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.
Christmas is rapidly approaching and at this most magical time of the year Dubrovnik is already if full festive colours. Today the fifth Dubrovnik Winter Festival opens. The festive stand in and around the historic Old City are gearing up for another busy season when the aroma of mulled wine will fill the cobbled streets.
Tonight, at the opening ceremony, the festive Christmas lights will be turned on and the first of the four Advent candles will be lit. There will also be a concert from the popular Croatian popstar Petar Graso on the Stradun to get the festivities underway.
A just to whet out appetites before the big event the Dubrovnik Winter Festival has published a teaser video on their Facebook page which give a brief insight into what we can all expect this Christmas and New Year period in the city.
-When it comes to the music program, we wanted to cover a wide audience. We wanted everybody to feel the urge to visit the Old City and enjoy the concerts. There are festive stands all around, but of course the centre is Stradun – commented the Mayor of Dubrovnik, Mato Franković, adding that this year's Festival is focused to bring joy to children with some extra content.
And part of that extra content for children will certainly be the new North Pole Station that will also be opened today. The North Pole Station, located in Luza, in the Old City is the newest addition to the Dubrovnik Winter Festival! Every day until the end of the winter holidays children can enjoy special programs with: Elves and Santa Claus, Mrs Claus, children stories, dancers, actors, clowns… There will be storytelling, taking photos with Santa, baking cakes with Mrs Claus, learning how to paint and how to do your festive hair.
Check out this new Christmas video from Dubrovnik
If you heard a siren blast around Dubrovnik today at midday don’t worry there isn’t an aerial attack or the end of the world isn’t here, no it was simply a test of the siren system across the city.
In accordance with the Ordinance on Population Alert Procedure, every first Saturday in the month at 12 o'clock, the emergency services for the alert system test the alarm system by using a warning sign, a uniform tone that last for a duration of 60 seconds.
It must be something in the water! Is there some special gene pool in Croatia? How can it be that such a small country with a population hoovering around the 4 million mark is just so absolutely talented and successful at sport? I really don’t understand. Don’t get me wrong I am not complaining, far from it, I am just in wonder, sheer disbelief.
Croatia took their revenge over the mighty France this week. 25,000 screaming French fans in Lille were silenced by the thunder of Croatian rackets. Revenge for what? Revenge for beating Croatia in the World Cup Finals in Russia. It just seems surreal writing that. Croatia made it to the finals of the World Cup and won the Davis Cup in the same year.
Has any nation with 4 million people ever achieved sporting success in a year as Croatia has in 2018? Of course not. You know the name of the smallest country ever to win a Davis Cup? Yes, it’s Croatia.
I dug and I dug but I couldn’t find any nation that comes even close. I couldn’t even list all the sporting glories this year, I would run out of paper. Rowing, gymnastics, taekwondo, athletics, I could go on and on. The successes are just as varied as the sports. So what is behind this success?
The beginning of the story probably has a lot to do with the socialist regime. Communist and for that matter socialist countries invested, and invest, huge amounts of resources into sport. Sport was seen as a reflection of the regime. Successful at sport = successful country. But this is the past, is the roll-on effect of socialism in sport really lasting for 25 years. Everything is against these sporting heroes.
They mostly have terrible facilities or no facilities at all. The investment is virtually zero, the organisation is amateur and yet again and again they win. “Do you know how many tennis courts there are in Croatia?” the presenter asked the sports expert. “The truth is nobody knows, all we do know is that 90 percent are owned by the state and they are in pretty bad shape, also we have very, very few covered courts in the country,” he answered. WTF!?! A country that has just won the most prestigious tennis competition in the world and we don’t even know how many tennis courts we have. In fact, all we do know is that the ones we have are appalling.
The Americans, the Germans, the Australians and in fact the British spend billions and billions every year on tennis and yet they can’t even make it to the finals. Croatia spends less than a taxi fare from the airport to the Old City and wins the bloody competition.
I am trying to make sense from something that is quite clearly illogical. I dug through the record books again. The closest example of a small country doing well in tennis and football in the same period of time was, yes you’ve guessed it Croatia!?! In 1998 they won the bronze medal at the World Cup and just seven years later won the Davis Cup for the first time. If this had happened once you could say, well that was just once in a million luck. Or as the English say “Even a blind squirrel finds a hazelnut once.” But to happen twice, well that’s not luck, and it clearly isn’t planning, and it also isn’t investment. So what the hell is it?
If it were the roll-on effect of socialism, then why aren’t other former socialist states in eastern Europe so successful? We have almost no snow and yet have the most successful female skier of all time, Janica Koselic. One of the most unfunded and poorly football leagues in Europe and yet we reach the World Cup Finals. Have terrible athletic training conditions and yet produce Blanka Vlašić and Sandra Perković. Have a lack of swimming pools and yet are Champions of water polo. We even won a gold medal at shooting a bloody shotgun!?! WTF!?!
What is the secret of all this success? Honestly I really don’t have a clue. But if and when I find the secret ingredient I am going to bottle it and sell it. Forget Red Bull. I’ll have Croatian Bull!
As the Christmas period moves ever closer one Dubrovnik café has got creative in order to keep their clients dry and warm. The Dubrovnik bubble, as it has been nicknamed, appeared in the Old City of Dubrovnik and has certainly brought reactions.
From the Dubrovnik Death Star from Star Wars to an indoor tennis court, the latest addition to the Dubrovnik Winter Festival is far from boring.
One of the jewels in Tito’s vast transport fleet, the luxury ship “Galeb,” will soon be converted into a museum and the first steps have already been taken. The first pieces of restored furniture from Galeb were presented at the Museum of City of Rijeka this week. A total of 38 armchairs, tables, chairs are other pieces of furniture that were located in the ship’s elegant salon once used by Josip Broz Tito and Jovanka Broz have been restored.
The ship is set to be completely restored and will be opened to the public in mid-2022. But the first steps have been to bring life back to the furniture on-board. The museum has made an inventory of all the electrical equipment, furniture and technical documentation and has made a detailed list of required restoration works. The restored furniture will be in the Museum of the City of Rijeka until the ship is renewed.
Tito loved the glamour the yacht conferred on his regime. He used it for parties, foreign visits and diplomacy. World leaders entertained there included Nikita Khrushchev, Muammar Gaddafi and Indira Gandhi. Tito was particularly excited to welcome Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who played Tito in the 1973 war epic The Battle of Sutjeska.
In 2019, the remaining furnishings and memorial plates with travel records and names of world statesmen who were on "Galeb" are planned to be restored.
For the conversion of the ship to a museum is estimated at 27.6 million Kuna and a public tender has been opened for interested companies. According to the plan, the reconstruction and conversion of "Galeb" will last until the end of 2019, after which the interior of the ship will be regulated and the public should open in mid-2020. The ship is currently docked in Rijeka.
Wanda Radetti has been on a journey for most of her life, and we all know that the journey is more important than the destination. A travel specialist with a capital T. Her considerable inside knowledge of Croatia has opened so many new doors for her clients. In fact, she has been awarded the "The World Top Travel Specialist for Croatia" by Condé Nast Traveller Magazine since 2006.
Wanda S. Radetti has been the heart and soul of VisitCroatia.com – Tasteful Croatian Journeys, a New York State-registered and based travel company since 1995. A passionate Italian-Croatian, Wanda has led her life with a quest for adventure and enlightenment through travel, dedicating the most recent decades to unveiling the hidden treasures of her ancestral and spiritual home of Croatia and its surrounding regions. From enjoying oysters in Ston and sampling truffles in Istria to exploring the markets of Zagreb and sailing across the crystal blue waters of the Adriatic Sea along the country’s 1,185 islands, Wanda provides the best in tailor-made luxury travel.
The Dubrovnik Times caught up with Radetti over a glass of wine to discover where Croatia is going as a tourist destination and why Dubrovnik is a hit on the American market.
Croatia, and especially Dubrovnik, have gained enormous amounts of publicity as a tourist destination over the past few years. Have you seen a change in attitude towards Croatia as a tourist destination?
Absolutely, today Croatia remains a most longed for vacation destination for our most sophisticated travellers from the United States, Canada, South America and from other places of the world.
I was born in Rijeka/Fiume and while the “last war” was winding down, I needed to “return” and learn about the "Lijepa naša domovino" that my mother recalled as tears wetted her checks and yet with a smile when she spoke in exalted terms of the beauty of Croatia.
When in 1994, as the war of independence of Croatia was winding down, I started my personal journey of discovery. I became fascinated by the complexity of the history and culture of Croatia, but most of all I was totally seduced by the splendour, the sheer beauty that envelopes this little, strategic, country of Europe.
I was excited by my findings and wanted to share what I learned with anyone that would listen. Pencil and paper in hand, ready to draw the map of Europe, I confirmed to all those who asked that “yes, Croatia has always been part of Europe and, “no, it was never a part of Russia”.
Eventually I was asked to design personal itineraries for affinity groups that had ties to former Yugoslavia. I created my little LLC and went to work designing luxury itineraries that responded to the interest of travellers curious about the history, culture, the food and the wine. I confess that my initial intent and quest was rather premature. When I first arrived on the scene, I tasted food that was deliciously organic and usually farm to table, however, I found lots of wine possibilities but not a drop that I would want to drink. The beer was and is, always good. Now, of course, I favour, savour and taste the wines of Croatia with relish.
It took just a quick moment for the young, smart, passionate, brilliant wine makers of Croatia to cultivate, produce and create one of the most interesting “new” wine regions of the Mediterranean.
These days whenever one pronounces “Croatia” the response will be “on my bucket list”, or “dying to go to Croatia”, or “planning to go before everyone discovers it”, etc. It seems that everyone already knows about Croatia and everyone is desirous and planning to travel to Croatia.
We note that Dubrovnik seems to be perceived as a strong, stand alone, recognizable destination brand and not always, automatically associated with Croatia. Travelers that hire our services reach out to us from every part of the World. Personal, face to face planning meetings are not always a convenient possibility.
During the planning process, the team VisitCoratia.com – Tasteful Croatian Journeys will engage in several telephone conversations with the travellers. When designing private, luxury, tailor fitted travel experience, and as we endeavour to fulfil their wishes and dreams, it is critical that we learn all about their personal preferences, expectations.
How is Croatian seen on the American market? Are we still an exotic destination and has interest increased in the past years?
For most of the American market, Croatia is still considered an enticing, exotic destination. On a whole, they are still not as familiar with the geography, history and culture as they might be with other European countries such as the UK, Italy, France, Spain, etc. Keep in mind that only one third of the population of the United States holds valid passports.
The events of this past year, specifically the World Cup, has increased familiarity with Croatia to a much larger segment of the U.S. market. The film industry’s use of Dubrovnik as a backdrop for popular films, and television shows, such as Game of Thrones, has also contributed to a certain acquaintance with this singular city. Beautiful images of the coast line and the National Parks arouse curiosity and interest, often as a result of online news articles, such as those authored by The Dubrovnik Times, which are shared on various social media outlets.
The Tasteful Croatian Journeys clientele tend to be sophisticated, well educated, experienced travellers. They possess a visual understanding of Croatia yet come with a desire to engage with cultural aspects, history, gastronomy, art, yachting and unexpected facets, which will leave them with a sense of authentic Croatia. Hence, to American’s with a cultural curiosity, Croatia is indeed an exotic and rich destination for uncovering lesser known parts of European civilization.
What are we missing? What do you believe we need to introduce to become more attractive for American travellers and what would make their journey to Croatia more interesting?
In terms of cultural elements and natural beauty, we think Croatia already offers much to the American traveller. The ever-evolving culinary scene, well preserved historical sights, and growing adventure sports market all continue to impress our travellers. However, we would love to see improvements in transportation. Most internal flights require a stopover in Zagreb which often proves inconvenient and increases travel time exponentially. Ferry and Catamaran schedules are limited even in summer. The once glorious sea plane is no longer operating. Ultimately, the difficulty in efficiently traveling from one location to another results in higher concentrations of people in certain locations. Croatia has so much to offer as a whole, we’d like to be able to show people the entire country more easily.
For Americans it is particularly important to be able to travel from city to city with ease and efficiency. As the average American has only 10 days of vacation per year, American vacation culture has evolved in such a way that travellers wish to see as much as possible in a short time. Unlike European travellers who will often spend an entire week in one location, Americans prefer to switch cities every few days. In this way they are able to maximize the return on their investment of time.
How does the level of accommodation in Croatia compare with what your guests are used to?
This is a salient and important question which we struggle with daily. Ever since we first started bringing travellers to Croatia, we have struggled with the “star” system. In our experience, the number of stars awarded a particular property do not always present a clear picture of the quality or service one can expect to find there. For this reason, we have always found it necessary to see properties in person and assign our own rating. In some cases, what is officially awarded only three stars feels more like a four star, but often it works the other way around. We find that most often complaints about accommodation have to do with service. American’s expect a certain level of care to be taken by staff. Whether this is assistance with luggage and being escorted to their room upon check-in, or coffee being served (not self-served) at breakfast, American travellers expect to be catered to with a smile. It’s important for hotel staff to convey to the guest that their requests are not an imposition. It is not simply “no problem,” it is in fact “our pleasure”
Dubrovnik has a problem with overcrowding. Has this been noticed on the American market and have you had any negative feedback from your clients?
Yes, American’s are aware of the conversation around crowding in the old city of Dubrovnik. In the last two years, we note that often curious travellers have reservations about the crowds in Dubrovnik. We have heard many concerns referencing Dubrovnik as “overwhelmed” by visitors and having a feel of being “kitsch”.
Our primary aim when speaking with travellers is to gain insight into their desires in order to design exclusive experiences. A client may envisage avoiding Dubrovnik yet based on their inclinations would in fact find much to appreciate, when in the right hands. The team at Tasteful Croatian Journeys takes great care to provide an experience for felicitous visitors to enjoy the splendour of the Old City, while insulated from the congestion. We are engaged in reassurance that we can create an experience that avoids the height of overcrowding.
Where do you see Croatia as a tourist destination in the future? Are heading in the right direction or should we change course?
We feel, Croatia as a brand, has not established one coherent presentation of the type of traveller it is looking to attract. When Croatia speaks of tourism, the dialogue is always about “the number of beds occupied”, rather than the profile of the guest and the quality of the bed that is occupied.
Clarifying the identity of the type of destination and the quality of travellers that Croatia wants to attract, will offer a clear objective that can lead to effective management of resources.
Croatia offers remarkable natural beauty, and a pristine environment which demands protection. In order to preserve the bounty of natural resources, guardianship over the seas, rivers and the cleanliness of water must be paramount. Protection of parklands, mountains, and agriculture contribute to the allure of Croatia, safeguarding the rich habitats will assure a long and fruitful future for Croatian lands, while responding to the world’s concerns about sustainability. As with the natural environment, manmade treasures also require preservation. The layers of history are still visible in Croatia, maintaining and protecting this abundant heritage is paramount in the continued offering of Croatia as a cultural destination.
What feedback do you receive from your guests about their time in Croatia?
Generally, the feedback we receive is very positive. Travelers are impressed not only by the natural beauty, but also by the cities and architecture, so much of which has been preserved. We often hear from our guests about the people we have connected them with, and their great fondness for the warmth they receive, as well as the expression of personal stories which offer a perspective on Croatian culture they would not have otherwise encountered.
Below please find some traveller reviews, though we encourage you to explore our feedback in more detail on our website:
….. The country itself has so much to offer – such a diversity of locations, settings, cultures and cuisines – but what made our trip so special was your amazing advice about how to get the most out of our time. The accommodations, the guides, the sightseeing tips – every one of them was terrific.
Jeremy & Barbara Mishkin – Wynnewood, PA
Just a quick note to let you know that we had the most spectacular vacation. Everything about it was perfect: the hotels, the guides, the drivers, the cities and towns, and your staff. No doubt, we will head back to Croatia in the near future. It is a wonderful country with lovely people, wonderful sights and gracious service. Thank you for planning such a wonderful vacation for us.
Ronald & Christine Manoni – Brookfield, CT
Hello Dear Wanda,
On behalf of all of us who traveled to Croatia this April, THANK YOU! We had the most wonderful, informative, relaxing time discovering this beautiful new country thanks entirely to the plan you made for us. Throughout our 10 days – in Dubrovnik, Korcula Island and Split, we met guides who clearly love their jobs and showing people their city. Each one was nicer, funnier and more enjoyable than the last and their English is as good as ours. Our hotels were spectacular – whether the Hotel Grand Villa Argentina in Dubrovnik, the Hotel Korcula de la Ville on Korcula Island, or the Marmont Hotel. We think our favorite was the Hotel Korcula – sitting on the grand terrace watching the sun set into the Adriatic is as serene as one could want. We spent a good deal of time on that terrace watching boats and people. The wine tasting trip you suggested was great – we liked what we tasted so much we sent more than a few bottles back to the states. We then went to Ston with our guide and tried the famous Ston cake – unfortunately we couldn’t bring that back with us or we would have. Mirela Benić, the in-country concierge truly is a ‘personal guardian angel’ – she watched over us and even when we didn’t realize it, she was checking all our steps and arrangements to assure no plan went awry. When we decided to adjust our travel at one point she followed up behind the scenes to be sure it would work as we, the naive travelers, anticipated. In all, we look forward to returning to Croatia and would tell anyone thinking of going not to step foot in the country without your expert planning and recommendations. Again, thank you for all you did to make our first trip to this beautiful country an extraordinary experience.
Bob and Cathy Twomey & Leslie Taylor – Metuchen, NJ
Green Sail, an organization that promotes the development of positive environmental policies within the nautical sector in Croatia, offering appropriate materials and education to highlight the importance of the Adriatic Sea protection, has filmed a video on the sea clean-up done in Krilo Jesenice (Split-Dalmatia County) on 28 October 2018. The video has been filmed with the aim of encouraging similar local ecological initiatives, thereby reducing the amount of marine waste.
Organized by the Green Sail initiative, along with local volunteers, the clean-up was performed by Udruga Podvodnih Aktivnosti (UPA) Rostrum Split and Calypso Diving Club Omiš, two local diving clubs with many years of experience in similar clean-ups. The action took place despite really unfavourable weather conditions and a large amount of waste was collected.
Thanks to the divers and volunteers who participated in the clean-up, but also to the sponsors who contributed to its organization (LIDL supermarket chain, Hotel Krilo, Peovica utility company and Sail Croatia which has been the main sponsor of the organization for a number of years), volunteers removed approximately 9 cubic meters of waste from the sea (tires, pipes, boards, mats, bins, chairs, vacuum cleaners, drilling machines, etc).
Green Sail promotes recycling to travellers and the travel industry in Croatia to help protect and keep Croatia beautiful. Through its Marina and Charter Programs, Green Sail partners with charter companies, marinas, institutions and environmentally friendly businesses and individuals by providing informative and educative activities and materials.
The INmusic Festival organizers have announced that for the 14th edition the legendary British rock band The Cure will perform.
"True rock icons and one of the most influential bands of all time, the magnificent The Cure, are at the INmusic Festival #14! The Cure will perform for the first time in Croatia on the main stage of our biggest open air festival to be held in Zagreb from the 24th to the 26th of June 2019!
The Cure is undoubtedly one of the most successful alternative rock bands of all time - with over 27 million albums sold, 13 albums and more than 30 singles, it is undisputed that few except Robert Smith can boast of shaping an entire music genre and influencing so many musicians around the world to the same extent as The Cure.