Oozing 1920’s glamour, the Hotel Esplanade Zagreb is a cultural historic icon of Croatia’s capital. The place to see and be seen, in the words of its General Manager Ivica Krizmanic, “If there’s one hotel in Croatia that everyone has heard about, it’s the Esplanade.”
We had the pleasure of speaking to Ivica, to learn more about what Luxury Gold guests can expect from a stay at the Esplanade, and discover what it is the secret to running such an exceptional hotel.
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Orient Express origins
“The reason why this caliber of hotel was first built in the city was due to the Orient Express, which was passing through Zagreb,” Ivica explains. “In the 1920s, it was necessary to have an exceptional five-star hotel to accommodate the train’s high-society passengers. The Esplanade hotel was built in two years, and it’s been something special from the first day it opened in 1925.”
Designed in the Art Deco style by architect Dionis Sunko the Hotel Esplanade Zagreb quickly became a symbol of luxury and elegance in the city. A full refurbishment in 2004 elevated the interiors and amenities to new heights. “We had a great architect and interior designer who ensured that the Esplanade spirit stayed intact,” says Ivica. “The design really blended together the history with the modern design from today’s era.”
Stay at the Esplanade Hotel Zagreb on Croatia & The Dalmatian Coast
It’s all about love and passion
“My father actually worked here before me, for 30 years. He’s the reason why I am here,” Ivica tells us. “In 1992, as a student, he asked me to help out. It was just for a month as a doorman, because they needed some extra staff, and that is where it all began. I was immediately in love with the hotel and have been here ever since.
“For me, the secret to running such an exceptional hotel is love and passion. This is something that it’s necessary to have for the Esplanade because the hotel deserves people who are dedicated to the Esplanade spirit. For all of us here, this is not just a hotel, this is more of an institution. So, for us to work here is something much bigger.
“The Esplanade is a synonym for luxury and good service. People widely connect the hotel with something special. Numerous times I have been in other establishments and have overheard people say (maybe in response to a complaint) ‘you know this is not the Esplanade, Sir.’ It sets the standard.”
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With its 208 rooms and suites, offering stunning views of the city, keeping everything running perfectly at the hotel Esplanade Zagreb is no small task. When we ask how many staff Ivica is responsible for, he tells us that “I have some 170 colleagues depending on the time of year, but we try to do this business with a homely, family feeling. So, I consider it to be that I work for them.
“The rooms are designed in a sophisticated Art Deco style, with all the modern touches needed for today’s travelers. They are all very welcoming and cozy, to make you feel at home. We have marble bathrooms with heated floors, the perfect place to relax and unwind.”
Sumptuous beds, stunning city views and first-class room service complete the picture. Guests can also benefit from the hotel’s exclusive Health Club, offering a range of range of therapies to de-stress, replenish and revitalize.
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“I spend lot of time testing the food in the restaurants,” Ivica tells us, an important yet not undesirable part of his role as General Manager. From ‘high society-inspired dining to modern Mediterranean chic’ the Esplanade’s award-winning restaurants are worth a booking in their own right, with Executive Chef Ana Grgić Tomić at the helm.
Considered one of Zagreb’s finest, Zinfandel’s Restaurant combines the best local ingredients with a broad Mediterranean inspiration. “Here you can see a more Mediterranean style with modern food,” says Ivica, “with local specialties like sea bass baked in sea salt, Istrian truffles or steak tartar.”
Or for ‘seductive French cuisine’ Le Bistro celebrates a wide range of seasonal local produce, and also one particularly famous dish. “We have one signature dish – actually it’s a local specialty but this recipe is exclusive to the hotel – the legendary Esplanade Štrukli,” says Ivica. “It’s a baked pastry, made from thin sheets of dough, filled with fresh cottage cheese with cream. It’s sounds simple, but it’s very tasty and people really love it.”
“We change the menu in both restaurants three or four times a year, reflecting the seasons. You’ll see a mix of international cuisine, with influences from our neighbors. We’re surrounded by Italy and Austria, and obviously close to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has a different culinary profile.”
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A treat for guests, from sunrise to sunset
The ultimate iteration of 1920’s decadence, the Oleander Terrace at the Esplanade offers stunning views across the city, and provides the perfect setting for some enjoyable people watching. A preferred spot for elegant breakfasts, high society lunching, and music and jazz evenings with a stylish Champagne bar. “To stay in the Esplanade Hotel and have a breakfast in the morning on the Oleander Terrace is considered something special,” says Ivica.
“And in the evening, to relax, the place to be is definitely the Esplanade 1925 Lounge & Cocktail Bar for the signature cocktails.” Run by some of the best Croatia’s mixologists the bar offers an enticing range of cocktails dating back to the days of the 1920’s Flapper.
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The secret to exceptional service lies in the people
When staying at the Esplanade, each guest is treated as a VIP by attentive and professional staff. “To offer such exceptional service, we focus on finding the right people,” explains Ivica. “We are not necessarily focusing on hospitality experience as we wish to mold them in the Esplanade way – we look for someone with passion.
“Not only love and passion for guests and the hospitality industry, but people who have a connection with the hotel, are proud to work here and willing to do their part to justify our enduring reputation. This takes a special type of person.
“We also empower people to be brave enough to make the special service, to not be afraid to be spontaneous and try something new to satisfy our guests when required.”
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Royal guests and dignitaries
While no two days are the same when working in a hotel, some stand out as special for their own reasons. “We often host state leaders, presidents and royal family members,” says Ivica. “They’re always greeted by myself.
“One day I was waiting, with the Royal assistant, for a Queen and Prince in the lobby. They were attending a lunch at the Presidential Office and, as per protocol, timing was of the utmost importance. As the Queen and the Prince stepped out of the elevator, we realized that the Prince and the Royal assistant were wearing the same tie. Definitely against protocol!
“There was no time for the Prince to return to the room and change. So, realizing what had happened and thinking quick I just took my tie and gave it to the to the royal assistant. I didn’t think much more of it, but when they came back to the hotel they were talking about the lunch and were saying how I saved the protocol. But it’s all in a day’s work at a hotel such as this.”
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The Esplanade Hotel Zagreb is part of the city
It is said that of Zagreb that ‘life is lived on the streets of the city itself, with public art, street food, and majestic green parks delighting locals and tourists alike in all four seasons.’ As well as being an enchanting Croatian walled city, one of the fabulous things about the capital city is that the region is lush with nature parks.
The Esplanade is perfectly placed to explore the city – just one more reason to select this iconic establishment when considering where to stay in Zagreb. Ivica tells us “it is an important part of Zagreb’s upper town.” One of Zagreb’s main attractions, the historic old town, Upper Town (Gornji Grad) is a myriad of cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and iconic landmarks like St. Mark’s Church. “Here you can feel really a special history. It’s so preserved that it’s still feels like 100 years ago.” Yet the city is credited as being young and playful at heart.
“Zagreb is a big and small city,” he continues. “Almost everything is within walking distance. So, it is very relaxing for the people to explore. There are a lot of small museums and interesting places, but nothing particular that you have to visit, that is what is so nice about it. It’s very romantic everywhere and there are a lot of coffee shops where people sit outside and watch the movie of life unfold around you.”
A symbol of Croatia
“We’re proud to represent Zagreb to the world,” says Ivica. “But even more that we represent Croatia. There are a lot of nice hotels in this beautiful country, but there is only one hotel that everybody knows about. If you ask your taxi driver or whoever you meet which hotel is the best in in Croatia, even they have never been for themselves they will say The Esplanade. Even those not from this country.
“Every day is history, and every day is special. Each and every one of our guests are exceptional and make each day memorable. I’ve spent 31 years in the hotel, but every day I’ll see something new, I’ll never grow tired of the Esplanade.”
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