Mark Thomas - The editor and big chief of The Dubrovnik Times. Born in the UK he has been living and working in Dubrovnik since 1998, yes he is one of the rare “old hands.” A unique insight into both British and Croatian life and culture, Mark is often known as just “Englez” or Englishman. He is a traveller, a current affairs freak and a huge AFC Wimbledon fan.
The renowned British newspaper, The Telegraph, has included Dubrovnik on a list of the top ten European city breaks for 2016. Great Britain is the most important market for the Dubrovnik travel industry, so this article released at a time of the year when the Brits think about booking their summer holidays will help make 2016 another bumper tourism year.
There are some very popular and familiar city break destinations in the top ten: Venice, Paris, Amsterdam, Florence, Barcelona, Berlin, Istanbul and London. The inclusion of Dubrovnik on such a prestigious directory will boost the number of British tourists travelling to the city.
“Dubrovnik is one of the world’s most magnificent walled cities,” opens the article. Adding that “now a UNESCO world heritage site and Croatia’s most up-market destination, it was once the capital of the wealthy sea-faring Republic of Ragusa.”
Read the full article here
The Polish airline LOT will reintroduce direct flights from Warsaw to Zagreb on January 2, the company’s representatives said in Zagreb on Friday.
LOT suspended its Warsaw-Zagreb flight service in early June this year due to so-called compensation measures applied by the Polish airline during the process of its restructuring. Now that the restructuring process has been finished, the company can again re-introduce flight services. As of the beginning of next year, LOT will also reintroduce flights to Belgrade. As of March, its planes will fly to Ljubljana as well, LOT regional manager Jolanta Grala-Bednarcik said at a news conference at the Polish Embassy in Zagreb.
The price of a return ticket from Zagreb to Warsaw will range from EUR 79 to 139, depending on the baggage. By the end of next March, LOT planes will fly to Zagreb four times a week, after which daily flights are planned, notably during the summer season.
LOT is an entirely state-owned company and its privatisation is not planned for now, it was said at the news conference.
Looking for a spot in the sun to retire to why not try Croatia, according to the renowned publication Forbes magazine the Adriatic country should be high on your list.
In an article entitled “20 Best Foreign Retirement Havens For 2015,” the American magazine has included Croatia, as well as France, Australia, Spain and Thailand. The article, which is aimed at Americans, takes several factors into account when judging which the best countries to spend your retirement are.
Cost of living, taxes, climate, security and crime, cultural attractions and hospitality are some of the guidelines which Forbes used to compile the top twenty list. The top of the list is Australia, followed by Belize and Canada in third position. Croatia is placed in eighth position on the list, with the article starting “on the Adriatic Sea, Croatia contains beautiful scenery, a good climate, ancient cultures, a low cost of living and tax breaks for retirees. The country clearly has put behind itself a 1990s civil war.” It goes on to add that Dubrovnik is one of the highlights of the country. This year the number of American tourists in Dubrovnik increased drastically on recent years.
In fact American tourists were the second most numerous, in terms of nationality, in the city in 2015. One of the reasons for this increase is undoubtedly the popular HBO series Game of Thrones, which uses Dubrovnik as a location. Forbes mentions that the lack of direct flights from the US to Croatia was the only negative point.
When it comes to horoscopes I am, to say the least sceptical. As the great Arthur C. Clarke said, who was the same star sign as me, “I don't believe in astrology; I'm a Sagittarius and we're sceptical.” To me they tend to be more horror than scope! The generalisation they use is so wide that you can’t help but find your own answers inside. If you throw enough arrows into the air you are bound to hit someone. Astrology, though discredited for centuries, still remains wildly popular. Scarcely does a day go by when we're not told of how our astrological sign is supposed to govern our behaviour or predetermine the day's events. Yet no explanation has ever been given — nor is one forthcoming — that can adequately explain the mechanism for which the alignment of the planets can influence our psychologies or the unfolding of the universe.
And yet you can’t open any women’s magazine, website or glossy publication without bumping into a menu of your day. “Today you will meet a stranger who will present you with a gift.” Now that could mean that you’ll meet the love of your life or a parking warden who’ll give you a parking ticket. Both are strangers bearing gifts!
So with my mountain of disbelief and mistrust I was asked the other day “what is your date of birth?” Maybe if you were asked by a policeman or doctor this would be a normal question. But when a colleague asks you I started to wonder whether she was just interested in tasting my birthday cake. She followed up with “and the exact time and place of your birth.” Obviously I didn’t have my watch on when I was born, and to be honest was a little distressed at the time to turn on my GPS. Collecting all the info from my mother who added, “you took your time to come out so I can clearly remember when the pain ended,” I passed the data onto my colleague who excitedly punched her keyboard. After a few seconds a scream was heard...”I don’t believe it.” She was using some complicated horoscope predictor online and had entered all my details, something that I definitely wouldn’t have done myself.
“Come and look,” she waved at me. The first line read - He is independent, has a taste for travel and freedom – Again I wasn’t convinced, let’s be honest this could apply to millions. She read on and like an Agatha Christie novel the mystery unfolded. - Likes to throw himself into the unknown and into adventure – Now I was starting to sound like Robinson Crusoe. And then boom! - He likes foreigners or he can find love abroad – The arrows had been thrown into the air but this time they had hit the bull’s-eye. I wasn’t just filtering out the cream from the sea of milk, every line was spot on. I started to become suspicious, maybe my colleague was playing a trick on me, it wouldn’t be the first time. - He looks for affection, love far from the family circle or from the native country – line for line was as if it was written for me.
Enough of the positive points, maybe the negative ones were further from the bull’s-eye. - Unable to stay in one place, is always ready to risk everything to achieve his goal – blimey even the negative points were close to the mark. I was getting the feeling that my great-great-great-great grandfather was Christopher Columbus; I have the blood of a traveller and explorer running through my veins. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that Mr. Polo and I shared the same first name. - Free spirit that likes adventure and will leap into hazardous and risky affairs – Was there more to horoscopes than meets the eye? She then started to get a little bit too technical. “There are twelve houses inside each star sign,” she started drawing a graph. “Twelve houses...there are less houses in Brašina than in my star sign,” I thought. Together with all the data from the twelve houses my Birth Chart was now nine pages long. Agatha Christie would have been proud!
Even the houses were correct - He is gifted for languages and it is even more interesting for him to live abroad – said house number IX. The moon in IX, whatever that means, read - Highly imaginative. Professionally successful abroad, or in import-export or as a diplomat. Contact with foreigners. Long journeys. Ability to learn foreign languages – forget Agatha this was rapidly turning into the Twilight Zone. I wasn’t about to throw myself on the floor and scream “I believe,” but it was getting a little bizarre. - He is a worker and has lots of energy – hmmm, suspicion comes back. Now it could be that she just got lucky with my horoscope, don’t forget even a blind squirrel finds a hazelnut once. Or it could be that Martin Luther King was right when he said “only in the darkness can you see the stars.” This could be a case for Mulder and Scully!
I knew it, I just knew it. I had had the same conversation countless times before. I was just waiting to jump in to his speech, stop him, and tell him I knew where he was going. We were sitting in the sunshine of a warm summer’s afternoon in Cavtat. An idyllic scene, the sea whispering its song, the crickets forming the percussion, it felt like all was right with the world. And then the conversation started. “We bought this property and few years ago and we have had one or two problems,” said the Englishman sitting opposite me. I gave a wry smile.
I would have been more surprised if he had said, “we bought this property a few years ago and have had absolutely no problems.” I wanted to stop him in midflight, but he was keen to expand on his misfortune. “It turns out that the estate agent misled me when he quite firmly claimed that there was only one owner of the property,” his face became sterner. Oh what a surprise, I thought to myself, trying to look as if this was new to me. “And now we are having problems convincing all the owners to sign off the property to us,” he looked in despair.
It turned out, as if often the case, that this particular case had been going on for years and years. He continued to explain the nightmare of being screwed by every person he had come across, it was a miserable journey. This was a familiar story for me. I had already guessed that the property was probably owned by 16 people, 4 of which now lived in Canada, another 4 had died and the remaining 4 didn’t speak to each other. Trying to match all the pieces of the puzzle, well it would be easier to refloat the Titanic. Lawyers make a good living from this; you could argue that lawyers always win at some point.
A local once told me that you’ll meet your extended families in Dubrovnik three times in your lifetime, once at your birth, once at your wedding and the last time in court. Of course this last time in court means to fight over real estate that has been handed down through generations. And then the circle of life starts all over again. “I really don’t know what to do, it seems so unfair,” he continued swigging his coffee, “and I paid in cash.” Ah, another mistake. If you owe the bank 100 Euros, that's your problem. If you owe the bank 300,000 Euros, that's the bank's problem.
Sometimes in this area of Europe diplomacy isn’t the answer. There is a time to talk and there is a time to bare your teeth and growl like a wolf. It is just the law of the land. If you don’t stand up, puff out your chest and slam your fist on the table you will be treated as a doormat, with everyone wiping their dirty feet on you. These were roughly the words I explained to him but in a kinder way.
“You need to realise where you are and that sometimes actions speak louder than words,” was roughly what I said. This was not a world that he was used to, alien in every way. Everything looks picture perfect when you are here on holiday. And many people get sucked into the Mediterranean lifestyle, it is a sunshine drug, and it is extremely addictive. But entering the murky world of real estate here can chew you up and spit you out.
To be fair things have got better, let’s be honest they couldn’t get any worse. When Dubrovnik was a boom destination for foreign buyers, before the whole world collapsed financially, most “so called” estate agents, had a car and a mobile phone...that was it. Those darker days are gone but the scars, as I could see from the man in front of me, are still evident.
“What would be your advice now,” he said desperately. It was too late for him to run away as fast as he could, so the only answer was to stand and fight. “You will probably need to take another large loan from the bank,” I answered. “What for,” he said with a look of puzzlement. “To pay your lawyer, or maybe I should say lawyers,” was the answer he didn’t want to hear. “What a mess, if I had only known I wouldn’t have started,” was his conclusion.
Buying property in Dubrovnik has a similarity with getting married. If you marry someone you do not know well, or decide to marry someone without first carefully considering what you are doing, you will probably regret it for a long time. Or as the English say, “marry in haste, repent at leisure.” My coffee partner will now have the rest of his life to repent.
Dubrovnik will be connected with another low-cost airline in 2016. The budget airline Niki will operate seasonal flights from Vienna to Split and Dubrovnik next summer according to a report on the specialised website ex-yu aviation. Niki will start with flights to Dubrovnik Airport on a weekly basis from the 14th of May 2016. And then after the 29th of June they will introduce another flight to both Split and Dubrovnik.
Niki is owned by the German airline Air Berlin, and the parent company has recently announced flights for next year from Berlin and Dusseldorf to Split and Dubrovnik. Now it is time for the budget airline to follow suit.
This week The Dubrovnik Times caught up with Gian Pietro Severi, the owner of the delightful Hotel Lafodia on the island of Lopud. Gian Pietro Severi along with his wife Rosaria Marazzi, the daughter of the most famous Italian ceramics magnate, came to Lopud ten years ago and immediately fell in love with this Elaphite islands. The couple had a dream, a dream to find their own piece of heaven in the Croatian Adriatic Sea, quite by chance they “bumped into” Hotel Lafodia, and they had found their dream. Unfortunately his wife died last year and now Mr. Severi owns and operates the hotel together with his daughter Alessandra. The family dream continues.
How did you decide to come to this part of the Croatian coast?
We came in 2005 for the first time at the invitation of a friend. Before that I had never been on the Adriatic Sea, we come from a place of Sassuolo near Modena. This is a very well-known part of Italy as it is the centre for the production of ceramics as well as the home of Ferrari. One of the crucial points of why we ended up on Lopud was that holidays on our yacht were getting more and more tiring, we needed some stability. Why did we decide on this hotel? Well in Italy I have never seen a hotel so close to the sea, the position was absolutely perfect. My wife immediately fell in love with Lopud. To have the opportunity to offer guests the chance to have a holiday on the land and yet feel like they are on the sea is a great quality, this is exactly what Lafodia offers.
Are you satisfied with the business results?
I do not think of Hotel Lafodia exclusively as a hotel because I have never limited the business projects I have been involved in. Hotel Lafodia is part of the holding company TTM, which is also under our ownership. We have another hotel near Modena, as well a marketing company, an electronics company and a company for developing a video camera project. And of course the core business which is the ceramic industry.
How have you and your family been welcomed by the residents of Lopud?
Before I came here I did not really know the circumstances of life in Croatia and on your islands. But I did know the lifestyle and mentality of the people on the islands. There is a different mentality on the islands than on the main land. I have had positive feedback from the residents of Lopud. Indeed, they are always helping me. I think when you take into account the mentality of the islanders that I was lucky. You need to realise that right from the very start I'm a stranger to this island and I have to respect the culture and way of life here.
You have announced new investments in Dubrovnik tourism?
For certain we will not rest on the reconstruction of the Hotel Lafodia. Several times I have joked with your mayor, Mr. Vlahušić, on my idea on making Lopud a new version of the Italian island of Capri. I don’t want you to misunderstand me when I say that. I want to emphasize that we don’t want to make anything new on the island but we would just like to remove the “dust” from what is already here. This is an island with five hundred years of tradition, culture and tourism, all which needs to be done, is to raise the current offer to a higher level so that it becomes a centre of psycho-physical relaxation for guests with the help of a first-class hotel such as Lafodia. With the help of the wellness centre, sports facilities, good food, the sea and the proximity of Dubrovnik we already have a solid base to build on.
Who should be responsible for cleaning the “dust” from Lopud?
The dust will be cleaned by foreign investors in partnership with the local community and the local government. I would like to say that recently many world recognised entrepreneurs from the US and the UK have bought properties on the island. We now have famous architects, designers, the President of the Foundation for the restoration of Venice and a representative of UNESCO for Croatia. They all arrived on the island before us and all wanted to do something, but for some reasons they all stopped. We have managed to create a good relationship with the city government and have the capital behind us to make a real difference. For example we have invested into nine boats to transport our guests to and from the mainland.
Did you have the support of the local authorities? You mentioned the mayor of Dubrovnik. Do you cooperate with him?
In Italy we did not have the same level of support as we do here. I really cannot complain. We are very pleased with the relationship with the city for they have supported us in every way. In the Marazzi Group I was involved in the construction of factories in Dallas and Moscow. I have a very good knowledge of the issues of building in a foreign country, and what kinds of relations with the Croatian structures are needed. I was aware that I needed the help of a professional who is familiar with the Croatian and Mediterranean culture this is why we took Mr. Ivo Resić on to our board of directors. I meet with the mayor at least twice a year. We exchange our experiences and opinions, and he is quick to give us some ideas.
Everyone is talking about extending the tourist season throughout the entire year. Do you believe this is possible to do on Lopud?
Over the past three years we have been reconstructing the entire hotel. We know that in the winter tourists can come and enjoy Lopud. My daughter Alessandra and I believe that we can realise the plan of making Lopud an all year round destination. By investing into the surrounding parks, beaches and waterfront we want to convert Lafodia into a place where people can come and enjoy more than just the sea and the sun. We have bought over 40 thousand square meters of land behind the hotel which we will now be converted into a park. This is the first step, and then follows the arrangement of the park with a new swimming pool, bowling, adrenaline park, amphitheatre, etc. We want to allow our guests to find a psycho-physical balance on the island.
What, in your opinion, is missing from Dubrovnik tourism?
Apart from the lack of flights I would like to emphasize that you are not aware of what Dubrovnik has the historical, natural and cultural heritage. I believe that Dubrovnik is entitled to new and larger investments and firmly believe that this will be achieved. My father in law who was one of the greatest Italian entrepreneurs and he always said that all works should be performed with your heart without speculation. Others will then recognise your hard work. It is true that the citizens here can now see that we are not speculators, and that we're not planning to leave Croatia.
British guests number one in Lafodia
Most guests in Hotel Lafodia come from the UK, in total an amazing 60 percent of all guests come from the UK. The main reason for this is the number of flights coming in from the UK on a weekly basis. We are investing into emerging markets that have air connections to Dubrovnik, such as Scandinavia, Italy and France.
This week The Dubrovnik Times caught up with Lisa Michele Burns, a.k.a the wandering lens. This Australian photojournalist has travelled the world with her camera bringing back glorious images. She has worked with some of the most renowned publications in the world including Lonely Planet, The Sunday Times Traveller Magazine and Vogue Australia. Burns is also well-known as an underwater photographer and her photos of Dubrovnik from a marine viewpoint are truly inspiring.
Could you give me some more information about yourself?
I’m an Australian travel and underwater photographer who publishes a guide to photographing the world called The Wandering Lens (www.thewanderinglens.com). Currently I’m living in France however I regularly travel to different countries to photograph their coastline from the water for my current project ‘The World from the Water’.
Why did you decide to visit Dubrovnik and was this your first visit?
This was my first visit to Dubrovnik and I was putting together a guide to the best photography locations around the old town. I spent five days walking all over Dubrovnik to find the best vantage points both above and below the water. One of the main reasons I chose to compile a guide on Dubrovnik was the opportunity to photograph the city from outside the walls. Being in the water and seeing the clear sea below and stone city walls above was such a special experience.
How would you compare Dubrovnik to other tourist destinations that you have visited?
Dubrovnik surprised me in more ways than one. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting but having barely looked at any photos before arriving as I wanted to have a fresh perspective. I was blown away by the scenery and blend of medieval architecture with palm trees and islands. Dubrovnik doesn’t compare to any other destination, it’s unique in landscape, culture and history.
Were there any surprises, pleasant or bad, during your time in the country?
I was surprised to see so many tourists in late September but felt it didn’t take too much away from the enchanting old alleys of Dubrovnik. I was very happy to see the water in front of the city walls was really clear which worked well for my collection of underwater photos.
As a freelance travel photographer, how photogenic is Dubrovnik?
Dubrovnik is extremely photogenic. Every angle whether it be within the old town, high up on the city walls or from the sea worked well in photos. The colours of the stone walls, orange roof tops and blue sea and sky looked incredible together. I found it very hard to narrow down the best photo locations for my guide to Dubrovnik!
Can you give our readers a few tips of taking the perfect holiday snap?
When capturing a destination, try to think outside the box and use a little creativity when compositing a photo. Rather than just pointing and photographing straight ahead, look around to see if you can incorporate a building, person or the landscape in the foreground to give your image some perspective and show people just how amazing Dubrovnik is. Photography isn’t about how good your camera is, it’s about seeing the world in your own unique way and interpreting that into an image to share after your trip.
How would you describe Dubrovnik in three words?
Enchanting seaside city.
How did you get started with underwater photography?
I’ve had a dream to photograph the world from the water for a few years now and it started when I lived on a tropical island in Australia surrounded by the Great Barrier Reef. Using the split-level perspective where you can showcase the underwater world and the landscape above is fascinating to me and I doubt I’ll ever get bored of it. It took me a few attempts to get brave enough to put my expensive camera underwater but now I can barely go swimming without having it with me!
Would you come back to Dubrovnik and what will be your lasting memories?
I will absolutely visit Dubrovnik again without a doubt. From this trip I took away memories of sparkling seas, a city filled with hidden gems, charming alleys and friendly people.
Follow Lisa around Dubrovnik
Lisa’s guide to the best photo locations in Dubrovnik
1 – Fort Lovrijenac
2 – Luza Square
3 – Komarda Beach
4 – St. John Fortress
5 – Ploce Gate
6 – Dubrovnik City Walls
7 – Srd Mountain
8 – Buza Bar
9 – Ulica Peline – North City
10 – Ulica od Kastela
Keep in touch with the wandering lens on her website www.thewanderinglens.com or via her Instagram @the_wanderinglens