Champagne, chocolates, abundant red roses in an elegant room in a five-star hotel. A relaxing bath drawn by the butler from the bath menu, a city tour by limousine and a candlelit dinner in an Art Deco restaurant.
Here, on Valentine’s Day, is a romantic package that is available all year at the Regent Esplanade Hotel in Europe’s city of hearts, Zagreb. And at €499 (£370) for a couple for two nights with breakfast, it is a fraction of the price of similar packages in many European cities.
Zagreb might seem a surprising recommendation, but it exudes a lively style and knows how to welcome visitors, young and old, romantic or businesslike. When the good and the great started to arrive in increasing numbers aboard the Orient Express in the early 1920s, a suitably stylish hotel was needed to accommodate them – and up went the Regent Esplanade on a field close to the railway station.
Just over three years ago, the hotel reopened after a two-year renovation that retained the marble and oak-lined entrance and lobby but freshened up the rest of the building. The piano bar and bright, airy Zinfandel’s Restaurant look out over the Oleander Terrace to the Fountain Park. The garden bistro has floor-to-ceiling windows and is famous for its strukli, the Croatian pastry and ricotta cheese speciality. The 209 bedrooms, even without the romantic extras, are comfortable and welcoming and the Emerald Ballroom, with a decorated glass oval in the centre of a ceiling covered with tiny blue lights, is the perfect place for a wedding celebration.
Zagreb can be just as romantic as the hotel and earned its soubriquet because of the tradition of giving decorated honey dough cakes called licitar hearts to loved ones, especially on Valentine’s Day. It is an ideal city for strolling around, hand in hand, dipping into the occasional jewellery shop, cosy café or cultural museum.
Gradec, known as the upper town, is the most charming quarter and most easily reached by a quick funicular ride from Ilica, the city’s main street. The ride takes you to the foot of the 13th-century Lotrascak Tower, from which a cannon is fired at noon every day.
In the quiet streets behind the tower are the Parliament building, the Prime Minister’s office and St Mark’s Church with a roof of red, white and blue tiles in a diagonal pattern, and with two coats of arms. A cluster of museums include the Croatian Museum of Naive Art, with half a dozen rooms full of intriguing and frightening images, and the Zagreb City Museum, with a collection tracing the city’s history.
There you will learn that the citizens of Gradec were often at loggerheads with the people on the neighbouring but lower hill, Kaptol, which has a cathedral with 105m tall spires at its centre. The districts were finally united in 1850, together with adjoining settlements, into the undivided town of Zagreb, leading to the development of the lower town – now the city’s business and shopping heart.
The planners ensured that it remained a pleasant place to wander by creating the “green horseshoe”: a line of parks running down from the main square to the station and linked by the botanical gardens to a parallel line of city squares to the west. The most prominent of these is Marshal Tito Square, which many locals hope will soon be renamed after the imposing building at its centre, the National Theatre.
Sunday afternoon is the best time to stroll around the city when all the museums and shops are closed. Timing is important if couples are not going to fall out on a visit. Weekend breaks should start with a Croatia Airlines flight from Heathrow on a Friday morning, returning on a Sunday afternoon or Monday. The only Saturday morning flight stops en route and the afternoon departure will only get you to your hotel by 9pm.
Shops in the city centre start closing from 3pm on Saturday but those in shopping malls stay open until 9pm. Museums close at 1pm on Sundays and reopen on Tuesdays.
Article Source: Times Online