Croatian Rural Tourism: Seoski Turizam Rakic near Krizevci

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Croatia’s coastal tourism is well established, but up in continental Croatia, there is a quiet natural revolution going on, with an increasing number of quality rural tourism options, 12 months. Forget the famous Croatian tourism slogan, The Mediterranean as It Once Was – Meet Healthy Living as It Once Was (and is once more). We start the new series on TCN with a visit to Seoski Turizam Rakic, near Krizevci on October 18, 2016.

We all know the parable of the billionaire and the fisherman. The rich man meets a fisherman on his holiday, admires the fisherman, then starts to give advice. Do this and your business will grow, do that and you will have a fishing fleet, work incredibly hard and financial success is guaranteed.

And then what? asked the fisherman.

Well then you can retire and spend your day fishing. 

The parable struck me again and again last week, as I was taken out of Dalmatian sun and sea comfort zone for four of the most fascinating days I have had for a while, having accepted an invitation from the Croatian Rural Tourism Association to meet some of its members and take a look at how tourism looks on the continent. My knowledge of continental Croatia is embarrassingly poor, and this looked like a golden opportunity to explore some of the continent’s top rural secrets with an expert guide. 

I had no idea just how golden it would prove to be…  

Combining the trip with the Gastronaut visit to Medjimurje about which I wrote recently, my introduction to rural tourism in continental Croatia was as a guest at Seoski Turizam Rakic, just outside the village of Cabraji near Krizevci, where the charming president of the association, Jasmina Rakic Horvat and her equally charming family were waiting to welcome us. 

I felt a little self-conscious entering their delightful estate, which as you can see from the photo above, is set in splendid isolation from any neighbours, allowing them the freedom of the countryside around them, which is dotted with animals in their possession – deer, sheep, chickens and horses. Coming from a city background and less than healthy lifestyle, there was a definite breath of fresh air as we toasted the welcoming rakija (prepared by the family of course) – here was natural healthy living away from the pressures of modern life. 

I liked it. A lot. And we still had three and a half days to go to investigate some other treasures of the Croatian Rural Tourism Association, which was formed last year in an effort to bring together some of the country’s premier rural tourism offer, while actiing as a more effective lobby with local governments and in Zagreb. 

Inside was a true delight, with each room a trove of traditional artefacts and furniture, with so much detail that one could really spend the afternoon exploring the history and uses of the various traditional things on display, but I had to smile when Jasmina explained that their first appearance in the national media was memorable for the reference to these chairs, which were made by prisoners in Lepoglava prison. 

So much space, so many fields, so much freedom for the little ones, both in terms of that space, but also for their minds and imagination. With more and more kids these days being swallowed up by addiction to technology, places like Seoski Turizam Rakic should assume an even more important role. It is somewhat ironic that their purpose to show life as it was in a bygone era may well be eclipsed by the need to show people natural life before the Internet just 25 years ago… 

It was time to eat. As I was to learn over the ensuing few days, food – all home made and sourced locally – is never far away in quality rural tourism on the continent. A fine selection of cheeses and pates to accompany a glass or two ot the very drinkable house white. What was extremely cute was finding out that each member of the family had his own responsibility and expertise of preparation. Jasmina was the queen of liqueurs, her mother the rakija. And…  

A recent addition to the family is Jamina’s husband (check out their wedding video held at Seoski Turizam Rakic below), who I immediately had to rename The Peka Meister, as he served up a truly memorable feast which could have fed an army for a week (see the preparation in the lead photo of this article).

And in an interesting twist for you peka purists, our Peka Meister had a little trick I had never seen before in Dalmatia, covering everything with leaves of cabbage to add extra juice and flavour, before they were discarded prior to service. It was delicious, as was apparently the fine selection of home-made vegetarian dishes prepared for my non meat eating companion. It is remiss of me that I don’t have photos. 

While we were just there for a quiet lunch, things can get lively on demand… 

Let’s go and explore, suggested Jamina after lunch. I couldn’t move, and we had not even demolished half of the peka. Had I ever driven a tractor?

There is a first time for everything, and so it was that I found myself at the controls of a 1951 tractor that is in the family fleet. 

Ably assisted by Jasmina’s Dad, it was time to head for the open road. 

But I baulked at hitting fifth gear, and decided to sit in the back with the ladies and enjoy Jasmina’s guided tour of the countryside instead. 

Close to the complex, just a short tractor drive away, is a picturesque lake, which is a magent for fishing all year, and several people camp there and fish all day. Truly peaceful.

There used to be a little bar, which was actually a disused railway wagon, but fiscalisation put paid to that little enterprise. If you are looking to get away from it all, this undiscovered paradise is just 75km north-east of the capital Zagreb. 

The billionaire and the fisherman.

What really impressed me about Seoski Turizam Rakic apart from the fabulous food and hospitality was the great attention to detail and authenticity. Here was a small project which started very small, but is growing nicely, but in total isolation, meaning that the family controls the environment, and can therefore develop the business as they see fit. From the tastefully and traditionally furnished guest rooms to the open plan hospitality section, everything has been planned with meticulous care. 

I was surprised too to find that nobody is working here full time. Indeed, Jasmina and her father both have full-time careers as successful surveyors, but it is obvious where the true passion of each family member lies. If you want to visit, as an increasing number of people do, you need to book in advance.

Life here is definitely in the slow lane, but with horse riding, cycling, lake activities and a host of other activities and insights into life as it used to be, there is little chance to be bored, but plenty of opportunity to enjoy some truly unspoiled nature and expert hospitality at your fingertips.  

And, as if to prove the point, as we were on the verge of our premature departure, a little equine visit, with one very happy young boy really enjoying himself.  

Although a young business, the excellence that is the standard at Seoski Turizam Rakic is quickly being recognised, already winners of the coveted Suncokret award for rural tourism. 

Find out more about Seoski Turizam in the videos above and below and visit their website here, and then decide if you would rather be a billionaire or a fisherman…


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