The reinvention of Croatia, from tourism backwater to holiday behemoth

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Croatian restaurants have also been through something of a revolution. “In the 1990s, restaurants had long menus offering dozens of dishes, and plates arrived heaped with food. It was quantity over quality”, says Karin Mimica of restaurant guide Gastronaut. “Then the Slow Food concept arrived, giving emphasis to local seasonal ingredients. Restaurants became places where people talked about the history of food and its connection to the place and local traditions. Now it’s more fine fining, with careful presentation, wine pairing and even olive oil pairing”. As of 2021, Croatia has ten Michelin-starred restaurants, six of which are hotel restaurants.

You even have wine hotels now. Look up Meneghetti and Roxanich in Istria, and Korta Katarina in Dalmatia. “In the former regime, the industry was based on big co-operative wineries, which produced huge quantities of wine but very few labels. These wines were certainly not bad, but the industry was not evolved as in France or Italy,” says Ivo Cibilić of Korta Katarina. “Since 1992, numerous private winemakers started production with a clear vision of what they wanted, so today we have hundreds of top labels. Tourism brings many wine-lovers to our country, and I believe this is a trigger for an even better future.” 

Croatia has definitely become more accessible. Each summer it’s served by budget airlines from all over Europe, and 2021 saw the first direct flights from the US. Fast new motorways now connect Zagreb to Split (opened 2005) and Rijeka (opened 2008). For visitors to the islands, there are slick speedy catamarans running from May through October. If all goes to schedule, 2022 will see the opening of the long-awaited Pelješac Bridge, so people driving from Split to Dubrovnik will no longer have to pass through Bosnia, with passport controls at Neum. 

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