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Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Discover Zagreb in the heart of Croatia

Croatia boasts an unimaginable number of talent, from sculptors to painters, poets and composers, architects and inventors and not forgetting some impressive musical theatre and dance.
Croatia borders Bosnia–Herzegovina and Serbia in the east, Slovenia in the west, Hungary in the north and Montenegro and the Adriatic Sea in the south giving it unique weather of partly European climate in the city and mountains, and a coastal area offering sun worshippers a truly Mediterranean climate. The weather in Croatia though not like the Caribbean was pleasant and sunny during my stay in May. Temperatures were around late teen to mid-twenties and although there was a little drizzle, it was nothing to disrupt my sightseeing plans.

I was secretly happy to arrive in Zagreb Croatia's capital city with the whole afternoon ahead of me to start discovering a city which is fairly new on the horizon in terms of tourism. I was not disappointed as the city simply oozed cultural treats at every turn. I couldn't wait to get stuck in.

I found the people very welcoming, the food delicious, the wines irresistible, the accommodations full of charm and character, paired with a city full of industrious people.  What was most noticeable to me was that for a city, it offered masses of green quiet spaces.  It was so relaxed and on occasion I had to pinch myself as it felt as if I was in the Caribbean.  It certainly exceeded my expectation of a city and felt more like a new discovery untouched by tourism. What I loved most was that there were no tourist traps and you could easily immerse in the laid back style of the Croats!

I stayed at the Palace Zagreb an imposing building like many of the buildings dotted around the city.  The hotel offers comfortable rooms for an affordable price and is within walking distance to most of the attractions. There is free WiFi and the hotel has a full service restaurant where I had lunch al fresco shortly after I arrived. The meal was delicious and the hotel staff were very friendly.  My room was quiet and comfortable with all the amenities you'd expect and I'd certainly recommend it as the perfect base for exploring the city.

Hotel accommodation in Zagreb caters for leisure and business as well s a number of hostel providing for those on a budget. I visited the The Double Tree Hilton
which offers facilities for business and leisure both of which offer a high standard of facilities.

I mention The Espanade because it is steeped in the history and romance of the Orient Express and its luxury and lavish decor does not fail to impress, especially its Emerald ballroom which is unexpectedly breath-taking.

There are a number of hotels within the main circumference of the Square and so you can be in the main square within matter of minutes walking.

The city itself is quite a small area and believe me you will find your bearings a lot sooner than you think...take my word for it! When I realised how easy it was to get around I felt satisfied that in a few days I would be able to fully explore the city to my heart’s content. But at the end of my three days I could easily have spent a further three as I was ambushed by the open air events in the main square.
On this occasion it was the wrestling championships which was an interesting show of strength by men and women. I stood in awe watching the competition and the refreshing support of the locals and tourists to the competitors.

As I walked through the city I noticed that there are a few steps in the old town and so it might be a practical challenge for those with mobility issues. However, although I didn't see any wheelchair users, I would imagine that as the hotels had whelchair accessible accommodation so the primary taxi firm Eko taxis are equipped to serve this need. Taxis and trams are frequent with buses running on the outer routes of three main square from 04:00 till midnight daily. It comes as no surpirse that Zagreb offers a tourist card which offers great deals on travel and free and reduced price to attractions, shops, restaurants and much more.

The city comprises of the old and new city even-though some of the newer parts date back hundreds of years. The older part of the city is elevated and provides colourful tales of a past era for history buffs. As I stood in the old town overlooking the new town I listened as my tour guide Iva explained about the events which led to the development of the new town and the bloodiness which ensued as a result.

As for the culture I was impressed with the quality of the night tour I went on. Iva appeared just before dusk and we started an interesting walk through the city under the guidance of her ancient lantern and distinctive and intriguing sillohuette. Iva Silla specialises in a variety of historical tours about Zagreb took us on a 3 hour tour starting in the old town and ended in the new town. Iva led our tour with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm. She provided historical accounts of the city's expansion and even talked about the secret society of Zagreb and the Black Dragons! Interesting or what! Iva's way of presentation is unforgettable and will certainly be one of the main highlights of my visit to Zagreb. I would definitely do another tour with her when I visit again.

One of the other things that fascinated me was the abundance of art and culture that I stumbled upon as I explored the city. In the old town there were monuments, sculptures, busts and buildings which exuded great architectural and historical significance. The ambiance was very relaxing and I felt my flying visit to the Art Pavilion for the exhibition of  Augouste  Rodin and the innovative Broken Relationships were both interesting and insightful well worth a visit.

The new town boasted several green spaces which offered a tranqul and relaxing space within the city with fountains and even an outdoor library in the park!

Eating out is even more pleasurable when you can dine out for less than £40.00 enjoying a three course meal and maybe a bottle of local wine for two.  With a plethora of bars and restaurants there is something for everyone. Whilst I was there I had the opportunity to taste a number of Croatian wines and now I have come away with a new love for wines. 

Throughout my stay I visited a number of restaurants had some delicious meals so my recommendations for these restaurants mean you will be sure to experience dining in Croatian style.  All the meals I had were extremely tasty and you will certainly get your money's the portions are quite hefty! Croatioans love their meat and potatoes and there is a potato like dish which is served in most restaurants called and it usually comes as a starter or an accompaniment to meat.    
For authentic Croatian food, I would recommend;
Vinodol restaurant, Zagreb, tel. 003851 4811 427,
and Pod gričkim topom restaurant, Zagreb
For authentic Croatian food, I would recommend;
Vinodol restaurant, Zagreb, tel. 003851 4811 427,
and Pod gričkim topom restaurant, Zagreb
At Restaurant K Gabreku 1929, Samobor, tel. 00385 1 360 722, I was able to enjoy the taste of wild boar, duck and vegetables which was a generous meal, so make sure you're hungry when you visit. The waiter here offered wine which was a great complement to our meal and they have a variety of local wines to choose from.  The experience of tasting some delicious wines produce of Croatia has certainly awoken my wine-buds and is now the catalyst to a new-found passion. There are some local wines well worth tasting and the places I'd recommend to do so are at The Agava restaurant, Zagreb, tel. 003851 4829 826,  and the Restaurant K Gabreku. 1929, Samobor, tel. 00385 1 360 722, for an authentic taste of Croatian food.
 Most of the restaurants offer a relaxed and stylish ambience and you will be delighted with a mixture of local dishes along with a selection of Croatian wines. If you are a foodie like me then you must try a local speciality of strukli which is a potato dish served either savoury or sweet.

Throughout the city you will see the blue trams pass by frequently. Transportation is fairly cheap. A ticket bought for £1 equivalent last 90mins can be used on the tram or bus, and can take you to your destination despite changing so long as you continue your journey in the same direction. There is also a Zagreb city card well worth buying if you plan to stay a while and want to venture further afield.

For airport transfers these can be arranged by most hotels at a good price and so it recommended that you book in advance. It will be cheaper and  because of certain restrictions  taxis are limited in where they can drop off.

 Croatia uses Kunas its own currency. I took Kunas and found this worked really well especially in the Dolac market in Zagreb and Samobor. The exchange rate is nearly £1 =10 kunars which offers great savings and very good value for money. You will come across some things priced in Euros and you can expect to pay for these with your credit card.
Croatia is becoming more popular as a health tourism destination. An increasing number of visitors are keen to access cosmetic and dental care treatments at a great price and of the higest quality and service offering incredible savings when compared to those in the UK and other European countries.  With the sterling being so strong at present you can expect to get some good deals on any purchases you make.
Because of the geographic location of Croatia you have plenty of options for exploring the area. You could easily spend a few nights in Zagreb and then finish off a week long break at the coast. However if a city break is all you're after then fear not because only a few miles west of the city Jarun offers  plethora of things to do. There are plenty of beachside cafes, restaurants, lakes with boating facilities and rowing lanes. On land the younger ones can enjoy mini-golf, rollerblading whilst cycling and walking are a breeze. So if you decide a further flight is not for you then a short drive to Jarun will fulfil your sun, sea and sand holiday ideal.

You'll be pleased to find modern as well as traditional styled shopping in Zagreb. There a number of souvenir shops close to the Dolac market where you can also expect to see the locals buying their groceries; local produce, fish, meat, fresh fruits, vegetables and fresh flowers. As an avid shopper I was happy to find a wide selection of locally produced items perfect for souvenir gifts at the Dolac Market in the city, and where you can buy local items at a fraction of the price you'd pay in duty-free. The market place is a gentle hustle  and bustle of stalls all neatly arranged offering lavender, flavoured olive oils, the paprenjak an aromatic biscuits and much more, all perfect for souvenirs.

At the end of shopping you could always relax at one of the many bars which roll out onto the piazza  each afternoon and enjoy a cocktail or take coffee and a kremsnita (a Samobor custard creamcake) like the locals! After shoppping I went to the famous pedestrianised are for a drink and joined locals and tourist alike just relaxing and chatting as the evening turned to night. 

For a day trip I went to Samobor and  arrive within the hour, where I enjoyed the day walking up to the castle ruins along the river after having coffee at the local coffee shops in the main street. The village boasts a number of coffee shops, restaurants as well as local shops and some unmissable points of interest. Look out for the wishing well and the statues of the famous sculptor and poet.

Although I only spent 3 days in Zagreb, I could have easily spent a further three days. Zagreb has a serious cultural offering of cathedrals, galleries, theatres, museums, festivals and concerts all throughout the year and so without a doubt I'll be back to soak up this city's authenticity.

I'd certainly recommend flying into Zagreb on the national carrier Croatia Airlines where you'll experience the hospitality from the moment you board.

I'll be writing a newsletter soon with offers to Croatia so watch this space.


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