Croatia Redux

Europeans have returned to 'Adriatic Riviera,' now here come the Americans

By: Lisa Jennings

When Insight Vacations president Marc Kazlauskas went looking for a new and exotic itinerary in Europe, he found what he was looking for in Croatia.

This year, Insight Vacations added a 15-day tour of the “Adriatic Riviera” to the “Country Roads of Europe” collection of premium escorted tours. The trip, said Kazlauskas, has already surpassed expectations.

And Insight Vacations, which has offices in Anaheim, Calif., and New York, isn’t the only tour operator to rediscover the “land of 1,000 islands.”

Just as Odysseus was held captive in the nymph Calypso’s cave the setting of which is believed to be on the Croatian island of Mljet American tour operators are being captivated by Croatia, where a number of new tours have been launched this year.

Many Americans may still think of Croatia as the setting for a hard-fought war for independence from the former Yugoslavia, and the battle for Serb-controlled territory. But the fighting ended in 1995, and other than the continuing effort to remove remaining land mines from former conflict zones Croatia’s major cities and coastal areas favored by tourists are considered very safe.

European tourists have been returning to Croatia in droves particularly Germans. In the first nine months of 2002, there were 43 million overnight stays, of which 39 million were foreigners, a 3 percent increase over the previous year.

Americans accounted for an estimated 113,428 overnight stays in that period, up from 103,917 the previous year.

“Now our problem is getting hotel rooms and seats on the plane,” said tour operator Niko Hazdovac, president and owner of Adriatic Tours in San Pedro, Calif.

For Croatia, the past few years have been a period of privatization, reconstruction and refurbishment of tourism facilities, and there is more to be done.

But, said Hazdovac, unless you look for the damage, “you’d never realize.” Currently hotel capacity is still about 25 percent below pre-war (1990) levels, and the tourism industry is relying heavily on rooms and apartments offered by locals a lodging segment that is growing with the help of state incentives for the restoration of historic buildings to promote tourism.

But this year several new and refurbished hotels are expected to open, including Zagreb’s luxurious Hotel Esplanade, built in 1925, which is being restored to its original art nouveau style and is scheduled to reopen Sept. 1.

And Croatia is becoming increasingly popular as a destination for cruise lines.

In fact, Croatia is seen as a potential gold mine for nautical tourism, with its sparkling clean water, gorgeous islands, and 1,778 kilometers of coastline. Hazdovac said his company, which offers a variety of group and FIT tours, has been seeing a lot of interest in yachting vacations.

“A lot of people think and I am one of them that Croatia has one of the nicest coasts in the world,” said Hazdovac, who is originally from Dubrovnik. He has operated Adriatic Tours in San Pedro home to one of the largest Croatian communities in the U.S. for nearly 30 years.

A popular vacation, said Hazdovac, are his week-long cruises on air-conditioned schooners for groups of 20 to 25. Clients can choose their itinerary. The package starts at $1,000 per person, including meals.

This year Abercrombie & Kent has included a new cruise along the Dalmatian Coast in its Sailing Ancient Shores program. Guests stay on the 34-passenger yacht, the Callisto, and are joined by a guest historian.

Highlights on the Croatian leg include the ancient walled city of Dubrovnik; Korcula, the birthplace of Marco Polo; and the Imperial Palace in Split. Eight-days start at $5,950, double occupancy.

Sunny Land Tours, based in Hackensack, N.J., has offered programs in Croatia for some time, but this is the first year the company is promoting Croatia with a full brochure of escorted group tours, said Tanya Ostojic, Sunny Land vice president.

The Treasures of Croatia program, for example, brings clients into Zagreb on Lufthansa German Airlines for a seven-night tour through the Dalmatia region yes, that’s where the dogs are from to the port city of Split, then on to Dubrovnik, and the Plitvice Lakes National Park with its cascading waterfalls. Prices start at $1,525, double occupancy, including air.

The region is also very popular as a destination for Catholic pilgrimages Croatia is largely a Catholic country. And some pilgrimage tours take travelers into neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the village of Medjugorje is located. Many believe the Virgin Mary has appeared regularly to residents here since 1981 and visitors come to pray and seek spiritual renewal.

Bosnia, however, is not as stable as Croatia. The U.S. State Department warnings for Americans traveling in Bosnia not only include land mines, but the potential of localized political violence. United Nations troops are expected to remain in Bosnia for some time.

With good food the Istria region is known for white truffles and wine, eight national parks, and enough islands to give just about every visitor their own private (pebble) beach, Croatia is ready to be discovered by Americans, say tourism officials.

The fact that the country’s tourism infrastructure is still in development adds to Croatia’s old-world charm, said Pamela Lassers, A&K director of media relations. “People are very interested in that part of the Mediterranean because it’s so undeveloped.”


The Croatian National Tourist Office in New York has an updated list of U.S.-based tour operators offering programs in Croatia this year.800-829-4416.

Here are a few examples:

Insight Vacations Inc., Anaheim, Calif., 800-582-8380.

Sunny Land Tours, Hackensack, N.J., 800-783-7839. Abercrombie & Kent, with a U.S. office outside Chicago, 800-323-7308.

Adriatic Tours, San Pedro, Calif., 888-CROATIA.

Regina Tours, a Far & Wide company, specializes in Catholic pilgrimage tours, 800-465-9248, ext. 130.

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