From Jelsa Cafe to TCN: The Total Croatia Project Turns 10

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The humble origins of TCN, which started with a beer and a laptop as Total Hvar 10 years ago today
The humble origins of TCN, which started with a beer and a laptop as Total Hvar 10 years ago today

It has been quite a decade, one of constant change. 

Ten years ago today, at about this time, I ordered a cold one from Captain Nijaz at Cafe Splendid on the main square in Jelsa on Hvar, opened my laptop, and got to work. 

My first article on my new project called Total Hvar, an attempt to bring tourist information about Croatia’s premier island into one place. This, a tourist island with five official tourist boards who back then did not talk to each other. 

I had no idea what I was doing. If I had, I would perhaps not have decided to launch in mid-October, just as the island was shutting down for six months, a period when seemingly nothing would happen. 

How wrong I was in that assumption. 

I started with a question I used to get asked a lot:

What’s in a Name? How to Pronounce Hvar? 

So just how do you pronounce this beautiful island? And what are the origins of its linguistically-challenging name? For Westerners used to a good coating of vowels in their words, Croatian can be a handful to pronounce (For Trieste, read Trst for example), and words in English beginning with H+V are in short supply.

There seem to be two approaches which seem to work. The first is to ignore the ‘H’ completely and ask the ticket seller at the ferry terminal for a ticket to Var. The other is to insert an ‘A’ and come up with Ha-var. You will sound like a tourist, but at least you should get a ticket to the right island. The correct pronunciation is somewhere between the two, a very shortened ‘A.’ If in doubt, just ask for Croatia’s premier island.

The origins of the name seem to descend from the Ancient Greeks, who named their settlement Pharos (lighthouse). The Romans derived the name Pharia, which then became Fara. This changed in the Middle Ages to Hvar, as the Slavonic consonant ‘F’ was superceded by ‘HV’. This was sometimes spelled Quara or Quarra. To further confuse the issue, the Italians renamed the island Lesina in the 11th Century (or Liesena or Liesna in Venetian dialect), which was derived from an old Croatian word for ‘forest’.

It wasn’t the best blog I have ever written, or the longest, but I was away. With the help of a couple more cold ones, I wrote 5 more stories that day. And the next day. And the day after that.

What I discovered early on was that there was in fact LOTS to write about, even through winter. Hvar was internationally famous due to its sun, beaches, Pakleni Islands and Hvar Town, but there was very little known about the rest of the island internationally. After more than 9,000 articles I have written just about this lovely island, I feel that some of its less discovered parts are a bit more accessible to potential visitors.  It has been a real pleasure.

I had never been a blogger before, so didn’t really know the rules, so I just went with the flow. As it was my blog, I could decide what went on the site, a freedom which continues today with TCN (despite the many conspiracy theories that I am controlled by Greater Serbia, Soros, the Russians, ISIS or MI6 – or perhaps all of the above). There were unlikely hits, ideas over a cold one which went around the world. There was no better example of this than the Hvar dialect series with Professor Frank John Dubokovich, Guardian of the Hvar Dialects. His iconic Dalmatian Grunt was viewed over 50,000 times before being removed from YouTube (it has recently been uploaded once more, above).

The Professor became a celebrity, with people (mostly attractive young women) stopping him in the streets of Zagreb when he visited, and it was only a matter of time before the Big Boys came calling. Nothing in my dubious list of life achievements can match the joy of watching The Professor on a UK reality TV show instructing a group of unsuspecting British contestants on a beach in Zaostrog on the finer arts of the Dalmatian Grunt. If you have 4 minutes, I guarantee the video above is worth it. 


(Photo credit Vivian Grisogono)

The Professor and his endless collection of ridiculous hats, provided endless blogging material at Total Hvar HQ, as Cafe Splendid became known in certain quarters. I suppose if I had used other cafes, I could have described myself as an early digital nomad. 


Apart from huge thanks to Captain Nijaz for keeping the cold ones flowing, and to the Professor for his trove of blogging material, a major thanks to Vivian Grisogono, who not only contributed some outstanding articles (and ones which were actually researched), but also for guidance, content ideas, and the most pedantic of editing over my typo-strewn drivel. After I moved from the island, Vivian usurped Splendid for the Eco Hvar HQ. And a jolly good job they do too

It was a wonderful period, as well as a pleasure to get so acquainted with this magical island, as well as meeting some rather unusual and unique characters. And while the financial rewards were not huge, it was a pleasant surprise to win the FIJET Marco Polo Grad Prix award at the Croatian Society of Journalists for the best international promotion of Croatia in 2014. 


There were offline promotions as well, including an updated 2016 version of my Hvar guide book (never again), and a loving reflection on an Englishman’s decade on Hvar – Lavender, Dormice and a Donkey Named Mercedes is still available on Amazon. I get a couple of emails each year from people who tell me that they decided to buy property on the island after reading it. Such emails are pleasant incursions into my inbox, which is more peppered with abuse these days, particularly after I escalated Total Hvar beyond the island’s idyllic shores. 

The route to starting TCN back in July 2015 was circuitous. Experiments with Total Split, Total Inland Dalmatia, Total Zagreb, Total Croatia Cycling, Total Croatia Wine, Total Medjugorje, Total Croatia Sailing.

Some worked better than others.

Some didn’t work at all. 

From the moment we started Total Croatia News, however, something clicked. With only a superficial knowledge of Croatia excluding Hvar, and with zero knowledge about Croatian politics, I was clearly out of my depth, but determined to push on. I often wonder what might have been if I had followed the advice of a contact in Zagreb shortly before we launched TCN:

“I love the idea, but I will give you one piece of advice. Avoid all mention of politics, Tito, the war, the past, Serbs… and you will succeed. Your call, but if you don’t follow this advice…”

I would certainly have slept a lot better and had a smaller and more pleasant inbox. 

But then I would not have gems like this to tell my grandchildren about:

Hey Grandpa, what did people call you when you were younger?

A number of things, kids, but I think my favourite was this one – see it there, framed over the fireplace?

‘Tito cock sucking British Jew writing fluff to humanise mass murderers in the Jewish style when socially engineering a people for ruin’

Thank you, Sydney, Australia.


It required some special talent to keep the TCN ship steady in these murky Balkan waters with such an ignoramus at the helm. We have had almost 200 contributors since launching, mostly the occasional article, but a number of talented writers who have contributed more. As we discovered TCN was not for everyone, but one of my proudest achievements in the last decade with the Total Croatia Project is keeping these three amazing humans happy enough to keep working with me for more than 5 years now. From left to right, Daniela Rogulj (TCN COO), Iva Tatic (TC COO) and Lauren Simmonds (TCN Editor-in-Chief). 

Without them, I would be back in the cafe in Jelsa. Fantastic contributions from you all, as well as the rest of the TCN crew. Thank you all. 

I vividly remember my first meeting with all three of them. All in the pub, a sign of things to come.

Running a news portal which is read by international media, ambassadors and EU institutions is a different kettle of fish than blogging about a tourist island with a pint in one hand, as I quickly came to realise. 

Given the lack of Croatian news in English and the demand – expats, business, tourists and diaspora – the need to get everything 100% correct was soon very evident. I don’t pretend that we have got it right every time (I certainly haven’t), but we generally don’t do too badly, and our hearts are in the right place. 

TCN has certainly taken me into new and unusual directions. Among the many highlights have been some of the international recognition we have received. I was a little shocked to win the International Medical Travel Journalist of the Year at MTMA 2020 in Malaysia, for example. And less shocked, but equally proud, as projects we worked on in the last 12 months have been recognised by industry experts. These include 3 Polaris Awards in London for our Total Croatia Travel INFO Viber community, delivered with Manjgura and Mediacor, and 4 awards at Conventa 2021 in Slovenia for Saltwater Nomads, the City of Dubrovnik, and Zagreb and Dubrovnik Tourist Boards for Zagreb Digital Nomad Week, and Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence.  And, even though I was only a bystander, being in Berlin to watch Ognjen Bagatin win the IMTJ International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year in 2019


A decade later and the enthusiasm is still there, as is the endless material to write about in this fabulous country. Croatia has its problems, and constructive criticism is not often welcome here, but the TCN mission continues – to Give People What They Want, and to Celebrate the Little Guy. 

The digital nomad revolution is about to start, an exciting opportunity that TCN has been advocating now for over two years. The arrival of Ryanair in Zagreb has given a new impetus to Croatia’s excellent medical tourism industry, a potential we have been promoting for several years now. After a brutal 2020 due to the pandemic, it is time to really push the Croatian medical tourism story. 

And entrepreneurs. There are SO many incredible stories here – Rimac and Infobip are just the tip of the iceberg – and a nice entrepreneurial eco-system developing in the private sector. The Mighty State of Uhljebistan might still exist, but the twin viruses of transparency and technology are chipping away at its outer walls. It is only a matter of time, and what is happening in the entrepreneurial and startup world in Croatia is REALLY exciting. 

And a pleasure to write about. 

A huge thanks to my wife Miranda and two daughters for their patience, understanding and total support these last ten years. Legends all. 

To all the many contributors who have put their stamp, however small, on the TCN story, thank you – the diversity of content has been incredible and way beyond my wildest dreams when we started. 

And to all our loyal readers, some of whom have been here from the very start. Many thanks for your interest and support. 

Ten years are behind us on the Total Croatia Project. The next 10 years will be exciting and challenging for Croatia, and we are looking forward to telling you all about it. 

Cheers Paul 


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