By Motti Verses
How many times a person gets the opportunity to enjoy and feel past experiences through a present situation? The French call it Déjà vu. I was fortunate to sense this feeling now, during spring in northern Croatia.
My daughter Lihi studies medicine in Zagreb, the capital. Her twin brother Doron and I traveled to visit her and to take her for a pampering vacation in the country in numerous attractions, not to be missed. Driving by car for days, just the 3 of us, evoke past strong memories of their childhood. Ever since they were young kids, since first garde I made it a must to travel with them each year outside Israel. As a hotelier, working for Hilton, I got one of the most previliging benefits one can imagine. A team member’s symbolic rate to stay in thousands Hilton properties all over the globe. Our typical trip was by car, traveling endlessly, singing songs, enjoying the views while I explained them the history of each place and its uniqueness. I was the driver and both of them the back, enjoying the moment. This all came to a halt when they joined the army, 8 years ago. I was left with sweet golden memories that will not return.
However surprises always arrive when unexpected. This trip in Croatia, so long since the last one we had together, was a complete replica of past trips. This time Doron was the driver for a change and the songs, the jokes and the atmosphere was identical to the ones I thought will never return. True happiness.
Two hours away from Zagreb we encountered one of the most impressive nature phenomenons in Europe – Plitvice Lakes National Park. It is listed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage sites. The park is surely a must-see for every visitor to Croatia. Well known for its system of cascading lakes – whereby sixteen lovely lakes are interconnected by streams and waterfalls, the park is simply amazing. It is also populated by a variety of animals including bears, wolves and numerous bird species.
Arriving in Croatia or Slovenia this summer, plan a 5 hours tour by foot with head covers, sunscreens and drinking water. Pleasant breaks are available in designated areas. Surely a day you will ever cherish. Online tickets are easily available and the ways to get to the park are numerous. A car, an organized tour or even a bus ride from Zagreb with a minimal cost.
As the beaches of Croatia are world famed we made our way north-west to the Istria region. It is the largest peninsula within the Adriatic Sea. Istria is shared by three countries: Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy. Croatia encapsulates most of it. A must see on the shores of the Adriatic sea is Rovinj. It is a charmingly picturesque town with narrow cobbled streets and a lively marina. Rovinj is famous for its Cathedral, the highest church tower in Istria at 61 metres high. The aromatic brandies available here and Istria truffles are a culinary winner that is hard to resist – both are authentic symbols of traditional Istrian hospitality. They are also available, combined with local olive oil.
Pula, the largest city in Istria, is situated at the southern tip of the peninsula. It’s laidback and cosmopolitan. Home to some impressive Roman ruins, it retains a refreshing sense of authenticity. The compact historic town center is picturesque with a strong Roman presence. The Pula Arena, one of the best preserved Roman Colosseums you will ever see outside Rome, is a must visit.
Opatija, the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, is known for its 180 years history of tourism and amazing authentic restaurants. In the 19th-century it was renown as a health resort for Austro – Hungarian aristocracy and nobility of that time. Nowadays it is a popular holiday destination for tourists from all over the world. Its Riviera is famous for a complete harmony with nature.
The Istria peninsula is misleading. On the map it looks tiny, however in reality it is different . You will need at least one full day per each town or attraction. Do not spend most of the day in your vehicle, trying to see all those attractions in a speedy mode.
The surprising new Hilton Rijeka Costabella Beach was our home. It is an imoresive propery that in my opinion deserves easily a much higher brand of the Hilton protfolio.
The young dynamic General Manager Ryan Gauci met us with his big smile. “The resort was opened less than one year ago. We have a 5 stars property with 200 rooms, split from normal rooms to villas, occupying up to 8 people”, he says. “All our rooms have sea view. We have 2 indoor pools, 3 outdoor pool, a long 200 meter beach, which all our guests can access. We have a total of 10 food and beverage outlets Including the Nebo restaurant and lounge with a Michelin star at the 6th floor”, he concludes.
Seeing my twins enjoying the stainless steel swimming pools and jacuzzis was another jump in time. This hotel offers the newest innovations there are and saves no effort to allow guests to get pampered, the luxurious way. Which hospitality investor would build a special peer with a shiny elevator to take you to one of four different pool attractions or to the beach itself? This hotel has no limits.
With the Adriatic scenery seen from the balcony and the exeptional interior design, this trip was a true experience. Iconic I might say. Watching my daughter swimming in the Adriatic sea for the first time was a joy. Driving on our last day to Zagreb only because she had an exam in Croatian was a wake up call from a sweet dream. Will this Déjà vu return in that formation? Time will tell.
North Croatia. This might be your next break.