Tuscan-style farm tourism takes root in Croatia
By Igor Ilic
DIVSICI, Croatia (Reuters) – For years, Portugal’s Algarve,
France’s Provence or Tuscany in Italy have been leading the
field for farm holidays in peaceful rural settings.
The picturesque Istrian peninsula in Croatia’s northern
Adriatic is keen to join their ranks.
Judging by the Stancija Negricani, a sprawling farm estate
surrounded by pastures and woodland in the hamlet of Divsici in
the south of the peninsula, the idea may take off.
In the past few years, the number of rural households
offering accommodation and home-made food has risen from a
handful to more than 200, spread across the triangle-shaped
peninsula whose lush vegetation belies the closeness of the
“Istria and Croatia have long attracted tourists because of
the pristine coastline and crystal-clear sea. A decade ago we
started thinking ‘Why not also take advantage of our unspoiled
hinterland?’ and a few years ago kicked off the project,” said
Marino Brecevic of the Istrian Tourist Board.
Now the tourist board wants the “agrifarms” to take care of
business for themselves.
“We can carry on promoting agritourism, but the owners will
have to organize themselves and … facilitate their business
by linking up with tour operators in Europe who sell such
offers,” Brecevic said.
Istria was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until 1918
and was then ruled by the Italians until World War Two, and
many inhabitants speak both Croatian and Italian. It was spared
the devastation of the 1991-95 war following Croatian
Since 2000, tourists have been steadily returning to the
Adriatic which, thanks to 50 years of communism and a decade of
war and isolation, has remained pristine and alluring.
Stancija Negricani, north of the largest Istrian city of
Pula, is one of a few dozen more exclusively furnished farms in
the area. It covers 34,000 square metres (8 acres) and is
equipped with a playground, pool and beach volleyball pitch.
The owners, Mirjana and Marijan Modrusan, quit running a
restaurant four years ago and invested in buying an estate and
making it suitable for about 20 guests.
“We ran up a considerable debt to start this business. We
wouldn’t have achieved this had we not enjoyed refurbishing an
old farm … (and) if our only motive had been quick profit,”
Mirjana Modrusan said.
The guests, mostly from Britain, Germany and Italy, can
enjoy delicacies such as ham, cheese or pasta with truffles and
home-made bread and sausages made to a family recipe.
They can learn how to prepare traditional Istrian dishes
and spend time in the wine cellar — another indispensable part
of an Istrian country household.
The Modrusans have a contract with a British travel agency
and also advertise on a Web site. However, they agree that
agritourism needs a more organised effort.
“It is difficult to define what a real farm holiday should
include. At the moment, accommodation, food and facilities on
offer at rural estates are not properly classified and vary a
lot,” Marijan Modrusan said.
A more luxurious version of Istrian agritourism includes
villa holidays, aimed at wealthier guests.
Rented villas are particularly popular with British
tourists, who account for about 80 percent of villa clientele.
The business is evidently booming and some foreign media
have dubbed Istria “the new Tuscany.”
The recovery of Croatia’s tourist industry has spilled over
into the capital, Zagreb, whose refurbished facades, new luxury
shops and central European charm are proving a tourist draw.
Sprawling between the Sava river in the south and Mount
Medvednica in the north, the city of one million has never been
a tourist hotspot, unlike the scenic coast.
However, the Zagreb tourist board says about 38,000 foreign
tourists visited the city in July this year alone, a rise of 38
percent compared with last year.
“Many of the tourists are interested to see life now, after
the war, compared to what they saw here under communism,” said
tour guide Hela Markanovic, 40.
Most tourists like to explore the cobbled lanes of the old
Upper Town but many also roam the wide downtown streets lined
with shops selling designer clothes and high-tech equipment.
A sore point remains the unwillingness of shop-owners in
this conservative Roman Catholic society to work on Sundays.
“Along with lack of public toilets and parking lots, the
main problem is that shops, souvenir shops and exchange offices
are closed on Sundays. That shows how much more effort we need
to have a professional tourist industry,” Markanovic said.
(Additional reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic in Zagreb)