Uday Chakraborty, 51, a vice-president with Reliance Industries, is just back from his fourth visit to Croatia. Work took him there the first time, but subsequent visits were triggered by the country’s immense natural beauty and historic sites.
Why Croatia? It’s recovering from years of terrible strife and is poorer than many other parts of Europe.
If you combine the vivacity of Italy, the coast of Greece and the architecture and mountains of Austria, you get Croatia. Being the wealthier part of former Yugoslavia, Croatia has always had good infrastructure. And, other than Bhutan, it’s the only country that has consistently rejected economic development at the cost of the environment. On the one hand, it has turned away companies such as BMW and Renault and, on the other, it has a Unesco blue ribbon for the highest possible purity in the sea water along its entire Adriatic coastline. The air is clean and fresh.
The arena at Pula is better preserved than Rome’s Colosseum
Is it among the more wallet-friendly European destinations?
Things are relatively cheap, except during peak season. There is a variety of accommodation for tourists of all budgets; transportation, too, is less expensive than in western Europe. Food is not cheap, per se, but because manpower and real estate cost less than further west, and the buying power, too, is lower, eating out is comparatively cheap. And, almost everyone speaks English.
You’ve been back to Croatia four times since 2000, right?
That’s right. The last time was in late May-early June. Each visit was for 10 to 15 days, but I explored different parts of the country each time. On my most recent trip, I focused on Istria, along the island-laced coast of the Adriatic, and Zagreb, the capital. I crossed the sea from Venice by hydrofoil and spent my days sightseeing, taking photographs and enjoying the local food and wine.
Tell us about Istria.
Till World War II, Istria was part of Italy and Austria, so it retains something of both ancient Rome and the Hapsburgs. Now, it’s the richest part of Croatia, a unique bunch of picturesque coastal towns. I like to stay at each city or town for a couple of days, devoting one day to sightseeing and the next to watching the landscape and the people.
Pula, the Istrian capital, has the world’s best-preserved amphitheatre—better than Rome’s Colosseum—and forum, as well as Roman castles and other pre-Roman monuments. My next stop was Rovinj, an old town with an exquisite cathedral, located on an extended bay. Porec, directly across from Venice, has intact an old Roman cityscape and one of Christianity’s earliest cathedrals.
There are also beach resorts such as Vsrar and Umeg, but the best of the lot is Brijuni island, just off the coast.
In the interior, there are small towns dating back to the Middle Ages. Nowhere else in the world can you find so many of them packed into such a small area. Motovun is considered Croatia’s most important national heritage. The woods around the town are well known for their truffles. Then there’s Hum (reputed to be the world’s smallest town), Dvigrad, Vodnjan and Buje. Each has a unique attraction and in each, time seems to have stopped long back.
In all of Croatia, I like Istria the most—it combines the charm of Tuscany with the wealth of the French Riviera, minus its commercial glitz. Plus, it offers probably the best cuisine in the country.
What was the food and drink like?
In my experience, you get some of the world’s best food and wines in Croatia. The most prized, of course, are the good quality olive oil and truffles, particularly white truffles. The Familie Zigante restaurant near Motovun offers heavenly food garnished with truffle shavings. There’s also a slow food option at the Kabola farm near Groznjan. In fact, most restaurants are very good and excellent value for money. It is possible for two people to dine on four courses with superb wine for €60 (Rs4,920).
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at email@example.com