Zlatni Klas Celebrates 40 Years of Rural Tourism: A Croatian Success Story of Outstanding Hospitality

By 15 October 2017

October 13, 2017 was a significant day for Croatian tourism which went largely unnoticed by the media - the 40th anniversary of the oldest rural tourism business in the country, Zlatni Klas in Otrovanec. TCN was a very impressed spectator. 

A lot is written about the potential of continental tourism in Croatia. Projects are started, funds are allocated, results are mixed. Now that we are living close to Varazdin, my exposure to tourism away from the coast is a lot more intensive, and it has been a privilege to meet some truly inspiring people who have developed their own brand of tourism out of literally nothing, with little or (usually) no official support. 

One of the absolute best (if not the best) examples of this is the oldest rural tourism business in Croatia (I think I am correct saying that), a business which started in the middle of nowhere in a village which translates roughly as 'You've been poisoned' - hardly the most enticing start - and a business which celebrated 40 years of existence two days ago, with 150 invited friends and other guests who have been part of the Zlatni Klas story in Otrovanec since it started way back in 1977. I was curious to see how much interest the national media would take in the remarkable milestone, wondered perhaps if there might be some kind of official recognition of this remarkable achievement of four decades of dedication and an approach to hospitality that is lacking in more famous establishments elsewhere. The answer? Zero, apart from a little coverage in the regional media.

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(Photo credit Kristijan Toplak

I wrote about Zlatni Klas and what they have achieved in tourism a month ago, which you can read here, but in brief...

A man leaves a village near Virovitica to go to Germany to work as a waiter to earn some deutschmarks in the former Yugoslavia, not such an unfamiliar tale. The only difference was that this particular waiter's career lasted only a week, as he realised that he could do so much better by opening a restaurant of his own back in his home village, a place where tourists did not roam. Ever. 

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(Photo credit Kristijan Toplak

And so Zlatni Klas was born, a project which has evolved over the years, initially as just a restaurant, then with the addition of a nightclub for a while, then accommodation, horses and other rural tourism, weddings, so many weddings for typically 150 guests at a time. 

The whole complex was built by hand by that pioneering former waiter Branko, his family and his team, a team which now includes son Bernard who now runs the business. And while the two boys may be the front of the business, tribute must be paid to the ladies of the house for their outstanding contributions and determination to succeed. A true family business.  

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(Photo credit Kristijan Toplak

Tourists came from all over the world. Cyclists, bikers, those looking for a quality rural tourism experience, with the finest hospitality. I am not alone in feeling that I was almost part of the family by the end of my first visit, and my kids could not contain their excitement when told we would be returning just a month after their first visit. We arrived after the main event on Friday, speeches, a delightful lunch and live band, but we were there to watch proceedings from a polite distance, fortunate to observe the momentous occasion and witness the joy of accomplishment and happiness in the company of friends which shone from each family member's face. 

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A proud day indeed for that former waiter Branko, and one which he would have been expected to enjoy and relax a little, but that is not the Zlatni Klas way. 

"Your horse is waiting for you, girls." And off they went, together with the three family dogs, who rolled in the grass as we passed the horses, sheep and geese.  

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And after lunch, we were given the keys to the Jeep:

"Go and have a spin in the field over there - the girls will love it." And love it they did - I fear an expensive hobby in cars has been started. 


One of the great charms of Zlatni Klas is its unique and authentic accommodation, all built by Branko and his merry men. One of my favourites is this little gem at the bottom of the complex in splendid isolation. Built in 2003, he has plans for a Little Red Riding Hood theme. It is enchanting.  

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A month ago, he showed me his new project, a small little house over a small pond. He is musing how to theme it, and likes the idea of the house reflecting the famous legend of Otrovanec and how the village got its poisonous name. With the Ottomans advancing and no support coming, the villagers were resigned to being subjugated by the Turks. There was only one thing that might work to save them. A lake between them and the Ottomans would probably be used to water the horses and provide drinking water, so the villagers poisoned it. The ploy worked, and the villages shouted 'Otrovanec' (you've been poisoned) at the dying Turks. Otrovanec, as the village became known, was never conquered. 

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The house was far from complete a month ago, but things do not lie idle for long in these parts, and a month later, Branko took the girls with their horse to see the final version. Rustic and fabulous.  

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The lunch was a real eye-opener on a number of levels. We were stunned to find acquaintances from Hvar among the guests, but they were not as surprised as they were. From the Virovitica area, they had been coming to Zlatni Klas for over 30 years, their daughter was even married there, and the more I talked to the other guests, the more I understood that while Zlatni Klas has played a crucial role in the tourism story in this forgotten tourism part of Croatia, it has perhaps played a more important role as a meeting point and entertainment centre for local people over the years. 

The majority of the guests slowly departed, leaving a core group of friends and family to relax. A guitar was brought to add a little jollity to the occasion, and as I watched them sing, I noticed Branko hugging his wife and those dear to him. Obviously immensely proud of what they had all achieved, it was an inspiring moment. 

"What time do you want breakfast tomorrow?" asked Bernard, ever the immaculate host. 

"Not before ten, relax," answered my wife. 

"About 06:30 for me," I joked. 

"Then I will be your waiter. See you then." Hospitality at the heart of everything, although Bernard seemed a little relieved when I said I was joking. 

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(Photo credit Kristijan Toplak

My favourite part of the story concerned the music. The band was the Zagreb ensemble, The Swingers, led by Robert Marekovic, and they were apparently a huge hit. They couldn't stay too long after the performance, for they had a plane to catch to New York for their next performance. That would have amused that former waiter from Germany back in 1977 - the thought that musicians would be heading to New York after performing in his restaurant. 

To the Tkalcec family, each and every one of you, we salute you and congratulate you on your immense achievement. See you at your 50th!

To learn more about Zlatni Klas, visit the official website