Continuing TCN’s look on October 21, 2016 at some of the highlights of Croatia’s emerging rural tourism industry, a visit to Zlatni Klas in Otranovec near Virovitica.
With much of the population and tourism concentrated on the coast, eastern Croatia gets very few column inches by comparison. Once the bread basket of Croatia, the region is suffering from an alarming depopulation, especially among its youth, who are being forced to leave in search of economic opportunity. But not all are leaving, and there are some real beacons of light and hope to be found.
I had never heard of Otrovanec before my very hopsitable guide from the Croatian Rural Tourism Association took me there after a spectacular introductions to its members at Seoski Turizam Rakic near Krizevci, and its name did not sound particularly inviting. ‘Otrov’ means poison in Croatia, hardly the most welcoming advert for a village, its origins harking back to the fight against the advancing Ottoman Empire.
Legend has it that the Turks were camped close by with their front line close to Otrovanec. Promised reinforcements to defend their attack on Otrovanec had not arrived, and the locals were facing an imminent slaughter and loss of their homes. Between the two sides was a lake, which the Turks would surely use to water their horses prior to their attack. The village defenders decide to poison the lake as their only hope of repelling the attack of a force of much greater number and firepower. The Turks did as they hoped, the attack was beaten off, and Otrovanec remained unconquered.
Poison is the last thing that comes into mind on entering Zlatni Klas, the main attraction in Otrovanec these days – a restaurant, accommodation and hospitality centre which literally breathes natural goodness at every step. This place was GORGEOUS, and filled with so many intricate details of the past, that one could spend a day just going through the little artefacts of the past which contributed to its immense character.
And although Otrovanec is a little off the beaten track (but only 130 km, or 2.5 hours east of Zagreb, west of Virovitica), word is getting out, and there has been a steady increase in business for those in the region in search of great food and comfortable accommodation. It is growing in popularity as a cycling stop, for example, and with the rise of regional cycling tourism in Croatia, the existence of such places as Zlatni Klas are an essential component of Croatia’s quality offer.
The main buildings at the front of the plot housed most of the accommodation and restaurant, but behind lay a delightful open plan garden with a host of fun things for the little ones – I particularly liked this tree house in the centre.
But not as much as my two daughters when they saw the pictures, and now we have to return to visit.
Zlatni Klas has a very relaxed feel which compliments the approach of its owners, and everyone is a friend upon entering. There is ample space to relax, allowing the little ones to explore, and Zlatni Klas is a popular destination for local schoolchildren, whose primary aim in visiting may well have been to experience how life used to be 100 years ago, but increasingly it is also a valuable lesson of healthy living and how life was just 25 years ago… before the Internet.
The attention to detail and creativity was mightily impressive, all the work of the owner, who had a vision to create something special in this place where tourism did not exist – here some wood carving decoration on the outer walls of the accommodation – all carpentry done by himself. As luck would have it, we arrived on the 39th anniversary of the opening of Zlatni Klas. A big celebration is planned for the 40th, a chance to reflect on four decades of amazing achievement.
This was my favourite thing, and perhaps the best example of how one man’s creativity and vision can bring that little extra to a room’s furnishing. Having found a piece of wood, a little dexterity and skill and a rather unusual umbrella holder was born in the shape of this giant shoe, complete with laces. One of the legends told to the visiting schoolchildren is that the giant lives in the house, and will soon be waking up and looking for his shoe…
The true fairytale house, however, is right at the end of the plot, past the stables which are home to the ten horses, cow and a pig, at the bottom of a field in total isolation.
A tiny traditional house in total isolation to fire the imagination of young minds.
Complete with its own garden, the view it to the open fields and the horses taking their daily exercise.
The small lake was at a low level currently, but it is an additional feature most of the year.
The view from the front door. Cosy!
Room for another bed up the tiny ladder.
And a delightful little terrace from which to enjoy that morning coffee and natural start to the day. A true hidden gem, which can be rented out on request.
Back in the main complex, accommodation is obviously more spacious, but with a similar commitment to the traditional heritage combined with a little more modern comfort.
The fireplace was just the start of a very warm welcome, and Zlatni Klas has very spacious restaurant accommodation of two floors. All food is locally sourced, of extremely high quality, and includes one rather intriguing speciality.
Stinging nettle pancakes, anyone?
They were delicious, and just part of a sensational meal, of which stinging nettles played a major part. Stinging nettle bread..
Stinging nettle mlinci – not quite sure how to describe them, but akin to the pasta in lasagne.
And no Otrovanec meal would be complete without a little stinging nettle pie.
Outstanding hospitality, and a genuinely stunning introduction to the natural world of rural tourism in Croatia.
Take a look at Zlatni Klas in more detail in the video below, and learn more from the official website.