Thursday, July 16, 2009

Croatia Beaches And The Art of Picigin

Picigin Photo

Follow the game of Picigin and it will take you to some of Croatia’s best sandy beaches. As much an art form as a sport, it’s something like volleyball on water, but with a much smaller ball, and, at its best, in the style of a football player taking a spectacular professional dive. Though there’s much rivalry between areas, Split’s Bačvice beach is considered to be the true home of the game which is ideally played with five players and a “bald” tennis ball.

The object of Picigin is to keep the ball out of the water for as long as possible whilst batting it between players with the palm of either hand. Traditionally a non competitive sport, the artistry of the players is as important as keeping the ball dry. Hence a dazzling leap or dive to keep the balun on its journey will score well with the judges, as no doubt will plying them with a few drinks beforehand.

Bačvice makes a perfect Picigin stadium for two main reasons. Firstly its sandy, gently sloping, shallow beach allows optimum acrobatic performance whilst minimising the risk of injury - ideally, for speed and a cushioned fall, the water should be just above the ankles and well below the knees. Just as importantly it’s lined with a number of restaurants and bars so that players can strut their stuff to a relaxed and appreciative audience. Other beaches that also fit the bill include Sunj on Lopud island near Dubrovnik, Medulin, on the tip of the Istrian peninsula, Baška on the island of Krk and the banks of the Drava river in inland Osijek.

Non competitive it may be in its origins but Picigin is being taken increasingly seriously by its aficionados. Associations and competitions are growing up around it and the di(v)e hards insist on playing on New Year’s day. You can recognise seasoned and serious players off season by a distinctive limp caused by repeated big toe injuries and, in the summer, by the figure hugging speedos that are fast becoming the trademark uniform of the mostly young alpha males that are its chief exponents.

Related Postings And Links

Croatia Cruising Companion Front Cover – for a picture of Croatia’s most photogenic beach, Zlatni Rat, Bol, on Brač Island

Croatia Online - Croatia In August

Croatia Online - Beaches And Water Quality In Croatia

Picigin On Facebook – and thanks to them for today’s photo

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Child Friendly Hotels In Croatia

Croatia Online - Croatia For Children

Croatian children mostly thrive without the gadgets that seem essential for the amusement of their western European peers. A day on the beach provides all the fun kids need, and that’s how the family resorts and hotels have developed too – around beach activities. “Heritage” destinations, such as Dubrovnik and Hvar, tend to focus on upscale adult-orientated hotels, but the established resort destinations, with those long stretches of mostly pebble beaches, offer a staggering array of activities and facilities for all ages. You just have to accept the odd reminder of the package holiday era of old - the architecture for example.

The Borik area of Zadar provides some prime examples of child friendly hotels in Croatia. These are led in quality by Falkensteiner’s Club Funimation. This year, their Family Hotel Diadora, in the new Punta Skala resort in nearby Petrčane, with its adventure park and “Game Heaven”, could provide the ultimate in luxury family holidays. In Biograd, the Ilirija Group has achieved something similar, albeit on a smaller scale, with their three hotels and a vast, activity-packed, beach and woodland area which includes a large tennis centre and pool area. Olympia in Vodice and Azalea’s Zora in Primošten and are also good Dalmatian options, as is Blue Sun’s Hotel Elaphusa, in Bol on Brač, which has the advantage of one of Croatia’s best beaches on its doorstep.

Istria is perhaps the most established family resort destination in Croatia. In Poreč, Plava Laguna’s Hotel Laguna Park and Valamar’s Hotel Club Tamaris lead the way; in Rovinj it’s the Maistra group, particularly the Hotel Eden; and in Novigrad, Laguna Novigrad’s Hotel Maestral.

Most of the above offer modern four star facilities and organised activities for kids. On a tighter budget the options increase – the Solaris complex near Šibenik, for example, and a number along the Makarska Riviera and in Vrsar and Medulin in Istria. Wherever you go, it pays to check that the Children’s Clubs and activities are conducted in English rather than German or Italian. Also beware of confusing “family hotels” with “family run hotels” when doing your research. The latter is a government led initiative to encourage the development of small independent hotels. They may also be good for families, but not by definition.

This posting inspired us to consider the ins and outs of sailing Croatia for families and you can read about that on the Croatia Cruising Companion blog.

Meanwhile, below are links to some of Croatia’s best hotels for families with children of all ages. Croatia Online’s editor has visited most of them and just wishes she had a better excuse to try more of the facilities!

Falkensteiner, Borik near Zadar

Ilirija, Biograd

Azalea, Primosten

Olympia, Vodice

BlueSun, Brac

Plava Laguna, Istria

Valamar, Istria and Dubrovnik

Maistra, Istria

Laguna, Istria


Today’s photo shows some of the fun provided by Ilirija in Biograd.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Flights To Croatia – Latest News

Croatia Online - Plane

Peak season flight prices are a good indication of how tourism in standing up to global challenges so we thought now was  a good time for Croatia Online to discover the latest news on flights to Croatia. If nothing else, this posting has provided an ideal opportunity to provide comprehensive links to Croatia’s main airports and airlines in one concise posting, and we hope it will provide an easy source of reference to those looking for the most convenient cheap flights to Croatia.

First of all lets identify the main Croatian Airports and schedules by looking at the arrivals for today and the next few days:

Zagreb Airport is Croatia’s hub. If you can’t find a flight to the coastal town or city you want to get to then you’re pretty sure to get a connection, the same day, from Croatia’s inland capital Zagreb. International arrivals today, July 13th, at Zagreb include flights from Paris, Frankfurt, Brussels, Vienna, Prague, Bilbao, Budapest, Munich, Stuttgart, Skopje, Moscow, Rome, Istanbul, Sarajevo, Cologne, and London Heathrow. Most of them are Croatia Airways Flights but other airlines include Lufthansa, Malev and Air France though quite a few flights are “jointly operated” between Croatia Airlines and the local national carrier.

Dubrovnik Airport is the coastal airport that British Airways focuses on, having dabbled with Split for a while. Other international carriers include Iberia and Austrian Airways, and there are plenty of other operators flying in from around the world in an arrivals list almost as long as Zagreb’s. Competing with BA for UK traffic from Gatwick Airport is EasyJet, and Aer Lingus (EIN) has a flight in from Dublin.

Split Airport is arguably the most central of all Croatia’s airports but its cosy size provides limited room for expansion and that may be why its arrival list is shorter than the two above. Summer flights also tend to peak on Saturdays and Wednesdays to coincide with yacht charters and holiday deals, so maybe Monday is not an ideal day to pick. EasyJet and Croatia Airlines are the main operators of interest to UK travellers – see below.

Zadar Airport, further north and even “cosier” than Split, is coping admirably with the area’s increasing popularity. It’s Ryanair’s favourite Croatian Airport with regular flights from London Stansted, Edinburgh, Dublin and elsewhere.

Other Croatian Airports on the coast, with international flights,  include Pula (Thomson from Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham , and Ryanair from Stansted) and Rijeka (mostly servicing Germany but with an occasional Croatia Airlines flight from London), both in Istria. Brac and  Mali Losinj airport are both on islands and are really only suitable for smaller charter planes. For those that prefer the attractions of inland continental Croatia (best to visit off season, ie outside July and August),  Osijek is now on the map with Ryanair.

As an interesting comparative exercise we thought we’d have a look at prices and availability for flights from London to coastal Croatia for the following dates – out 27th July, back Sunday 9th August (peak season). The dates were picked at random and the only stipulations were to fly out from one of the London airports to one of Croatia’s coastal airports.  Where the option was available, we said we could be flexible within 3 days or so. Note that currently £1 sterling (GBP) is worth about 8.54 kunas (HRK) and €1 (EUR) about 7.3 kunas, according to the currency conversion site  Oanda. Here are some examples.

Croatia Airlines, Croatia’s national airline, fly to most of the major Croatian coastal airports from a number of international destinations direct, but also connects many more international destinations via Zagreb, flying passengers on with domestic flights to the coast. The search comes up with a grid of prices depending on the exact day of travel. If you are truly flexible on dates, you could get a flight for around 1,600 HRK, or if not, up to around 4,000 HRK. The range for Split was a little more expensive, as was Zadar which had a more limited choice of fights.

British Airways only fly to Dubrovnik (and inland Zagreb) and offer a price of £255 for these dates – a return a day earlier or later gives a price of £323.

Ryanair still have plenty of cheap flights to Croatia, mainly to the northern Dalmatian destination of Zadar.  A return flight on the above two dates will cost around £180 including the extras for checking in a case etc but if you are flexible you may well be able to fly more cheaply. Frustratingly, with low cost flights you often end up pay more in taxes and extras than you do on the flights themselves.

Easyjet's return fare for these dates is nearly £300 but their user friendly website shows alternative cheap fares in the peak summer months that could get you a fortnight for considerably less.

And Thomsons are advertising a number of cheap flights to Pula in Istria.


Above are the main carriers though there are scores of other charter companies and indirect options if you want to shop around. What the above research suggests is that its cheaper to fly to Croatia this summer, at relatively short notice, than it has been for a while. Let’s hope that the hotels are also equally competitive; certainly the sailing charter companies seem to be keen to compete for business – see sister site Croatia Cruising Companion (direct link below) for more information.


And finally, here are a few earlier postings that may be of interest, or if you have more time just browse the site for plenty of insider tips on Croatia, destination reports, news, useful information and events:

Croatia Online - Cost Of Living

Croatia Online - Croatia In August

Croatia Cruising Companion - Sailing Holidays In Croatia

Croatia Online - Croatia's Island Gems

Croatia Cruising Companion – Recommended Reading!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Labin, Istria – Visual Theatre Festival

Visual Theatre Festival Labin

Istria and Kvarner probably don’t get the space they deserve on Croatia Online. We know them well but being based in Dalmatia, we go there less frequently but for greater lengths of time - when we cover them it’s normally en bloc!

Readers with long memories will remember we spent Christmas 2006 in inland Istria. There are so many gems, here and on the coast, that it’s difficult to pick favourites, but Labin was one of them. It lies just inland from Rabac, which is on the east coast of the Istrian peninsula, looking over Kvarner Bay. Labin itself is a medieval town on top of a hill and has a colourful history. It’s a great place to visit all year round, but it comes alive in the summer festival period to become, what the Croatian Tourist Board describes as, the Labin Art Republic.

Most Croatian towns have a festival to offer in July and August but Labin’s is a little different in a number of ways, and one of the highlights is the Visual Theatre Festival. Natasha Stanic, a visual theatre artist herself, is the organiser and visionary behind the concept, and she told us a little more about it: “Visual Theatre Festival Labin hosts theatre works in which the visual aspect of theatre has been emphasized, and in which the body speaks as eloquently as the voice. Every year at the beginning of August, Labin's Old Town becomes the inspiration for artists to transform areas into numerous site-specific theatre spaces. Our vision was to create an event where visitors can indulge themselves in contemporary visual theatre performances in the magical atmosphere of the medieval town of Labin.”

This year the Visual Theatre Festival takes place on the 7th, 8th and 9th August and there should shortly be a dedicated website to tell you more about it. As soon as it’s ready we’ll let you know.

In the meantime, for more information on Labin and Rabac, follow this link to the Tourist Board Site, and for more information on the vast number of summer festivals around Croatia, and other events, click here.

Many thanks to Natasha Stanic for today’s photo taken at last year’s festival.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Croatia In August – 2009 Update

Croatia Online - Lavendar Bed Bar, Biograd

As Croatia heads towards its peak summer season it’s a good time to review what Croatia has to offer in August.

Croatia Online  last reported on Croatia in August back in  August 2006 and re-reading that posting it’s surprising how little has changed. Here’s our update for August 2009.

Mediterranean Weather
In 2006 we were already referring to global warming but that’s a factor all over the Mediterranean to a greater or lesser degree. What’s changed since 2006 is the ever increasing number of venues with air-conditioning, even though Croatians are expert at building accommodation aimed at keeping the August heat at bay. Like any other Mediterranean country you’ll get the odd thunder storm and rain in August and, on some days it will be very hot. However you’re never very far from the cooling waters of the Adriatic, and if you want even more cooling waters, head to the banks of one of Croatia’s rivers, the Krka or Cetina for example. For a complete change of scenery and temperature, head inland over the mountains, perhaps to Livno or Kupres in Hercegovina, for the cooler air of higher altitudes.

The Islands

Since our last posting, Croatia’s islands, islets and reefs have been scientifically recounted and the official tally is now 1,246 instead of 1,185. That’s a result of greater scientific precision, rather than any new eruptions, since the last proper count back in the 19th century. Architect Nikola Bašić responsible for Zadar’s innovative public space installations – Sea Organ and Greeting To The Sun – has a new venture, The 1246 Project, which aims to plant a commemorative plaque on each one. Whatever the official count, Croatia has an island for everyone in easy reach – whether its the glitz of Hvar, the variety of Brač, the olive groves of Šolta, the parties of Pag, the stunning wilderness of the Kornati Islands, or the special history of the time warp that is Vis. Check out the Croatia Cruising Companion for one of the most comprehensive sources of information on all of Dalmatia’s islands.

The Sea and Scenery

No change there - the scenery is still breathtaking and relatively unspoilt. Unlike Spain and other eastern European destinations Croatia has controlled building along the coast quite tightly and the sea remains as crystal clear as ever. You’ll just find a few more facilities now.


Cities like Split, where there was once a shortage of good hotel accommodation, has now rectified that with plenty of good quality new hotels. Once just viewed as the gateway to the islands, Split has finally come to terms with its incredible cultural heritage and is now showing it off to the max. In Split you can get the best of both worlds – cosmopolitan city just a short trip away from relaxing islands. Holiday Apartments  can still provide a good and lower budget alternative but the same rules apply as in 2006. Generally, there’s a vast choice to suit all budgets.

Cost Of Living

We’ve covered Croatia’s cost of living on a periodic basis, most recently Croatia Online - Cost Of Living Update June 2009. As with elsewhere, accommodation and flights can be at their most expensive in August but Croatia still competes favourably with the competition in most areas.

The Roads

A major improvement since 2006 is the opening of most of the coastal motorway. This year a couple of bottlenecks should clear as two long tunnels become dual instead of single carriageway. However you can still expect jams on the main holiday weekends as Italians, Austrians and Germans flock backwards and forwards on their August holidays, and Croatia’s city dwellers reclaim their summer homes. The Croatian Motorways site is the best place to look for possible problems and most radio stations have regular traffic reports in English in the high summer.

Other than that our earlier posting stands the test of time pretty well. August is, of course, a popular month for holidays, and the beaches and main tourist resorts can be crowded, but in Croatia you’ll always find the ideal place to escape to if you look hard enough. Today’s photo is a prime example – just a 5 minute walk away is a  long and buzzing beach area (including a sandy part as a change from pebbles) with pools, water sports, bars, restaurants and all the beach activities you could imagine. You can get away from all that for a cocktail and a bit of relaxation at the Lavender Bed Bar, pictured, part of  The Ilirija Hotel Group, Biograd.


Browse through our earlier postings to look for specific destinations and further information, or go to the Croatia Online Index Site for a more targeted search.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Croatia Online – Prime Minister Ivo Sanader Resigns

Ivo Sanader

Croatia Online tries to steer clear of politics as far as possible. However it was with a certain degree of amazement that we read of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader’s resignation yesterday. It seems that even those close to the Croatian political world have been taken by surprise and, so far, the reasons seems vague to all. Whilst we track down further information, we thought it might be useful to readers to provide a few links to sites we discover on the way. It is tempting to speculate on the whys and wherefores but, at this stage, pending further facts, perhaps we should leave that to the experts:-

BBC News comment that the announcement came as a surprise and Mr Sanader was expected to run for the presidency next year

Javno explore the possible future scenarios and, on this Javno link, speculate on some possible reasons

Vlada, the government site, provides a detailed biography of Mr Sanader as well as his program platform and duties, plus, if you’re Croatian is up to it you can watch a video of the resignation speech

The initial press reaction seems to be a certain degree of disbelief, not to mention some frustration at the lack of any reasons of substance, or clues as to the timing. All very mysterious!


The above post first went up yesterday morning 2.7.09. This update is made 3.7.09 at 5. 40 UK time

We are adding updates to this post by way of comments – see below – and hope readers will participate. In the meantime please note the following:

1. The Javno site is down, due to technical reasons, and expected to be fixed for Monday

2. Business New Europe has a good recent analysis as does the SE Times, where we felt obliged to open the comments!