Sunday, June 28, 2009

Croatia Online – Wimbledon And Tennis In Croatia


Crovis tennis, Return of Goran, 2001, Credit Fjodor Klarić

As Andrew Murray treads his, so far, very convincing path into the fourth round of the Wimbledon Championship, it’s sad to see Croatia’s Marin Čilić go out to Germany’s Tommy Haas in the third round, after a very close run contest that went to five sets. Croatia, however, still has Ivo Karlović to support who will play Spain’s Verdasco in the fourth round. If he wins that it seems likely that he will meet favourite Roger Federer in the quarter finals. And amazingly, the weather has been so consistently good that Wimbledon has survived a whole week without having to test its the new roof!

Enthralling though Wimbledon invariably is, perhaps there will never again be the huge excitement that captivated everyone who watched the 2001 Championship when Croatia’s Goran Ivanišević went down in history for being the first (and so far last) player ever to win a Grand Slam title on a wild card entry. His home club, Firule in Split, were in the process of printing a book to celebrate their fiftieth birthday. They took it off the printing presses and watched in anticipation, and some disbelief, as their hero powered his way right though the tournament to win that memorable final and the Championship.

Talk to any Croatian and they will remember Goran’s homecoming (pictured – copyright Fjodor Klerić) as if it was yesterday – his arrival in Bernie Ecclestone’s private jet, Formula 1, a huge flotilla of boats in Kaštela and Split Bays, 150,000 fans waiting on Split’s waterfront Riva, parachutists, fireworks, parties and a striptease from the champion himself. Quiz night enthusiasts may also be interested to know that, according to the Daily Express, Goran Ivanišević is the only Wimbledon champion whose name is a strict alternation of vowels and consonants.

When asked just how Croatia managed to produce so many world class tennis players from such a small population and lack of resources, the Croatian Tennis Federation’s Executive Director, Marina Mihelić came up with a simple answer – “we’re a talented nation in sports with balls.” Handball, football, basketball, water polo and, of course tennis, are just a few of the sports where Croatia punches well above its weight. According to the Split Tourist Board, commenting on the launch of a Sports Hall of Fame in early 2008, Split has the highest number of internationally successful sportsmen and women per capita in the world.

For those that want to incorporate tennis into their Croatian holiday, either as spectators or participators, there are plenty of good facilities, some of which are noted below:


The Croatia Open takes place in Umag each year on clay courts. Dates for 2009 are 27th July to 2nd Auguast. The players normally stay in the four star Sol Garden Istra but there’s plenty of other accommodation for spectators to choose from.

The PB Zagreb Indoors takes place in Januarry/February each year in the Dom Sportova, Zagreb.

Tennis Camps

JST Travel organise tennis camps in Umag and Poreč and offer a wide variety of other activities as well. The Umag holidays use the Umag tournament courts.

Sunshine World Croatia also offer camps in Umag with options ranging from individual lessons, through fun packages for kids and families, to the “Pro Package Luxury”.

Hotels With Tennis Facilities

Bluesun Hotels Elaphusa take advantage of the Zlatni Rat tennis centre on Bol, Brač, to offer a professional tennis school for adults and, for children, the Tennis Academy Mickey. The Zlatni Rat centre used to host a ladies international (WTA) championship and now stages the Bluesun Bol Ladies open in April each year. The centre has 25 clay courts including a show court accommodating 2000 spectators.

Ilirija Hotels occupy a vast area in Biograd, near Zadar, which includes three hotels, an open air swimming pool and beach bar, and a tennis complex with 14 floodlit clay courts, 6 hard courts, clubhouse, café and a resident professional.

Istraturist have four 4 star hotels in Umag, as well as a three and a two star. From these you can take advantage of the best tennis facilities in Croatia, available from the same courts that stage the annual Croatia Open and several other tournaments.


Link to Croatia Online - Boat Show Special for a picture of Goran Ivanišević at the Croatia Boat Show in Split

Link to Croatia Cruising Companion - Rowing News for the latest Croatian achievements in nautical sports


And finally…, we note that the Daily Mirror Survey last week voted Goran Ivanišević the tenth sexiest male player of all time. Croatian readers should try and understand the Mirror’s target audience and editorial policy when analysing the significance of this and how three UK tennis players – Murray, Henman and Rudsedski – made it higher on the list. Dalmatians don’t have the prerogative on sporting nationalism. Croatia Online’s editor would also like to know how Bjorn Borg managed to get a place and Ilie Nastase didn’t!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Croatia Online – Cost Of Living Update

_Eurasian griffon

The Eurasian Griffon Vulture, pictured,  has his own cost of living equation, no doubt. Lucky for him that the Protection Centre in Cres has given him a few more options in recent years. For us humans, the cost of living is traditionally measured in monetary terms.

We’ve reported quite regularly on the cost of living in Croatia and our last detailed posting on this -  Croatia Online Cost Of Living Update - July 2007 – seems remarkably up to date on everything except exchange rates.

Whilst in July 2007, £1 sterling was worth about 10.4 kunas, now it’s about 8.6 kunas and that’s had a serious impact for those relying on GBP earnings to finance their holidays or life in Croatia. It’s not entirely surprising to see that the Euro exchange rate for kunas has hardly wavered through the global economic storms. Those, including occasionally ourselves,  promoting the myth that Croatia is outside the Euro Zone, would do well to study Croatian economic policy in this respect and the actuality of how closely the kuna follows the Euro. Yes, Croatia is theoretically outside the Euro Zone, but it has long had the sense to link its currency to another one more “stable”  than our pound.

For American  citizens, $1 (one dollar) is worth about 5.2 Croatian kunas so $2 will buy just over a half pint of beer (mala piva) or a cappuccino.

Macro economics aside, the cost of living in Croatia continues to be competitive, what ever that means in current global speak!.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Croatia Online – Peka or Dalmatian Sunday Roast Dinner

Etnoland Peka 2

When Dalmatian mothers discovered their city cousins using ovens, cooking “ispod peke” became the country version of baking meat, and the successor to boiling food or roasting it on the spit. The age of electricity came relatively late to rural Croatia, but still the popularity of this cooking method survives. In winter, traditionally, the wood fire would be prepared on a stone slab in the most multifunctional area of the house – the place to get warm over a chat – and above the fire would be an array of meats in the course of being smoked. Chickens and turkeys were early peka favourites but, with the advent of refrigeration and the first butchers, small cuts of lamb and veal were added to the repertoire. Cooking “ispod peke is also credited as being the first appetising Dalmatian way of cooking octopus.

Polite but knowing smiles will greet you when you ask for the secret of a good peka – everyone has their own tips and special ingredients. Know thy peka also applies to the dome under which the meat is cooked. The fragile clay pekas were eventually replaced, in the early 20th century, with more robust iron ones, and no two produce quite the same result. The distinctive succulent meat, delicious potatoes and all round juicy flavours are unique to this type of cooking and every bit as special as our English Sunday Roast dinners.

Once the wood has turned into burning ashes on the hot stone slab, the iron bell is covered with the ashes and the contents start cooking at a temperature of around 230 degrees centigrade, “cooling” to about 170 degrees when cooked. There are endless discussions about whether to turn the meat and when. The practicalities are that, with so many factors having an input into the cooking temperature, you can never be sure exactly when it will be perfect. Having a peak inside the peka about 20 minutes before time gives the opportunity to reassess the situation and perhaps turn the meat at the same time.

Peka dishes are a feature in many restaurants throughout Croatia but generally only available if pre ordered, and for at least 4 people.


Thanks to Etnoland (see previous posting) for today’s photo and helping us out with some little known facts.


Peka and Peke? – an example of Croatian grammar. Ispod means under and is followed by a noun in the genitive case. Peka is feminine and the genitive ending of a feminine noun is e.

Pekas? - an English translation abomination; the “true” Croatian plural is peke!


As a PS to this blog, we’ve since noticed  a very interesting article on Secret Dalmatia’s blog about the peka cooking utensil itself and the traditions of blacksmiths in Croatia – follow this link to find out more  Secret Dalmatia - Blacksmith and Peka Traditions

Croatia Online – Smoking In Croatia

Etnoland Peka

We last reported on smoking in Croatia back in July 2006, when political correctness in this respect was a very foreign concept. So much so, in fact, that the inspiration for the Croatia Online July 2006 posting  was a new “sailing edition” of one of the most popular brands, Ronhill. Now the inevitable has finally arrived in Croatia – smoking indoors in public areas was banned in May 2009 in the hope that spending summer outdoors would give Croatians time to adjust before the colder weather.

Unlike the rest of Europe, Croatians, especially Dalmatians, weren’t really prepared for this – it’s been tried before, somewhat half heartedly, and the Dalmatians don’t take too kindly about being told what to do in this respect. This time, however, it seems the authorities are serious – the fines are heavy and we understand that the ban is being enforced reasonably vigorously.

Café and restaurant owners are protesting vociferously about the effect on business, already suffering from the world recession, but it looks like the ban is here to stay. In a country where cigarette smoking is still the norm, rather than the exception, and where a packet of 20 still costs under £2, it will be interesting to see how the locals adjust.

The government did consider seriously upping the price of cigarettes but with so many open borders with Bosnia and Hercegovina, where cigarettes are even cheaper, that would have been a shot in the treasury foot. Stricter border controls are a key feature of EU  accession, for when Croatia becomes “frontline” to non EU countries, and no doubt this will also affect the price of cigarettes.


Today’s photo shows smoking of a different sort. In the smoking room of Etnoland's Dalmatian village, our friends, Joško and Mičko, taught us the secret arts of Peka (cooking under a bell immersed in embers) and we’ll be giving you some more information on that in our next posting.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Croatia Online – Croatia’s Best Kept Secrets


Friends, relatives and readers often ask us how best to spend a week or two in Croatia – where to go, what to do, what to see….

That’s probably the toughest question we get – the more we find out about Croatia the more we discover “must see” places and activities, and the more we feel that the honest answer is that a week is just not long enough. However most people don’t have our luck at being able to explore Croatia all year round so here are a few insights into how to find Croatia’s best kept secrets.

1. Explore Coastal Croatia From The Sea 

As you’ll see from the sister site, accompanying our book, the Croatia Cruising Companion, coastal Croatia is designed to be explored from the sea. Charter holidays are more accessible and affordable than many people think, and cater for novice sailors as well as experts, so if you have the luxury of a two week holiday, why not make one of them a charter – see Croatia For All Sailors for more information, and Town Ports and Harbours In Croatia for some special places to go. The best months for sailing Croatia are May, June and September though you may find the sea a little fresh in May. July and August are the most popular months for obvious reasons but that comes with higher marina prices, more traffic and the need to find your overnight berth earlier in the day to be sure of a space.

2. Find A Theme

A hobby or theme will give you a reason to explore off the beaten track and find the real Croatia. Our last posting was on the subject of bird watching, another activity for which Croatia is just waiting to be discovered. Other areas where Croatia excels include wine making, olive oil, gastronomy, culture and history, fishing, rafting, folk music, and film festivals. The list is huge and there are just a few agencies that can put together the best that Croatia has to offer in many areas. Secret Dalmatia is one of them and if you have a look at their blog, you’ll find many more Croatian Secrets.

3. Don’t Try To “Do” All Of Croatia In A Short Space Of Time

The real joy of Croatia comes from the quality, rather than the quantity. If you have a short space of time then focus on a relatively small area. Visit the nearest big city and absorb all the culture and history, find one of the many National Parks and explore all that it has to offer, go inland and observe the difference in cultures and more unspoilt nature, find a local wine producer and try out his vintages, visit a local olive grove, take part in the summer festivals, and hop on a ferry to a nearby island. There’s a huge variety of things to do and see in easy reach of most of the main cities and if you choose you’re base wisely, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll also get a much better deal on accommodation if you choose just one base for the whole week.

4.  Try A Specialist Tour

Fortunately, for western Europeans, en masse coach trips are a thing of the past. Now it’s small high quality tours. We’ve mentioned Secret Dalmatia above, and it’s through them that we have discovered far more of Croatia’s Secrets than we would have found on our own – spectacular viewing points, amazing caves, Roman ruins, wine tasting trips, etc. If you know what you want but don’t know where to find it, then a high quality local agency will open doors for you that might otherwise remain closed. The best experiences are often the best value ones too – what could be better than dining on home produced food and wine, in the company of Dalmatians that can tell you more about Croatia in an evening than you might otherwise learn in a year?

5. Learn A Little Croatian

You don’t NEED to, as almost everyone speaks good English, but you will find a little effort goes a long way with the locals. It is quite a hard language to learn properly, mostly because of the grammar, but phonetically it’s pretty easy – pronunciation is consistent and the alphabet is almost the same. Mastering a few basic phrases isn’t too hard and you just need to be aware that any letters with an accent on have a soft pronunciation. For example, Brač is pronounced Bratch and Šibenik is pronounced Shibenik. Follow this link for an online phrase book - Croatian Language School

6. Prepare

Do a little homework and you will get much more out of your trip. There are a number of good websites around and plenty of guide books, though we’d recommend Time Out’s Visitors’ Guide To Croatia as being the best value for money  - it’s produced annually and focuses on features and reviews produced by contributors who live locally and are therefore “tapped into” the latest news events and trends. For sailors, of course, we’d recommend the Croatia Cruising Companion and would also humbly point out that for those that want to visit the smaller and less known islands by ferry, it’s hard to find another source that covers all the Dalmatian islands so comprehensively.


And, to illustrate the type of secrets waiting to be shared, here’s an example of what an apparently lesser known destination, Sibenik, pictured, has to offer alongside its fascinating and compact historic town centre.

A UNESCO protected Cathedral

Croatia’s only falconry centre a ten minute drive away Croatia Online - Falconry Centre Makes World News

A variety of unspoilt islands

The Krka National Park, about twenty minutes drive away

Dalmatia’s first discovery park, Etnoland (and the website doesn’t do it justice!), about half an hour’s drive away

Bibich Winery, a local wine producer who has been exporting wines to the US successfully for a number of years

A new shopping centre

Two fine dining restaurants – Pelegrini and Peperoncino – as well as a number of good traditional Dalmatian konobas

Castles, Roman ruins, canyons, ……..

The one thing Šibenik doesn’t offer as yet is a good, city centre, hotel. Perhaps the best options are in the neighbouring tourist town of Vodice or next door  Tribunj, a lovely fishing village with a high class marina

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Croatia Online – For Undiscovered Croatia, Follow The Birds

Rock Partridge copyright Val Tours

Croatia has been hailed as “undiscovered” and the “Mediterranean as it once was” for many years now. Those that visit Dubrovnik when there are five cruise ships in town, or Hvar in party season, may feel they have been misled. However there are still many great destinations, along the coast and on the islands, that haven’t fully hit the tourist radar yet, and even more spectacularly beautiful parts of the countryside lying just a little inland. What better judge of the word “undiscovered” than the world’s rarer birds?

We were lucky enough to get the job of researching and writing about bird watching in Croatia, for Time Out’s first feature on the subject, see posting below. However we did promise Croatia Online’s readers a few more details on it, back in February in Croatia Online - Croatia's Natural Splendour, so here they are.

Croatia is truly undiscovered for bird watching and yet, like in so many other activities, it probably has more to offer than some of the more established destinations. There are four distinct habitats - Continental, Pannonian, Alpine and Mediterranean. That provides for a vast diversity of species and an abundance of those species which may be rare in other parts of the world.

Eastern European birding expert, Gerard Gorman, author of “Birding in Eastern Europe” (2006, Wildsounds) is also a guide for tours in Croatia (Probirder). He told us us that Croatia has “arguably the most varied range of landscapes of all [11] countries in this book…and a huge diversity of avifauna [birds]” and believes the Rock Partridge to be one of Croatia’s best assets - “there aren't that many countries where it is common and easy to find.” He adds that Croatia has good numbers of several tempting species such as the Pallid Swift, Olive Tree Warbler, and Black Headed Bunting, and a number of species rare in the region such as the Yelkouin Shearwater and Cory.

But Croatia isn’t just a country waiting to be discovered by serious twitchers: it’s the ideal place for beginners and nature enthusiasts to chill out. We spent a day with Robert Crnković of Val Tours and Robert knows just where to go (and where not to go) to discover the best of Croatia’s natural splendour and wildlife. There’s much more to a bird watching trip in Croatia than sighting a few birds, nests and habitats. On our short trip we discovered spectacular waterfalls, the source of the river Cetina, a 9th Century church, a 19th century Napoleonic bridge, marshlands, castles and remote villages.

An alternative to an arranged birding tour is to visit one of the Nature Parks or protected areas which often have their own birding experts. The wetlands of Kopački Rit are a favourite, as is Lake Vrana, near Biograd. The island of Cres is another, special for its diverse terrain and for the Eurasian Griffon Vulture, one of Europe’s most endangered birds. Dr Goran Sušić has been fighting its cause for over 25 years and established a Special Ornithological Reserve on Cres in 1993. The centre encourages eco tourism and now has bird watching tours. Dr Sušić, founder of the Reserve, maintains that they can virtually guarantee sightings of tempting finds such as Golden Eagles, Short-toed Eagles and, of course, the Griffon Vulture.

Below are details of a few specialised trips though most offer a range of activities to suit beginners and professionals alike.

Val Tours, Biograd have a one week bird watching itinerary for €790 excluding flights but including everything else –3 star hotels, all meals, entrance tickets to national parks, airport transfers, professional guide, and all local travel arrangements. These tours are for between 4 and 8 people but they will organise shorter trips, or tailor made tours for 1 to 8 people, beginner to professional, on request.

Kopacki Rit Nature Park organise 6 or 12 hour trips for a maximum of 15 people in a group. Book in advance - the cost is 310kn or 610kn and includes guide, transport (boat and all terrain vehicles) and entry fee. Groups are divided into three categories of birdwatchers – recreational, amateur or professional.

Eko-centre Caput Insulae Bell, Cres  organise 7 day tours, from April to October. The cost of €700 per person includes accommodation at the Griffon Vulture centre in wooden huts, fitted out to high standards, as well as all boat and car transport, meals, and guide. Groups are limited to a maximum of 12 people.

Falco Tours, Split provide a range of kayak and canoe trips focused on birds. The short “Around Trogir” trip is designed for beginners, costs €34, and takes in the Pantan Marsh Reserve; or you can canoe the Drava River for 12 days at a cost of €1,300.


Thanks again to Val Tours for the photos – yesterday’s posting featured Pygmy Cormorants; today it’s a Rock Partridge.


For those of you who prefer to watch the birds from the sea, have a look at sister site Croatia Cruising Companion, for details of sailing holidays in Croatia, for beginners and experts alike.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Croatia Online – Blogging Technicalities

X-P.pygme.D.Tome c

You may have noticed a slightly different look to the photo in our last posting. We’d like to think that when we did our first Croatia Online posting back in January 2006 we were reasonably ahead of the blogging and IT game. However things continue to change very quickly and, after a recent course on something entirely different, we decided to take some time out from blogging itself and invest it in better technology. So we downloaded the new version (8) of Internet Explorer and discovered we could no longer paste into our blogger posts – calamity!

Technicalities aside, we ventured onto the blogger help forum with some trepidation, sure that it was a silly question we were asking amongst a peer group much more technically up to date than ourselves. It wasn’t, they were, and the problem has been resolved, or at least we have found a way of working round it. Not just that, the “work around” is a fantastic discovery that makes many aspects of blogging on blogger a whole lot easier.

The solution? Windows Live Writer, with a little help from our friends at Blogger Help. That means we’re back to serious blogging with a vengeance and readers can expect ever better presented posts to accompany what we hope is the continuing high quality of Croatia Online's content, and that of its sister site The Croatia Cruising Companion


Today’s photo is courtesy of Val Tours, Croatia, who offer a range of activities. Val Tours were a great help when we wrote a feature for Time Out Croatia on birdwatching, and we chose this photo for today’s posting as we felt a little like the pygmy cormorant on the right until blogger help came to the rescue!

Croatia Online – Croatia Takes Tourism To The Travellers

Solt view of Vis

Anyone who doubted that Croatia takes its tourism industry very seriously indeed, need only look at the tourist board's new website. Mindful of the effects of the world recession and the continuing impact that could have on this year's tourist figures, the Croatian National Tourist Board is inviting help from existing aficionados. This is direct online marketing taken to a higher and quite ingenious level.

Why not win a holiday by inviting all your friends onto a website where they can complete a fun personality test and get some holiday suggestions tailor made for their preferences? And how do they get invited? You fill in the personality test and send them a postcard of some of your ideal places. Those that get the most number of email contacts onto the site can win a holiday. Those that don't quite make the holiday can, at least, take comfort in the fact that they have introduced a few more travellers to the delights of Croatia and helped sustain this year's tourism. It's clever stuff - a high quality mailing list of potential holiday makers automatically directed to the site where they can buy! And it all seems very well protected in terms of data collection and use.

Nonetheless, we're very protective towards our friends and contacts so won't be taking part in the competition, although we did do the personality test! Instead, we thought we'd do our bit for Croatia's tourism by spreading the word on Croatia Online. So head off to Welcome To Croatia for a number of ways in which you can discover more about Croatia and help others to do so too, including perhaps, a video on You Tube?

The Croatian Tourist Board Website will help you find a place in Croatia that suits you but if you are looking for some holidays and activities with a difference why not look at some of our earlier postings:

Croatia Online - Nature and Ancient Cities With Secret Dalmatia

Croatia Online - Falconry In Croatia

Croatia Online - Olive Oil Tour on Solta

Croatia Online - Caving In Croatia

This post has been 48 hours in the writing due to some interesting blogging discoveries which we will be reporting on soon!


Today’s posting shows the path to the island of Vis from Šolta Island.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Croatia Online - Top 20 Island Gems, Guardian

Croatia is so full of island gems that the only surprise in today's article in the Guardian is that it only features two in its top 20 - Lopud, near Dubrovnik, and Sv Klement, near Hvar, both very deserving but it must have been a hard selection. Certainly Šolta is a very strong contender with its fabulous castle, Martinis Marchi, now tastefully refurbished into a luxury hotel. See Croatia Online - Solta for the start of a series of postings on this, so far, almost completely undiscovered island just a 40 minute ferry ride from Split.
In fact, with over 1,000 islands, islets and rocks to choose from, picking a top 20 just for Croatia is a challenge, let alone deciding which ones to incorporate in a more global context. Back in 2007, US magazine Travel and Leisure got round the selection problem by including the whole of the Dalmatian Islands at number seven in their World's Top Ten Island Destinations and you can read more about that by linking to Croatia Online - Dalmatian Islands In World Top Ten.
Of course the best way to discover Dalmatia's island gems is to sail around the Adriatic and what better resource than the Croatia Cruising Companion to help you find them. As far as we are aware it's the only book that covers every island in Dalmatia, onshore as well as at sea, so apart from being an indispensable navigational aid, it's a mine of information for those that want to island hop by ferry as well. And at just £17.49 from Amazon, for a full colour hardback, it's pretty good value too.
For the full story from The Guardian follow this link.
For a taster of some of the other island gems check out the following postings:
Today's photo is across the courtyard and swimming pool of hotel Martinis Marchi on Šolta. The tower in the centre of the picture contains just one luxury guest suite stretching over five floors!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Croatia Online - Time Out On Birds

Time Out's new Visitors' Guide To Croatia has now been out for a month and is featured regularly in the UK press. We were again delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the magazine in a number of areas and have now had the time to have a good read. Setting aside any personal involvement, it's difficult to think of any publication that provides such up to date insight into what makes Croatia tick, and such comprehensive travel and visitors information.

We've already reported on the nautical feature on sister site Croatia Cruising Companion but we're particularly pleased that Time Out chose to publish the full text of a bird watching feature we wrote for them. Like so many aspects of Croatia, it's completely undiscovered for bird watching yet has one of the most diverse landscapes in Eastern Europe and several species of tempting birds. That and the beautiful unspoilt scenery means it's a potential twitchers paradise without the crowds. Even for beginners like us, the birdwatching theme provides an ideal excuse to explore Croatia's natural splendour at its best.

Croatia Online - Croatian Culture

Just to complete our trilogy of recent postings on Croatian culture, assisted by the Croatian Embassy in London, here's a book that may help you understand Croatia a little better. Unfortunately, this time, we were unable to attend the presentation at the Croatian Embassy last month, but have heard plenty of good things about it. Follow this link to see what Marcus Tanner had to say about it on the very informative website Balkan Insight