Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Croatia Online - Highlights & Soft Landings?

As we get ready for a trip back to the UK it's back breaking work loading up the car with (only the best of) the literature we've accumulated this time round.
When we first arrived in Croatia six years ago, there wasn't a lot of information on the web and blogging was as undiscovered as Croatia was. Now it's so much easier to find what you want on the internet but the tourist offices are still big on brochures and information. Sometimes, off season, in the more remote locations you have to dig it out a little but it's worth it and it's a travesty to throw it away until it is properly read and digested. Regular readers therefore have plenty of blogging to look forward to during the UK break, whilst we consolidate the information and catch up on the ones that temporarily got away whilst we were enjoying ourselves too much. Of course there's no substitute for exploring in person and talking to the locals, so we have plenty of notebooks to sift through as well!
There have been so many highlights, over the first few months of 2009, of a personal and professional nature, and a number of people who have found the time and made the effort to help us discover more of Croatia and still feel welcome and a small part of it. This is not the place for private or professional thank you's of a general nature but the least we can do is give a plug and a link to some of the websites that belong to those who have made a big difference, and just a short note on some of the things they do that we have seen in the last couple of months!
In alphabetical order:
Apartment Maris (Luxury Apartment, Split Centre)
Black Cat Bistro (Restaurant, Split)
Etnoland (Dalmatian Discovery Park)
Olynthia (Olive Oil Tours)
Sailing School Croatia (Sailing School!)
Secret Dalmatia (Roman Ruins, Caves, Special Views)
Sokolarski Centar (Falconry and Conservation)
Trinity Croatia (Croatian Property Experts)
Val Tours (Bird Watching with Expert Guide Robert)
Just a short plug as well for John Nash, co-author of the Croatia Cruising Companion. John runs Marina Facility Solutions from his base in Kaštela and you can read more about his recent successes, in an ongoing campaign to help Croatian Marinas keep the sea clean, by following this link MFS a Key Advisor In Croatia's First Integral Marina Pump Out Solution. To go straight to the latest issue of Euromarina that featured his work at Marina Preko, click here.
Many thanks to Eko Centar Caput Insulae for today's photo of a Griffon Vulture Landing. Apart from their conservation work with this rare bird, they also arrange bird watching trips too and we'll tell you more about those soon.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Croatia Online - Natural Order

Olive trees and cross generational family standards thrive in Croatia - perhaps something to do with good roots and making the most of challenging terrains and frequent interlopers. We've recently learnt that olive trees respond well to natural hazards and threats if they have some space and care. They're amongs the longest lived of fauna and produce a fruit that is rightly revered for its efficacy.
Dalmatia is a land of "small holders" demonstrated very well by the scattering of its olive groves and the quality and distinctiveness that results - in a world of mass produced olive oil that doesn't quite have the kick, the taste, or the traceability of the best of its Croatian peers, its something to fete!
Similarly the world might again come round to the enduring ethics and traditions that have left Croatia perfectly poised to continue to carry on apparently regardless, but mindful of the chaos going on elsewhere and the need to find its rightful place on the 21st century political and geographical map.
Croatia, so strategically, and often precariously, situated between east and west, has a seasoned history of seeing many great powers come and go, and seems to grow stronger from it, and more faithful to its soul and roots.
There has been much talk in the western world about family values, now as if it were a fantasy, a decade or so ago as something really important to try and hang onto. Croatia, particularly Dalmatia, walks the talk. It's a secret a foreigner can't properly share but can continue to admire warts and all. The greater the discovery process, the greater the admiration and the understanding of the blemishes.
We wouldn't be surprised to learn, in a few years time, that the Olive tree wasn't in fact introduced by the Greeks and/or Romans to Croatia, but they just kept better records and so took the credit!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Croatia Online - Best Souvenirs of Croatia

As we think about getting ready for a month or so in the UK, it seems timely to consider what represents Croatia best in terms of quality gifts for English friends and relatives.
Unfortunately most of what is best about Croatia can't be packaged, bottled and taken away. The flavours, tastes sounds and smells can but are not always so easy to transport. Good on Croatia for not going too far down the route of tacky souvenirs and for staying true to its soul.
So what can you practically take back to England for an original and thoughtful present, representing the essence of your best experiences of Croatia? Here's our top five:
1. A small, well packaged, bottle of the best extra virgin olive oil and details of its history and origins. The gift recipients won't want to taste another olive oil. There are many organic producers with an eye for quality but only a few with websites so we're citing our most recent discovery - Olynthia.
2. A bottle of good Croatian wine - splash out a little in relative Croatian terms and your french friends may be surprised.
3. A jar of fig jam - we haven't discovered any small local entrepreneur producers yet so SMS is still our favourite.
4. A CD of Croatia's folk music - Klapa. Take some advice to get the best.
5. Honey - check the lables for the brands of exceptional taste and quality
A little more flippantly we'd suggest a copy of the Croatia Cruising Companion and a ticket to Croatia.

Croatia Online - Šolta, Martinis Marchi

We couldn't complete the latest run of postings on Šolta without a little more information on an outstanding hotel and restaurant, Martinis Marchi.

The castle in which both are housed was built by the Martinis brothers in the early 18th century to help protect Split's mainland and islands from pirate attack and to develop a community to work the land. Since then it was allowed to decay, and suffered a modest earlier renovation to serve a short life as a 50 bedroom hotel and occasional restaurant.

Now it's been returned to its fomer glory after massive time and investment by its relatively new owners under the guidance of local Croatian heritage architects and advisors. The six hotel suites vary in size and are individually designed and furnished, both to be true to the castle's original design and to offer the ultimate in quiet elegance and comfort. The reception rooms are equally impressive, the courtyard houses a heated open air swimming pool and there's a heliport in the extensive grounds that display equal care and nurturing. As if that wasn't enough, the restaurant terrace has great views over the bay and west facing Maslinica makes for the perfect location for a quiet cocktail at sunset.

Internet, heated bathroom floors, air conditioning, etc, are all of course standard in the suites. Four poster beds are a feature and the largest suite occupies the whole tower on five floors – ground for the main reception room, first for the office and music room, second for the vast bathroom and a wall of cupboards in the hall, top for the master bedroom, and the stone walled basement for the konoba/kitchen area. This one costs €1,500 a night but you can stay in equal comfort, with varying space, for €420 to €750, in the other suites. The bathrooms and bedrooms are all enormous, and the common areas are of the grandeur and functionality you would expect.

The test of the restoration is that the Šolta islanders are proud of it as well and 2009/10 should see the upgrading of Maslinica’s harbour to a marina of similar style.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Croatia Online - The Secret and Adventurous Art of Blogging on Croatia

Whilst Croatia Online has been living it up, working hard, and exploring Šolta out of season (see postings below) we notice that the best of the Croatian blogging world has also been prolific.
Šolta has provided a number of great learning experiences, not least of all is some insight on how to live life in a small community. Šolta may lie very close to the much bigger and more cosmopolitan community of Split but it's still essentially a very special kind of place where everyone knows their neighbours, and strangers out of season are welcomed with just a little curiosity but open arms. An illustrative example of the generosity of spirit was when we were walking round Donje Selo trying to follow up a hot tip. Our look may have been starry eyed but it might have been interpreted as lost (although getting lost is very difficult on Šolta). A car driver stopped to ask if he could help, we told him what we were looking for, and he gave us a lift to the family's house.
He knocked on the door, carried out an introduction, and we were invited in to sample a glass of the local Dobričić wine and given a few details on the family business - wine and olive product producers as well as providing authentic konoba dinners. To share a similar and perhaps more in depth experience with the Kaštelanać family (with or without the kindness of introductory strangers!), telephone 021 658 109 or mobile 098 385 376.
We digress - the subject of this posting is the art of blogging in Croatia, especially Dalmatia; we used Šolta as an introduction for four reasons:
1. It is very fresh in our minds
2. It will remain very special in our memories of Croatia
3. It's a small island with a number of even smaller villages
4. We were reminded that, especially in a close knit community, embracing the competition and the collective good is more important than self interest
The blogging world in Croatia is still small but it's a lot bigger than when Croatia Online started nearly 300 posts ago. Šolta provided a timely nudge to remember that what is good for the whole, is generally good for the best of its component parts. Whilst many Croatian blogs are now just regurgitating facts, often without due credit, from other blogs and websites, or vying to trick google with as many keywords as they can make fit a sentence, two are quite special for their unique and original first hand information and insights:
Lifejacket Adventures - who's latest postings include a Buddhist Centre in Split, current news on the renovation of their traditional wooden boat, and a new sandwich shop in Split who's name needs some explanation.
Secret Dalmatia - who have enlightened readers recently on Octopus lunches, the significance of the Bura wind in March and the Babić wine of Primošten.
Croatia is full of Catholic churches but may still need time to become catholic in the wider sense of the word - all embracing, broad minded and tolerant according to just some of the dictionary definition. However island life, as it is lived on Šolta, side by side with its visitors from Split and elsewhere, might have a lot to teach those of us who think we are experienced in world living.
Today's photo is of one of the reception rooms in Martinis Marchi in Maslenica. Given that we are widely told that the new owners have restored the castle, with great care and no mean investment, according to original plans, we'd like to think that the Martinis brothers used their dining room to stay in touch with their modest number of early neighbours drawn from all walks of life in the common interests of the day.

Croatia Online - Šolta In Pictures

After three days on Šolta we've already written a number of posting on this and sister site Croatia Cruising Companion. We will probably write many more but to give our readers a break here are just a few images that capture the diversity of Šolta, one of Croatia's smallest inhabited islands and just a short ferry trip from Split.

Croatia Online - Šolta The Island Of Olives

One of the most interesting parts of our trip to Šolta was a tour provided by Olynthia - various stops amidst their scattered olive groves near Donje Selo; along a track to the south side of the island for a spectacular view of the Adriatic and Vis island (see previous posting); and back to their olive oil processing plant for a tasting and to see how the fruits of one of the Mediterranean's hardiest and most versatile trees, turns into a liquid of exceptional quality that is good enough to drink, let alone drizzle over your food. In the summer season, or by arrangement, the tour also includes a cooling swim, lunch or dinner, and can start from Trogir or Split, or direct from Šolta. At around 350 kn including a feryy or boat trip from the mainland, it's a snip.
From the start to the end of the tour you will see that the best olive oil comes from a perfect combination of tradition and technology. Purists may question their own values - whilst it might be "quaint" to see olives being pressed in time honoured style, you will discover that doesn't make for the best elixir. Premium extra virgin olive oil comes from olives that are processed with minimum exposure to light, heat and air. Technology however is only the watchword in the processing of the olives; the growing and care of the trees and groves, to produce the best fruit, relies on traditional principles and expert knowledge, passed down the generations through centuries. That means extensive rather than intensive cultivation, no chemicals, preparing the ground properly to take out the rocks, careful pruning so that each branch has maximum exposure to sunlight, cutting the grass regularly around the trees, and watching out for any disease. The way olives are picked also has a bearing on the final quality of the oil - all of Olynthia's olives are hand picked, rather than shaken and collected off the ground and the picking is timed to get the fruit at its very best and process it as quickly as posible.
Native to Asia minor and perhaps the oldest known cultivated tree in the world, Šolta's olive trees were probably first planted by the Greeks in the 4th Century BC and thence started the legends and history that reflect their incredible attributes and significance. Olive trees don't demand the same care that grapevines do and they withstand Šolta's rocky terrain, droughts, winds and heat. More than that, the roots survive periodic wildfires and the longevity is renowned - see Croatia Online - Croatia's Oldest Olive Tree? for a picture on one of Dalmatia's oldest specimens.
Listen to afficionados and experts and you will believe that the best Croatian extra virgin olive oil can cure almost anything without any side effects. Pay attention to Olynthia and you will find out where, how and why, as well as getting an insight into Šolta's history and why the olive tree has played such an important role. If you're lucky, you'll also get to taste Šolta's local wine, Dobričić, now discovered to be the genetic forefather of Croatia and California's better known and acclaimed varieties - Plavac and Zinfandel.
To say much more would be to spoil the discoveries you will make on the tour. However, we were left so full of fascinating insights and information that it may be hard to resist another posting or two on the subject.
Thanks to Frane, Anja, Stipe and Robert for enabling this visit - certainly one to be remembered and hopefully to be repeated at another time in the olive tree's cycle. We've already done a little bit of picking and seen the end result - see Croatia Online - Olive Picking In Omis - it would be great to see the olive groves of Šolta in full harversting swing, but the time of year doesn't detract from the quality of the tour.
Today's photo is of the gourmet tasting provided for us at Olynthia and we were lucky enough to return with some of last year's nectar, bottled and packaged, as we waited, in award winning style.

Croatia Online - Šolta Island: Orientation

After six years exploring and writing about Croatia, even the most carefully chosen adjectives can start to sound clichéd, and sparingly used superlatives begin to feel well worn.

It's a relative luxury for us to spend three days on one of Dalmatia's islands, albeit with a working objective. Šolta, at just 19 kilometres long, and 4 metres across at its widest, may be one of Croatia's smaller inhabited islands but it has plenty to keep discerning visitors engaged, even outside the summer season.

Like most of Croatia's gems, Šolta has a fascinating and eclectic history, under a background of subservience to its masters in Split. It too has plenty to show from the seemingly never ending battles between the various great powers that have fought so hard for control over Croatia's precarious and strategic position between east and west.

Like many of its island and mainland neighbours, the oldest settlements and arguably the best of Šolta's heritage, is displayed in the inland towns of Grohote, Donje Selo, Gornje Selo and Sredne Selo. These grew up around the most fertile regions and, despite the never ending battle to clear the terrain of vast quantities of stone and rock, the small quantities of nutrient rich topsoil allowed agriculture to thrive. The olive tree has long been a hero of Šolta - it's one of the few species of flora that can thrive in the rocky terrain, mediterranean climate and on an island where there is nothing other than rain as a water supply - the porous limestone rock sees to that. You can read more about Šolta's liquid gold in our next posting.

Apart from the olive groves and abundance of rock, mostly neatly stacked in dry stone walls, inland Šolta will strike you with its old stone built houses, the smell of rosemary, a lush green vista of woods and bushes, settlements that appear tiny as you drive past them on the main road but hold a wealth of treasures in the narrow streets behind, and the magnificent views of the coast. The highest point, Vela Straža, at 237 metres, provides perhaps the best viewpoint of all.

For wow factor views, Maslinica is a strong contender. Facing west and looking out over a few small islets, the sunsets are hard to beat. Maslinica also has a very special man made asset - its Baroque castle now transformed into an elegant deluxe hotel, Martinis Marchi, after painstaking renovations that have brought it back to its original splendour and design. Here the latest technology required for modern and luxurious living, blends tastefully with an important part of Šolta's heritage, and here you can dine in style on the best of local and international cuisine.

There are no settlements on the south side of Šolta - the rugged and heavily indented coastline, doesn't make it an inviting place to live or prosper. However it hides some of the best and most deserted beaches, ideally reached by boat, but also through the olive groves, on tracks which aren't too hard on car tyres.

On the north side lies Rogač, the main ferry port, linking Šolta to Split four times a day in the winter, and with at least six services in the summer, more on demand. As Šolta is under-rated as an island, so Rogač is under stated as one of its coastal settlements.

Rogač is also the home of one of the islands leading local entrepreneurs, Ivo Bezić, who appears to have the only accommodation suited and open for all year round visitors, Villa Solta (English pages to follow). Ivo also owns one of only two restaurants we found on the island that was open last week, the other being Konoba Picerija Gajeta at the head of the bay in Maslenica. Ivo's hotel and restaurant are a short walk up the hill as you head out of Rogač. The reasonably priced modern accommodation includes large bathrooms, underfloor heating and internet access, and there's ample parking. It sleeps up to 24 in total, in a variety of rooms and apartments of various sizes, but when asked about larger groups, Ivo maintains that he can accomodate any number of people through friends in the village and elsewhere on the island. He's also planning to add another floor to the hotel accommodation when time and finances permit. The restaurant serves up the best of ingredients in traditional Dalmatian style and has a similar menu to the other part of Ivo's empire, Konoba Saskinja in Maslenica which is only open in the summer (for now!). Ivo has also just about completed the renovation and refit of his traditional boat which will accomodate 40 people and has an engine capable of getting to Brač and Hvar in good time, just as easily as pootling around Šolta on a fish picnic.

Elsewhere on the north coast there's Nečujam, once just a bay that was home to Emperor Diocletian's fish pool, with a couple of houses including the island retreat of Marko Marulic, the father of Croatian literature. Now it's rather overshadowed by an out of character resort development, Tourist Village Necujam Centar, complete with outdoor swimming pools and disco bar, though there is a lovely unspoilt bay next door which is a favourite for a swim on fish picnic tours from Trogir. There's also a small private hotel, Sv Petar, towards the end of the east side of bay. Nothing was open during last week's visit.

Stomorska also has its charms - the long narrow bay hosts a number of wooden cruise ships waiting for summer action, and is ringed by pizzerias and konobas about to be made ready for this year's tourists. Meanwhile Gornja Krušica and Donja Krušica, at opposite ends of the island's north coast, provide the base for a number of summer houses, some for let, around small bays and are, no doubt, just biding their time until the secrets of Šolta are truly discovered.

For visitors that need to be entertained, Šolta is probably not the island for you, though the short distances to Trogir, Split, Hvar, Brač, and even Vis, make it an ideal retreat for a day of rest from partying. For those that really do want to discover the Mediterranean as it once was, and take a break from the pace of 21st century living, it's hard to beat. If they enjoy style, comfort and luxury as well, Martinis Marchi is the ideal base. For those on a tighter budget, there's maybe not a wide choice but it's there.

Visitors by boat can read more about nautical matters on sister site
Croatia Cruising Companion

Today's photo is a rather giddy view showing the ubiquitous Šolta stones and rocks being put to good use yet again - this time they are marking the path to the island of Vis.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Croatia Online - Šolta Island

We were lucky enough to have several good reasons to spend some time on Šolta island this week. Even luckier that the weather was brilliant. The downside is that Šolta takes several days to get to know though it's only an island of some 19 kilometres long. We did our best and will be "cold pressing" or "centrifuging" the latest news as soon as we can!
Today's photo is the view from west facing Maslenica - Alfred Hitchcock might turn in his grave!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Croatia Online - Omiš: Photogenic Croatia Explored

Omiš didn't even get a mention in yesterday's posting on Croatia's ability to provide a picture postcard shot on almost all occasions and in all locations. It's not really on the new breed of tourist's radar yet and that just about sums up how undiscovered Croatia still is.
Omiš is the champion of Croatia's traditional Klapa folk music; has the spectacular gorge of the Cetina River running behind it; boasts a history of courageous pirates battling on, in Robin Hood style, with great ingenuity and resourcefulness, in the face of adversity; and has plenty of historic hilltop fortifications, a great boutique hotel, Villa Dvor, good beaches and some of the best opportunities for river rafting.
The high street may be a little reminiscent of the tourism of yesteryear but you don't have to look to hard to find the real Omiš, and the combination of the two could make for that perfect great value Mediterranean break.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Croatia Online - Šibenik in Spring

A marvellous spring day has energised us into not one but three postings on Croatia Online and our sister site Croatia Cruising Companion. In fact its impossible not to find new things to write about here, especially in Dalmatia, and a day like today just invites exploration and photo taking; and demands that we share Croatia's highlights with readers.
This blog, and our sailing book, the Croatia Cruising Companion, is peppered with references to Croatia's photogenic coastal and island cities, towns and villages. That's before we even start to think about inland Croatia.
Šibenik has to be one of the most photogenic mainland coastal cities amongst very worthy competition including Zadar, Split and Trogir. When you start thinking about villages and islands, where do you stop?! Vrsar and Sucuraj on Hvar Island, Primosten, near Šibenik, Korčula, Vis?
Inland, Varazdin, and a number of spots in Inland Istria are hard to beat.
That's enough....! What started as a celebration of a spring day, has turned into a trawl through our thousands of photos and hundreds of blog postings to try to illustrate and reference readers to Croatia's bounty. A timely reminder that there are still hundreds of places that we've been to but haven't blogged yet.
Whilst you're waiting for Croatia Online to get it's act together, at least you'll find a comprehensive report, including photos charts and detailed information, for all Dalmatia's cities, towns, villages and bays that can be reached from the Adriatic, in our Croatia Cruising Companion. This last link is to the book on Amazon's site with apologies to readers for trying to make it easier for them to buy! All other links are to postings on our blogs.
Today's photo is, of course, of Šibenik.

Croatia Online - Krka Estuary, Zaton

Today was a lovely early spring day, which we used to full advantage to get updates for our Croatia Cruising Companion. That meant exploring a bit more of the Krka estuary and Krka National Park and revisiting the towns of Zaton and Rasline. You can read more about these two towns on Croatia Cruising Companion - Krka Estuary Revisited
Today's photo is of what looks to be a brand new hotel, almost ready to open, in Zaton.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Croatia Online - Šibenik For Fine Dining?

Things started looking up for international cuisine in Šibenik with the opening of Pelegrini a couple of years ago. Whilst Peperoncino can’t compete with Pelegrini on location it’s certainly looks poised to give it a run for its money on menu. It’s very good news for Šibenik and seems likely, once it settles into its stride, to attract diners from much further afield.

Croatia Online - Spring Is In The Air

Lucky for us that we've made some good friends that have helped us to identify the early signs of spring.
Behind the coast the Almond trees are blossoming and Secret Dalmatia can tell you a little more about them.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Croatia Online - Secret Dalmatia

Yesterday, we had the privilege of a day out with Alan Mandić, the visionary behind Secret Dalmatia. In the course of six short hours we realised just how much we had been missing during the six years we have already spent exploring Croatia.

"Undiscovered" is a word that has frequently been applied to Croatia over the years. Visitors to the more popular tourist resorts now may question the adjective, but you only have to go just a few kilometres inland to realise that the coastal resorts and islands are just the icing on a very special gourmet cake. We sampled just a very small slice of it yesterday but here are two of the flavours.

1. Nature
All of a sudden, the almond trees have come into full bloom and adorn the landscape with their pink and white blossoms. Just after the snows of February it's a welcome herald to the joys of springtime Croatia. That was just the prelude to some of nature's other magnificent displays. Down an unmarked track, we gained a superb view of Croatia's second highest waterfall. And not just one waterfall but a series of the Krka river's cascades leading to it. Up another track, we climbed steadily to find a parking area, café and other facilities (closed outside the season). We took a short stroll along a laid path and saw an unbeatable vista of Croatia's best islands; one after another, sprouting out of the Adriatic. Our vantage point was the recently organised viewpoint behind Lake Vrana and, after all the years of climbing up various hills to look at the view, we'd find this panorama hard to beat.
2. Ancient Cities and Historic Ruins
Tucked away inland, behind Biograd, are Ottoman inns, Roman cities and roads, Medieval ruins and traditional stone built houses, all in various stages of discovery and preservation. Most of them are up unsigned roads and tracks that you'd never find without a local expert. Once you get there, prepare to be amazed by the scale of the ruins, the range of archaelogical discoveries and the stories behind them. It needs an expert to describe them properly, and even if we had managed to find them on our own, we'd have only experienced 20% of what they have to offer.

It's not just the wealth of local knowledge and expertise that makes Secret Dalmatia so special. The business is founded on three simple commercial tenets - quality of service, reliability and value for money - Croatia does the rest, for those that really do know it well, and have a passion for showing it off at its best.

The tours are designed to provide something that you really won't be able to find on your own - the clue is in the name - and the organisation only works with tried and tested long term partners who hold the same principles. Unusually Secret Dalmatia doesn't look to exploit these relationships by taking hefty commissions, but does expect its clients to get the very best of service.

If you're looking for luxury, you'll get to stay in the best hotels and eat in the best restaurants. If you want your own, tailor made tour, then just let them know what you like. The itineraries on the website will give you a better idea of the wide range that's on offer - gastronomy, culinary and wine tours, for example. For a taster of more of the secrets, keep an eye on the Secret Dalmatia Blog. Did you know, for example, that Von Trapp, of Sound of Music fame, was born in Zadar?

Regular readers will know that Croatia Online is written for fun, without any commercial aims or interest. Secret Dalmatia features regularly in it because of the intensity and variety of experiences it offers to uncover Croatia, and for its enthusiam and dedication to sharing it with others. We've not come across anything quite like it, and are convinced it will still be sharing new secrets successfully, with visitors to Croatia, for many years to come.

Today's photo is a small part of the panorama of the islands from the Lake Vrana viewpoint. It seems that the only thing that Secret Dalmatia is unable to organise, is perfect lighting and sunshine at that very moment when you need it most! Even that's not a problem though, when they saw our original photo, they very kindly sent us a sunset shot of their own which does the view infinitely better justice.

Thanks to Alan Mandić for giving up his Saturday for a busman's holiday and providing such an enriching, diverse and enjoyable experience. Alan obviously has a continuing passion for learning about his homeland, and preserving the best of its history and culture for all to enjoy. Lucky for us that Alan's existing base of knowledge is leagues ahead of most of the rest of us!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Croatia Online - Unparalleled Diversity In Croatia

A short but hectic two weeks of travelling around Croatia has provided yet another opportunity to reflect on its diversity and appeal. Our last two weeks has encompassed the Zagreb Boat Show, a flying visit to London, and the Sajam Gast in Split - an exhibition devoted to Croatia's gastronomy.
The Zagreb boat show is a very well organised tribute to the importance of Croatia's nautical tourism - history, growth and prominence. Not only does Croatia have one of the best cruising grounds in the world, but also a very successful boat building industry.
The flying vist to London served as a brief reminder that whatever problems Croatia has, they are very small in comparison to elsewhere.
Split's "Sajam Gast" shows that Croatia is still very focused on its tourism industry and has a very strong interest in making quality count. A visit to the Osijek tourist board's stand is also a prime illustator of Croatia's diversity. Osijek lies close to the border with Hungary, and is continental rather than Mediterranean. It has a huge amount to offer and may suffer somewhat from Croatia's "branding" as the Mediterranean that once was.
Croatia really does have it all - the sooner it realises it, the quicker it breaks away from its comfort zone, and away from familiar ties and "politics", the easier it will be for everyone to do good business and succeed.
For the latest news on the diversity of Croatia "from the sea" please go to our sister site Croatia Cruising Companion

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Croatia Online - What Global Crisis?!

It was only a matter of time before the after shock of the west-led financial crisis hit Croatia. Though there's been a certain amount of anxiety since the more serious events unfolded, on the whole morale has been good till now. That seems about to change as the tourist season approaches - after a couple of bumper years, latest reports suggests bookings are 30% down. Now of all times is the moment for Croatians, particularly Dalmatians (most of whom have some interest in tourism), to keep their heads. Croatia has a lot going for it, it's still barely spring, and a bit of steel nerve, and a sensible strategy could reap huge rewards.
The UK newspapers are full of Croatia as a good value holiday destination. It's not in the Eurozone (but the Croatian kuna is strongly linked to the Euro), and it's just a two and a bit hour flight from the UK, with increasing numbers of low cost airlines choosing to provide routes. What's more there's a huge choice of destinations and a wide range of options to suit all budgets. OK, a new car or house might be shelved for a year or two but, in current times, people still need to cheer themselves up with a holiday, and in Croatia you can do it in style or on the cheap.
An article in the Sunday Mirror in January includes Croatia as one of the best budget breaks around and quotes the Post Office as saying it's one of the ten cheapest holiday destinations in the world. It's perhaps a little unfortunate that the new emphasis on value for money coincides with Croatia's focused drive to take its tourism offer upmarket. However the two are far from incompatible and the great thing about Croatia is there's something for everyone, if you know where to look and who to ask.
Top ten tips for budget travellers:
1. Avoid the already developed towns like Dubrovnik and Hvar - though they have plenty to recommend them, these two cities have largely gone for the upscale traveller and the cost of living can be 50% higher than neighbouring places.
2. Be flexible and open minded - you can have just as much fun in a small village, or perhaps inland by a river, than you might have in a developed resort.
3. Avoid the high season if you can.
4. Try going inland in Dalmatia - you're never that far away from the coast.
5. Go camping - Croatia has a good network of campsites - perhaps not the deluxe style that you'll get in France, for example, but it could be fun for a change.
6. Check out Slavonia - Osijek, Varaždin, Kopački rit, etc - it's a continental climate rather than a Mediterranean one, and can get very hot in the summer, but there's just as much to discover and it's fairly quiet as most of the inhabitants will be down on the coast.
7. Try a sailing holiday - if you weigh up the cost of accommodation and the other expenses of a land based holiday, and compare that to chartering a boat with a skipper, you might get a pleasant surprise, particularly if you can get together the right size of group. Or one of the wooden cruise ships.
8. Research carefully and shop around - a few phone calls could save you a fortune and you'll get a lot more information than you would by email.
9. Consider arriving on spec - you can drive a harder bargain if you stand outside an empty apartment to let with a wad of notes in your hand.
10. Make a local friend and find out where the best value restaurants and bars are.
Croatians have really only just come to terms with the resurgence of the country's popularity as a holiday destination and there are still just a few with their heads in the sand (or more accurately pebble). You will therefore find some very isolated cases of profiteering, but if you shop around they'll be quite easy to spot. On the whole, accomodation prices have remained quite stable over the last three years and several new apartments have been built which the owners will be anxious to fill. The long standing private tourist agencies are generally excellent and will help you find the right apartment for your budget as well as assisting with all your other needs.
Don't skimp on the summer cheer - you're money will go a long way in Croatia if you do your research properly.

Croatia Online - The Old Fashioned Joys Of Blogging

We started this blog on the 21st January 2006, for no other reason than to have a bit of fun and share our enjoyment of Croatia. At that time there wasn't too much relevant information on Croatia in the public domain and part of the joy of exploring "undiscovered Croatia" was getting feedback from people who enjoyed the blog for what it was worth.

It would be disingenuous of Croatia Online to say that it didn't take a certain amount of pride from the growth in hits and contacts derived from the blog. It's also flattering that a number of other, and subsequently much greater bloggers on Croatia, kindly claim to have taken a little bit of inspiration from Croatia Online. That's past history and good luck to them all.

Blogging and Croatia are both victims of their success. A blog is now seen as an essential part of many commercial websites and some blogs just seem to be a relatively skilful mix of keywords vying for that ever valuable google rating. Others just seem to provide daily regurgitations of news from other sites. Croatia however has mixed blessings from the fact that you can now uncover information on most things - yes it's more accessible but its less the undiscovered "Mediterranean as it once was".

Today's photo is courtesy of Val Tours, an early pioneer in service and information, and the leader on birdwatching in Croatia.