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Porto Mariccio - The Development of Luxury
on the West Coast of Istria, Croatia
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A Kempinski Hotel and a Nicklaus Golf Course at Center of Development 
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by Barry Napier, February 2007

Porto Mariccio is a new development, to be built on the west coast of Istria, Croatia, with an opening date of 2009. Consisting of a Kempinski-run hotel, apartments, a 350-berth marina, and a Jack Nicklaus golf course, this is an ambitious investment of EUR 207.6 million. 
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Masterplan Plan - Porto Mariccio
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Nicklaus course engineers are already on site, working on the design of the 18 hole course, with club house and golfing academy. Nicklaus joined with AB Maris to make this magnificent dream come to fruition. 

(It is no mean accomplishment. A golf course planned for the medieval hilltop village of Motovun was stopped in its tracks, because local land-owners hiked up the price, thinking foreign developers would be willing to pay… but the developers simply walked away – for now at least! Investors should beware of some land-owners who try to drive-up land prices beyond what is reasonable. Croatians acknowledge that this is happening, even for land destined for private villas. Even so, the eventual ROI will still be attractive)

Nearby, a short distance from the complex, is another coastal development at Dragonera. This will consist of luxury rental villas and supporting facilities. So, both sites will be fully self-contained.

The Dragonera development is led by Nevio Medica, managing director of Daria d.o.o., based in Porec, Istria. His company will manage the site on behalf of Kempinski. The Mariccio site will have a five star 250-room luxury hotel, 300 apartments and 90 villas. The hotel and villas, designed by Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo, occupy 128 hectares. Kempinski also manage a huge site on the north-west coast that is currently doubling its size, combining both the existing Skiper Resort and the new Adriatic resort. 

A tall man, Nevio casually exudes confidence. When he speaks he has a twinkle in his eye that immediately puts you at ease, and he has that laid-back approach found amongst most Istrian businessmen. 

During my visit, arranged by Head of Istrian Tourism, Denis Ivosevic, Nevio explained the two projects, and then took me to an upstairs office where a team of architects were in the middle of a brainstorming session, working on the overall plans. Even so, they kindly allowed me to meet them as they spoke of their mammoth task. They are accompanied by an Istrian consultant architect, Davor Matticchio, based in Pula on the south coast, who is well versed in both design and the Croatian politics that influence such projects.
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Denis Ivosevic (center with tie), Davor Matticchio (center with hands clasped), Nevio Medica (far right)
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Nevio summed up their vision of the two projects and, referring to the Dragonera site, he gave me a single-word definition of ‘luxury’… “Space”. Though space is something we rarely think about when enjoying luxury developments, it is one of those qualities we notice when it is not there!

Denis took me on review visits to a number of hotels and, armed with this single word, ‘space’, I noticed that, in every instance, space was a salient feature, whether it was in the lobbies, corridors, or rooms. Without doubt space – the absence of objects – adds to the opulent ambience. The plans I saw of proposed villas are a conscious effort to give clients plenty of space, both inside and outside. Unlike so many lesser developments, there is no attempt by Nevio and his team to cram every square metre of land with as many buildings as possible. 

Though the two projects will enhance the environment and give jobs to many people, I get the impression that the Croatian government is slow to respond to the need to keep big investments moving at a faster pace. For example, land can be cleared in readiness on both sites; on the Mariccio site this involves demolishing an existing vacation village built about 25 years ago for Croatian workers to enjoy holidays. It is already past its prime and unattractive, and will be replaced by a luxury hotel with apartments and facilities, plus the golf course. The Dragonera site only has to clear trees. Yet, consent to actually start building is being given slowly.

Onlookers might bemoan the fact that many trees will be removed to make way for building and luxury accommodation. But, this is not as environmentally bad as it looks, for other trees and plants will replace the ones that are lost. Presently, the sites have trees packed tightly together and, as any visitor will notice, Istria has extensive variagated forestry anyway. Nevio is convinced that the projects will not only provide many jobs, but would enhance the environment in a managed way, and bring in high-income tourists whose money will aid the economic growth of Istria.

It is often assumed that the slowness of officials is caused by incompetence, but this is not the case. I asked if the cause was a vestigial retention of the communistic mindset, but Davor explained that Istria was never fully communist, but governed through a ‘softer’ kind of socialism. Through talking with a number of Croatians, I discovered that the slowness of government to issue relevant certificates and approvals was due not to incompetence, but to anxiety about making mistakes.

This is evidenced by the complicated way certain building laws are written. The many laws are internally consistent, but there is never a guarantee that each separate law is consistent with each other! Thus, even if a developer gets one law right and complies with every clause, he may fall foul of another law, because its contents are not fully compatible with all the other laws. It means that the application process is agonisingly slow and complicated.

Therefore, investors in Croatia must be patient. Any attempt at rushing the authorities will not get you very far. Both Nevio and Davor simply shrugged their shoulders, their expressions displaying a knowing acceptance of their national quirks and building regulations.  Patience works big dividends, so investors should adopt a more relaxed attitude and accept local conditions.

When writing travel articles, writers are urged never to use over-employed terms such as ‘stunning’, but these are stunning developments in a stunning environment. Each complex will be managed by the Kempinski group, one of the oldest hotel collections in Europe, originating in the 1800s. Even its website won the ‘Tourism Web Award 2006’.

Both sites are opposite the beautiful Brioni Islands, and yacht owners can easily find their way beyond, to Venice and the east coast of Italy, for day trips. The area is served by five airports: Venice and Trieste in Italy (from Trieste you have to drive through the southern tip of Slovenia, but this presents no problems); Ljubljana in Slovenia; Pula and Rijeka (high season) in Croatia, with shuttle times of between half an hour to two hours. It must be admitted that Pula airport is not yet up to international standards and needs sprucing-up, but it will get there when more tourists pass through its gates. (At the moment the average incoming passenger number per flight is just 108).
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Brioni Islands
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However, the marina at Mariccio indicates that many clients will arrive at a more leisurely pace in yachts.

Investment opportunities abound in Istria, and in Croatia as a whole. From what I have seen, Istrian developers and managers are keen to maintain the concepts of natural beauty, with a sensitive eye on wellness and environmental enhancement. And if the hive of activity I witnessed at Nevio’s is anything to go by, they are willing to work very hard to present a new Croatian presence on the international luxury tourism scene. 

Look out for the launch of Porto Mariccio and Dragonera; they will be well worth the wait, as professional benchmarks for all investments of this type.

© Barry Napier, 2007

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Contact:

Barry Napier
barry.napier@ntlworld.com

Porto Mariccio & Dragonera
Navio Medica
darija@pu.htnet.hr

Consultant Architecture
Davor Matticchio
ad@pu.htnet.hr

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Also See: Jack Nicklaus Begins Work on a Signature Golf Course in Istria, Croatia / May 2006
Opportunities in Istria for Golf Courses Combined with Hotels / January 2007
Istria's Ten Year Tourism Plan Targets Discerning Visitors; Includes Many Investment Opportunities for Hoteliers / July 2006
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