nedelja

The Renaissance-Baroque building in Kerestinec, Sveta Nedelja, is one of the Croatia castles that has seen much better days. Its interior remains unrestored. Its construction was started in 1565 by Petar Erdödy, then Ban of Croatia, so it would have been made to high standards and specifications. The castle was remodelled several times over the centuries and is today notable for circular towers that sit at two corners of its four wings. The central courtyard has in recent memory served as the host site to events such as a dance music festival. This may be far from its original purpose, but such events continue to breathe life into a spectacular building that perhaps otherwise would be completely abandoned.
dvorac_helikoptersvetanedelja.jpg© Grad Sveta Nedelja

All of the photos of castles in Primorje-Gorski Kotar County (Kvarner) were taken by Domagoj Blažević for the Route Of The Frankopans website, which allows visitors to trace a path through all of the former Frankopan properties in the county and is recommended reading for castle hunters

Saturday, 21 November 2020

The Rise of the Quality Hotel Scene in Stari Grad on Hvar

November 21, 2020 - Often overlooked by its more fashionable neighbour on the western tip of the island, the luxury hotel story in Stari Grad on Hvar is developing nicely, with or without Four Seasons. 

When I bought my house in Jelsa back in 2002, the island of Hvar was very different. It was only seven years after the Homeland War had finished, and tourism was only just beginning to recover. Nowhere was this more true than in the hotel industry. With almost no tourists during the war, some of the hotels were used to house refugees and internally displaced people from parts of Croatia and Bosnia which were badly affected by the fighting. Some of those hotels have never recovered. 

Back then, some 18 years ago, there were very few truly luxury places to stay on Hvar, despite its elite island reputation. It would be four more years until ORCO Group took over Suncani Hvar Hotels in Hvar Town and began to add the four and five-star luxury that one can enjoy today. 

The hotels in central Hvar were not so fortunate with post-war investment. Soon after I moved to Jelsa, the town's hotels were sold to a Hungarian investor. At the time, there was much excitement about a new era for Jelsa tourism, with investments promised. Back in the 1980s, Jelsa was THE place to go on Hvar, with no less than four nightclubs, so I am told. It was named the best destination in former Yugoslavia in 1983 (from memory), and its hotels very popular. 

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Sadly, the expected investment did not materialise, the oldest hotel on Hvar, Jadran (which opened in 2011) closed, and the town has been stuck in tourism limbo every since with its 2 and 3-star hotels. 

It was a similar story initially in both Vrboska and Stari Grad, both of which have moved onto a path of better fortune. 

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In Vrboska, the old two-star Hotel Adriatic was not even available for tourist rental for many years, as the hotel had a contract with the Czech government to host its sick children, who enjoyed the healthy Hvar climate and pristine Adriatic waters. That all changed back in 2016 with a 30 million euro investment, as Hotel Adriatic was transformed into the 4-star standard Senses Resort

But by far the most interesting story has been taking place in Stari Grad over the last decade. A story which continues to write new chapters and is quietly becoming a quality destination which offers significant competition to Hvar Town. I wasn't in the least surprised, for example, to learn that the first Michelin-recommended restaurant on the island (Apolon) was in Stari Grad, not Hvar Town. 

And it is with Apolon where  - at least from my perspective - the rise of the hotel scene in Stari Grad began. 

Back in 2013, as Croatia prepared to join the EU, I took a journalist from The Independent to meet Jelsa winemaker Andro Tomic. Tomic at the time was the poster child of EU accession, due to the Italian objections in the 'prosek v prosecco' debate. After the interview and accompanying wine tasting, Tomic suggested we go for lunch at a great new place that had just opened in Stari Grad. As the island blogger, I was intrigued as I had never heard of it. 

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(Apolon in 2013)

Restaurant Apolon and the 7 luxury rooms in a historic building at the top of the expanded Stari Grad riva were a statement of intent from owner Tonci Tadic, with no expense spared to open the first four-star luxury accommodation in Stari Grad. It was an instant success, with many higher-paying guests choosing the peace and quiet of the Stari Grad waterfront, as Hvar Town went through its experiment with party tourism. Stari Grad finally had an alternative for those looking for a great place to stay and eat in the oldest settlement on the island. 

Stari Grad's main hotels, the Helios Group, were in a similar situation as Jelsa. Two and three-star, trying to recover from the war, and deprived of investment and with significant ownership issues. The lack of quality hotels was holding the destination back from development.  

And then, slowly, things changed for the better. 

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(Brizenica Bay, Four Seasons Hvar plan back in 2016)

Ironically, the biggest move towards luxury hotel tourism in Stari Grad on Hvar is the one which is looking increasingly less likely ot happen - the Four Seasons Resort at Brizenica Bay a short walk north of the town. If the 140 million euro investment were to go ahead, it would be one of the most luxurious hotel resorts on the entire Adriatic coast. Despite former Minister of Tourism Gari Cappelli announcing that the resort would be expecting guests for the 2019 season, the project is still waiting for its building permit. But while the Four Seasons may be on hold, there is plenty of other tourism good news for the hotel industry in Stari Grad. 

Perhaps the most significant in the long term is the new ownership of the flagship hotels from Helios Group. They have been taken over by Valamar Hotels, the first investment on Hvar from the influential Croatian company which is a dominant player in the hotel industry here. The plans are in place, and the news is good - a complete overhaul of the existing hotels towards a four-star offer more in keeping with the quality of the destination. The renovations will take a couple of years, but once completed, the spectacular position of Hotel Arkada in particular should be a very popular spot for those wanting to combine a beach holiday with a relaxed setting. 

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(Photo credit - Hotel Antica)

But there is more happening in the higher quality hotel story in Stari Grad. With a much lower profile, another 4-star hotel opened back in 2018, close to the ferry, as we reported at the time - Hotel Antica

And 2020 took the Stari Grad hotel offer to new heights, despite the attentions of the pandemic. While the Four Seasons project was arguing building permits with the town council, across the harbour on the other side of the ferry, one project was doing everything right - Maslina Resort in Maslinica Bay, the first five-star hotel for Stari Grad. Indeed, it is only the fourth 5-star hotel on a Croatian island (excluding the very small boutigue hotels), the others being on Losinj, and Palace Elisabeth heritage hvar hotel, which was the first 5-star hotel to open on Hvar last year. 

stari-grad-on-hvar-maslina.jpg

(Photo credit - Maslina Resort)

With its signature motto, Mindful Luxury, Maslina will be looking to set the standards of hotel luxury not only on Hvar, but also the Adriatic, when it opens for its first full season next year. You can check it out here

It is just 7 years since Apolon opened in Stari Grad, bringing four-star excellence to the town. Valamar, Antica, Maslina, as well as a host of higher-quality private accommodation options in the historic old town and villas overlooking the sea, are helping to life the tourism offer of what was once the capital of this beautiful island. 

I predict good things for Stari Grad's future - a safe, authentic lifestyle destination which is developing tourism as it should be. 

Follow the latest from the island of Hvar in our dedicated Hvar section

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Journey Back in Time: Take the Hvar Old Road from Stari Grad

September 19, 2020 - It is one of the most beautiful road journeys in Croatia, and one with little traffic these days. Have you taken the Hvar old road from Stari Grad?

Connectivity on the island of Hvar changed a lot in 2001, the year before I arrived on Croatia's Premier Island. The opening of a tunnel and new fast road between Stari Grad and Havr Town meant that journey times were cut to just 20 minutes, and there was no longer any need to go over the top of the island.

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(Photo credit Prosper Maricic)

The new road was certainly an upgrade on the previous path - a great 1971 photo of the slow journey to Milna along the same route. 

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(Photo credit Andy Leedham)

Because of the quick connection between the two major settlements on the island, the Hvar old road - which hitherto had been the only transport artery - lost its popularity overnight and has been largely forgotten ever since. Indeed, it took me a while to take the left turn at Stari Grad, direction Selca and Brusje. 

But when I finally did, I found one of the most beautiful and most tranquil parts of the island. Right from the turn off the main road and slow ascent, the views were astonishing - the northern view to Brac and the mainland over Hvar's Kabal Peninsula above Stari Grad.

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And there was quite a climb. The road has become popular with cyclists and is now also home to the annual Hvar Half Marathon, surely one of the most beautiful runs in Croatia. 

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After just a few minutes, the first village came into view - Selca. Back in 2003, when I started a real estate business on the island, the village was all but abandoned, with a permanent population of just five people. It was wildly popular with foreigners, eager to buy and renovate some Adriatic stone in a pretty village just five minutes from the ferry. I sold five properties in the village, all of which got renovated to a high standard.

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The village also comes with something which the Hvar old road specialises in - a spectacular view. 

Shortly after Selca, there is an unpaved path to the left with a sharp turn. Take it and it will lead you to the very peak of Paradise - a 360 degree view of the island and the Adriatic from the top of Hvar. Highly recommended for sunrise and sunset. A normal car can drive most of the way, with the last 300m recommended to walk 

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Continue on, however, and you will come to the recently renovated restaurant, Vidikovac Levanda, which is blessed with rather a nice option for its guests - sea view to the south towards Vis with your meal, or sea view to the north. Both are outstanding, as is the food. 

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Perhaps the most unusual sight on the Hvar old road is the abundance of dry stone walls, which appear like a giant patchwork in the fields and hills around. Dry stone walling has now been inscribed as intangible UNESCO heritage, the 6th UNESCO heritage Hvar has (more than any other island in the world). It is very skilled work. I used to joke with clients that winters were very slow on Hvar, and these were the result on an annual best dry stone wall competition. The reason, of course, is that the stones were sorted from the land for agricultural purposes. 

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Come in June and July and you will see another unusual sight. Cars abandoned at the side of the road, their passengers wandering into the nearby fields for selfies with nature. For this is lavender season, one of the things for which Hvar is famous. The picturesque and aromatic lavender bushes are too gorgeous to resist. 

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And if you cannot make the festival, park the car and enjoy the south-side view. Perhaps above the village of Velo Grablje, which was once the centre of lavender production in all Dalmatia. It too had a population of just view 15 years ago, a number that has now swelled to at least 14, as well as a new restaurant, winter pub and... lavender festival at the end of June. 

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There may not be too many cars on the Hvar old road, but there are other travellers to look out for. Timeless Dalmatia is perhaps best symbolised by one of its most beloved icons - the donkey. 

Donkeys are a lot less common that there were in Dalmatia, but there are still plenty around, and the biggest concentration of donkeys on Hvar is in the second and last village on the Hvar old road. 

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(Entrance to Brusje)

Brusje.

Brusje is 6 km from Hvar Town, offering fabulous sea views, this time back to the north. My father-in-law is from the village, and he often recalls the 6 km walk to school through the fields, and the 6 km home again. A different world. The island has strong intellectual credentials. It is apparently home to the first library on a Dalmatian island, as well as a large number of its residents going on to be doctors and working in other distinguished professions. 

 

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(Photo credit Visit Hvar)

Looking for a beach away from the crowds? The beaches in the Brusje bays are fantastic and relatively undiscovered. Get to know them here

As the road twists and turns with wonderful views of the Adriatic, there is one more turn which is highly recommended if you have the time - a left just before Hvar Town to climb to the Napoljun fortress high above the famous town. 

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For there is perhaps the best bench view in all Croatia. 

And once you have admired the view, now find out about all the incredible things you are looking at in this video explanation below.

A word of warning to cautious drivers. There are plenty of very windy parts of the road, and barriers are not in place at all junctions where the land drops next to the road, so take it slow. I just can't imagine how this road functioned before the opening of the new road in 2001, especially in peak season. The impatient German Mercedes driver behind the Italian caravan, that kind of thing. And when two caravans approached in different directions... 

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(Photo credit Hvar Adventure)

The Hvar old road has become much more popular for sport in recent years, in particular for cycling (the photo above is from the new road - I couldn't find one of cycling on the old road, but the view are equally breathtaking. Leading cycling team Bahrain McLaren have been coming to Hvar for three years now for their winter training and testing their skills on this gorgeous road. 

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(Photo credit Hvar Half Marathon)

As previously mentioned, the road is also home to the Hvar Half Marathon, a 21 km race from the centre of Stari Grad to the finish on the main square in Hvar Town.

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It is surely one of the most beautiful races in Europe. 

Want to experience the route, without running out of breath? Sit back and relax and take in the Hvar old road in its entirety. 

At least once a year when visiting Hvar, I always come back on the old road. A chance to appreciate the magnificent beauty and nature of this island on a road largely untouched for decades.

Take the new road and arrive in 20 minutes if you must, but why not instead take a whole afternoon?

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Friday, 14 August 2020

Stari Grad Council Votes 13-0 Against Plan Amendments for Four Seasons Hvar Resort

August 14, 2020 - Another major foreign investment in Croatia heading for the graveyard, despite being a project of national strategic importance? A major blow for the Four Seasons Hvar project. 

It is more than three years since I find myself in the rather unusual position of drinking Champagne on a specially chartered train from Zagreb to Sesvete, in the east of the Croatian capital, before a transfer to a warehouse.

It was perhaps not the most luxurious of settings, but what I found inside certainly was, a mock-up room of the 140-million-euro showcase Four Seasons Hvar resort, which was about to up the luxury tourism story on the Adriatic. 

The Brizenica Bay and Four Seasons partnership in Stari Grad was set to give Croatia's premier island of Hvar the global hospitality brand worthy of its elite identity, and the mood within that Sesvete warehouse was ebullient, as TCN reported at the time:

"This extremely important project, almost a billion-kuna investment, will be of great importance to Stari Grad on the island of Hvar as well as for the whole of Croatia. The island of Hvar will be provided with the necessary quality accommodation facilities, which will certainly stimulate further investment in additional facilities, thus enabling the further development of tourism on the island of Hvar. This is also an opportunity for the local tourist community to begin with the complete management of this destination and thus make the island of Hvar a high quality destination. As an islander, I am particularly pleased to see that the potential of our islands has been recognised and I would be delighted if such investments were made on my island as well.'' said Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli, adding that this investment would certainly trigger other potential investors to pay deeper attention and look for opportunities for investment on the island of Hvar, in Split-Dalmatia County and in Croatia in general.

Dennis Wijsmuller, co-founder and CEO of Arqaam Capital, highlighted how proud Arqaam Capital is to support the Croatian tourism development strategy and contribute to the social and economic development of the country, the island of Hvar, and especially Stari Grad.

"By realising this project, we are strengthening the tourist infrastructure within the region, creating new jobs, and firmly placing the island of Hvar on the global luxury destination map'' stated Wijsmuller, noting that the first guests at Brizenica Four Seasons - Resort and Private Residences are expected in 2019.

Time passed. 

2019 passed. 

Minister Cappelli's time in the spotlight passed. 

Nothing happened. 

It is now 13 years since the investors bought the land to develop the resort. One might have thought that a public announcement from a government minister stating that this was a project of strategic national importance would mean something in a country starved of foreign investment, largely due to its bureaucracy. And yet, it appears not to be the case. 

A town council meeting in Stari Grad yesterday voted on the changes to the urbanistic plan to include amendments to the Four Seasons Hvar project, which now has a location permit, but still no road access after all these years. The investors must have been confident that the amendments would pass or they would not have put it forward for approval (if rejected, an amendment cannot normally be resubmitted for 6 months). But it would seem that their local intelligence was somewhat lacking. 

The vote of the 13-person Stari Grad council was unanimous - for the motion 0, against the motion 13. 

Yet one more delay for this increasingly ill-fated project, perhaps a fatal one. Interestingly, 6 of the 13 councillors to vote against were members of the ruling HDZ party, whose minister talked of the project's national strategic importance just three years ago. 

As a message to the international investment community, this is the latest high-profile failure of a major international hotel brand in Croatia. 

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As I noted in an editorial over a year ago, while the potential of Croatian tourism is huge for international investors, the successes are miniscule compared to the competition. Neighbouring Montenegro, for example, has a much higher investment despite a lesser tourism brand and only a sixth of Croatia's coast. Major investments of 1.1 billion euro (Orascum, Egypt), 900 million euro (Porta Novi, Azerbaijan) and 500 million euro (Porto Montenegro, Canada and UAE) are just some investment examples which dwarf the size of the most successful major investments on the Croatian Adriatic - 160 million euro in Falkensteiner Punta Skala in 2011 and Sun Gardens Dubrovnik in 2009. 

Local sources in Stari Grad told me that the opposition to the project resolves around unfulfilled financial promises (a commitment to pay for the connecting road - a road, it should be noted, whose ownership is still to be determined), aggressive lobbyists, a total absence of community involvement. Issues, one would have thought, could have been resolved over a 13-year period since the acquisition, but apparently not. 

A 13-0 vote against three years after a public government commitment tells its own story and probably signals the Brizenica Bay Four Seasons Project to the major foreign investment graveyard for which Croatia has unfortunately become well-known. The door has been left open, however, as next year is election year. Applications can normally be resubmitted only after six months, but the council has agreed to a vote at any time. One wonders what would have to happen to enable a unanimous vote against to suddenly become acceptable. 

It is not all bad news for foreign investors, however, and this weekend sees the opening of only the second 5-star hotel on Hvar. Maslina Resort in Stari Grad lies across the bay from Brizenica Bay. Smaller in size, embracing local manpower and products where possible, it has managed to navigate the rocky waters of Croatian planning, as well as the setbacks of corona, to open one of the most luxurious developments on the Adriatic. 

It is a rare exception to the rule for foreign investments on the Adriatic. 

 

 

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Tourism in the Corona Age: 10 Virtual Ways to Discover Stari Grad

May 20, 2020 - Tourism is on hold, but most of us have plenty of time. So let's look at the virtual resources available to explore Croatia virtually. We continue our new Virtual Croatia series with the tools to discover Stari Grad on Hvar.

A few weeks ago I wrote that being a tourism blogger in the corona era was about as useful as being a cocktail barman in Saudi Arabia. I feel less useless now, a few weeks later, and I am encouraged by the number of Croatian tourism businesses who are contacting us wanting to start thinking of promoting post-corona tourism. 

One of the challenges of writing about tourism at the moment is that there is nothing positive to write about. With people confined to their homes and tourism in Croatia currently not possible, many have decided to go into hibernation until it is all over. 

I think that this is a mistake, and I have greatly enjoyed the TCN series by Zoran Pejovic of Paradox Hospitality on thinking ahead to tourism in a post-corona world.  You can find Zoran's articles here.

Way back on March 14 - several lifetimes ago - I published an article called Tourism in the Corona Age: 10 Virtual Ways to Discover Zagreb. The way I saw things, now was an OUTSTANDING opportunity for tourism promotion. People have time, they yearn for their freedom and former lives, so give them the tools to thoroughly research and enjoy your destinations, and you will have then longing to be there. And when they do come, they will have a deeper understanding of the destination due to their research. 

South Africa and Portugal were the first to do their post-corona tourism promotion videos several weeks ago (Post-Corona Tourism Planning: Lessons from South Africa and Portugal), a trick which has been followed by other tourism countries, the latest being Croatia with the national tourist board campaign, #CroatiaLongDistanceLove, going live yesterday.

But while these campaigns create longing and market presence, they don't really educate. People now have time to really get into destinations. And dreams of escape to somewhere more exotic are high on the list of priorities of many. 

So TCN has decided to help with that education with a new series called Virtual Croatia, where we will be helping you discover many of Croatia's destinations with all the best virtual tools available on your self-isolating sofa at home. 

We started last week with Tourism in the Corona Age: 10 Virtual Tools to Discover Hvar.

After this, we put our a press release (which you can read here in English and Croatian) offering a free article to any local tourist board in Croatia who would like the free promotion in our Virtual Croatia series

The Sinj Tourist Board was the first to respond, and now you can see just how rich the tourism offer is in this proud Alka town - your virtual tools to Discover Sinj. This was followed by DIscover OpatijaDiscover Brela, Discover Rogoznica, Discover Klis, Discover Trogir and Discover Omis.

Next up, Jaksa Damjanic from the Stari Grad Tourist Board, who sent me some virtual tools to help us discover Stari Grad. 

Let's begin! 

Welcome to Stari Grad, Home to 2,400 Years of Tradition of Creating New Experiences

Released just a few days ago, 

Remember Pharrell Williams? Be Happy, Stari Grad style.

Discover the old town and the secrets of 2,400 years. 

Stari Grad from the air.

A spectacular birds eye view. 

The relaxed evening atmosphere. 

A one-hour national television discovery of Stari Grad and some of its most lovable characters. 

A Small Place with a Famous Heritage

Stari Grad is perhaps best known in the minds of a sizable chunk of the population of former Yugoslavia as the location for the VERY popular show Malo Misto (Little Place), which characterised and satirised life in a small town in Dalmatia. Even with my limited ability to pick up the words of the actors, I find it wonderfully funny, and Stari Grad looks glorious. A sample episode is above.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a Sail Back to Ancient Greek Roots

Every travelled 5,000 years of UNESCO heritage in just 90 seconds? Fasten your seatbelts. 

Learn more about the Stari Grad Plain with this reconstruction of how life was in the time of the Ancient Greeks. 

From Faros to Paros. And in 2003, a rather unusual expedition was organised to retrace the steps of the Ancient Greeks all those years ago - a voyage in a traditional sailboat, from 'Faros to Paros', Faros being the name the Greeks gave to what is today Stari Grad, close as it sounded to their native island of Paros. The voyage included taking gifts including vines and olive trees which had brought som much prosperity and goodness to the residents of Hvar, and which had originally come from Paros in 384 BC. There is a documentary on the journey (in Croatian) which you can watch here

It may not evoke comparisons with London Heathrow, but Stari Grad even has its own airport, located in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to cultural considerations, the airport cannot be upgraded or expanded, but it does serve as a useful and convenient point for small aircraft and helicopters (the airstrip can accommodate planes of maximum six passengers), as well as providing a summer base for Hvar's popular sky-diving offer. 

5 UNESCO Heritages in 1 Town, More than Any Island in the World

No other island in the world has 4 UNESCO heritages. The town of Stari Grad has 5. The official video of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Stari Grad Plain. 

The Mediterranean Diet was inscribed at intangible UNESCO heritage in 2013. 

The 500-year-old Za Krizen procession (Behind the Cross) includes the village of Vrbanj, which is in the Stari Grad administrative district. 

And one cannot leave Dalmatia without some unforgettable Dalmatian klapa. 

The art of dry-stone walling is a rare skill, and one which has also achieved UNESCO status.

Discover Stari Grad, Where Wine and Song Meet

Stari Grad is fabulous, with something for everyone. A place where music and wine collide in different forms.  The Jazz and  Wine festival. 

 Dani u vali - Days in the Bay. 

 The Hvar Wine Association hosts wonderful evenings of wine tasting and song in the picturesque squares in the old town. 

And a little wine always brings a little impromptu song. 

For such a small town (the permanent population was less than 1800 at the last census), Stari Grad has an incredibly vibrant cultural scene. In addition to several excellent museums, two theatres (and two fabulous amateur theatre groups) and a host of other cultural activities, the male voices of Stari Grad are known throughout the land, and if you ever get the chance to hear the Faros Kantaduri, don't miss them. For a taster, check them out in the video above. 

One of the world's most challenging swims, and other activities

Stari Grad is home to one of the most challenging international swimming races in the world, an annual event in August which attracts some of the globe's finest swimmers, including Olympic gold medal winners. Started in 1974, the Faros Marathon is a 16km race in the open sea, starting and finishing in the town's harbour, from where competitors race to the tip of the Kabal Peninsula at the top of the Stari Grad Bay - some 8km away - and back. A phenomenal physical effort for the increasingly international field, where the winner has yet to break three hours. Check out the race in the video above. 

Also home to the start of the slightly less challenging Hvar Half Marathon, which takes place in August every year to Hvar Town along the old road. Surely one of the most beautiful races in Europe. 

Biking heaven. 

MTB heaven too. 

Sail Croatia loves Stari Grad.

And if you are sailing into Stari Grad, with its new marina, here is some useful advice. 

Of sunsets and plima 

Some of the most beautiful sunsets in Dalmatia. But beware... 

Ah, the deep Stari Grad Bay. It caused considerable distress to a poor dolphin, who inadvertantly swam into the harbour in 2005, and could not figure a way out for three days until expert help pointed the poor creature in the right drection. A scarier prospect for local residents is the 'plima', a raising of the water level cauased by particular climatic conditions and such a deep bay, which results in rapid rising of the water level. It is quite a spectacle to watch, as long as you are not a waterfront home owner. Check out the video above. 

Local traditions, art and food

Starogrojski paprenjok is an original souvenir made as a homage to a traditional biscuit which the women and girls of Stari Grad on the Island of Hvar have lovingly prepared since 1167 for their sons and husbands, packing them in sailor's chests before their loved ones' departure on long and faraway journeys.

These cakes are prepared according to a carefully preserved recipe of the old island women and have retained the traditional shapes of amphora, fish, heart, clover and other imaginative forms lined with sweet stripes and playful dots.

The earliest mention of the famous cake from Stari Grad, Starogrojski paprenjok, was left by Petar Hektorović, in his famous poem, 'Ribanje i ribarsko prigovaranje', from 1556. The work is a description of a three-day fishing trip from Stari Grad to the island of Šolta and back. In it, the poet Petar Hektorović sailed in the company of two fishermen, Paskoje and Nikola. They took with them: good wine muškatil, sweet wine (prošek), turta (cake), honeycomb, kaškaval cheese, fruit and paprenakov.

The main ingredient for paprenjok is honey. In the castle, that is, in the flaunting park, the Hektorović family cultivated poultry, silkworms and bees.

Hektorović’s farmers cultivated wheat in the fertile Stari Grad fields; they milled it in the mill located in Tvrdalj. Another important ingredient was also olive oil. The Hektorović family's olive groves were located in the southern part of the town.

To prepare a paprenjok they also needed prošek. Prošek was made from good quality grapes in the tavern in Tvrdalj.
The only thing which could not be cultivated in Tvrdalj were the aromatic herbs – cinnamon, cloves and nutmegs.

But in that period they were easily obtained, as the port of Stari Grad was located on the route between Venice, Dubrovnik and the numerous Mediterranean ports with which trade took place.

Stari Grad even had its own honey festival at one point, and I understand that there are plans to resurrect its honey heritage this year.  

 Never eaten a dormouse? Don't miss the Puhijada edible dormouse festival in Dol. 

One of the great attractions of Stari Grad are its quaint streets, which are lined with art galleries and boutique shops, selling authentic local products. Some of the artists are quite unique. Meet Fantazam. 

Home to no less than two amateur theatre groups. 

Mali Grad Faros - a wonderful initiative for the little ones.

And the magical night of Sv. Nikola in December is accompanied with the traditional burning of a boat.

And where else to go for the biggest live snake exhibition in Europe? 

Stari Grad, the secret of a happy and healthy life - 104 years and still mending fishing nets.

Stari Grad has its own celebrities, including this man, who has seen them come and seen them go. Andrija Petric Muse is one of the icons of Hvar, a quiet unassuming man who can be seen most days oppostite Pizzeria Marko mending nets, as he has done for generations. An avid smoker for more than 80 years, he celebrated his 104th birthday this year. A survivor of the Spanish Flu AND corona, life of Croatia's premier island with its healthy climate and UNESCO Mediterranean Diet must have played a small part. 

A wonderful town.

Official Stari Grad Tourist Board Website & 25 Things to Know about Stari Grad

Discover Stari Grad via the official tourist board website.

Learn more about Stari Grad with the TCN feature article, Stari Grad: 25 Things to Know about Croatia's 2017 European Best Destinations Nominee.

THIS. IS. STARI GRAD. When can we expect your visit? 

To discover more of virtual Croatia, you can follow this series in our dedicated section, Virtual Croatia

If you are a local tourist board in Croatia and would like your destination featured in this series for free, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Virtual Croatia (and destination name)

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Meet Patricia Yeo, Celebrated Head Chef of Maslina Resort on Hvar

May 7, 2020 - Maslina Resort is a five-star boutique hotel, slated to open this summer in Maslinica Bay on the island of Hvar, just minutes away from the UNESCO-protected Stari Grad.

As Maslina Resort gears up for its summer opening in Maslinica Bay on the island of Hvar, it is actively recruiting to craft the ideal team. 

With a mission to honor the UNESCO-protected Mediterranean diet on the island, the Wine & Dine department at Maslina Resort is of crucial importance - and perhaps the most prominent character to the puzzle is pronouncing the perfect chef - Patricia Yeo. 

By fusing elements of an international upbringing that took her from Malaysia to England to the United States, with a precision that she honed as a trained scientist, Patricia Yeo has been celebrated for her unique cuisine ever since her first restaurant, AZ, opened in 1999. The favorite of The New York Times also received two Michelin stars in 2002. 

But the accolades didn’t stop here. After AZ, Yeo received three New York Times stars for a Mediterranean concept Pazo in 2004, and in 2008, two New York Times stars for a French-Vietnamese restaurant Sapa, all while consulting and launching projects in Boston. 

After over twenty years in fine dining in Manhattan, Yeo explored a more corporate role in national and international restaurant groups, and her culinary prowess was pivotal in restaurants within hotels in Las Vegas, the Caribbean, London and Singapore. Hooked by the luxury travel bug, Yeo roamed to remote and exotic locations around the world, from stints in Oman and Turkey with Six Senses to Shina Mani Wild in the jungles of Cambodia while overseeing food and beverage services at Shinta Mani and Treeline in Siem Reap.

Promising to balance traditional and innovative techniques, and local and international culinary styles, Patricia Yeo is the ideal candidate to lead the culinary team at Maslina Resort. TCN met up with Patricia to learn more about her role in the new luxury resort. 

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Nataly Lee

First, tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to being head chef at Maslina Resort?

I am culturally confused; I'm of Chinese ancestry born in Malaysia, raised in the UK and the US. I’ve also lived for extended periods in five other countries.  All this traveling is a real advantage culinarily.  

I was browsing LinkedIn and saw a post for the chef position at Maslina, I usually would not respond, but on a lark, I sent Zoran a note, he responded in 2 hours, and two weeks later I was moving to Croatia.  

How would you explain your culinary philosophy? 

I think my food is very much ingredient-based. Use the best ingredients and treat them with respect. This means using meats that are ethically grown and killed humanely, using the whole animal not just the prime cuts, fish that is locally and preferably line caught (i.e., not trawled with large nets which catch fish indiscriminately trapping young breeding fish interrupting the live cycle), produce that is locally grown and in season. This means I do a lot of preserving, whether it is pickling, curing, jamming, dehydrating. It allows me to use cherries in December because I brandied it in June.  

How will this philosophy integrate into the cuisine at Maslina Resort?

Part of the reason I am so excited to be at Maslina, is because it is a prolific growing region with a great variety of fish and game. I have gone foraging with a local lady who is an ethnobotanist, and there are so many wild plants and herbs that are edible. Having the ability to use local, foraged ingredients is such a treat. I can’t wait for the mushroom season this fall. As someone who is inspired by ingredients I am in heaven, nothing inspires and excites more than picking perfect kumquats from a fruit-laden bush or watching figs ripen on a tree down the street. Really, everywhere one walks on Hvar, there are sights and smells that inspire, rosemary, pine, wild sage, briny sea breeze, lemon blossom. It is fabulous.  

How will you implement local producers and suppliers?

We are fortunate at Maslina to have a great organic garden that is in a sheltered bay with lots of light, water, and well protected from the winds.  Mario, our fabulous head gardener, will be able to grow a lot of herbs and soft greens for the kitchen. We are also going to work with a number of farmers from the Stari Grad Plains, and in some cases, they will grow specialty products for us and in others, we will simply use what they normally grow.  We have made really good contacts from local goat cheese producers to beekeepers for honey and wax to fishermen. Because of the style of the menu (which will change daily, we are able to work with whatever ingredient they bring us. It is a more organic way of cooking, letting the ingredients dictate what we cook rather than having a menu dictate the ingredients we use. It is also a lot more fun.

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Nataly Lee

What would you name as the key differences between working in a hotel or resort and a standalone restaurant?

The main difference is not the work in the kitchen, by that, I mean the cooking and production of good food are the same in both cases. The difference is the financial aspect of the business. As a chef of a standalone restaurant (especially if you are also the owner), there is a constant worry about making enough to pay the bills. In a resort or hotel, one of the most expensive fixed cost is eliminated. Rent usually takes up as much as 40% of a restaurant’s revenue, so with not paying rent, you are already ahead of the game.

From a Food & Beverage perspective, what is required to operate in a luxury resort? 

Producing good food, whether it is in a luxury resort, a fine dining restaurant or even in your home kitchen, is the same, I think. You need to care about what you are doing; you need to be flexible and adapt to the needs and desires of your guest, you need to create a great environment for your guests to enjoy the meal. Luxury means different things to different people.  Luxury, for me, means having a choice, be it caviar and champagne or a grilled cheese sandwich. Our goal is to provide this choice. 

Has the island of Hvar and Croatia been able to provide everything you need so far?

It has been fabulous, not just in terms of cuisine but also in terms of a wonderfully beautiful place to live. The people in Stari Grad have been so warm and welcoming. They are so willing to share recipes, cooking techniques, local knowledge of ingredients.  

What are you looking forward to most about running the kitchen at Maslina Resort? And about being in Croatia?

One of the first things I am going to do once I can get into the kitchen at Maslina is cooking for my co-workers, who have become my family in Croatia. There is nothing better than cooking for the people you love.

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Nataly Lee

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