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From Breakfast to Chocolate Festival: The Waldinger Touch of Luxury in Osijek [VIDEO]

The one-day Chocolate Festival, hosted by Waldinger, was the first of its kind in the city, the latest attempt by owner Mlinarevic to add a little extra quality and diversity to the Osijek tourism offer.

“You lucky man. They have the finest breakfast in all Croatia.”

“You mean the chocolate festival in Opatija, not Osijek, surely? That is where we are all going tomorrow.”

There is a very pleasant group of gastro journalists who seem to congregate almost weekly at some wine tasting or food festival or other. Led by the indefatigible Karin Mimica from Gastronaut, it is a friendly group who have made this fat Englishman very welcome, and we met again earlier this month for the Marko Polo Award at the National Society of Journalists in Zagreb.

I had just been telling one well-known Zagreb food writer that I was off to Osijek and staying at Hotel Waldinger, and I watched a serene look come over his face as he recalled happy times at the boutique four-star hotel. I was in for a treat, for sure, but was I really correct about the chocolate festival, as the rest of the group was heading to Opatija for the opening of the chocolate festival there.

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As it turned out my new Zagreb food blogger friend was right, and I was right. The breakfast WAS excellent, and there WAS a chocolate festival, organised by Hotel Waldinger.

“Bed, bathroom, breakfast. The three Bs,” said Waldinger owner Berislav Mlinarevic, as we greeted each other and I told him of the breakfast recommendation in Zagreb. “For me, these are the three things that guests remember about a hotel.” It was a comment that stayed with me as I checked out the bed, the bathroom and the breakfast in turn. All excellent.

I used to work in a five-star hotel in Munich, and as I walked through its revolving doors, I always had the impression I was escaping the pressures of the city and the busy streets outside into a more relaxed and refined place. It was the same feeling at Waldinger, the first four-star boutique hotel in Osijek. Emerging from the December rain, the welcome could not have been warmer, and as I checked in and tested the bed with a short lie-down after an early start from Zagreb, I wondered again at the reality of luxury tourism in Croatia.

It is always the driven private individual who provides the best in this country. One man’s vision to improve his neighbourhood or town. There are so many examples in Croatia where a thing of magnificence built on a private vision improve the general standards for all. Restaurant Apolon in Stari Grad on Hvar, the Grabovac winery in Imotski are both two recent examples on my travels, and here was another example in Osijek.

The hotel’s Facebook page told me that President Josipovic had been a recent visitor, and it seems that anyone looking for that extra comfort and quality comes by Waldinger as well, be it for their excellent cakes, a Slavonian meat feast in the superb restaurant, or one of the most comfortable hotel stays in Croatia. Business tourism is booming, explained Berislav over a lunch of Slavonian delicacies that were not for the vegetarian, as businessmen provide the backbone of the hotel’s trade, but weekend tourism could be better. As I discovered later http://touristar.tv/blog/blog-by-paul-bradbury/elephants-islam-german-national-anthem-hidden-treasures-osijek/ , there is plenty to see and enjoy over a weekend.

But to the chocolate festival we must! And off we headed to the shopping centre of Portonovo. The one-day festival, hosted by Waldinger, was the first of its kind in the city, the latest attempt by owner Mlinarevic to add a little extra quality and diversity to the Osijek tourism offer.

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It was decided to restrict the first year festival to one day so as to learn some lessons and see what worked and what did not. One thing which was a huge hit all day was the centrepiece chocolate fountain, which turned ten litres of chocolate around, allowing visitors to coat the fruit pieces which were on display with cockatil sticks. This correspondent was initially quite taken by the banana chocolate combination, but there was a strong case for the kiwi and mandarin too.

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Osijek’s strong chocolate tradition was explored with various cooking classes, and the children’s workshop is one aspect of the festival which is sure to grow in popularity. Chocolate and wine pairing followed by live music. Plenty of thought and preparation had gone into the event, and Waldinger host Anita must be congratulated on her energy and organisation.

Will the Osijek Chocolate Festival rival the more famous event in Opatija next year? Almost certainly not, but the more important message from an excellent weekend in Slavonia is that the future of quality tourism in places such as Osijek is very bright indeed, as long as project visionaries such as Berislav from Waldinger continue with their plans, and receive the appropriate official support.

Bed. Bathroom. Breakfast. Chocolate. Four things and many more for you to check out  in the Hotel Waldinger story.

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