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Croatian culture embraces state

Croatia offers all the advantages of Europe with none of the disadvantages of the Euro. Catherine Quinn discovers what this destination has to offer business travellers

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Most business travellers have been watching the plight of the pound against the Euro with growing dismay. With a strong pound and Europe on our doorstep, this diverse continent was a playground for UK business and leisure travellers alike. So it’s with heavy hearts that many corporations have begun redress their budgets for European travel in light of the fact that the Euro is now almost the same value as the pound. Before despair sets in, however, there are a few European gems which have yet to adopt the coin of the realm, and Croatia in particular is well worth capitalising on in 2009.

Before the war-torn eighties, this beautiful stretch of land was the holiday-spot of choice for Italians – who know a thing or two about attractive destinations. And now the country is firmly back as a top spot for visitors, it’s not just Italy who have rediscovered Croatia’s native charms. Everyone else is catching on too.

“2008 was a very successful year for our Croatia programme, due in part to the country being outside the Euro-zone and representing excellent value for money, ” explains Pat Jacobs of Holiday Options. “As a result, the company has increased its number of departures from UK regional airports in 2009, introducing flights to Dubrovnik from Belfast, Southampton and Leeds Bradford; and to Split from Southampton, Newcastle and Norwich. There’s expansion in Croatia in 2009 – and more regional departures planned.”

And holiday options aren’t the only ones. Tour options to Croatia have increased dramatically over the past few years, and the country still has much potential to be realise. With international conference facilities still awaiting expansion and much of the country only just waking up to the potential of business travel their current success looks set to grow and grow.

With stunning coastline, attractive cities, and a burgeoning interest in the interior countryside, it’s a country which is ever expanding in tourist appeal. And as your pounds will buy you more here than most other places in Europe, now’s the time to enjoy her charms.

Crowning jewel
A large percentage of Croatia benefits from a prime coastal location on the brilliant blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. Along this route the crowing glory is undoubtedly the beautiful city of Dubrovnik, a UNESCO world heritage site, frequently listed as a must-see destination in a global context. The walled Old Town dates back to Roman times, and surrounds a wonderful white-stone interior of ancient houses, restaurants and bars linked by hand-cut-paving. The city wall itself forms a popular walk around the top of the city, providing the perfect vantage point to view row after row of red-brick roof tops to one side, and the idyllic Dalmatian coast stretching away to the south.

During the evening performers come out onto the smooth stone streets, whilst bars and restaurants hum with convivial revelry. Whilst the coastal wall hides away a few quieter drinking holes with superb views out onto the bay, perfect for watching the sunset.

Less frequented and in many ways just as breathtaking, however, is the harbour town of Split. Situated only a few hours drive along the stunning coast road from Dubrovnik, Spilt is now a major hub into Croatia for budget airlines and is also a ferry port for Italy and the outlying coastal islands. Many visitors pass through this small town without a glance, but those who stray from the well-worn harbour-side into the historic interior are well rewarded. Spilt can’t compete with Dubrovnik for the sheer scale of its Roman remains, nor is it ringed with an intact ancient wall and bisected by wide stone streets.

But the labyrinthine streets offer history on a more liveable level. Whilst Dubrovnik’s balmy evenings offer charming and tourist-oriented nightlife, Spilt has bohemian bars, albeit with a rough-around the edges appeal, but no less inviting for that. The tiny centre boasts the remains of the ancient Diocletian Palace in which the town’s youth lounge during the hot summer days, and players perform at night.

The undiscovered capital
For business travellers Zagreb is a likely first stop to Croatia, but arrivals needn’t think they are missing out on the popular coastal spots. Whilst the capital doesn’t come equipped with brilliant blue ocean and sandy shores like so much of the country, Zagreb does offer a unique slant on a European capital.

If you’re a frequent visitor to Eastern European cities, and arrive in Zagreb expecting dour public buildings punctuated by the odd ornate church you’re in for a very pleasant surprise. Croatia’s history is irrevocably tangled in the Austro-Hungarian empire, fraught as that is with sober but beautiful architecture carrying a decidedly German slant. The centre includes spacious public squares and well-kept city parks alongside the attractive streets and buildings.

Like many European cities Zagreb boasts an undeniably lovely Old Town, and a less immediately appealing new town where the confines of the original planning have spilled into modern development. Whilst the former area comes complete with historic remnants on every corner and rooftop, the latter is perhaps less interesting for the first-time visitor, although its appeal grows with familiarity.

This is partly because Zagreb is an appealing mix of East and West, where hedonistic nightlife teams effortlessly with the more wholesome predilection for walking, hiking and generally enjoying nature. Those bent on enjoying natural attractions have only a few miles to travel outside the capital, but within the city limits a boisterous pub culture keeps residents in good spirits until the small hours.

Escape to the country
Despite the growing popularity of its capital, however, most visitors to Croatia come for the scenery. And with an enviable portfolio of coastline, forests, islands, lakes and mountains few leave disappointed. For those chasing the simple life, Croatia’s coastline is peppered with islands both large and small. The bigger outcrops are accessible by ferry from the main land, whilst more diminutive patches of land can be sought out with the aid of your own boat, or local services from the outlying islands.

Whilst popular with tourists, these parts of the coastline nevertheless maintain an idyllic sense of isolation. The larger island of Hvar has a few streets which comprise its main town with a smattering of lovely seafood restaurants and a local market, but delve into the interior and the ever-increasing pockets of holiday homes are simply lost inside the undulating mountainous landscape. From the main town the east of the island is reached only by dint of a rough hand-hewn tunnel through sheer rock-face, running to a kilometre in length, and staffed only during the daylight hours to ensure two cars don’t enter simultaneously from either end.

Island life itself is an easy and informal affair. Residents knock on their neighbours doors to buy wine or oil by the carafe, whilst the days haul of seafood will dictate the hand-written menu at the local taverna.

Trek further into the interior, and several national parks offer to ease your daily cares. Plitvice National Park showcases mesmerising cascades of icy-clear water amongst impossibly large lakes, whilst Krka Park can take you by boat through looming canyons into the fascinating monastery at its heart.

New openings
Kempinski Hotel, Istria
Kempinski Hotel Adriatic Istria, expected to open in May 2009, has been built in Alberi, on the Adriatic coast of Croatia, in the region of Istria. The region surrounding Alberi is distinguished by untouched landscapes and a stunning natural beauty. The whole resort is set on a gentle slope ending in a cliff overlooking the Bay of Trieste and neighbouring Slovenia, with 22 exclusive villas nearest to the sea. Set behind the villas will be the spacious grounds of the five star luxury hotel, which will be managed by Kempinski, and an 18-hole golf course. The resort will also offer guests the possibility to moor their yachts in the 35-berth private marina.

Hotel Lone, Rovinl
Opening later this year, Hotel Lone is the first Croatian venue for prestigious Design Hotels chain. The new venue will be situated in the exclusive Monte Mulini Zone in Rovinj, and was designed by internationally renowed architects and interior specialists. Situated in Zlatni Rt Park Forest, Hotel Lone will have 240 rooms, nine suites and a presidential suite. The hotel will also contain a wellness and spa centre, a fitness area and a number of restaurant and bar options. In addition, congress hall seating 600 people, and a few smaller conference halls are part of the design.

Hotel Bastion, Zadar
Capitalising on Croatia’s popularity with resorts might be fine for the coastline, but up and coming Zadar proves she’s on trend with this latest boutique hotel offering. Whilst perfectly set out for business travellers with conference and dining facilities, this diminutive four star hotel nevertheless offers the charm of a smaller venue. Located in the historic centre of the centre the newly opened hotel also offers the obligatory spa for weary business travellers along with excellent service and personalised details.

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