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5 Star in Istria - Two Different Luxury Hotels
by Barry Napier, March 2007

Presently, there are only two 5 star accommodations in Istria, with another being planned. Obviously, then, there is plenty of room for investors to get in on the ground floor of tourist residences. In this report we will look briefly at the existing two – both are very different, and yet each reaches a five star level of luxury in different ways, giving an indication of what is current.

Rezidencija Skiper & Kempinski Hotel Adriatic 

Really, to call these ‘hotels’ is to misrepresent what they truly are, for they are far more than mere hotels. The Skiper, opened in 2005 and owned by investor Skiper Hoteli, is a resort covering a very large site. It consists of an hotel, apartments and luxury villas. The Kempinski Hotel Adriatic is a brand new development next to the Skiper, separated only by a road. When it is finished in 2008, the resultant combined site will be one massive resort with two distinct styles. 
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Aerial view...Skiper to left, Adriatica to right under construction
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The site is run by General Manager, Ljubica Marfan, and an hotel manager will be sent to manage the Kempinski site until it opens next year. Sales are under the watchful eye of a delightful young lady with a great sense of humour, Fiorela Morozin. Marko Prodan is a personable young man whose job is translation. 

Another important person is Head Chef of the Skiper a la carte restaurant, Lino Klimic. No top hotel can do without a chef of international expertise, and judging by the marvellous, aromatic pasta with truffles he cooled for me during my visit, the Skiper is in very good hands! The restaurant is staffed with ultra-professional waiters who glide in and out of your presence with admirable skill. Nothing was too much trouble. They know their market segment well!

The whole site is at the end of a narrow road that passes a small village, whose property prices have increased substantially since the Skiper was built. Approaching from the upper road, the apartment buildings to the right appear to be standard constructs. But, when you get closer, it becomes obvious that they are superior. 

One building houses the main office and concierge that covers the entire site. Indeed, the number of personnel permanently on-site is phenomenally streamlined, with no extra-weight carried in terms of excess staff. Obviously, costing has been honed to a fine art. Security personnel are visible and quick to respond, as I discovered when I was taken to see a building on the edge of the site. Indeed, every apartment and villa has state-of-the-art security measures, making the site one of the most security-conscious resorts I have ever seen. As its clients are high-income earners with matching luxury goods and spending money, this is bound to give peace of mind.

The site is right on the coast of Alberi near Savudrija.  The view takes in the south-western tip of Slovenia, so close you can see the houses. Immediately behind it is Italy’s hilly coast, not all that far from Trieste, one of the accessing airports. 

There are 11 luxury villas with heated pools and jacuzzis, seven apartment buildings with 61 luxury suites. Linked with luxury accommodation is abundant space, and Skiper has plenty, including parking. Contents of apartments are of the highest standard and I just loved the features – Persian carpets, fluttering lightweight inner curtains, plants, and top-of-the-range electrical equipment. Everything expected from a luxury dwelling is provided, plus more.

The Skiper restaurant has an outdoor patio overlooking both the sea views and pool. Potted palms are everywhere, as are full-size palm trees around the site, with flowers that dazzle in summer.

The site leads downward to a private beach and a marina berthing 35 yachts. There is a children’s play area, a modern sports centre, café, pool bar, 18 hole golf-course and more. Unusually, a church has been built on the site. This is in a top corner of the grounds, surrounded by woodland, and is of modern design. Inside, it is simple but effective, and has already been used for weddings. So, it is a clever additional source of revenue, as well as a religious place of quiet. Climb up to the top and the view is tremendous. When I was there I could see the huge neighbouring Adriatica site bristling with tall cranes and bustling with construction workers, as well as a great sea vista.
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Ljubica Marfan

Fiorela Morozin

Marko Prodan
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Villas, suites and apartments can be rented, or purchased, with or without existing furniture. The furniture and fittings are of superb quality, so it is an attractive turn-key solution if you just wish to move straight in without hassle. I was there in February, but it was very mild.  During my previous spring visit to Istria, the weather was already hot and relaxing. So, weather is suitable at all times.

Istrian infrastructure is improving continually, (faster in some municipalities than in others) all the time. Even in nine months I saw a huge difference. One amusing note is that the very modern two-lane carriageway that runs from Pula up to the north, through the centre of Istria, is to have another parallel two-lane carriageway added. Construction will start at the end of this year, to make it a motorway/freeway. As you approach the Slovenian end of the road,  though, it narrows like a funnel to just a single road leading into Slovenia! It seems that Slovenia is a little slow to do its bit to continue the roadway. But, it will eventually do what is necessary. 

Personally I hope this will be the only freeway, leaving the rest of the roads more or less as they are, retaining their ruralism.  Besides, traffic is fairly low-volume compared to other countries.  It is true that Croatian drivers have a tendency to hurtle down the wrong side of the road towards you, or down the middle, but that’s part of the (sometimes scary) charm of the place!
 
Projected plans for the already well-advanced Adriatic site show a more modernistic style.  Again, that yardstick of luxury – space – is found in abundance. The hotel section dominates the top end of the site, which also has a 250-person conference centre. 

Overall, the resort will be typical of Kempinski style and lavishness… something Kempinski would not do unless there was a ready market. Whereas Skiper tends toward traditional design, the Adriatic will be more contemporary, giving the entire combined resort enormously diverse options for clients, including 22 Kempinski villas for rent or sale.  The lavishness and sophistication can already be glimpsed even during construction.

The hotel has 200 rooms, including 35 suites and 2 Presidential suites. There are two outdoor heated pools, a 24-hour manned medical centre, shops, boutiques, butler service, 4 tennis courts, a private limousine/yacht/helicopter service and a great deal more. To say that Kempinski has gone all-out is an understatement. Needless to say, any new investments of this kind will at least have to match Kempinski’s for sheer style and luxury, to be in with a chance.
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Skiper villa
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Hotel Nautica

The Skiper and Adriatica are fairly close to the town of Umag. Just down the coast is the small fishing town of Novigrad, where I stayed at the Cittar Hotel. The hotel is 3 star, and occupies the equivalent of a small town mansion. Cleverly, it has built a linking glass conservatory to the outer wall, which is a remaining section of the ancient fortified town defences. Thus the entrance is through a glass door in what appears to be a castle wall.

It has very good facilities, but the axiom – that luxury requires space – is what is missing. The Cittar is not in the same league as a 5 star, of course, but it is comfortable, of excellent quality, and family-run. And, the cost, for a couple, is an incomparable $100 a night, B & B!  Personally, I enjoyed my stay immensely, and had a view of a green with trees through my rustic-style shuttered window.  In other words, you get what you pay for and I liked what I got.

The Cittar is almost on the harbour’s edge, from which can be seen the 5 star Hotel Nautica across the water. The road to the Nautica is not that special and, after passing through a large empty area with the sea to the left, to park one has to approach from the back of the building. I must admit that, at first, I was not that keen (because I thought I was looking at the front). It was when I went to the actual front, facing the marina, that my view changed. 

The building is nothing like the Skiper/Adriatic combo, but it is nonetheless very luxurious. On reflection, keeping the car park to the back of the building means that the views to the sea are unimpaired. Also, the idea of putting parking somewhere that does not spoil views, is part of the new Istrian Ten Year Plan. 

From the car park, you enter through a kind of tall space like an atrium. Off to the right, half-way down, is the entrance to the hotel. The concierge is lavishly adorned with leather, brass and luxury fittings… and space.  Front of house is run by a lovely young lady, Sara Kokosor, who was both friendly and helpful. She was with the hotel before it was built and knows everything there is to know, which is comforting for visitors!

The interior of the hotel resembles the interior of a masted sailing ship, complete with port-holes and rich crafted wood walls, floors and ceilings. Rooms are luxuriously fitted-out, but I felt that in one or two (minor) areas, space was not used to fullest advantage. It could be that a slight reshuffling of furniture would do the trick. (In a former life I was an interior designer, so it is the kind of thing I would notice). Despite this personal opinion, one cannot deny the luxury of the rooms and the opulence of the furniture and fittings.

Rooms have excellent views over the marina, the sea, and towards Novigrad town. There is an extensive exterior area with seating, tables and umbrellas. The architecture is almost colonial in style, with a rich ruby/plum wall colour broken up by white columns and veranda railings.  Inside is all top-class wood and brass, with countless expensive sea pictures and low lighting. 

Though small compared to the huge Skiper/Adriatica resort, the Nautica can rightly refer to itself as “one of the most luxurious hotels on the Adriatic.”  Two very different places but both living up to the idea of luxury, sophistication, and that hidden asset – space.

The Nautica has 38 designer rooms and 4 lavish extra-luxury apartments, all on one floor of the two-storey building. Rooms are fitted as one would expect from this level of hotel, with sea views from windows and large terraces. Being on much flatter ground than the Skiper/Adriatic, the Hotel is right on the marina. It has an amazing 365 sea berths and 50 dry berths, thus far-exceeding the yacht provision of the other resort by over ten-times. It is quite possible that the hotel will be enlarged in the future, given such excellent facilities and capacity. 

As the hotel claims, it can accommodate “mega yachts” in the very sheltered cove that forms Novigrad harbour. Full boat services are available plus petrol, and the Nautica has services not found in Skiper/Adriatica. But, as the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. You choose one or the other, depending on what you require. Whereas the Skiper/Adriatica is more of a resort, the Nautica is mainly a highly-personalised marina facility. Both offer luxury and both offer specialised services.

Facilities indoors include a restaurant offering local ingredients and, of course, an a la carte menu, to both guests and locals. If you wish you can watch the master-chef prepare your food in the open kitchen.

There is a lounge bar for relaxation, informal business chats, and cocktails. There are two conference rooms. The larger has the usual facilities for about 100 people. Next to it is the far more intimate boardroom-style room for 8 - 12, with a large luxury table and plush leather chairs. A beauty salon and wellness centre complete the list of offerings. There is even a dental practice.

Istria has many other hotels, of course, and most of them need refurbishment and upgrading. Some are next to uninhabited buildings, and some have large grounds.  Even in these smaller establishments there is room for boutique-style luxury hotels, just as there is a similar opportunity in private villas and smallish abandoned villages found throughout Croatia. 

The two establishments detailed in this report give examples of what is currently found in Istria. There is particular scope for investment on the lesser-known east coast, but throughout this peninsula there is opportunity, even in more populated areas, and small towns and villages of ancient beauty.


Contacts
Skiper/Adriatica: General Manager: Ljubica Marfan, vile-alberi@skiper.net
Sales/general queries: Fiorela Morozin, sales@skiper.net
Nautica:  Reception: Sara Kokosor, info@NauticaHotels.com
Cittar: Owner – Sergio Cittar. sergio.cittar@pu.t-com.hr

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Contact:

Barry Napier, 2007
barry.napier@ntlworld.com

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Also See: Porto Mariccio - The Development of Luxury on the West Coast of Istria, Croatia; A Kempinski Hotel and a Nicklaus Golf Course at Center of Development / February 2007
First Three Year Review of Istria's Tourism Plan... Plenty of Opportunities for Hoteliers / January 2007
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