Why I Live in Croatia: 30 Incredible Discoveries in 2019 Alone

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Photo credit: Steve Gaunt, the man responsible for bringing a traditional red telephone box to Europe's oldest continuously inhabited town of Vinkovci

Photo credit: Steve Gaunt, the man responsible for bringing a traditional red telephone box to Europe's oldest continuously inhabited town of Vinkovci

December 17, 2019 – Croatia, Full of Incredible DIscoveries. With so many people emigrating, this foreign resident doubts that he could live anywhere else. 30 magic moments so far in 2019.  

I never cease to be amazed at the stories I hear about myself being a foreigner in Croatia. So many conspiracy theories, so many assumptions made about me. If I had time to read the intelligent musings of Croatia’s army of keyboard warriors more than once a month, I am sure I would find out more about myself that I didn’t know. 

Two recent comments amused me, however. The first was that I have never written anything positive about Croatia, and the second was that many people think that I am independently wealthy and run TCN as a hobby. 

I wish!

The truth is that I started Total Hvar with about 100 euro in my pocket and don’t seem to have become much richer as the years go by. But that doesn’t stop me from exploring this wonderful country in greater detail each year, now that I have moved to Varazdin County after 13 years on Hvar. It has been another incredible year, and I thought it might be fun to put some of the highlights together into one article (with links to each individual article in each header) to show that rather than looking for the exit door from Croatia, here is the kind of wonderful and diverse life you can have exploring Croatia. And if I can do it with a little determination, hard work, and 100 euro in my bank account, so can you. 

So how much fun can you have in Croatia in a 12-month period – here are my top 30 incredible discoveries this year – most are new to this year, but a few are old favourites which I heartily recommend you try at least once in life. 

Let’s begin!


1. Meeting the successful shopkeeper on an island with no permanent inhabitants – Zut.

Successful Croatian businesses sometimes appear in the most unlikely of locations. Imagine coming up with an idea of opening a shop on an island where nobody lives permanently. 

But you know what, it works! A really interesting interview with the shopkeeper on the island of Zut, and if you click on the link above, there is even a video demo of his wonderful cart pulley system, which operates on an island with no electricity. 


2. The only winemaker in Split, making wine in a nuclear bunker.

Croatia has some incredible wines and some very talented and charismatic winemakers, but have you ever met a winemaker who makes his wines in Split? In a bunker under a block of apartments?

And the wines are fantastic. Meet Divina Vina.  


3. Biblos, a Lebanese treasure in the hills outside Zagreb.

One of the realities of daily life in Croatia is that things rarely go to plan, and often there is a pleasant surprise or diversion along the way. Hiring a van to collect a kitchen table from a garage west of Zagreb that we had bought on Njuskalo did not have much potential for a fun day out,  especially when the garage owner did not turn up, but when life gives you lemons, Croatia sometimes gives you lemonade – in this case a quite incredible Lebanese restaurant around the corner.  


4. Baska, a Glagolithic masterpiece on Krk.

If there is one thing I have learned here, it is that Karin Mimica from Gastronaut puts on the best foodie tours. Through Karin’s wonderful tours over the years, I have discovered the secrets of parts of Croatia I never knew existed. This year’s Gastronaut highlight was the Krk Food Festival, and in particular, the Glagolithic magic of Baska. 


5. Za Krizen, 6 UNESCO processions through one incredible night on Hvar.

The most special night of the year on the island of Hvar – Maundy Thursday. The 500-year-old- ‘Za Krizen’ (Behind the Cross) UNESCO procession, which takes place simultaneously in six villages on Hvar, as a barefoot crossbearer leads his acolytes and pilgrims on a 22-kilomotre circular procession through the night. This year, I managed to capture the start, finish and all six processions passing though the main square of Jelsa on video.  


6. Hope for Hrvatska: the EY Entrepreneur of the Year dinner.

Croatia is not just a land of tourism. It also has a vibrant entrepreneurial scene, and one of the most positive nights of the year in a country which often thrives on negativity is the EY Entrepreneur of the Year dinner at Lauba in Zagreb. Infobip the worthy winners of 2019. 


7. 5 Michelin Star Chefs on 1 Uninhabited Island – Festa Days on Zut.

The reason that I was able to meet the shopkeeper on Zut above, is that I was there for Festa Days on Zut, one of the culinary events of the year. And if you are looking for a great story, how about this one. A family with land on an island with no water, electricity or ferry connections decides to open a quality restaurant in 1993, in the middle of the war. How would you rate their chances of success? Some 26 years later, no less than five Michelin-star chefs accompanied 5 of Croatia’s top chefs for a gourmet bonanza – I think Festa more than exceeded 1993 expectations, don’t you?


8. Korculanske Pjatance, a Spring Food and Wine festival of note.

For excellent food and wine festivals, however, few beat the excellence of Korculanske Pjatance Spring Food and Wine Festival on Korcula – a really special time to visit a very special island at the end of April/early May. 


9. Harvesting lavender on the top of Paradise.

But for special times and aromatic authenticity, nothing beats a 04:30 start in early July on Hvar – harvesting lavender with celebrity snapper Jadran Lazic has been part of my summer calendar since 2013, this year with wonderful a capella singing from the local lavender harvesters.


10. RokOtok, the most heartwarming project on the Adriatic in 2019.

And then I met him – Ribafish. Simply the most heartwarming project on the Adriatic in 2019. And it will be again in 2020 and 2021. Wonderful man, wonderful project, check it out. 



11. The amazing Red History Museum in Dubrovnik. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The very mention of Tito or a red star evokes such an allergic reaction in many that I was stunned to learn that the Red History Museum had opened in Dubrovnik, of all places. Whatever your views of the past, it is hard to deny that this is part of Croatian history, and the two guys behind the project put together a brilliant exhibition of the good, the bad and the ugly of this most contentious of eras. Despite the seeingly controversial topic, it quickly went to the number one museum in Dubrovnik on TripAdvisor. 


12. Finding an English pub in a field in the middle of nowhere in eastern Croatia.

The most random find of the year. Having found the red telephone box in Vinkovci in the lead photo, a little investigation informed me that there was a Brit who was not only responsible for that but had also opened an English pub in a field in the middle of nowhere a few kilometres away. I set off in search of it…  


13. The miracle town, home to Croatia’s only miracle authenticated by the Vatican which you can visit.

Croatia is 90% Catholic, and neighbouring Medjugorje in Bosnia and Hercegovina gets over a million tourists a year, despite there being nothing to see and no official recognition from the Vatican. Now, what if I tell you that not only does Croatia have a miracle authenticated by the Vatican, but you can also visit it, in Croatia’s official miracle town.  


14. Vucedol, unique Croatia with a world-class product.

Vudecol. Just wow. One of the absolute must-sees in Croatia. Sadly seen by so few.  


15. The Entrepreneurial Mindset conference in Zagreb.

Those entrepreneurs are getting more organised and more vocal. The conference of the year – Poduzetnik Mindset – (Entrepreneurial Mindset) was held in Zagreb in September. Rimac, Bakic, Murvos, Tedeschi, Bagatin and many other superheroes from the Croatian business world shared their stories – and their failures. And the most impressive part? In the front row, there were no ministers, but high school students – what a way to inspire the next generation. 


16. Reviving a Croatian fashion giant – a visit to Nenad Bakic and Varteks.

One of the most engaging business stories of the year has been the rebirth of Varazdin fashion giant, Varteks, under the dynamic leadership of Nenad Bakic. There are so many aspects to this story which deserve attention, and we only touched on a few of them in this interview in his Varteks office earlier this year. 


17. Elite tourism on Hvar: the opening of 5-star Palace Elisabeth.

My beloved Hvar kept calling me back, and it is always a joy to visit Croatia’s premier island, especially for the official opening party of Palace Elisabeth, heritage hvar hotel, the first 5-star hotel on the island. It was quite a party, and it is quite a hotel.  


18. The lifeblood of Dalmatian life – the olive harvest. 

Posh hotels are one thing, but life in Dalmatia comes down to the simple things. I used to hate the olive harvest and obligation to go to the family field, but it is now something I look forward to  – natural stress relief with liquid gold. 


19. Taking part in the Vukovar Remembrance Day parade. 

From stress relief to heightened emotion. I have always stayed away from Vukovar commemorations, as I felt a foreigner did not have a place there, but I decided to go this year to at least document the event in English, as nobody really had. 


20. A barbecue in an English pub in a field near Vinkovci with foreign veterans from the Homeland War. 

But these foreigners very much belonged to the Vukovar gathering – a quite extraordinary night back in that English pub, with a barbecue for some of the foreign veterans who fought for Croatia during the Homeland War.  


21. From famous photographer to organic farmer, the OPG Mario Romulic experience.

Although I had been east before, 2019 was the year when I made the most discoveries. One of my favourite was catching up with an old friend on a new journey – celebrated photographer Mario Romulic, turned organic farmer. A stay at OPG Mario Romulic is highly recommended!


22. Ilocki Podrum, a wine story to beat all Croatian wine stories.

I have eaten some strange-sounding foods in my time, but Torn Underpants? That was the name of the appetiser in Ilok which came with a glass of Ilocki Podrumi Traminac, before the start of a fascinating tour which included the most expensive Croatian wine on the market – yours for just 7,400 euro a bottle. Only 182 left, so hurry! 


23. Conquering Croatian bureaucracy, a victory for long-named foreigners.

Among the most important incredible discoveries of 2019, Croatian bureaucracy that works! Varazdin MUP not only managed to figure out how to extend my name from Paul David Raym to Paul David Raymond after years of my name being squeezed on official documents, but they also sorted my post-Brexit paperwork in just 18 minutes, the time I took to sort out a new driving licence.  


24. The surprise business story of the year – agility, fun and innovation in the Croatian car parts industry in Sesvete.

Remember the bit above about how days in Croatia never take the path you think they will? How excited was I about visiting a car parts factory in Sesvete? Exactly. 

But how wrong could I be? Read. This.  


25. Innovative tours, engaging guiding, a masterclass in tourism from Secret Zagreb.

How do you keep your kids off their gadgets and engage them in the world around them? Just go in a tour with Teta Iva from Secret Zagreb. Not only the most innovative tours on the market, but also arguably delivered by the most engaging and passionate guide, the creator of all Secret Zagreb tours, Iva Silla. Truly magnificent.  


26. Innovative souvenirs – Orlando’s chocolate elbow in Dubrovnik.

There are so many small businesses doing funky things in Croatia, and I particularly liked this very original Dubrovnik chocolate souvenir, the exact length of Orlando’s elbow. 


27. The Pride of Berlin: Bagatin named International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year.

If Vukovar evoked strong emotions of sadness, the strongest moments of pride were reserved for Ognjen and Andrea in Berlin earlier this month. The Croatian medical tourism industry is one I am following closely, and it was an honour to be one of just two others from Croatia to witness Bagatin Clinic named International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year by 20 independent expert judges at the International Medical Travel Journal 2019 awards in Berlin. Congratulations, and richly deserved. 



28. A first visit to the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe: 10 things to know about Vinkovci. 

And having solved the puzzle of the red telephone box in Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited town, it was time to discover the rest of Vinkovci under the expert guidance of Goran Rihelj. I salute you, Sir!


29. Marked by Masters, a branding masterclass in Trogir. 

Dalmatia in late November is not noted for being a time it is Full of Life, but there was a very notable exception. And an exceptional one. In glorious Dalmatian sunshine, Trogir shone – but really shone – with the spectacular launch of its new branding and logo, Trogir, Marked by Masters. 

Check out the video above. 


30. HeadOnEast – Hedonist, magical Osijek stuns the Croatian tourism world. 

But just as Trogir shone, so too did Osijek, as it played host to all the tourism bods at the annual Days of Croatian Tourism. Even locals were stunned at the magic of Osijek and Tvdja. 

And if you have not had the chance to HeadOnEast yet, why not put it on your list of things to do for 2020?  


And then there were the events I have not yet had time to blog about – a superb performance of The Nutcracker at the Croatian National Theatre (thank you, Ankica Mamic – an incredible night). 

And while 2019 was another year of incredible discoveries of Croatia, it also pushed TCN into new territory in other directions. 


A first article for The Daily Telegraph.



A first international media award for TCN. In Malaysia!

We were thrilled to win Best Online Feature at the inaugural Medical Travel Media Awards in Kuala Lumpur in August. 


My childhood dream of becoming an international male model was finally realised at the age of 50 as I became the latest face of Varteks’ campaign, Imperfect Guy in a Perfect Suit. If they can make me look presentable, imagine what they can do for you… 


After an interview with leading portal Index.hr on the state of Croatian tourism was read over 100,000 times, I got my own occasional column on their site – link juice to die for. Thanks for the opportunity.  


And speaking of opportunity, an opportunity arose to partner with the University of Zagreb to start an intern programme with journalist students from the Faculty of Political Science and Journalism. Early days and lots of fun so far, with one intern about to be published in London just a few weeks after starting with TCN. 


And it is always a boost to the day when the international media picks up a really fantastic Croatian story and spreads it all over the world. 

So when people ask me – as they do, a LOT – why I am living in Croatia when everyone else is leaving – the very honest answer is that I genuinely couldn’t live anywhere else. Life – and the lifestyle – in Croatia is simply too beautiful, absurd and addictive to want to live anywhere else. 

And, far from needing millions to live here, if I can start a business with 100 euro, an idea and determination, sitting in a cafe in Jelsa, there is no reason why you can’t as well. I won’t pretend it is easy, but the rewards are definitely worth it. 

Why emigrate? Where in the world are you going to find incredible discoveries and a lifestyle like the above outside Croatia? 

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