Travel to Croatia has been steadily increasing over the last few years. Tourism companies, according to the Ministry of Tourism, plan to invest at least $571 million this year on travel to the region, up $151 million in 2016. Tourism to vacation facilities and resorts alone increased 3.3 percent between 2015 and 2016, with the majority of visitors coming from the United Kingdom.
The Republic of Croatia, situated in Eastern Europe, has a long coastline on the Adriatic Sea and encompasses more than a thousand islands. The region’s diverse landscape is also crossed by the Dinaric Alps. Its inland capital, Zagreb, is known for its medieval Gornji Grad (Old Town) district and several museums while the major coastal city of Dubrovnik is home to multiple Gothic and Renaissance buildings.
Taking advantage of the increased interest in travel to the region is Tauck. The operator recently introduced three new itineraries to the region. Travel Agent spoke with Tom Armstrong, corporate communications manager at Tauck about the new offerings.
“Croatia is increasingly popular with Tauck guests, as evidenced by the fact that we’ve gone from a single itinerary featuring Croatia in 2016 to three trips that include the country this year,” he told Travel Agent. “New for 2017 is the 13-day land tour, ‘Adriatic Treasures: Croatia to Venice,’ which spends nine of 12 nights in Croatia and includes cocktails and a lecture with the former Croatian Minister of Tourism.”
“Also new for 2017 is Tauck’s 14-day ‘Ancient Mariners: Venice, Croatia & Greece’ itinerary, which begins with a two-night hotel stay in Venice before guests embark on a nine-night cruise that includes port calls in Hvar and Dubrovnik, as well as Kotor and several ports in Greece, concluding with a two-night hotel stay in Athens. The two new journeys join our perennially popular, 10-day ‘Venice & the Dalmatian Coast’ cruise, which also begins with an included two-night hotel stay in Athens,” Armstrong said.
The new “Ancient Mariners: Venice, Croatia & Greece” cruise takes place aboard a Windstar yacht, and includes shore excursions to Hvar, Dubrovnik, Kotor, Epidaurus, Corfu, Katakolon, Paleokastritsa, Olympia, Delphi, Mycenae, and Nafplion. Guided tours will also be included at nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as the Old City of Dubrovnik and Hvar’s Stari Grad Plain. 35 meals on land and sea (12 dinners, 13 breakfasts, 10 lunches) will be provided, and the cruise is priced at $7,990 per person.
Meanwhile, guests on the “Adriatic Treasures: Croatia to Venice” itinerary will have views on scenic drives along the Adriatic Coast of Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro, with visits to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Tauck has also arranged for an early opening visit and private train tour of the Postojna Caves, a lunch in the Knights’ Hall in Trakoscan Castle and a wedding-style meal at Roca, the House of Dalmatian Smoked Ham and a beer-pairing dinner. This tour is priced at $6,690 and includes 27 meals (12 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 12 dinners).
Also introducing several new tours to Croatia this year is Avanti Destinations. The wholesale tour operator reported seeing a 200 percent increase in bookings to the region, doubling the number of bookings in 2016.
“Many destinations in Croatia are relatively small, have limited space, and close at the end of October, so travel agents are advised to book early to reserve space for 2018,” said Tami Cortez, product manager for Southern Europe at Avanti. “Among the most popular areas for independent American travelers to visit are the stunning Dalmatian coast, scenic islands of Hvar and Korčula, and the walled medieval town of Dubrovnik. We introduced three new small ship cruise itineraries and an upscale version of our island-hopping independent itinerary this year. They all have been extremely popular.”
With only 18 cabins, the small ships offer a more intimate experience than larger vessels and tours of every town along the way. Prices of these cruises (not including transatlantic air) start at $1,599 per person, based on double occupancy. These more popular cruises include the 10-day “Dalmatian Islands Cruise: Dubrovnik, Mljet, Korčula, Vis, Šibenik, Trogir & Split” tour, which offers a guided walking tour in each city. There is also the 10-day “Adriatic Paradise” cruise, with walking tours of Split, Hvar, Korčula, Mljet, Slano, Dubrovnik, Brač, and Omiš included along the way.
“Less well known, but equally appealing and perfect for fall travel is Avanti’s new “Croatian Countryside Escape” in the hills of the inland Istrian region, featuring wine- and truffle-tasting, Baroque churches, vineyards and picturesque villages,” said Cortez. “The basic four-day, three-night itinerary includes a wellness spa treatment for two, one dinner with truffles, one wine tasting, a private countryside tour, four days of compact manual car rental and three nights of hotel accommodations, starting at $799 per person, double occupancy. Croatia is not only beautiful, but a tremendous value.”
Travelers to Croatia who are looking for a more active itinerary or are traveling with family may be interested in Intrepid Travel’s eight-day “Croatian Active Family Holiday.” Guests will cycle through forests to view Vesebit Mountain, go kayaking through the fishing village of Vinjerac, and take on waterfalls and rapids on a white water rafting adventure on the Zrmanja River. Other activities during this itinerary include a trip to the World Heritage-listed Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of the oldest national parks in south-eastern Europe and the largest in Croatia. The “Croatian Active Family Holiday” is priced at $1,570 per person.
Travel Agent spoke with Leigh Barnes, regional director for North America at Intrepid Travel, who shared some more information about their offerings to Croatia.
“We run 24 trips in Croatia, which cater for all appetites for adventure,” he told us. “Our Active Family Holiday is just that -- cycling, white-water rafting, kayaking and trekking -- which are ideal activities for the family that likes to take on active adventures together. A more relaxed option is the eight-day ‘Croatia Coastal Cruising,’ which is on a yacht with 30 to 50 other people and focuses more on the destination experience than a traditional cruise does.”
Barnes also noted that foodies of any generation will enjoy in the nine-day “Real Food Adventure” through Croatia and Slovenia, emphasizing the region’s world-class olive oil and truffles.
“Croatia's cities, coastlines, UNESCO World Heritage sites and thriving food and wine scene have made it increasingly popular with our travelers and we expect this to continue,” said Barnes.
With the summer season just beginning, a number of hotels have recently opened their doors throughout some of Croatia’s largest cities.
New in Dubrovnik is The Royal Blue Hotel, the most recent addition to Importanne Resorts and Hotels. The 81-room hotel affords views of the Elaphiti Islands and Lapad Bay, while accommodations include a rooftop outdoor swimming pool and bar with 360-degree views of the city and a ground-level terrace with a pool.
For dining, The Royal Blue Hotel offers five options, including Vista Restaurant serving a classic breakfast buffet, and The Neptun Terrace Restaurant offering specialty meat dishes and a grill buffet. There is also Restaurant Zoë, where the hotel’s master chefs prepare Mediterranean seafood specialties; Restaurant La Castile, a fine dining restaurant serving steak and seafood; and On the Rocks Cocktail Bar & Lounge, offering guests coffee and refreshments during the day, as well as cocktails and small snacks.
Other amenities include 14 multifunctional meeting rooms, saunas, treatment rooms, a gym and complimentary access to Rock platform Blue Flag beach.
Also new in Dubrovnik is Excelsior Hotel, situated in the city’s Ploce neighborhood. Originally dating back to 1913, the hotel recently reopened after undergoing a massive renovation. Excelsior’s 139 rooms and 19 suites offer views of both the Adriatic and the city’s historic old town. Updated amenities include several gardens, a private beach, three restaurants, an indoor swimming pool, a spa and a fitness center.
The Excelsior Hotel spa has two Jacuzzis, a steam bath, Roman bath and Finnish sauna, theme showers with hot and cold temperatures, three treatment rooms, one VIP treatment room with a Jacuzzi, one VIP treatment room for two with a Jacuzzi and a relax zone with heated deckchairs. There is also a fitness studio with cardio and strength equipment within the spa center.
Dining options at Excelsior include the Sensus Fine Dining Restaurant, serving modern interpretations of classic Mediterranean dishes. Led by Chef Petar Obad, offerings include ravioli with weetbreads, truffle, prosciutto chips and Malvasija sweet wine sauce, and “Trilogy,” three fillets of white fish, garden vegetables, spinach macaroons and garlic. There is also Salin, the hotel’s main restaurant with a setting for gala events, and the Abakus Piano Bar, serving light bites and cold drinks.
Easyjet is offering multiple new routes to Croatia for 2017. For the first time, flights between Zadar Airport and London Luton Airport began in May and will continue through the end of September, operating on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Additionally, although the airline has flown to Dubrovnik previously, this year they will also operate flights from Manchester and Belfast Airports as well. From Manchester, the airline will fly twice weekly (Wednesdays and Saturdays) beginning July 22, while service from Belfast began twice-weekly (Tuesdays and Sundays) last month.
British Airways is also introducing service between London Heathrow Airport and Croatia, adding to its Zagreb and Split flights. The airline will now also offer service from London Heathrow to Pula twice a week (Tuesdays and Saturdays) from July 1 to September 30.