Coronavirus: chatting with our Croatian expert

Croatia is a land of glorious beaches, scattered islets, towering mountain spires and emerald lakes. We spoke to our local expert on the ground to learn more about how this beautiful nation is dealing with Covid-19.
Old town of Dubrovnik. Photo: Guilleont/Shutterstock
Old town of Dubrovnik. Photo: Guilleont/Shutterstock

Croatia has dealt well with the coronavirus outbreak, keeping case numbers well below the 3000 mark. As of June, travel to the Balkan beauty is slowly creeping back, though with regulations in place, of course. We caught up with Marko Bosnić at Four Seasons travel agency to learn more about what life is like in Croatia at the moment, and how travel is returning to its shores.

Insights from Marko

Marko Bosnić. Photo: private archive

Q: Croatia reopened to tourists in June, when it published a pre-approved list of 10 EU destinations that would be allowed to enter without showing proof of hotel or other tourism reservations. Other EU nationals will be able to enter – but with proof of reservations and a ‘reason’ for travel. Has the situation almost returned to ‘normal’ for you? 

A: Yes, it is true that Croatia has now reopened its national borders to international travelers arriving from all EU countries and fifteen other countries around the globe. Some governments still demand a  self-lockdown on travelers' return to their home countries, but I can tell you that the Croatian government has responded very well to this global crisis and has worked hard to keep the total number of coronavirus cases well below 3000, even to this date, with very few or no new daily cases. 

The mandatory quarantine period in Croatia occured for two weeks in March, and our everyday, local life is slowly returning to normal. The weather is sunny, the sea is getting warmer and people are getting more and more positive overall. Of course, we are still following the suggested health and safety measures issued by our government, such as social distancing and strict hygiene and disinfection measures. 

Unfortunately, I can't say the same for our business, which has been far from normal, especially at this time of the year. However, with all of the free time available now, we have shifted our focus to creating fresh travel content and introducing new and higher value for our future customers.

Along Croatia's coastline, Rab island surroundings. Photo: Mariusz Szczygiel/Shutterstock 

Q: While there are fewer tourists, is it still the same attractions that are being frequented (i.e. Dubrovnik, Plitvice Lakes, etc) or are you seeing a trend towards more off-the-beaten-track spots?

A: There are still very few tourists arriving in Croatia to create such patterns, especially when most of the current travelers are arriving from adjacent European countries like Hungary, Slovenia, Germany, Switzerland – who usually have a very different travel pattern to overseas visitors. 

The 'hotspot' destinations such as those mentioned above will always attract a high number of travelers and that is very understandable since those are the places of unmistakable cultural and natural value, both for locals and the foreigners. 

However, I believe that 2020 has taught most of us, not only in the tourism sector, that there is no more room for 'fakeness'. I believe that authenticity and out-of-the-box thinking will be desired by customers from now on, which is why we are using this time to bring out fresh travel ideas, inspiration and content.

Small coastal restaurant on beach in Bol town, Brac island, Croatia. Photo: Pawel Kazmierczak/Shutterstock 

Q: As these places have been affected by over-tourism in the past, do you think a new type of travel will be a great chance for them to recover and improve?

A: I think that places like Dubrovnik, Plitvice Lakes, Split, Hvar etc, will bounce back as soon as the crisis is over and they will be crowded again, but the actual economic recovery process might take years.  

As I mentioned above, you can already clearly notice the demand for originality and new ideas in every possible field of business. As opposed to mass tourism that has occured and grown in the past years, this crisis will definitely change the way we think and experience travel for the better. However bad and unbecoming this crisis might have been for all of us, I strongly believe that this is a great chance and opportunity to take stock and rebuild for a better environment.

The Plitvice Lakes National Park. Photo: Taromon/Shutterstock

Q: Flights from the UK are expected to increase in July and British tourists will no longer have to quarantine on their return home from 6 July. What are your recommendations for travelers in general when booking or traveling throughout the summer?

A: First of all, I call on every visitor to act responsibly and according to the health and safety measures which are now way more flexible than in the past few weeks and months. 

Although the crisis has changed our lives dramatically, the general atmosphere is really positive – people are starting to feel like humans again and their daily routines are starting to look very much like the ones before the pandemic. 

I encourage travelers not to be intimidated to travel in these new normal circumstances, but to adjust and adapt to the situation and make the best out of it. There are plenty of benefits of traveling these days that come to my mind, with the biggest one being the actual lack of big crowds in the most popular places and destinations across our country. This way you can really experience every place you visit to its fullest potential. On top of that, you can expect marginally easier access and cheaper prices to some of the restaurants, hotels, experience providers, destination management companies and similar, and enjoy the moments that might have cost you more in the recent years.

Roman time arena in Pula, detail, Croatia. Photo: OPIS Zagreb/Shutterstock

Q: What are your top tips for things to see or do in Croatia?

A: I am a gourmet person myself, so I definitely suggest trying local food and wines, wherever you go. Each region has its own taste and feel to it and consulting with an expert is a great way to point you in the right direction. Croatia has so many different flavors and tastes to indulge in that no matter where you go, you can easily experience the traditions of your destination.

With the health crisis in mind, however, I think private trips and private travel arrangements have the upper hand this year for obvious reasons. Private trips will provide you with all the social distance you need and, combined with customizable service policy and operating flexibility, a memorable and priceless experience. 

A private trip means that you don't share ground transportation with anyone but your family or group of friends, which is how we operate, that allows customers to enjoy unique trips tailored to their own personal interests, preferences and needs. 

Another thing worth mentioning is charter boat trips, which, in conjunction with some land days, could be one of the best ways to explore Croatia and its eleven hundred islands. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences anyone can imagine.

Traditional Croatian peka with mixed meat and vegetables. Photo: nadisja/Shutterstock

Q: What's your favorite Croatian dish? Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for readers wanting to get a bit of that Croatian feeling in their homes? 

A: To all the fellow readers out there, I will finish this interview with a taste of finger-licking 'peka' dish, distinctive to the Dalmatian region but available throughout Croatia and its neighboring countries. It has both fish and meat options to it, mostly veal escalope and octopus. 

The original, authentic 'peka' dish is cooked in a casserole placed under a large iron bell, covered with burning wood embers and slow cooked for an hour and a half or two, depending on the type of meat/fish. 

You can try making the same dish at your homes using a normal oven. It is one of the most simple dishes, but if you add fresh Adriatic otopuss or veal and vegetables to it, it doesn’t get much better than that. All you need is a casserole dish where you place your meat or fish, potatoes cut into medium-sized pieces, a couple of peeled onions and season with salt and pepper to taste. Some people prefer to add carrots and rosemary to their dish if they choose meat, or olive oil, garlic and parsley if they've decided for octopus 'peka'. Finding more detailed recipes online is easy, but the real flavor stands behind organic local ingredients and fresh meat and seafood. Bon appetit!