Monday, 29 July 2019

Djokovic on the A-List as The Times Discovers Glamping at Festa on Zut

July 29, 2019 - One of the great success stories of the Adriatic has been discovered a Wimbledon winner, a Russian Prime Minister, and now The Times of London - Festa on Zut, now with glamping. 

While lots of people are complaining about a poor tourist season in Croatia, my observations from the many people I have spoken to is that those with something really quality to offer are not complaining at all. Indeed, some are even having record seasons, as we learned yesterday from Ante Lacman from Hvar Tours, the first in our series of Croatian businesses enjoying a record season. 

With so many accustomed to the way of life that tourists will come anyway and 'doing tourism' merely involves handing out the apartment key and taking the cash, or serving the same average menu for increasingly higher prices, the 2019 season has proven to be a wake-up call for many. The return of competition markets such as Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia, as well as the recovery of Greece, has provided healthy competition, and there is a growing perception that standard Croatian tourism is just too expensive and lacking in content without the sun and the sea. The widely-read Daily Mail put that perception in numbers with its M&S Bank survey. Not only was Croatia the most expensive of the 7 European destinations, it was the only one to increase prices, while the cost of a family holiday to the Algarve was reduced by 20%. 


But quality always wins, and I was delighted to see one of the great success stories of gourmet tourism featured in The Times yesterday, especially as the photo was taken by my good friend Igor Tomljenovic - restaurant and glamping resort Festa on Zut on the Kornati Islands. 

It is a quite incredible story. On an island with no permanent inhabitants, no water, no electricity, and no ferry, they decided to open a restaurant in 1993. In the middle of the war. 

Not only did Festa survive but it flourished. So much so in fact that when it came to celebrate its 25th years, there was a special Festa Days event, including a 10-course dinner prepared by 5 Italian Master Chefs, and 5 of Croatia's top gourmet names. You can read about it here


Festa has recently added glamping to the island's offer, allowing those without their own boat to enjoy the peace and tranquility of this delightful spot on the Adriatic, which has been visited by Djokovic, Luka Modric and even Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev. 

You can read the article in The Times here


Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Festa Days on Zut: A Kornati Michelin Gourmet Superstar

June 19, 2019 - It is 26 years since a restaurant opened on an uninhabited island in the middle of a war. Festa Days on Zut celebrates one of the great stories in Croatian tourism. 

Often in life, you only find out about the best things by chance. A missed conversation, an unanswered phone call, and the opportunity is gone. And so it is with one of my favourite things on the Croatian tourism calendar - Festa Days on Zut, one of the 140 or so Kornati Islands, which really should not be attracting too much attention without the efforts of one determined restaurant. Because without them, the majority of sailors would simply pass by and head to another island. 

My acquaintance with Restaurant Festa on Zut almost didn't happen. I am not a sailor and spend less time on the water than my social media profile might suggest, but I was delighted to join the team from Gastronaut to discover Kornati and Murter on one of their excellent foodie tours a couple of years ago in early November. As I learned later, Festa on Zut was a last-minute addition. Even though it was closed for the season, the owner wanted to be part of the Gastronaut programme. It was quite a show, and the Festa success story was yet one more paradox in the Croatian tourism story - an innovative business succeeding despite the efforts of the State, not assisted by it. You can read The Paradox of Croatian Tourism: Case Study - Restaurant Festa, Island Zut


Just under a year later. I was back - invited as part of the press to cover the 25-year celebrations of this great island success story. A restaurant which attracts A-list celebrities celebrated its silver jubilee with a gourmet extravaganza, served up by 5 Michelin Star chefs and 5 of Croatia's top chefs. An amazing experience

Festa Days on Zut was a great success and it has now been turned into an annual event. An invitation to the 2019 edition landed in my inbox, very conveniently on the last day of school as we were heading down to Hvar from Varazdin. Festa kindly agreed to find some space for my girls as well. 

And so the 24-hour Kornati adventure began. A speedboat transfer from Zadar to Zut passing under the bridge which connects Ugljan and Pasman. 

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As our skipper explained, not all boats pass through as easily as we did, and more than one sailboat has scraped through. As a man who once drove a transit van into a bridge in Alsace, I could perfectly understand. 

And after 50 minutes of getting into the holiday mood, gorgeous Zut awaited us - the approach to Festa from the water. 

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Let the summer begin!

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The Festa team has expanded its operations in recent years to diversify its tourism offer - their latest accommodation option was glamping, which made me popular with the kids. 

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A delightful way to relax on this most natural of islands, with not a neighbour in sight. Super comfy. 

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Due to our relatively late arrival due to the last school day, there was not enough time for chilling before dinner as there might have been, but we arrived in time for cocktail hour. 

Where there was plenty of waterfront expertise and innovation on offer. 

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Festa Days is also a great occasion for locals to come and celebrate, and there were numerous people from neighbouring islands, as well as the de facto capital of the Kornati Islands - Murter. Some sailing boats made it more obvious where they came from... 

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The outstanding hosts, Mirko and Kreso, whose achievements in getting the Festa story thus far cannot be underestimated. And both were still totally focused on the job and ensuring their guests had the most sensational experience. 

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And so to the food. Below, a dish by dish account, as five Michelin Star chefs and five top Croatian chefs put together an unforgettable evening. Information on each dish includes the accompanying wine and the individual chef. The tone of the culinary evening was perhaps best summed up by resident Festa chef, Zoran Jajac:

“Recently I celebrated my 61st birthday and lot of my colleagues and friends started asking me until when do I plan to continue to work as a professional chef. Until the child in me says to, I respond. To every child his play and toys are the most important things in life. When I cook I play and ingredients are my toys. When this emotion vanishes I will know that I have to stop working because I grew up.”

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Mushed dogfish with traditional Murter sausage

Billecart-Salmon Brut

Chef Zoran Jajac

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Tuna tartare with Cherry Coulis

Rose Degarra

Chef Stefano Deidda

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Mackerel fishermen’s way

Ribolla Simčić

Chef Domenico Schingaro

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Spaghetti with mixed fish sauce and dried anchovies bones powder

Debit Birin

Chef Vinod Sookar

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Monkfish, capers & samphire in Debit sauce

Saladić Maraština

Chef Ante Božikov

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Mussels risotto with Pag cheese rind

Chardonnay ’17 Dvorac Belaj

Chef Hrvoje Zirojević

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There was great cooperation between chefs to ensure that the evening went perfectly.

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Ray fish, demiglace, leek, sweet potato with parsnip chips

Pošip Divina

Chef David Skoko

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Hake and bonito duet

Crni pinot Tomac

Chef Damnjan Draganić

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Marinated swordfish and bitter sweet artichokes

Malvasia Nera San Marzzano

Chef Danilo Bei

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Lemon, basil, strawberry and thyme tart

Muškat žuti Laguna

Chef Josip Vrsaljko

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Festa Days is much more than just food, however. There are plenty of opportunities to learn more about the traditions of the Kornati region, and guests were treated to a show of traditional fishing with lanterns in between courses.

A lovely evening.  

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Breakfast at Festa Days is full of natural goodness, local produce and zero waste. The perfect leisurely start to the day. A day which was to be quite diverse.

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There was plenty of time for a leisurely morning before those amazing chefs were back in action with a selection of seafood delicacies.

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Accompanied by a fine selection of wines from the winemakers of the night before. 

And, this being Festa Days, there was a touch of class in the form of this excellent string quartet. 

And a snapshot of traditional life, as chef Ante Bozikov from Opat took part in a local game of Sijavica. 

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The relaxed pace of life gave me time to check out a story that had been on my mind since my last visit - who the hell would open a shop on an island where nobody lived permanently, and how was the shop doing? It turned out to be a lovely story

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So many snapshots of tradition, heritage and natural beauty as we departed just as the second gala dinner was beginning. Festa Days is one of the top things in the Dalmatian gourmet calendar. Don't miss it next year - you can follow Festa on Facebook for the latest updates

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Meet the Shop on an Uninhabited Croatian Island Doing Great Business on Zut

June 16, 2019 - Business is booming in parts of Croatia where you might least expect it. Imagine opening a shop on an island with no permanent inhabitants, for example - as Sime and Veronika have done on the Kornati island of Zut, for example. 

The more I travel around Croatia, the more amazed I get by the individual stories of innovation, determination and success. In the most unlikely of places. 

Consider, for example, the island of Zut on the Kornati Islands, where I enjoyed my first ever glamping experience on Friday night at Festa Days. 

This was my third visit to Zut, an island I will confess I had never heard of until the first invitation came a couple of years ago for a November tour of Kornati with the foodies from Gastronaut. Our host was Restaurant Festa, a really quite incredible story of success despite all the odds and lack of bureaucratic support. 

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Despite there being no water, no electricity and no ferry to Zut, the owners decided to open a high-quality restaurant on Zut, and they opened for business in 1993. In the middle of the war. And having survived such difficult conditions, it was clear that Team Festa was going to succeed. I wrote an article about the paradox of Croatian tourism, using Festa and Zut as a case study after that first visit. 

Less than a year later, I was back, invited with other national and international media to celebrate 25 years of Festa on Zut, with a culinary bonanza, served up by several Michelin Star chefs and some of Croatia's finest chefs. It was quite an event

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Friday was the opening night of this year's Festa Days, an equally splendid affair which I will report on once I receive the official photos which are so much better than my own, but I wanted to tell you about another fabulous find and successful business on this Kornati gem. 

Success breeds success, and the increased nautical traffic to Festa gave local couple Sime and Veronika Bozikov an idea. Although living on nearby Murter, they had property on Zut which they used for summer rentals and personal use. But what if they also tried to open a shop? Of course, with nobody living permanently on the island, there was not going to be many regular visitors, but the sailing community is wealthy and convenience stores are in very limited supply, so I learned. In fact on the 140 Kornati islands (89 of which are in the national park), there are just three shops, including Sime and Veronika's. 

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A shop with a view, and a great place to enjoy an ice-cold Karlovacko from the shop's fridge. The couple opened four years ago, and now Sime spends 8 months a year on Zut, with Veronika joining with the kids when she can from Murter, and then for the whole summer. 

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Goods are delivered every two days as standard, and they are always just a boat ride away from Murter for exceptional cases. Sime has even invented a wagon with pulley to bring the goods from the water to the shop - it is no fun carrying boxes in temperatures of up to 40C in the summer. 

As there was no delivery that day, his kids obliged with a demonstration of how the system worked - see the video above. 

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Sime is a sailor himself, so when he was planning what kind of things to sell, he focused on the interior of a typical sailing boat fridge. These would be the most popular items, as well as some luxuries for the kids.  

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There are also fresh fruit and vegetables on offer, a lifesaver for those sailing around the islands with little or no option to stock up on fresh supplies.  

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The shop is very small, but it does have an impressive range of 600 items on offer. Beer and water take up a lot of the space, and are among the most popular items. I asked Sime what kind of crazy orders he gets, and he told me of one thirsty sailor who bought 500 cans of beer, another over a thousand litres of water.  

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And ice cream for the kids after a couple of days sailing is obviously popular with the kids. The family also bake their own fresh bread each morning.  

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And so to the obvious next question? How expensive is it? Apart from being able to charge a premium for offering a service in such a remote location, the actual costs of providing the service are extremely high. Consider, for example, how they keep those ice cold beers so chilled on an island with no electricity. Or the costs of speedboat transfer of all the goods. 

Given all this, I was surprised at how cheap their products were when they could really have charged a premium. To give you a comparison, there is a booze shop by the ferry in Split which charges 17 kuna for a half-litre can of beer (you can buy it in the supermarket for 9 kuna). There are not a lot of extra costs involved in getting that beer on the shelf. 

By contrast, the same beer costs 18 kuna on Zut, comes ice cold and with the opportunity to enjoy it on the terrace with that view. Which makes it cheaper than many bars on the mainland.  

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A fabulous story of success, building on the innovation and determination of the Festa pioneers. Both the outstanding restaurant and the presence of a shop will help bring a little more nautical traffic to Zut, and then perhaps some more facilities can be added to develop it further. Fantastic stuff. 

And the Croatian islands really are full of surprises - here are 25 things you would not expect to find there

Sunday, 9 June 2019

10 Incredible Chefs, 1 Uninhabited Island: Festa Days Returns to Zut

June 9, 2019 - It may be an uninhabited island for most of the year, but the Kornati island of Zut has a growing reputation for gourmet excellence. Festa Days returns next week. 

The diversity of Croatian tourism never ceases to amaze me. Not the determination of people to succeed. 

Next week TCN will be heading down to the gorgeous island of Zut, part of the Kornati Islands for this, our third visit. It remains one of the most fantastic stories of Croatian tourism success for me, despite all the odds. 


Imagine trying to open a restaurant and tourism business on an island with no water and no electricity. And no ferry, so everything had to be brought in by yourself. 

And then try and imagine doing it and opening for business in the middle of a war. That is the story of Festa on Zut, which last year celebrated 25 years of successful business as one of the Adriatic's top restaurants, attracting humble sailors and A-list celebrities. Last year's event was celebrated by Festa Days, a gourmet treat with ten Michelin and top Croatian chefs providing the culinary magic. Without repeating the Zut story, you can learn more from our report on last year's event.  


After the success of last year's event, Festa Days is returning for its second edition from June 14-16, with another high-quality lineup of international and Croatian cheffing excellence. 

No less than 5 international Michelin-star chefs and five of Croatia's top 5 chefs. 


And while the focus is very much on food, there will be plenty of other activities, including cooking shows, a mixology workshop, local fishing traditions including an opportunity to go night fishing with lanterns with local fishermen, and ecology education points.  


There is still limited availability - contact details on the flyer below. It promises to be quite an event. 

To learn more about Festa on Zut, including the new glamping options, check out the official website

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Friday, 7 September 2018

1 Uninhabited Island, 4 Michelin Star Chefs, 5 Top Croatian Chefs, 10 Great Courses (PHOTOS)

September 7, 2018 - What does dinner look like when you have four Michelin star and five of Croatia's top chefs preparing a 10-course dinner? A course by course photo special from the 25th anniversary of Restaurant Festa on the Kornati island of Zut. 

Thursday, 6 September 2018

When Michelin Star Chefs Meet Uninhabited Croatian Islands: 25 Years of Gourmet Excellence at Festa on Zut

Some 25 years ago, on an uninhabited island on the Adriatic with no water, electricity, ferry or tourists, and with the country in the middle of a regional war, a new restaurant opened on the island of Zut on the Adriatic. The story of what happened next was celebrated at Restaurant Festa's silver anniversary on September 4, 2018, as five of Croatia's top chefs accompanied four Michelin star chefs and one cocktail maestro to put on one of the culinary events of the year. TCN was there.  

Saturday, 1 September 2018

5 Top Croatian, 4 Michelin Star Chefs, 1 Uninhabited Island: Quite a Festa on Zut

A rather special 25-year anniversary will take place on an uninhabited island much loved by celebrities on September 4, 2018, and there is quite a team of culinary talent to ensure one of the gourmet events of the year. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

The Paradox of Croatian Tourism: Case Study - Restaurant Festa, Island Zut

Continuing our look at the recent Gastronaut foodie trip of Murter and the national parks of Krka and Kornati, which finished on November 8, 2017, a visit to the island of Zut for a gourmet treat and a lesson in how private enterprise is bringing excellence to the Croatian tourism product, despite little support from official channels.