As with most Europeans, it should be no surprise that Croats are fond of both summer and winter vacations. The work and school schedules of both parents and their children are the main factors which determine the type, duration, and distance of the vacations. And, like most families everywhere, the financial situation of the Croatian family is an important consideration that often determines the type of vacation.
In Croatia, a winter vacation is most commonly taken right after the New Year, before the children have finished their two week Christmas break and return to school. Since my arrival in Croatia many years ago, I have found that there are traditionally two styles of winter vacations that are most popular, and the final choice often depends on each family’s attraction or repulsion to snow and the cold, winter air. More specifically, I am referring to ski vacations, which are regarded by many Croats to be almost a sacred ritual. In fact, there are several Croats I know who, given the choice, would forego their summer vacations so they could spend an extra week in the mountains skiing on the slopes and frolicking in the snow. Skiing is so ingrained in these people’s souls that they train and shop for their upcoming ski vacation for weeks, even months, before the snow starts falling.
Unfortunately, Croatia isn’t as famous for its world-class skiing as much as it is for its world-class skiers. Nonetheless, there are a few places for the local ski aficionados to go to polish their skills on weekends, one place near Zagreb (Slijeme), and another near Ogulin (Bijelolaščica), which hasn’t opened the past few years because of lack of funding and snow. On a positive note, there are several top-rated ski slopes within a few hours’ drive from most parts of Croatia, and I see plenty of tour buses full of Croatian skiers headed for the famous resorts in the Austrian and Slovenian Alps, the Italian Dolomites, and even the French Alps.
For those Croats who do not enjoy snow and the winter weather, and there are many, another option for a winter vacation is to take a short plane ride to a warmer destination in the Mediterranean region. In past years, frequent vacation packages with short flights and affordable prices could be found to such exotic destinations as Tunisia, the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, Cyprus, and Turkey. However, the current political instability in many of these destinations and the continuing European financial crisis have made these trips less popular for the winter holidays.
An alternative to ski and plane trip winter holidays has become quite popular. Hotels built near hot springs (Toplice), offering packages targeting a families’ winter vacation budget, have done an excellent job of establishing a foothold in this market. Weekend specials, weekly deals, and some much longer, can be found at good prices on the internet. The packages usually offer a hotel room and unlimited access to indoor, outdoor, and thermal pools. Most deals also include both breakfast and dinner buffets, leaving plenty of time for swimming, massages, saunas, and healing in the thermal water.
Several of these hot spring resorts have been around for a long time such as Istarske Toplice near Buzet and Varaždinske Toplice near Varaždin and are renowned as physical therapy centers for invalids, retirees, and patients requiring rehabilitation for various injuries. But more recently, newer resorts have opened that target families wanting to relax, swim, and get away from the stress of everyday life. These resorts can be found scattered around the country, but the majority of them can be found near the Slovenian-Croatian border in the regions north and west of Zagreb.
Early this January, my family had the chance to enjoy a three-day weekend at one of these resorts. The experience was highly recommended by some of our friends and we had an excellent time. The resort offered most things necessary to make the experience a truly family outing. Besides the well-kept, heated indoor and outdoor adult and baby pools, the spa offered an extra warm, sulfur-saturated thermal pool and multiple Jacuzzis.
Slika 2 Toplica – heated, outdoor thermal pool
Slika 3 – Toplica – indoor thermal pool
This complex also offered saunas, several types of massages, and other types of health and beauty pampering. An organized event schedule included various types of exercise, hiking, aerobics, and a well-equipped children’s playroom. In the summer months, it offers another large outdoor pool with waterslides for the children, and a modern, nine-hole golf course with driving range for golf enthusiasts. A fitness path and bicycle trail is also available for hikers and bikers.
Slika 4 Toplica – fitness trail
This resort’s service was excellent, the facility was modern and clean, and the food hit the spot after a full day of swimming and hiking. All in all, it was a very good experience and a relaxing weekend. No cooking, no cleaning, and no cell phones.
It should be mentioned, of course, that not all hot spring hotels are the same, and some offer amenities targeting different types of customers. Researching the various resorts on the internet would serve a person well before booking the relaxing package he or she is seeking.
Fortunately for Croatia and Croats, these types of resorts are becoming more common in many more locations, which should offer even more variety and keep the prices reasonable. Both sides of the Slovenian-Croatian borders are dotted with these hot spring hotel resorts, and most offer good value for the money. In fact, I already have a good idea of how we’ll be spending our winter break next January.
If any readers would like to know the name and location of the hotel (Toplica) specifically referred to in this article or have any other questions concerning the subject this article covers, I can be contacted at the ‘General Inquiries’ email address given on the contact page of my web site: www.into-hells-fire.com.
Douglas Cavanaugh is a hobbyist writer who has lived in Croatia for sixteen years. His most recent book, Into Hell’s Fire, is an international spy-thriller that is set in Bosnia and Croatia during 1992.
Here is a recent review about his book from an English reader on www.Amazon.co.uk:
4.0 out of 5 stars Promising debut 2 Jan 2013
A promising debut from Douglas.Particularly liked how the History aspect behind the Balkan conflict was handled.By use of the hero reviewing an earlier intelligence report, the background was delivered in bite sized chunks and at no time did you feel that you were being lectured.Good atmospheric scene setting that captures a real feel for the region and time. Fast moving,action packed read that was thoroughly enjoyable.Look forward to any further product from this new talent.Highly recommended!
You can find out more about his book and other great books and music related to Croatia that Douglas recommends on his site’s bookstore and music shop at: www.into-hells-fire.com