Sunday, November 30, 2008

Croatia Online - Zagreb Airport Handy Hotel

It may look pretty functional on the outside but Hotel Stella is a good option for those wanting to stay somewhere close to the airport, or near to Zagreb's exhibition centre, without wanting to brave city centre traffic and prices. On the main road to the airport, there's not too much else around but a walk through the back streets reveals a couple of nice cafes and an old wooden church. The helpful staff will send out for a pizza or something similar as the hotel facilities do not run to a fully fledged restaurant and the nearest restaurant is a long walk away. There is a bar however, and a smoking area near reception to help Croatian guests get over the shock of non smoking rooms.
Wireless internet is available although the complexity of the pricing structure is a little offputting at first, as is how to use it. You have to go onto the hotel website ignoring all sorts of security notices, but it works and it's better to go for more time than you need rather than paying high rates for the odd hour.
The rooms are modern and very well equipped - driving from the south the signs show four stars; from the north three. The rooms are definitely 4 star but the lack of peripheral facilities tends towards the three. There's ample free car parking for guests and, when we were there, the hotel manager was kind enough to let us leave the car behind for a few days rather than parking at the airport at 70 kunas a day (taxi 100 kunas/10 minutes). Even better there was none of the normal disgruntlement on the return taxi journey that you would get from a London cabby on a short run from Heathrow.
It's not cheap at 540 kn for single use of a double room, and 790kn for a double, breakfast included, but, compared with city prices for the same degree of comfort, it's a snip. The first impression is a rather efficient and cold set up but we had the chance to spend a few days there and the ice soon melted!
Hotel Website -

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Croatia Online - Zadar's Newest Hotel

Zadar has been waiting a long time for a city centre hotel and Hotel Bastion appears to be worth the wait. Open in June 2008, the Slovenian architect, Jani Vosel has interpreted the brief of blending the best of old and new with impeccable flair. The four star, boutique hotel has 23 rooms, 4 apartments and a luxury apartment as well as a state of the art video conferencing room, restaurant, bar, small cardio vascular gym, and wellness area. The original stone is featured throughout, particularly in the wellness area, where the end of the stone floor marks the boundary of the 13th century fortress on which the hotel is built. Inside and outside you’ll also find some of the original stone catapault balls used to defend the fortress. The 60 cover restaurant, has a menu based around the freshest of fish – not surprising as the owner, has a fish shop in the market. The menu will change every three months, in tune with the seasons, and the chef is a prodigé of one of the best healthy food restaurants in Croatia – Kukuriku in Rijeka.

We're told that the Garden and Arsenal, both innovative venues in their own right, make excellent neighbours and any potential noise problems are mitigated by their skilful sound design and Bastion's double glazing. Bastion also has a ready answer to any parking concerns with 20 dedicated parking spaces just by the hotel. Seems like they have thought about everything.
Thanks to Hotel Bastion for today's photo.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Croatia Online - British Ambassador In Split

The new British Ambassador to Croatia, David Blunt, held a reception in Split yesterday, supported by many of his team. Distinguished guests included Župan Mr Ante Sanader and Mayor Mr Ivan Kuret. In a speech made almost entirely in Croatian, the Ambassador stated his intent "to deepen and broaden" the relationship with Split and the surrounding region, and that the UK sees itself "as one of Croatia's closest friends and a key partner" ... "amongst the strongest supporters of Croatia's EU and Nato membership." Apparently the British Government invests at least €26 million annually in the relationship and is working on a number of key issues with Croatia such as supporting improved public administration and court management, and building capacity and effectiveness on border controls. That's not to mention the significant investment in Croatia by a number of UK companies.
The Ambassador said that he and his team were also working hard with the media to help them report more knowledgeably, especially on EU issues, but also to increase awareness of "just how extensive is this programme of UK engagement with and in Croatia".
There was also something for the British community in the area who were reassured that effective consular services were a personal high priority for the Ambassador and that all feedback was welcome.
Today's photo is courtesy of the FCO website. For further background on the new Ambassador, link to

Monday, November 24, 2008

Croatia Online - Krka and Skradin

In our previous posting we referred to the joys of exploring Croatia off season. Krka National Park is one of the places that can get overloaded in July and August, but if that's the only time you can visit, it's still worth it. However if you can get there away from the crowds then the experience is so much better.

Skradin is the focal point of the park, the testimony to which is the new National Park centre which opened last June and is equipped with all the latest technology - touch screen computers, lcd displays and a vast array of information, all neatly tucked away in a modern and functional building just out of sight from the lovely old town itself.

All credit to Skradin for keeping its main facilities open all year round - its one very charming hotel, at least three of its most notable restaurants, the tourist office and the National Park Centre, more details later. Skradin also has a very popular ACI marina (ACI = the state owned marina network). Apart from being a delightful town, a mooring in fresh river water is much easier on the hull than the Adriatic's salt water. For more details, see our sister site Croatia Cruising Companion - Skradin

From Skradin we decided to visit Roški Slap, a good twenty minute drive away along a country road, through the narrow streets of Rupe, past a few steep drops, and, on this occasion, past a few bemused workmen who were improving the road and thought that the route was closed. The waterfalls at Roški Slap are less dramatic than those that the boat from Skradin will take you to, and have less interlinking walkways (just one wood bridge in fact) but are none the less impressive in perhaps a more unspoilt way. At this time of year it just seems to be a wildlife playground, particularly for mallards.

Croatia clearly takes its natural heritage very seriously indeed and it's extremely refreshing to see money invested wisely in increasing the facilities and information available to allow enjoyment of Krka and its surrounds without spoiling them.

Todays photo is of the mallards enjoying themselves at Roški Slap after a busy tourist season.

Krka National Park tel 022 771 688, fax 022 771 689
Tourist centre opening hours: 1.11 - 28.2: 9am-4pm; 1.3-31.10 8am-7/8pm (8pm when the clocks change!)

Hotel Skradinski Buk tel 022 771 771, fax 022 771 770

Skradin Restaurants:
There are many good restaurants in Skradin and we've mentioned just two below - one we know and the other one we like the look of.

Zlatne Skoljke, in the centre, has a strong reputation, was good when we ate there a year or so ago and we continue to get positive feedback - prices just a little above Dalmatian average.

Konoba Cantinetta, is on the "outskirts" of the town but such is Skradin's compactness that it will take less than 5 minutes to walk there from the centre. It's terrace, open fire and exterior look very inviting even when it's closed on a cold day!

The other good news is that a new hotel opened last year in the National Park and that's open all year round too. Hotel Vrata Krke is about a 10 minute drive from Skradin and is purpose built and self contained, so there's no longer any excuse not to visit the Šibenik area out of season - all the delights of nature at its best and one of Croatia's best unspoilt cities to explore.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Croatia Online Celebrates 50,000 Hits

At the last count, before we started this posting, we were just 35 hits away from a total of 50,000 in the nearly three years that we have been blogging. Croatia Online's first posting was 21st January 2006 which, in some ways, seems like a lifetime away but in others seems like only yesterday.
In January 2006 we had no broadband in our part of Croatia so blogging was also quite a slow process. There have been a lot of other changes too. Croatia's first motorway makes travelling along the coast so much easier, the variety of produce and products in the shops continues to increase significantly so there's little to miss from England in that respect (mostly marmite, tea, bacon and Branston Pickle!), and the quality and choice of Croatia's tourism offer has also increased apace.
On the downside, the new rules and regulations are making life difficult for foreigners, the bureacracy is still a little frustrating, and it still seems to take a while to discover the true inner warmth, kindness and generosity of the locals. New Year's Resolution number 1 is to get fluent in the language - being able to discuss the weather helps but it's not enough!
Whatever the changes, and despite its renaissance as a tourist destination, Croatia remains one of the most beautiful and fascinating countries in Europe, if not the wider world, and we feel very privileged to continue to have the chance to write about it. It's a particular pleasure to be able to explore it off season and discover some of the more hidden secrets, away from the crowds. Two days ago we revisited Krka National Park - Skradin and Roški Slap - with hardly a soul in sight. It was a crisp and mostly sunny autumn day, the falls were at their best and the wildlife was minding its own business, and probably as grateful as those in the tourism industry that the busy summer season was over. There's a full report on that to come but in the meantime, in honour of the occasion, we'd like to take the opportunity to revisit some of Croatia Online's highlights.
1. Publication of the Croatia Cruising Companion
We get very little sympathy when we try to explain what hard work it was to sail around Dalmatia in order to write a book on it. Suffice to say that this book was a major part of our lives for over three years and it was more of a relief than a joy when it went off to the printers. Croatia continues to change so quickly that it required a few months in itself to make sure that the earlier chapters we'd written were as up to date as the last few. Relief was also the main emotion on publication day and the launch at the Earls Court Boatshow - our publishers had done us proud on the quality and finish of the end product and most people that saw it seemed to like it. Slowly that relief has turned into a certain amount of joy at its continuing success and the luck we had in being asked to write it in the first place!

2. Readers' Feedback
One of the pleasures of blogging for fun is the feedback you get from readers when you have touched a certain nerve or provided something genuinely useful. Luckily for us, we have also made some good friends via Croatia Online. Our most commented on posting continues to be one of the more recent, on the new rules and regulations for foreigners in Croatia. Part of that posting's "success" is to do with the air of uncertainty regarding the situation and the apparent lack of hard information in the public domain. Since it was one of Croatia Online's initial aims to try and assist newcomers to Croatia to try and find practical information and hard facts, it's gratifying to see that there has been some success in this respect. When we first started Croatia Online we couldn't find anything similar on the net and experienced vertical learning curves in most areas of life; nearly three years later there are a number of bloggers on Croatia, and many more information sites in the English language, though relatively few "independents" like Croatia Online, that are not driven by, or attached to a business (with occasional apologies for plugs on our book!)

Other popular postings, inspiring multiple comments, are our cost of living reports and updates (for obvious reasons), periodic where to go summaries (and some of the comments here have inspired us to look at destinations not already covered), a detailed report on hotels in Split (though there is a more recent update), a 2007 report on the Croatian business environment (including detailed comments from Joel Anand, Co-Founder of the Adriatic Institute for Public Policy and International Leaders Summit on Economic Growth) and, on a lighter note there's always plenty of interest in reports on pets in Croatia, nautical tourism and shopping.

4. Destinations
The detailed research required to write our Cruising Companion has allowed us to inform readers on many of the more undiscovered island and mainland coast destinations, as well as the more popular ones. Occasionally, we have ventured away from the coast (not geographically easy in most parts of Croatia!) and one of our favourite holiday breaks was our Christmas in Lupoglav, inland Istria. We've also been the only guests in the only hotel open in Vis for Christmas.

Favourite destinations on the mainland coast and islands include Vis, Tribunj, Primosten, Sibenik, Krapanj Island, Krka, Trogir
Zadar and Brac. Revisiting these postings its clear that there are many more destinations to review in the next few weeks. Inland highlights are Varazdin, Livno and Kupres, in nearby Bosnia and Hercegovina, and of course the capital, Zagreb

5. Events and Entertainment
We've had the chance to visit some very out of the way places and see some great local skills and talent in the course of our travels. There are too many to do justice to in a short space but the following will give you a taste and flavour of Croatia's diversity in this respect:
Falconry Centre, near Šibenik
Cricket and Irish Dancing (yes, really)

6. Friends
We referred to the friends we had made along the way earlier in this posting and don't want to invade their privacy by mentioning their names "in public" but they know who they are!
Some of them also run businesses and we'd like to mention a few sites below, in no particular order, that have been either a source of inspiration, information, or that just do very interesting things in Croatia and/or do what they do well. Please note that Croatia Online has no commercial aim and is a not for profit blog. Sites that we refer to, in our opinion, just happen to deserve a mention on merit:

The Croatian Language School – learning the language and the cuisine
Marina Facility Solutions – Croatian marina experts
Etnoland – helping others to discover Croatian tradition and culture
Sokolarski (Falconry) Centre - dedicated to the protection, conservation and preservation of Birds of Prey in Croatia
Secret Dalmatia – unique and tailor made tours of Croatia to discover its hidden virtues
Sailing School Croatia – a wide variety of sailing courses including RYA qualifications

7. Professional Highlights
Apart from the Croatia Cruising Companion, we feel privileged to be working, for the fourth year running, on Time Out's publications for Croatia - their guide book and annual magazine, A Visitors' Guide to Croatia, and a number of projects for Boat International including, most enjoyably, authoring their Superyacht Owners Guide: The Best Of Croatia which allowed us a refreshing degree of editorial freedom to put together over 100 pages of what is best about Croatia if money is no object (and in many cases the best things in Croatian life are free!).

This is a long posting and has just a hint of self congratulation about it for which we apologise. Last time we celebrated our successes, was over a year and 30,000 hits ago so hopefully readers will allow us just a little self indulgence. More importantly it's a stark reminder of just how much more there is to say to keep Croatia Online fresh, informative and up to date, so any thoughts of resting on our laurels have quickly disappeared!

Today's photo is of the Split peninsula taken from Podstrana. In a tradition established in our last celebratory posting, we wanted to use a Croatian professional photographer's photo but thought better of it. However it's an opportune moment to mention Ivo Pervan, one of Croatia's best known and most successful photographers, but a true gentleman and professional. In one of life's many twists of fate, it turns out that our book front cover is one of his photos, originally sourced from the Croatian tourist board. We discovered this just before we asked him to help us out on two other projects and can't recommend him highly enough!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Croatia Online - Weddings

What better way to celebrate all that's good about Croatia than at a wedding. Just an added bonus that the bride's mum happen's to have a perfect sea view house, lovely friends and family, and very good connections within the catering industry!
Congratulations to Petra and Marijo and we wish them the very best of health, wealth and happiness. Thanks to all concerned for allowing us to share their day with them.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Croatia Online - Croatia In Top Ten Emerging Food Destinations

Expedia, Australia, have ranked Croatia number six in its top ten of emerging food destinations.
Australians are dedicated travellers and it seems Croatia is on many of their lists as one of the new places to visit next year. Those that know Croatia well will be familiar with the varied range of cuisine - plain grilled fresh fish and meat in Dalmatia, the Italian influence in Istria reflected in the pastas and sauces, and the Hungarian influence in inland Croatia. Wherever you go, the chefs seem to be getting more adventurous and dishes are normally based on the best of home grown or freshly fished produce.
A few organisations have now added culinary tours or courses to their offer. Try Easy Croatian who combine cookery courses with learning the language in Lošinj, or one of Secret Dalmatia's gastronomy tours.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Croatia Online - Residency & Business Permits Update

Regular readers may recall an earlier posting about the effect Croatia's new laws on "aliens" have been having on foreigners that chose to retire to Croatia and those trying to do business here.

There are so many good things to write about Croatia that we don't want to dwell unduly on this, but the situation has cast a gloomy and sometimes thunderous cloud over many a Croatia loving expat's head. The online magazine Croatia Business Report (CBR) has taken up the cause with a detailed article on the matter, and some insightful interviews with some of the authorities. It's possible that change may be in the air and CBR examines the effects, the possible changes, and also talks to those that are campaigning to bring about some improvements.

For the full report, go to

For our earlier posting on the subject, link to Croatia Online - Stunning Sunsets & False Dawns

Today's photograph is an attempt to illustrate our posting in abstract form. It shows a Jadrolinija passenger ferry leaving Split harbour whilst a fleet of small dinghies, aptly named Optimists, sail in, all watched by a much larger ship that does not seem quite sure which way to go.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Croatia Online - Ideal Christmas Present For Croatia Lovers!

Apologies for hijacking Croatia Online, a normally highly objective and independent site, with some shameless self promotion in mind!

Our Croatia Cruising Companion, featuring the Dalmatian Coast and Islands, is now one year old though you will find regular updates, news and invaluable input from readers, on our sister blog -
It continues to feature regularly in Amazon's top ten for books on Croatia, both in the UK and USA, and seems to be a snip at the prices currently offered by Amazon.
Whilst it's primarily aimed at sailors, land lubbers will find a whole host of information on the more remote island destinations, and mainland villages, that isn't available elsewhere - it might even persuade you to take to the water which is one of the best ways to explore the real Dalmatia.Whatever your preferences, enjoy the real Dalmatia before everyone discovers it!
We took over three years to research and write it, and things are changing so fast in Croatia that we spent another few months revisiting locations that we covered at the beginning to ensure they were up to date. Plenty of blood sweat and tears along the way but we've come to be quite proud of the end result and have been very gratified by the positive feedback we have received as well as being spurred on to newer heights for the second edition, by the updates and constructive criticism that is an essential part of a "living work" such as Dalmatia's coastline and islands.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Croatia Online - Croatia Airlines Drops Direct Flights To London

We discovered this week that Croatia Airlines have dropped direct flights between London and Split for the winter. Croatia Airlines have been flying direct, once or twice a week in the winter, since we came here 6 years ago. With British Airways dropping flights to Split this year that means trips via Zagreb are unavoidable in winter.

Apparently the change was carried out by stealth - no warning - and a lot of hotels, and other organisations directly affected, are campaigning vigorously for a reinstatement!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Croatia Online - Falconry Centre, Dubrava

So many stories to tell and not enough time to tell them! Croatia Online's small editorial team is suffering from a surfeit of news and a serious time deficit. Whilst we will be catching up on the last month's news in due course, we couldn't leave last night's story untold for long.
We've reported on the the work of the falconry ("sokolarski") centre in Dubrava, near Šibenik, in a previous posting - see However last night's story is more an illustration of how a small and inspired conservation organisation, in a tiny village, in a small country, can make world news.
Some months ago an injured eagle owl was brought to the centre with its wings badly damaged. Under carefully measured anaesthetic, the team matched the 30 damaged feathers with those in its feather bank and, in a process known as imping, linked these new feathers to the shafts of the damaged feathers, with pins and rods. After a rest and a full inspection the owl was released swiftly back into the wild at the precise spot where it was found (recorded on GPS), and before another bird took over its territory. Just as remarkably, the whole process, including the flight back to the wild, was filmed by Hrvoje Gunjace, a journalist for Croatian television. He documented the imping and the release, and it was picked up by CNN World Report who broadcast it around the world, shining the spotlight on both the unique work of the Sokolarski Centre, and a very happy ending for the owl in question.
We saw the CNN film clip at a presentation in the new and very modern Šibenik Library, yesterday evening, and understand that the original Croatian reporter is to receive an award for his work. That award is very well deserved, as is the increased exposure that the documentary has given to the very enterprising and noble work carried out at the centre.
Emilio Mendjušić, the centre's founder and continuing inspiration (pictured left) doesn't stand still for very long and is now in the process of extending the veterinary facilities to include a veterinary centre catering for all animals. This will help contribute funds to the centre and help the two resident vets (Emil pictured right) earn a living whilst they continue to provide honorary services to the centre and the injured wild birds of prey that are brought there. Victoria Norman (pictured centre) is a doyenne of falconry and came from England two years ago to volunteer for the centre. All three were intensly involved in all stages of the rescue and "repair" of the owl which is just one of the many aspects of their work at the centre.
Even happier news for the celebrity owl is that after two years, his "imped" feathers will moult and be replaced by brand new ones without the pins and rods!
PS - If you want to see the video, we've just found it on YouTube - follow this link: Victoria Norman was most excited about the fact that the whole operation was done under carefully measured anaesthetic - the first time in her experience that it's not been done on a bird that's awake. Although there's no pain involved it is very stressful for the bird and especially one that needs 30 new feathers.