When you think about where wine comes from, what countries do you think of?
I think about France, Argentina, Spain, Italy, and the state of California here in the United States.
I never thought of Croatia as a wine-growing region until I visited the country for myself in 2019.
Yet, it should come as no surprise that parts of Croatia are ideal for grape growing, considering it is located just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy.
Croatians have literally been making wine for thousands of years. And good ones at that. With the increase in tourists visiting the country in recent years (nearly 21 million tourists visited Croatia in 2019), it should come as no surprise that more and more people are tasting and liking Croatian wines.
And that’s why Win Burke and Mirena Bagur, Boston residents, decided that it was the right time to start introducing Croatian wines to the United States.
Mirena Bagur grew up in the small town of Metkovic in the Dubrovnik-Neretva region of the Dalmatian coast. For Mirena’s family, traditions were important. Her grandfather had a Plavac Mali (a type of Croatian red wine) vineyard.
Mirena is the VP of Brand Management of Croatian Premium Wines. She moved to the U.S. after college and started a career in global communications. She later became involved in high tech, which is where she met Win Burke some thirty years ago.
Win is what you would call a serial high tech entrepreneur. He is highly experienced in the early stages of startups and is the President and CEO of Croatian Premium Wines.
Win and Mirena became a couple ten years ago, and when Win traveled with Mirena to Croatia for the first time, he realized that the U.S. was missing out on some seriously good wines.
“I didn’t know there were Croatian wines prior,” Win said. “I was really impressed,” he said, after trying several types of wines while he was there.
With the increasing popularity of Croatia, and with the Boston-based couple having more time on their hands, it created a “perfect storm” to start a Croatian wine importation business.
Croatian Premium Wine offers reds, whites, and rosés sourced from the Komarna wine growing area of South Dalmatia. The soil is sparse here, mixed with limestone and faces south and southwest.
“We have lately been importing wines from Dalmatia because ultimately, that is where I am from,” said Mirena.
Pošip or Plavac Mali?
Pošip and Plavac Mali are the primary varietals of wine from this region. Pošip is a type of white wine that is crisp with flavors of apple and citrus.
Plavac Mali is the main red wine in Croatia. It is rich and has flavors of dark cherry and pepper.
Mirena likes to pair Pošip with seafood dishes, which is easy enough to do here in New England. “I am your classic Dalmatian cook,” she said. “I do a lot of veggies with grilled seafood,” she continued. Personally, Mirena prefers Plavac Mali as her go-to, which she likes to pair with swiss chard, olive oil, potatoes, and red meat.
A New Wine: K7
Croatian Premium Wines, in collaboration with the Komarna Seven Association (K7), just created a wine specific to the American market called K7. Komarna Seven is a winery association of the seven wineries in the Komarna Appelation in Dalmatia, Croatia.
“To me, that is a true expression of Dalmatia,” said Mirena. It’s very aromatic; it’s got all the tannins that you want. “It’s dry,” she continued.
And it’s moderately priced! “I think it’s worth more,” said Mirena.
Meals Inspired By Croatian Wines
Recently, the couple has hosted three dinners in Boston that were inspired by Croatian wines.
“All three were sold out,” said Mirena.
Mirena and Win are continuing to work on expanding the presence of Croatian wines in the U.S. market and the growth in awareness of Croatia as a holiday destination and the moderate prices for this wide variety of wines from the Dalmatian region.
This is a fascinating and very diverse city and many of the important and interesting sites are within easy walking distance from Central Station or the Dam Square area, but remember to “watch out for the bicycles”.
Because of the age of the city and the time when many of the homes and buildings were built there is very limited parking and fuel prices are very high, so most of the people ride bicycles everywhere. There is a special lane which is red brick or red stone and you had better not walk in it or linger in it because the people on the two wheeled vehicles (some scooters and motorcycles along with the bicycles) will not stop. Tourists who rent bicycles take their lives in their hands if they think they can keep up.
The city has something to offer to the tourist who is searching for culture; the tourist who wants to be involved or observe the permissive areas; and the traveler who just likes to see scenery.
The canals run through and ring the city. There are canal boats for tours or tours with meals. They do day and evening tours. Make sure you sample the apple cake either on your canal tour or in a restaurant.
Both the Van Gogh and the Ryksmuseum were closed for a few years for renovation. The Van Gogh has the best audio tour system that I have ever seen in any museum. It doesn’t just explain about the art. It also gives you some insight into the activities and processes that Van Gogh was involved in at the time the art was created. The Ryksmuseum is a huge complex that is broken up in time periods. It is impossible to really see either of these in one day. You can get art overload. Close to both of these museums is a new museum of modern art.
If you are not into art don’t miss the Ann Frank House or take a walking tour of the red light district at night. You can go yourself or meet a former prostitute at the Red Light Museum for a guided tour. There are also some really interesting tours of the diamond district factories and the Heineken Experience. Amsterdam is also the home of the flower market and the Aalsmeer Flower Auction.
Many of the sites have Skip the Line tickets available so consider purchasing tickets from your travel professional before you travel. The lines can be very long. The tickets for the Ann Frank House should be pre-purchased. They are not available until 60 days prior to your desired visit.
It is always a good idea to get suggestions from the staff at your hotel regarding where to eat or shop. Restaurants are plentiful and priced for every budget. Tourist shops and Head Shops are everywhere.
You can get around Amsterdam by bus, trolley, and taxi or bicycle cab. You also can buy Hop On Hop Off tickets that give you the opportunity to get a good feel for the city while you decide what you want explore further. Hop On Hop Off is a good way to spend part of your first day while you stay awake and recover from your overnight flight.
Do yourself a favor and arrange a driver or shuttle service from Schipol to your hotel. After that long flight you do not want to have to take public transport or locate a taxi on your own to get to your hotel. Seeing someone holding a sign with your name on it can bring a sigh of relief.
Amsterdam is a city that you should plan on staying at least 3 days.
The Fairmont Monte Carlo is a unique four-star resort property located in the heart of Monte Carlo. The Fairmont has almost 600 rooms residences and suites, four restaurants and bars, and a shopping arcade and was built on land claimed from the sea. This design and location make for a property that is contemporary yet traditional.
Fairmont Monte Carlo is a green/sustainable hotel with an outdoor pool, a steam room, a sauna, and a fitness facility. The onsite spa, Willow Stream Spa, offers 11 massage and treatment rooms and beauty services. Business amenities include a business center and meeting rooms for small groups. Fairmont Monte Carlo has 4 restaurants, features a daily buffet breakfast (surcharge), a bar/lounge, and a poolside bar, and room service is available 24 hours a day. The hotel has an onsite casino. Access to banking is provided. (. The hotel welcomes pets. This is a smoke-free property (fines may apply for violations).
Rooms are nicely appointed. Our room had a tub/shower combination instead of a separate tub and shower which I expected at a Fairmont property. Amenities featured in guestrooms include balconies, minibars, and CD players. Guestrooms have satellite television with premium TV channels and pay movies. Bathrooms feature bathroom phones, bathrobes, and slippers.
There is a display of beautiful expensive cars in front of the property.
Transportation can be an issue. We opted for a private car from the Nice airport and a taxi to the ship which was a good idea. The ship was within walking distance, but with luggage, we needed a taxi. The wait for a taxi was more than 30 minutes.
Well maintained and well situated the Fairmont is a good choice for cruises or travelers on land-based vacations. One full touring day is adequate for those lacking deep pockets for world-class shopping or gaming.
The Rocco Forte Hotel Amigo in Brussels is the Hotel where the Celebrities and the high ranking military and European Union officials stay. Tauck River Cruises and Tours uses this hotel for the last night of its Amsterdam to Brussels River Cruises. This is the hotel where the farewell dinner is held.
“In a city full of stories, our hotel has one all of its own. In 1522, the city council bought the building and turned it into a prison. The Spanish rulers mistook its Flemish name ‘Vrunt’ to mean ‘Vriend’ or ‘amigo’ and the name stuck. In 1957, the building became a hotel. Today it’s the finest of all the 5-star hotels in Brussels. A place where traditional tapestries sit alongside Tintin memorabilia, and where you can sip the perfect Martini overlooking the classic cobbled streets of the city. Although much has changed, we remain true to our name — our team are friendly, warm and waiting to greet you.”
The hotel is located a block away from the Grand Place which is the main square of the city. It is 2 blocks from the Galleria Mall and 2 blocks from the Manneken Pis Fountain.
There are Classic Rooms and Suites of various sizes. Rooms are large and well appointed. Suites come with a variety of special amenities. Linens are top quality and the beds are very comfortable. The décor is updated. The bathrooms are large with heated towel bars and bidets. The tub does have high sides so anyone with a mobility issue might want to check on a shower only or accessible room.
The Amigo has a lovely restaurant which serves a full breakfast buffet and the menu makes you want to be there for lunch and/or dinner. There is a lounge bar off the lobby with a wall of signed celebrity pictures.
The staff at the Amigo could train hotel employees everywhere.
Sue Murphy has been part of CKIM Group’s talented team for many years. Originally from the East coast, Sue is now based in Florida. Of course, she loves to travel in order to see how and where she should send her clients. Last year in March, she arranged a trip to France for a group of women. She decided to call it the “Wacky Women Tour,” which was a great success. Here are her memories of the trip.
How did you come up with the idea of Wacky Women Cruises?
I started to accumulate friends that were women who were either widows or divorced. So it just seemed logical to me to bring women together for trips. What I started to do early on was do cruises by myself and with a friend of mine. Most women traveling alone don’t want to worry. They want everything paid for, everything included.
When I meet my friends for a drink, I don’t want to haggle over who is going to pay the bill and all that kind of stuff. So it just kind of seemed that I would do some group trips for women. With these trips, women know that they don’t have to necessarily travel with a buddy.
Quite frankly I said that it could be a really good thing or it could be a nightmare, because sometimes women just don’t get along. And the age range was between 55 and 82 so we had a broad range of interests and financial abilities.
Where did you meet?
Five of us went into Paris early so we had three days there which was wonderful. The other three women met us directly at the ship on the day of the start of the cruise.
Why do you like doing cruises?
The nice thing about a cruise is you unpack your stuff one time, they take you to the next location, they plan the excursions for you, your meals are included. People think its expensive, but you’re not renting a car, you’re not driving around paying for gas, you’re not packing, unpacking your stuff and you’re not staying at different hotels. For my stage of life, it’s the only way to go.
How did you like Paris?
The Paris part of the trip was fabulous. The only issue was I booked a driver and a van to take us around Paris and the driver didn’t speak much English. I had to whip out my guidebook and do most of the commentary myself, but the next time, I will make sure to get a tour guide that speaks more English.
I also planned a tour of the Louvre with a guide, because you could spend weeks in there. Another thing that we did was go to the Notre Dame cathedral, which we did during the overview trip, but three of us went back on Sunday and did the mass. That was just awesome. To actually go to Mass in Notre Dame is something that will never forget. It was in French, but the pamphlet they gave us, some of it was in English.
If you go during a service, there are fewer people there. The service was at 8:30am. The doorman said to get there half an hour early because it might get crowded, but it wasn’t. So we got to walk around inside, take as many photos as we wanted, and there were no other tourists.
It snowed at the beginning of the trip. I also planned a tour of the Eiffel Tower which they cancelled, which was too bad because there were people on the trip who really wanted to see that including me. But to see Paris in the snow, for me, was just mind-blowingly beautiful. People had their umbrellas out, the cafes were still open, but most people were huddled inside. It was just spectacular. We ended up in Paris at the other end of the trip. When we got back it was in the high ‘50s, low ‘60s and all the flowers blooming.
Why did you choose a Uniworld cruise?
I picked Uniworld because it is an all-inclusive river cruise. The cabins are bigger and they offered single cabins. Most cruises don’t do that. Because of that, they only offer it during the not-so-busy season.
Where else did you go on the cruise?
We started out in Paris. The first day we stopped at Giverny, where Impressionist painter Claude Monet lived and worked. It was March so all the flowers weren’t out in bloom yet, but they had a bike tour option, which was nice.
We then went to Rouen and ended up in Honfleur, which is a little French village in Normandy that is absolutely charming. The architecture is so original, there are charming little café. We had some of the best mussels that I’ve ever had and the wine was wonderful.
That was certainly a highlight for me. We went to the American cemetery. We had to take a bus there, and Uniworld provided every one of us with a rose to go and put by a cross. It was so moving. We stopped by the sculpture “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” at the cemetery. They had someone from the military there to play “Taps” and do a prayer. And that was so meaningful.
We ended the trip in Paris and had another day there. We chose to tour Versailles, which was exceptional. We saw a part of Versailles that very few people get to see. I think they limit it to 20 people each day that can see this part of it. That’s the advantage of a Uniworld trip: the tours are so exceptional and so are the tour guides.
We had two birthdays on the trip. The last birthday, I think the woman was turning 55, we were actually docked in front of the Eiffel Tower.
For her birthday, we went up on the deck. Uniworld was wonderful. The Maître D’ arranged everything for me. We went up on the deck. They had a table set up with champagne glasses. There was a waiter there who brought two bottles of champagne. They used a big sabre to cut the bottles and we were all lined up in front of the Eiffel Tower when they had the big light show.
I spent a lot of time trying to coordinate getting us down there in front of it. The Maître D’ told me “You don’t need to do that. You can see it from the top deck.” We were the only ones up there.
How many passengers does a Uniworld ship generally carry?
I would say 138 to 140 is the usual. Uniworld cabins are a little bigger. The thing to remember with these river cruises is they are all the same size, because they have to be in order to get through the locks. From one vendor to the other, it is going to depend on what they used that space for.
What other amenities did they have onboard?
In the back they had a small bar area and eating area. And they had a pool. It was small but they had one.
It is important to note that when we arrived at the hotel in Paris, we had access to a Uniworld rep at the hotel. So it was like having another concierge service besides the one offered by the hotel. So she would recommend places and she rode on the bus with us to the ship.
What else did you do on the cruise?
There were different excursions. Not everyone wanted to do the same thing and some of them had been there before, but we made sure we had cocktails and dinner together every night. And I was able to get the same table and the same waiters for us every night. And we were loud.
There was one other group of women onboard of the same size. It was obvious that we were having a good time. At the beginning of the trip, I came up with a group of questions, and every night at the dinner table, there was one question we all had to answer. Questions like “What was on their bucket list?” “What is the best meal that you’ve ever cooked?” So every night at the dinner table, there was conversation.
Because I wasn’t sure if they would get a long or not, so that helped get things going. And of course, we talked about what we experienced every day. That was one of my questions as well, “What was the most inspiring thing that you saw today?” And that was a nice way for people to share their experiences.
The other thing about it was the ship. It was called “Joie de Vivre”. It was, at most, a year old. Each Uniworld ship is different and the décor is very opulent. I think the opulence can be a bit off putting to men, but for women it is terrific.
There was a great private cooking class onboard. That was just exceptional. It was in a beautiful room with a wine pairing for each course. I mean you didn’t do a lot of cooking, but we helped chop stuff up. When we walked in, there was a folded apron and a hat that said “Joie de Vivre” on it, so everyone got their own custom aprons and hats. It was an amazing experience.
Was there other entertainment onboard?
There was but it is minimal compared to the big ships. They might have a singer come in. They always have a piano player onboard. They also always try to bring in what is local cuisine and wine. Every evening, about 6:30pm, you go up to the cocktail hour in the lounge and whoever is in charge of the festivities, he comes in and tells you all about what you are going to see the next day, what the excursions are about, what the schedule looks like and they usually offer a big slide show of the things you are going to see and do. Especially in Normandy, they spent a lot of time talking about the war.
On a river cruise, there is only one restaurant so you eat in the same place every night. If you’re looking for restaurant choices, bar choice, entertainment, you won’t get that. It’s a different kind of cruise. The other thing about river cruises is they are very intimate. There will be 150 people onboard and by the time the cruise is over, trust me, you know at least half of them.
You get to know people, where they are from. If you are an extrovert, you are in heaven. If you’re an introvert, it could be a little bit of a challenge. It’s totally different from a big ship experience.
On river cruises, you are docked in the town. So you can do your excursions in the morning and if you want to go back to a museum, or have a fabulous lunch or whatever, you can. And you can usually walk or they will have a shuttle for you. So you are more immersed in the culture that you are in.
For more information on Sue’s Wacky Women Cruise Adventures, feel free to reach out to Sue at email@example.com.