Croatia is proud of its famous beaches and islands scattered across the Adriatic, from Opatija and Rijeka to Dubrovnik. But its capital city is also a true pearl with a magnificent old town, parks and monuments. Vibrant Zagreb is worth an exploration, however definitely an underrated destination for an unclear reason. Flights from Tel Aviv to the modern Franjo Tuđman Airport are frequent during summer. Unfortunately as of autumn these flights cease and Zagreb is reachable via connection flights only. So regrettable, as this city has a lot to offer.
The so-called Green Horseshoe, a set of beautiful parks and palaces, will impress every visitor to the capital of Croatia. The fountain in front of the glittering 130 years old art pavilion is a marvel. Zrinjevac is an important monument of park architecture with lovely water fountains, old trees and the close by the Croatian National Theatre located in this neo-baroque building is impressive.
Reachable by the protected cultural monument funicular, the medieval upper town here, is a must visit. Dominated by St Mark Church and this peaceful small old town will make your day. Set in the pulsing heart of the city center, Ban Jelačić Square is the largest square, a famous landmark and meeting point. Not far, the Dolac market is a joy, in front of Zagreb Cathedral, the monumental Gothic style structure known as the city’s symbol. Recent earthquakes forced the authorities to launch a long term preservation project. During the last winter earthquake, part of the tower fell on the roof of the cathedral, which also damaged and broke through in several places, and most of the stone elements fell into the courtyard. The interior was also significantly damaged. This restoration project will dominate the city skyline for years to come.
The Jewish presence in the city probably dates back to the 10th century. Jewish families from Bohemia, Moravia and Hungary lived in Zagreb in the mid-19th century. 12,000 Jews lived in the capital at the beginning of the Second World War. The number declined to about 1000 at the turn of the 21st century, however the Jewish Community Center is live and kicking.
Zagreb offers classy hotel accommodations not far from the old town. I was intrigued by the rather late arrival and development of modern cool accommodations. Looking for a dynamic hotel to be our home, not far from the city centre, we chose the comfortable Hilton Garden Inn. With contemporary relaxed modern design and convenient locations, we were eager to understand Hilton’s unconventional portfolio in the city. 3 new hotels, not far from each other. 3 relatively small choices with 3 different brands, under the Hilton umbrella in this capital city. With that in mind I was on my way to meet the outgoing impressive local born Director of Hilton Hotels Zagreb, Josipa Jutt-Ferlan. She welcomed me with a big smile in the company’s meeting room. Her overview was illuminating.
“For decades Zagreb was considered as a classical destination that accordingly provided traditional hotels”, she says. “Travelers were expecting long- established accommodations that were identified with the city’s image. Numerous classical hotels operated by either global brands or local owners dominated the city. Less than a decade ago, when Hilton showed interest to have a presence in Zagreb, it was a golden opportunity to offer something different. More contemporary modern design hotels, aligned with what western capital cities in Europe offer. Hotels with restaurants without tablecloths and just classy Croatian food. Bistros with good steaks in hotels were not seen before in Zagreb. We were the first to present such a product in our first hotel here, the DoubleTree by Hilton. We presented a cozy informal atmosphere in this hotel. Forecasting that the business district of the city will develop rapidly, the hotel was opened there and not close to the old town. However Zagreb is small and this district is only 3 stops away by tram and 7 minutes by taxi”, she says.
The Croatian capital has become more popular in recent years among business travelers. The number of businesses is growing and with them more conferences and other business-related events continues to increase. Josipa Jutt-Ferlan apparently envisioned this trend. “In time, as anticipated, this district developed really quickly. A need for an additional hotel was obvious and the Hilton Garden Inn was developed”, she says. “The hotels are intentionally close to each other so joining forces when a convention, congress or a fair is planned in Zagreb, we are the ones to offer the ideal solution”.
But her vision was even greater. “When Hilton launched just before COVID Canopy, the upper upscale lifestyle hotel brand, Josipa with her business hunches felt that Zagreb is ready for another revolution with its hotels portfolio. Canopy hotels are planned in the most dynamic neighborhoods across the globe. These hotels aim to become a natural extension of the community and she knew that Zagreb has a spot. “A location by the railway station was available and within a short examination, including a visit to Reykjavik Iceland, where the first Canopy in Europe was launched, led to the first Canopy in continental Europe – here”, says Josipa Jutt-Ferlan. “This hotel provides an energizing atmosphere with thoughtfully local touches, highlighting both the railway system and is also a homage to Adam Tesla, famous for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current electricity supply system”, she concludes.
“Aggressive in identifying opportunities, developing focus and providing tactical business solutions” – these capabilities are written in Jutt-Ferlan’s Linkedin page. With 3 relatively small dynamic Hilton branded hotels in Zagreb and with the backing of the Hilton Honors loyalty program with more than 158 million members around the globe, Josipa Jutt-Ferlan becomes the most influential hotelier in Zagreb. She is also the Director of Zagreb City Hotels and the elected President of the Association of Hoteliers of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce. Listening to her presentation, I witnessed no intention of stopping. New development opportunities are hidden nowadays under the sleeves of this superwoman fempreneur.
Meanwhile, while traveling to Croatia landing in Zagreb, do not miss the opportunity to add a few extra days on to your trip to visit this underrated city. Surely you won’t regret it.