Marko Polo's Korcula
Fate has a way of changing lives, and sometimes it is the smallest things which can make a difference.
Imagine, for example, that the most famous traveller of them all – Marko Polo – had grown up in a house without a sea view. Born in the historic Dalmatian walled town of Korcula, young Marko's morning routine would have included divine views across the Korcula Channel towards the inviting beaches of Orebic on the Peljesac Peninsula. While the island is rich in divine beaches (of which more later), Korcula Town itself is not, and it is little wonder that young Marko headed off to live his beach dream on Orebic, before venturing further to travel the world.
But what if young Marko had lived in a house in Korcula away from the beach? What would his life have been like then? For a man with such an adventurous spirit, his life and discoveries would have been every bit as interesting without having to travel so far.
If it was beaches he was seeking, he could have picked from a selection of world-class bathing spots a short distance from his home, from the famous sandy beaches of Lumbarda to a wealth of rocky and pebbly choices all over the island.
His gourmet discoveries would have included some of the great (and to this day) undiscovered white wines of the world. Grk and Posip from Korcula are gradually attracting the attention of leading international experts, but it has taken a few hundred years since young Marko was on the road to China. Olives, fresh fruit and vegetables, the finest seafood – one could argue that Marko did not find a tastier or healthier diet in all his travels.
He would have discovered an island as green as any in the world, whose olive groves, fig trees and vineyards today help to continue the tradition of Korcula as one of the greenest and most natural holiday destinations in Europe, full of tradition, heritage and legend.
And we should be thankful to Fate for giving Marko that bedroom view of the Orebic beach, for his travel exploits are internationally famous, while the island of Korcula remains one of Europe's best-kept secrets.
Hidden bays like Brna on the south coast of the island for example, complete with the intimate sandy bay of Istruga, which is unknown to many, but discovered by those looking to escape the pressures of the modern world. People like Roman Abramovich, for example, who moored up opposite Hotel Feral in Brna in 2013, as his chief of staff – a Brna man – was given the night off to visit his parents.
In all his travels, would Marko have found a paradise like this? Lying in bed in any of the 87 Feral rooms, all of which are directly on the water, the only nightlife is the gentle lapping of waves through the open terrace, a sound echoed in the morning with gentle birdsong.
Marko Polo did the world a great service with his travels, but perhaps he did a better service in keeping Brna and other places a secret by not discovering Korcula... For more information about
Novigrad: gourmet destination of Istria
A quality hotel is nothing without a kitchen to match, and at Hotel Maestral, we are fortunate to have an exciting young chef, Mario Čančar, taking care of the gourmet needs of our guests. Mario's guests at Restaurant Oliveto have included the then President of Croatia, Dr. Ivo Josipović, and his rise through the ranks of the hotel kitchen is symbolic of the youthful energy and loyalty of the hard-working Oliveto team. Having worked his way up over the years through sheer hard work, Mario now knows every inch of the Maestral gourmet scene, and we managed to catch up with Mario in a rare quiet moment to find out more about his gourmet philosophy and what is on offer at Maestral and Oliveto.
- Novigrad is located in the heart of the rich gourmet destination of Istria. Tell us a little about what makes Istrian cuisine so special.
Istrian cuisine is special because it combines the wealth of the fruits of the Adriatic with the seasonal availability of the riches of the region. Currently we have tasty wild Spring asparagus, and Autumn is the time for truffles. Winter is the time for preparing pork dishes, sausage, cabbage, pasta and Istrian cured ham, which is consumed throughout the year.
- The company produces its own olive oil, Vergal. Tell us more about the philosophy of your kitchen and cuisine, and the importance of local products.
Our branded Vergal olive oil includes Leccino, Frantoio and a selection of other olive oils. Each variety is specific to a particular type of food. For example, Leccino is used primarily for light fish dishes, such as Novigrad scallops or white fish which is renowned on the north-west of Istria. On the other hand Frantoio is the perfect accompaniment to spicy meat dishes such as Istrian boškarin. We also use a special selection of olive oils in our local specialities, such as wild asparagus and dished with black and white truffles.
- With so many gourmet options locally, what can guests expect at Oliveto to tempt them to come for dinner?
Oliveto is a stylish combination of traditional cuisine, the finest local ingredients and modern food preparaton methods, resulting in fine dining which delights our guests. Come and try it – I guarantee you will not be disappointed!
- An important part of the Novigrad gourmet scene is the annual Gnam Gnam Festival. Can you tell us a little more about it, and how does the hotel participate?
The 4th Gnam Gnam festival is building on the success of this successful gourmet event, whose core theme is to promote the richness of the local Istrian gourmet offer. We promote wild asparagus, sardines, Novigrad scallops, Istrian seafood specialities, as well as the cuisine of continental Istria.
Our company Laguna Novigrad is a major supporter of all gourmet events, and we actively participate on our buffet table by serving several themed local dishes which we have prepared for Gnam Gnam.
- Let's take a closer look at your menu. What would be your top recommendations (and why) for a couple looking for 1) a fish-based meal and 2) a meat-based meal?
We have a great menu at Oliveto, and here are my selections for fish and meat dinners:
a) fish carpaccio, Mediterranean-style, followed by Novigrad scallops served with cream of broccoli and potatoes or chips, then monkfish fillet in two colours: with a cuttlefish sauce and white wine.
b) Boškarin salami (traditional Istrian beef) with goat cheese, ravioli stuffed with cream cheese and a prosciutto and truffle sauce, lamb chops served with mashes pears and home-grown fried potatoes.
- Desserts are often the highlight of any meal, as they come at the end. Introduce us to a couple of your favourites.
Our various cakes and desserts are prepared fresh daily, and there is a real diversity, which makes it hard to pick out any special favourites. The desserts are constantly changing and improving, but the queen of desserts will always include chocolate.
- You spend long hours in the kitchen, and so you must enjoy your time off. How is living in Novigrad, and what are the things you like to do here to relax in your free time?
Novigrad is a very cute small tourist and fishing town, where I like to enjoy afternoon walks, leisurely bike rides, coffee on the water and a beer at sunset. Stress-free living!
Why not come and experience the Istrian specialities that Mario and the team are ready to prepare for you?
For more information about the gourmet offers of Laguna Novigrad, click here.
Sport in Novigrad
For a relatively small nation, Croatia has been a sporting giant in recent years – World Champions at handball, Wimbledon winners and World Cup semi-finalists in football. It is a proud sporting tradition which has been helped by excellent training facilities in the country, facilities such as those available at Laguna Novigrad.
While Croatia is perhaps most famous as a holiday destination for its sun and sea, the sporting opportunities on offer in the hotels of Novigrad combine with the beach to take your Croatian holiday to the next level. With outstanding facilities for tennis, kayaking, football, cycling and handball, it is the ideal sporting destination for groups and individuals looking to raise their performance levels to their peak.
And you never know who you might bump into...
Last year, Laguna was delighted to welcome Serena Williams to Novigrad for training, and we have just bid farewell to Belorussian star Viktorija Azarenka after a successful preparation in April 2015. Tennis is a serious business, with 17 courts to choose from near Hotel Maestral and 2 in Mareda, and annual tournaments including the Manfred Jungitsch Senior Cup Istrien with 250 competitors, and the ITF Super-Seniors World Tea Championships in Umag and Novigrad.
Football training is becoming increasingly popular, with more than 100 groups a year arriving in Novigrad, taking advantage of the two full-size pitches and one artificial pitch, as well as the availability of three pitches from local clubs if required. Teams from all over Europe descend on Novigrad to combine their training with relaxing Istrian hospitality, and they have included the Manchester City academy, Northampton Town, Wolfsberger FC and Bologna, as well as a host of Croatian clubs, including the national futsal team.
Handball is almost a religion in Croatia, and Laguna Novigrad is pleased to welcome various national women's teams, including Croatia, Slovakia and Italy, while both the Chinese and Slovakian male national teams have trained here.
The secret of Novigrad's sporting popularity is a simple combination of the important ingredients for athletes: a pleasant climate, excellent infrastructure, accommodation which is fully adapted to the needs of athletes, and friendly but unobtrusive staff who is on call to attend every need.
International team preparation also takes to the water, as both the Czech and Slovakian national kayaking teams visit Novigrad every year, while the Slovenian Kayaking Federation and Serbian national team have also spent time here.
Cycling in Croatia received a great promotional boost in April 2015, as some 130 million viewers tuned in globally to watch the inaugural Tour of Croatia, which passed through Novigrad. There has been a steady increase in cycling tourism in recent years, and a popular annual race is the Istria Granfondo.
With Croatia's strong sporting tradition on the world stage, combined with the considerable international team interest in Novigrad's quality infrastructure, is it not time that you checked out the training facilities at Laguna Novigrad? Who knows, perhaps one day you too will hit the winning volley at Wimbledon, or score the winning penalty in a World Cup Final...
For more information on the sporting options at Laguna Novigrad, click here.