Croatia is on a roll.
In November the Croatian National Tourist Board kicked off a marketing campaign called Croatia 365, designed to highlight six themes in 22 destinations: culture; gastronomy and wine; cycling; business trips; wellness and health, and active holidays.
Of these themes, one we are hearing a lot about is wine – so much so that tour operators are sitting up and taking notice.
“We have seen a significant increase in private and small group journeys with a focus on wine tasting throughout Croatia, not only [in its] famous wine producing area,” said Maria Kuchan, owner of Adriatic Luxury Journeys.
In fact, nearly every private tour offered by the La Jolla, Calif.-based company, which specializes in Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Albania, includes a wine tasting event, based on client demand. Some of those events include cooking classes and wine pairing meals.
Croatian wine, however, hasn’t always been worthy of such attention.
“Croatia has come a long, long way in the last twenty years,” said Wanda Radetti, president of New York-based Tasteful Croatian Journeys. “When I first started to invite travelers to visit Croatia, I thought I would be able to design itineraries comprised of lavish wine tastings and gastronomy, but my dream was premature,” she said. “The food was certainly always good; it was organic and it was usually from farm and/or sea to table, [but] as for the early wine production, there was not a drop of wine that I would drink or invite others to do so.”
Fast forward two decades, and “…the wines one can now experience are of distinctly high quality, and I can gladly say that Croatia is now a top wine destination,” she said.
A frequent winner of Conde Nast Traveler’s World Top Travel Specialist for Croatia, Radetti said her clients are expressing increasing interest in wine travel, and she credits Istria, in particular, as having great wine as well as a sophisticated wine tourism infrastructure.
“We also admire and appreciate what the wine producers of the Peljesac Peninsula have achieved in presenting their brand and how they have so successfully been able to weave some of the best wines of Croatia into wonderful cultural experiences,” she said.
Select Croatia, based in Chicago, New York and Shanghai, is also uncorking packages and a la carte wine packages this year, including a seven-night Zinfandel Experience that includes wine tastings, fine dining and guided sightseeing in Dubrovnik, Split, and Korcula.
In addition, the company offers daylong excursions that focus on wine, including the Oysters & Wines of Mali Ston Bay and Magical Dubrovnik package, which features wine pairing on a private island, and the Wines of Dalmatia and Krka Waterfalls program, departing from Split.
The Croatia 365 promotion also intends to boost its shoulder-season travel via a new subpage called Seasons on the Croatian National Tourism Board’s main website.
According to Kuchan, that is already happening. For the last several years, Adriatic Luxury Journeys has experienced an increase of as much as 15% annually in off-season travel – so much so that her touring season now lasts up to 10 months a year.
“Our clients enjoy exploring Croatia in the off-season while there are no or fewer crowds,” she said.