The Falkensteiner Iadera, Croatia
I can’t say that I’ve ever put the words ‘five-star’, ‘Eastern block’ and ‘music festival’ in the same sentence before, or had even dreamt I’d need to. Except maybe for an absurd drunken word game at an awkward social gathering. But such was the beauty of my most recent assignment, an eclectic collection of both slightly odd and incredibly pleasing experiences.
Croatia was the big new destination of the summer, for an unfortunately large proportion of cheapskate Brits (thanks to the unmentionable airlines that frequent the destination). Which makes it sound instantly rather unappealing, doesn’t it? But clientele aside, Croatia is in fact a place of beautiful scenery, reminiscent of the geographical equivalent of a love child between Greece and Italy; turquoise waters, pine trees to the sea’s edge and fresh, colourful Mediterranean food (more on the that, shortly). Oh, but with the added bonus of the remains of the Communist era; plenty of concrete. I had been persuaded by the promise of sun, sea and some of my favourite DJ’s, to join the crowds, rather than turn on my heel and flee from the holiday horrors of Brits abroad, as I usually would do.
These days, a music festival doesn’t have to mean slumming it in a soggy tent and wading through mires of mud; particularly in the village of Petrcane, a beauty spot that sees festival after festival throughout the summer season. For me, it meant five-star comfort in the brand new (one month old, in fact), German-owned Falkensteiner Iadera Hotel, 30 minutes from the nearest airport, Zadar. The hotel, designed to resemble a yacht from the outside, with a curved hull-shape created by glass balconies that faced onto the hotel’s bar/restaurant and infinity pools below. Built on a peninsular, the hotel boasts magnificent panoramic views of the Adriatic sea stretching out beyond the manicured gardens and a secluded stretch of beach (well, as much as rocky access to the sea constitutes a beach) attainable only to hotel guests.
The design of the interiors continued the nautical theme, with clean, white lines and curves in the public areas and a colour palette taken from the shades of the ocean, in the well-proportioned and cleverly designed rooms. The bathroom, with double sinks, walk-in rain shower and well-stocked with bamboo and lemongrass scented goodies in biodegradable bottles, was, literally, in-suite. The bath was perched at just the right angle so that, if inclined one could open the curtains, lie back and look through the balcony to the sea as one wallowed in yet more water.
The high point of the hotel was undoubtedly the spa; a vast system of infinity pools, saunas, steam rooms, relaxation areas, Turkish hammams and hot, warm and cold indoor and outdoor plunge pools, split into the ‘black’ and ‘white’ spas (‘white’ containing the treatment rooms and ‘black’ the spa facilities). With high ceilings, dark corners, shards of light entering through angled circles in distant roofs and array of different heat treatments, one could easily feel alone, not meeting another spa goer. It was often unfortunate when one did, however, because they were inevitably overweight, middle-aged, naked men. Not a problem I suppose if you are one, but I personally felt a slight affront at opening my eyes from my sauna bench to find a shrivelled, dreary schlong dangling at eye level. But that’s just my British modesty meeting German over-enthusiasm for nudity (and perhaps a lack of attractive young things, prancing about); it is of course down to personal preference.
Now, what to do beyond spa-ing, swimming, and festival-ing? To reach the village of Petrcane was a twenty to thirty minute walk along the seafront, passing unmistakably Eastern block concrete jettys on which people sunbathe (read ‘gather bruises’) in the absence of sunbeds or, well, sand, through pine trees and through the gate that welcomes you to the Falkensteiner complex. Because the festivals evidently attract a certain crowd of young, over-excited foreigners, this was manned by a security guard. ‘Security guard’ is too generous a description, he was, in fact, a racist who wouldn’t allow our guests to join us for lunch through this entrance because he deemed them ‘English’. I don’t need to expand on the outrageousness of that statement, made more ridiculous by the fact that our guests were, in fact, French. I also don’t really need to expand on the village – an attraction (if you’re not enjoying the festival) it is not.
There were other teething problems (or staffing issues?) that I faced with some annoyance, one of which being the simple purchase of a cigar from the, you’d think aptly named ‘Cigar Lounge’. My request was met with 20 minutes of slightly blank, confused looks as the staff established that no-one had the key to the humidor, and then another 15 minutes of waiting as someone figured out that the bar could sell me a cigar – although of course, not the cigar I’d been waiting for. Certainly it didn’t need to take 35 minutes to figure out they didn’t have what I wanted.
Whether it was the German or the Croatian influence, I don’t know, (I suspect a hefty measure of each) but the quality of the food and drink just wasn’t up to five-star standard; cocktails tasted as though they were made with ‘own brand’ alcohol, and a ‘barbecue’ consisted of the chefs cooking outside on a hot plate rather than in the kitchen. The distinction between hot coals/flames and simply being outside was not made. This made little difference though, as the buffet was just poor.
I suspect that, much like for Soviet Russians, food in cans was ideal in the Iron Curtain era, but I didn’t expect to face bowls of what looked like canned ‘salads’ as I prowled the buffet table with my plate of ‘barbecued’ prawns. Having admittedly not roamed beyond Petrcane and the Iadera Hotel, Croatia is not yet a destination that offers the class of cuisine gastronomes might be looking for. But should you find yourself at a music festival in the village or en route to, well, anywhere else, then the Iadera is undoubtedly where you should stay.