Dubrovnik and Split offer great value, singly or togetherITCM and some readers were invited to see for themselves the enticing offers of Croatia’s great cities on the Adriatic. Roger St Pierre reports
Croatia has one of Europe’s longest and most spec-tacular coastlines, dotted with resorts large and small. The best known are the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Split and Dubrovnik, each of which can be very attractive in these straitened times.
Easy to access, with direct flights from the UK, both destinations offer great value, thanks to being outside the ever more expensive Eurozone.
The independent republic of Dubrovnik served as both a buffer and a trading post between Turkey and the then major maritime powers, most notably Venice, playing one off against the other to maintain its liberty and stockpile dazzling wealth.
The Croatians have always been an enterprising nation. The infrastructure today is commendably modern, all is spotlessly clean, while standards of design, build and service are of a high level.
Mario Seric, director of the Association of Hoteliers of Split and Dalmatia, previously worked as a consultant on hotel developments around the world. Today he enthuses about his organisation’s 15 member hotels with their 3,100 bedrooms in four destinations – including Le Meridien and Radisson hotels in Split, eight properties on the Makarska Riviera, three around Brac and one on the Zadar Riviera, next door to the national park.
‘There are good conference meeting facilities in the hotels while the Spaladium, which hosts the world handball championship in June, can hold up to 12,000 seated spectators,’ says Mario.
Split decisionAt the Le Meridien Split Lav, set in the suburb of Podstrana, eight miles south of the city, some 2,500 sqm of dedicated conference space is available, all on one level and including a 750sqm ballroom, with sweeping views across the Adriatic and a huge adjoining terrace.
This 281-room modern hotel is spacious, light and airy – with an average bedroom size of 34 sqm. There are eight additional meeting rooms, a 24 hr business centre and state-of-the-art technology.
Leisure amenities include a Roman-style Calderium steam bath, aroma and chromo-therapy, a Finnish sauna, gym, indoor and outdoor pools, a beach, tennis courts and a range of team-building options.
A guided tour of Split should be part of any programme and the palace of Diocletian, built in 300 AD, can host events in a wonderfully atmospheric setting.
Numerous ferries running out of Split’s busy and picturesque harbour provide easy access for excursions to the Dalmatian islands and Italy, a few hours away across the Adriatic.
Dalmatia has the top spotsWith a total hotel capacity at present of 9,404 beds, Dub-rovnik welcomed 508,649 tourist arrivals during 2008 and is well geared to the needs of corporate groups as well as leisure visitors.
There’s a wide range of venues available. Serving as one of the open stages during the city’s annual summer festival, St Lawrence Fortress can accommodate 800 for spectacular sunset cocktails. Equally dramatic, the Revelin Fort is a massive stone construction with a huge salon and a massive rooftop terrace that looks out over the city and its little harbour. Ideal for meetings of up to 120. St Claire Nunnery has modern facilities and a pretty cloister restaurant.
Other options include the Sponza Palace, which caters for exhibitions, cocktails, buffet and gala dinners for up to 100, the Marin Drzic Theatre, the Rector’s Palace and the International Center of Croatian Universities.
So much of Dubrovnik can be found within a short stroll inside the encircling 1,940 metres of limestone city walls. In this pedestrianised area there are some intimate hotels for smaller groups, such as the charming 19-bedroom Pucic Palace, which looks out over the bustling marketplace and has a yacht available for hire to groups..
A short walk outside the walls is the renowned Excelsior Hotel, whose guest list of the rich and famous has included such diverse personalities as South American revolutionary Che Guevara and European royals.
Extensively refurbished and modernised, the Excelsior has magnificent guest rooms overlooking the old city and can provide six multifunctional conference rooms, ranging from 15 to 620 capacity. There is also an extensive exhibition space outside the glamorous Laurea room.
There’s a newer section to the town, much of it built around the modern port, which welcomes a steady stream of cruise ships whose arrivals are closely co-ordinated to avoid overcrowding the town.
Also new, if on a much smaller scale, is the charming Villa Kazbeck, a traditionally styled boutique hotel in an historic building set by the waterside, opposite the cruise ship berths. Elegant rooms assure a peaceful night’s rest after dining on Croatian specialities in the venue’s welcoming restaurant.
The newcomers will have strong competition from such well-established venues as the Hotel Dubrovnik Palace, the Hotel Rixos, Hotel Bellevue, Importante Resort, Hotel Park, Hotel More, and Hotel Uvala.
Among the key players is the elegant Hilton Imperial, its handsome façade complemented by statuesque palm trees, evidence of the wonderful climate.
The 5th-floor executive rooms and lounge enable organisers to add lustre to their events, while free-to-guests facilities include an indoor pool, gym, sauna and steam room while there are surcharges for beauty treatments and massages. There is a 259-capacity grand ballroom, divisible in two, as well as six smaller meeting rooms that cater for groups from 12 to 20 strong, boardroom style. The contemporary Dorat restaurant matches modern international cuisine with Dalmatian specialities – with an emphasis on the freshest of fish – and provides an al fresco option, offering magnificent views from the terrace over the old town and the city walls.
Eating-out options are abundant in Dubrovnik. Just across the street from the Hilton is the splendid Nautica restaurant, where, again, fish and shellfish reign.
The Pucic Palace’s two eating options offer a choice of traditional or brasserie style and there’s a charming terrace for private parties.
Culturally, there’s a year-round programme of festivals and other events, including atmospheric outdoor classical, jazz and rock and the colourful annual procession dated to St. Blaise, the city’s patron saint.
Countryside venuesDubrovnik has the added advantage of being close to some truly glorious countryside. The ITCM group visited the working 15th Century watermill at Divanovici; we had a demonstration of silk weaving in the little village of Cilipi and we also highly recommend the programme to include a traditional Croatian feast at an old farmhouse in Novakovica, showcasing local cheeses, hams, fish, wines and heart-warming cherry, plum, walnut and apricot brandies.
Not that you will need much warming. The climate hereabouts resembles that of the French and Italian Rivieras. Days without sun are rare and even in early and late seasons rain is unusual.
If your group fancies taking to the water, various cruises through the islands are available and I can recommend getting under sail aboard the fully catered Tirena galleon, built after the style of a 16th/17th Century vessel.
And if you are seeking a real gem, take a look at the truly picturesque little resort of Cavtat – known as Epidaurum in ancient times – which is clustered round its horseshoe-shaped bay, with a choice of waterfront restaurants, bars and souvenir shops and an air of discreet sophistication.
Overlooking the little harbour but screened by fir trees, the 480-guestroom, 7-suite, 5-star Hotel Croatia merits consideration as a superior event venue. As many as 300 of the rooms have sea views.
A huge international meeting of air traffic controllers gave me the opportunity to see the facilities in action under pressure and the smooth flow of it all was as beautiful as the superb and sensual curves that the architect injected into his award-winning design that, unlike the vast majority of its 1970s contemporaries, still looks fresh and pleasing to the eye, with a wonderful quality of light everywhere.
A range of à la carte restaurants, indoor and outdoor heated pools, two beaches, tennis courts, a large wellness centre, sauna, beauty salon and other distractions complement spacious conference halls for from 30 to 800 persons, theatre style. There is an additional exhibition area, as well as several salons and terraces, suitable for cocktail parties and receptions.
Operated by the same long-established company, the pleasant little 28-room 3-star Supetar Hotel has a lush Mediterranean-style garden with views over the bay.
There’s now a coastal motorway running almost all the way between Split and Dubrovnik, making a two-centre event a viable option, while a further incentive to give Croatia the thumbs-up is that these two resorts each have a thoroughly modern but human scale airport, with plentiful services. We flew out with British Airways from Gatwick to Dubrovnik and returned from Split to Gatwick by Air Croatia, with a short stopover in the Croatian capital of Zagreb.
Nik Racic, Director, Croatian Convention and Incentive Bureau
Tel: 00-385-1-4699 307