Despite what you may have read elsewhere, there are no fast trains running from Zagreb to the Croatian coast. Introduced with much fanfare in 2004, fast “tilting trains” were supposed to cut travel time between Zagreb and Split to 5 1/2 hours. They did for a number of years but not without problems. In 2006 there was an accident when a train crashed into a lorry and in 2009 there was a serious accident in Rudine that killed six passengers and injured 55. Shortly thereafter, changes were made.
In an interview today, a spokeswoman for Croatian Railways, Mihaela Tomurad Sušac, confirmed that there is now only one tilting train in service on the Zagreb-Split line and that it is not running at top speed due to infrastructure problems. Basically, the tracks cannot handle the trains. Five other tilting trains are due to be back in service at the end of 2013 and the seventh should be back at the end of 2014. Although they will not be running at top speed, these modern trains will provide a comfortable experience for passengers. Ms Susac expects that infrastructure improvements will allow top speeds to be achieved again in 2015.
I was curious about the issue because I recently booked an overnight compartment from Zagreb to Split and was told that on many routes it was necessary to take a bus to Karlovac and board a train from there. Not on my overnight fortunately! Ms Susac confirmed that there is ongoing repair work on the tracks which required this inconvenience and that, due to another derailment, there was even more repair work on that line scheduled this month.
Bottom line for travellers: before buying your ticket, especially for an overnight, find out whether you’ll be taking a train or a bus. See more about Croatian trains.
My trip went very well, by the way. Although cramped, my tiny two-person compartment, had a sink, soap and, most importantly, hot coffee in the morning.
On my recent trip to Croatia covering Zagreb, Zadar and Brac island, I stumbled across some great new accommodation that I just have to share. Because I pay my own way when I travel to Croatia (no, I do not accept “freebies”), I keep a close eye on my wallet. I don’t mind paying well for accommodation but I do want good value for money. Here are three places I can highly recommend. I stayed at two, and closely inspected the third.
Taban Hostel Zagreb
Now I’m not necessarily looking to stay in a hostel and I’m long past the time when dorm sleeping is in any way appealing. Yet I was intrigued by Taban hostel’s incredible location on Tkalciceva street in the heart of Zagreb’s Upper Town. I’ve been to Zagreb a number of times and stayed in very nice places in Zagreb’s Lower Town but this time I wanted something different.
Zagreb’s Upper Town is a fetching combination of Hobbit-like houses, winding streets, sober churches and a vibrant cafe life. What it doesn’t have are hotels. But it does have the Taban Hostel and, fortunately for my standards of comfort, the Taban Hostel offers doubles with en-suite facilities as well as beds in five and six-bed dorms. I was pleased to find a spacious room with gleaming floors and a huge bathroom. I was especially pleased to peer down from my window and watch people strolling and chatting on this pedestrian-only street. The excellent sound-proofing eliminated all street noise as well as noise from the downstairs bar which insured a great night’s sleep. I was glad that I brought my own toiletries and hairdryer however and as for the included breakfast, the less said the better. The Taban Hostel offers a variety of spiffy, newly renovated rooms all with free WiFi. I booked a “comfort” double for €59 nightly, which, considering its location in the heart of Croatia’s capital, made it excellent value for money. More.
Zlatni Rat Beach Hotel, Brac Island
No hostel here, folks. Zlatni Rat Beach Hotel is a three-star hotel that would easily justify a fourth star. Located only steps from stunning Zlatni Rat beach in Bol on Brac Island, this 16-room hotel is a rarity in neighborhood dominated by big resort behemoths. The rooms are comfortably outfitted with satellite TV, toiletries, hair dryer, free WiFi, a fridge and a small kettle to make coffee or tea. Breakfast was included and it was superb. The eggs were cooked to order and there were plates of pastries, fruit, yogurt, cheese, ham, bread plus a jug of orange juice.
The staff couldn’t be friendlier or more enthusiastic, cheerfully picking me up in town when I arrived and depositing me again when I left. As the prices in the hotel restaurant seemed high to me, I strolled into town for a meal the first night. It was a beautiful stroll on the beachside promenade and an OK meal but I realized that the prices of the hotel restaurant were very much in line with the prices in Bol town., that is, higher than Zagreb. My second night, I ate at the hotel and was glad I did. The chunk of fresh tuna was super-fresh and expertly seasoned and grilled. Yes it was off-season but at €39 nightly, I considered it a steal. More.
Boutique Hostel Forum Zadar
Alas, I couldn’t get a room in this newly opened “design hostel” in Zadar as word had already gotten out that this is the hottest hostel in Croatia. The Boutique Hostel Forum is a stunner. You could call it minimalism with flare as the designers cleverly use color and line to enlarge and add visual interest to each space. The hostel puts 4-bed dorms for backpackers on the first floor and then the rooms increase in comfort on the two floors above.
The bunk-beds are so cannily designed with pull-down shades for privacy that even I would be comfortable there. The upstairs rooms are doubles with Zadar’s best views, that is, onto the Forum. All storage space is behind mirrored walls and the lucky guests in these rooms also have a buffet breakfast. Naturally, there is free WiFi, friendly staff and spaces for socializing: an enclosed garden outside and the TV room/library. All rooms are air-conditioned and, in a nice touch, individually controlled. For years I have bemoaned the lack of affordable lodging in central Zadar. There are two four-star hotels, great. The Boutique Hostel Forum fills a gaping need. But, I would reserve well ahead of time. Once this hostel starts winning design prizes it will be nearly impossible to get a room. More.
Plans to develop a luxury golf resort on top of Srd Hill in Dubrovnik will move ahead after all, much to the relief of the investors behind the project and, one supposes, at least some citizens of Dubrovnik. It’s hard to tell. As I’ve previously reported, the project ran into stiff local opposition on environmental and cultural grounds. Opponents of developing Dubrovnik’s hill organized a referendum on the project’s future which was held yesterday. Only 30% of eligible voters bothered to turn out for the vote. Of those, some 84% or 10,000 voters declared themselves against the development but, since local law requires a 50% turnout to make the referendum binding, the project will proceed.
Split has a hill too. Marjan Hill in western Split offers many kilometres of woodsy walks and biking trails. Split citizens are just as attached to the recreational opportunities and sweeping views on their hill but, unlike their brethren in Dubrovnik, they’ve managed to protect it, at least for a while. Perhaps with a nervous eye on the machinations in Dubrovnik, Croatian Culture Minister Andrea Zlatar Violic just announced that Marjan Hill has been awarded the status of “protected cultural landscape area” for the next three years. Whew! In a news conference, Zlatar Violic noted the need to explore the hill for possible archaeological finds. She even put the kibosh on Mayor Kerum’s plans to plant a huge cross on the hill in the style of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio.
So for now, locals and visitors can enjoy the fresh air of Marjan Hill and, at the bottom of the hill, a brand-new extension of Split’s waterfront has been opened. Called the Zapadna Obala, this seaside promenade sports palm trees, fountains, benches, sun beds and a biking lane. Although the renovation cost over a million euros, it will also lure yachties with additional berthing possibilities and a refueling station.
Now that the local ferry schedules are online, let us now mourn the passing of some favorite ferry routes from last year. Chief among the dearly departed is the car ferry from Pula to Mali Losinj and Zadar. Sure, you can now hop a direct flight from Pula to Zadar with Croatia Airlines and it’s true that the ferry only ran once a week but it was really convenient. I especially liked the connection between Mali Losinj and Zadar as it was a relaxing way to continue a journey southward. You now have to backtrack all the way to Rijeka and then head south along the mainland. It makes no sense. I’m afraid visitors will be avoiding Mali Losinj for that reason which is a shame.
Another lost route is the car ferry from Drvenik on the mainland to Domince on Korcula Island. Rather than one ferry, you now have to take two ferries to Korcula from the mainland: Ploce to Trpanj and then Orebic to Domince.
The final indignity is the morning passenger boat from Split to Hvar that returned in the afternoon which allowed a quick day trip to trendy Hvar Island. Run by Krilo for the first time last summer, it no longer appears on that company’s timetables. There is another passenger boat between Split and Hvar but it leaves Hvar in the morning and returns from Split in the late afternoon. Hey, what’s more important here? Islanders who work in Split or tourists who visit Hvar? Maybe the company will have a change of heart.
Visitors are starting to trickle into Dubrovnik now that the Adriatic sunshine is warming up the city’s ancient stone walls. The first cruise ship of the season steamed into Gruz port on March 29, launching what is expected to be a record season of at least one million cruisers. To handle the crowds of cruise passengers, Dubrovnik has opened a new cruise office in Gruz. With 60 direct routes to European cities and more than six thousand flights, Dubrovnik Airport will also be a busy place this year. The airport is struggling to manage the influx of visitors which is why it has been slated for a €220 million expansion over the next seven years.
So, what’s new?
To be honest, the Dubrovnik municipality has become very adept at turning their charms into money. Prices have climbed substantially for nearly everything. The local bus ticket that once cost 8KN (€1.05) is now 12KN (€1.60) (see more on local buses). The cost of walking Dubrovnik’s famous walls is now 90KN (€11.80) and using a public toilet in the old town will climb to 10KN (€1.31) this summer. Like most of Dubrovnik’s museums, the illustrious Rector’s Palace will now cost 70KN (€9.20) to visit. Ouch. Gone are the days when Dubrovnik was considered an inexpensive alternative to Western Europe’s more mainstream destinations.
At the top of the line, the five-star Villa Orsula is reopening after a six-month overhaul. Chic enough for a sheik, Villa Orsula was once a private residence that has now added state-of-the-art technology to its courtly rooms. Villa Orsula is in the Ploce neighborhood, an easy walk from the old town and with gardens stretching down to the sea.
In the Konavle region, Sokol Grad is a restored fortress whose history stretches back to 2000 BC. Recently restored and open to the public, part of the fort has been turned into a museum exhibiting rare artifacts that evoke the importance of the fort to the Republic of Ragusa. Built upon a hill, the fortress also affords a sweeping view of the rugged coastline of the Dubrovnik Riviera.
Dubrovnik International Opera Festival
What a great combination! this year’s festival runs from September 26 to 29 and features singer Diane Schuur. More.
NATO Parliamentary Assembly
It will be the largest governmental gathering in Croatian history and is expected to bring some 800 international visitors. Running from October 11 to 14, this prestigious event will likely cause major disruptions to transport and accommodation.