Interview Jasna Colnar, tourism expert from Kvarner and owner of self-sustainable holiday home “Mali medo” – the most important thing is to have a sustainable vision

Sustainability in „Mali Medo“ house is felt at every step, but most of the effort is invested in nutrition and the desire to keep our guests in the habit of eating healthy and tasty food.

In the area where the Mediterranean and continental climate meet, the Rijeka Ring is only gently being discovered and is becoming interesting to tourists with its cultural, historical and natural heritage. How did you become one of the first to recognize the potential of doing business in tourism in Grobnik?

My first encounter with tourism was a long time ago, while working in the city passenger transport company „Autotrolej“ in Rijeka. I’ve organized and led tourist trips for our employees and with my professional progress in mind I enrolled at the Faculty of Management in Tourism and Cathering in Opatija. Eager for an education, I finished it with two small children. I immediately applied the acquired knowledge further in business. At Grobnik, I recognized the potential because of everything you pointed out, but also because of our internationally known Automotodrom Grobnik, which attracts domestic and international drivers and the audience. In my own house, my husband and I turned the excess living space into apartments. Today, because of the business people who work in Rijeka, and are looking for accommodation outside the stressful city environment, and because of the proximity of the Motodrom, it is full all year round.

Jasna Colnar

Since you haven’t invested in advertising, how are guests finding you for years and how do you encourage them to come back?

These are mostly Italians, guests from Dalmatia and Slavonia. For years the same guests have been coming back and recommending us to their friends. An oral recommendation is always the best recommendation. 17 years of working with guests, and all without advertising is a sufficient indicator of the quality of work and service.

I love working with people, and the greatest pleasure is when the same guests keep coming back and when they feel at home. I surprise them with apple or cheese strudel, with „fritule“, homemade jams or liqueurs.

An example of a loyal guest is a dear guest from Italy, a representative of a corporation with offices around Europe and the world, speaks 10 languages, including Chinese and Japanese, has traveled all over the world. When he says in his simplicity that in our apartment in Grobnik he feels at home, that there is no better strawberry jam in the world, that it is worth coming from Italy just because of my apple strudel, even if you don’t go to the racetruck (Automotodrom), then that tells me more than anything and gives a positive wind in my back to try even harder.

There is this beauty of working with guests, when guests are satisfied, there is no greater reward and better publicity.

In the desire for further development, you became a pioneer with the construction of a sustainable holiday house near Gospić. How did you decide to expand your tourism business in Lika?

Apartments in Grobnik work great, but as time always brings innovations and new trends, and the apartments competition is growing, the idea and the need for a new business momentum appeared.

There is a growing desire for guests to get away from the crowds, to rest in solitude, in nature, but they also want to be provided with all the comfort. And that’s where the idea of ​​a vacation home sparked. It was during this period that I attended the training for the manager of a small and family hotel at the Polytechnic of Rijeka and gained additional knowledge that further encouraged me to start a new project with my husband.

At first we planned to build a holiday house somewhere in Grobnik, but due to the lack of content in the destination, that idea was abandoned. I accidentally opened an ad for a house in Lika. I was delighted by the destination’s beauty of nature and that’s where the idea of ​​a holiday home in the healing region of Lika came from. Lika turned out to be an ideal choice, a two-hour drive from Zagreb, Rijeka and Split, near Plitvice Lakes, 40 minutes from the sea. It is the heart of our irresistible Croatia, and yet undiscovered and unjustly neglected. We were lucky to discover and buy a house and property in Bužim, near Smiljan, the birthplace of Nikola Tesla. It was love at first sight. When I saw the house, I knew that a real little paradise would be created there.

When you say „house“, you mean a building and property of 6500 m2 with its own spring and stream, which certainly required significant engagement and effort. Could you describe us the construction experience?

Yes, next to the house we bought the land of 6500 m2. We have an orchard, a garden, a meadow, a house and an auxiliary building, and we are constantly upgrading our facilities.

We didn’t want to waste time. The preparation of documentation for construction and reconstruction, for the construction of swimming pools and wellness started immediately.

I wanted the guest to feel comfortable, and yet as if he were in his own home, to have all the conditions for perfect rest, peace and the expected intimacy. And in that direction we started decorating the house.

Due to my husband’s and son’s business commitments, I took most of the care of building the house. Which wasn’t a problem because I enjoy organizing and creating something new, especially since I had a vision of what the house would look like upon completion. There were all kinds of situations, problems with workers, procurement of materials and physical work, but in the end everything turned out well. I’m a fighter and an optimist, I try to find a solution to every problem. For me, the sentence is always valid: who wants to find a way, will not find an excuse. I am grateful to my daughter and daughter-in-law who took care of the apartment in Grobnik while I led the fight on a new project in Lika. Today I can thank the whole family for being with me and supporting me in creating this paradise. My husband also spends his entire vacation in Bužim, constantly working on the house.

How does the house and property look like today, are you satisfied with what has been realized?

„Mali Medo“ house is intended for family vacations, for people who want to escape from the crowds and stress, who want to experience natural peace and recharge their batteries. I am very pleased with how everything was done, during the works everything slowly fell into place. It offers accommodation for up to a total of 8 people and is designed for two families or 2-3 couples. The house is adorned with 4 stars, it is decorated with a lot of love, every detail was taken care of. I wanted the guests to feel welcome, to enjoy every moment spent with us, to miss absolutely nothing.

The space is air conditioned, comfortable in summer and winter. On the ground floor there is a fully modern kitchen with all existing accessories. Next to the kitchen is a dining room with a large table for 10 people. The ground floor also has a large living room with a wood burning fireplace. The relief of a bear is highlighted on the fireplace. The famous academic artist Mr. Ivan Golac from Gospić made a fascinating work. The house was named after him – „Mali Medo“ („Little Bear“). I wanted the fireplace to have some detail typical of Lika, and the Lika bear is synonymous with Lika, strong and enduring.

Below the stairs is the cutest corner for kids, a playroom with three little bears. The ground floor has a large bathroom that provides relaxation after an active day with a large shower. There is also a porch where you will be welcomed by a bear dressed in Lika folk costume, with a Lika hat on his head of course. The bathrooms and veranda are equipped with underfloor heating, and the whole house has central heating, and heating by the fireplace in the living room. In front of the fireplace, guests enjoy winter nights, and modern entertainment, hundreds of TV programs and good music are available.

Upstairs are two large bedrooms with access to the terrace, where you can enjoy the afternoon in the shade.

There is an attraction on the terrace – a telescope with which guests observe the stars at night. There is no public lighting so we are spared light pollution. At night there are countless stars in the sky that we cannot otherwise see. Even the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye. An indescribable experience: to sit in the dark and watch thousands of stars, the Milky Way, hear the silence and the occasional owl that sounds from the forest. Upstairs is another large bathroom that offers the enjoyment of a bathtub with jacuzzi where guests can relax in the stillness of the day. There is also a gallery with a large sofa and another TV.

In the living room on the ground floor there’s an exit to a large covered terrace with an open fireplace where you can enjoy preparing barbecues, skewers, baking food under the „peka“, kettles, and all the necessary barbecue equipment. Next to the fireplace is a woodshed with firewood and charcoal, which is made in the village in the traditional way. Meat roasted on that charcoal is tastier. On the terrace is a 3 m long wooden table, 4 benches for company and a swing. And of course everything is filled with plants and flowers cared for with a lot of attention and love. Nearby is a wooden barrel in which herbs are grown for picking by guests. The terrace stairs lead to the pool and sun deck. There are deck chairs for enjoying and catching a real Lika dark tan and a solar shower for showering. The pool and wellness are stories for themselves.

Do you cooperate with the local community? How did the locals accept you?

Through the work on building the house, I met many friendly people in Gospić who helped during the construction and I am immensely grateful for that. Gospić is a small town, everything is somehow easier to solve, from jobs in institutions, paperwork and everything else. People have unfair prejudices against Lika.

The destination is ideal for leading a life that is calmer, and yet filled with quality content because here tourism is definitely the future and much more effort is needed to develop. The locals don’t seem to be aware of what a beautiful area they live in. I think there is no need to go to work abroad, there are opportunities for a perfect life here, and tourism needs to be viewed as a link to all existing activities.

This common synergy should be the guiding thread for the future of this region, only together can we succeed in making this somewhat neglected region a paradise on earth.

You have also paid great attention to the cultivation of healthy bio vegetables for guests, you have your own drinking water from springs, and you also cooperate with local family farms in procuring food. It all concludes that you strive for sustainable tourism?

Sustainability in „Mali Medo“ house is felt at every step, but most of the effort is invested in nutrition and the desire to keep our guests in the habit of eating healthy and tasty food, which is a special feature of Lika. Upon arrival, guests receive a welcome gift on the table, a tray with homemade delicacies from our own production. Our homemade sausages and pancetta, or as they would say in Lika, „slanina“, venison sausages that we buy from local producers, the well-known škripavac cheese and soft bass cheese, homemade pickles and peppers that I grow and harvest in the garden, then sour and everyone loves them.

I make homemade bread, „fritule“ or donuts. When they open the fridge our guests are greeted with homemade eggs from the neighborhood from happy, free-range chickens, homemade milk and yogurt. There is also elderflower cordial from elderflowers that I pick myself, strawberry jam with elderflowers and jam from real Lika plums. We also have several types of coffee, drinks for children, and muesli in the kitchen, which I also make myself without the addition of sugar and artificial additives.

During their stay, guests have the opportunity to use organic vegetables from the garden and from our cultivation because near the spring we have a large garden with many vegetables grown without pesticides, in a natural way. They can also, if they wish, participate in the maintenance of the garden. For many, contact with the earth will be a special, relaxing experience they may have never felt before.

Our guests can hardly forget all those delicacies and physical recovery that await them in Mali Medo and often return.

Yes, we have our own source of drinking water in the yard and a stream that flows from that source. The water is drinkable and tastes great. Unfortunately, in the summer at the end of June, the stream dries up, and after the first rains, it gurgles happily again in the fall. It is an indescribable wealth to have your own water source in your yard and it makes guests very happy. In the yard there is also a large orchard with apples, plums, pears, quinces, cherries and sour cherries, the choice of fruit depends on whether the frost visited us or bypassed us. If frost falls when the fruit trees are blooming, unfortunately there will be no fruit that year. Guests can also participate in mowing the grass if they wish, because the grass needs to be mowed every 7 days to keep the property well-groomed and good looking.

In the absence of quality culinary services at the destination to which the guests of Mali Medo aspire, you have identified and offered the guests a top delicacy – truffles from Lika.

Several types of truffles grow in Lika, the most famous being the black Lika truffle. Mr. Golac and his dogs are real experts in finding that treasure. Unfortunately, the value of this delicacy, on which many countries, and also our own Istria, have created a brand, is not recognized locally. I decided to make sausages with black Lika truffle, just for a test. They assured me that it wouldn’t work, but my stubbornness proved to be justified, they turned out perfect. Thank you to Mr. Golec for the truffles and Mr. Jelinić, who is making homemade cured meat products for us today. The guests are in turn delighted. None of them knew, just as our people and restaurateurs do not know that Lika abounds in truffles. And that is another unrecognized potential that should definitely be used and promoted internationally.

The sustainable construction of the house is also reflected in the construction of the swimming pool. Explain to us all the elements, what makes your pool health and biologically acceptable, special on the market?

In the swimming pool, which is the decoration of every house, the white granite color of the foil is used, so the water of our pool reflects the beautiful turquoise color of the sky. The pool is heated to 25 degrees so that the temperature is constantly comfortable for the guests. Overnight, the surface is covered with a thermal blanket so water doesn’t cool down. Through the foil, the sun raises the temperature of the water to 28-29 degrees, which is also economically practical. Perfection. While the guests are swimming in the pool, the foil is rolled up, and before evening it is simply stretched again over the pool. Namely, the nights in Lika are pleasant for sleeping and the freshness is felt as soon as the sun sets behind Velebit.

The special feature of our pool is that it does not use classic chlorine as a disinfectant, which irritates and dries the skin, but works on the principle of electrolysis. When filling the pool, 300 kg of salt was placed, from which natural sodium chloride is obtained by electrolysis, which disinfects the water in the pool. For cleaning the pool, there is also our robot Pero, which diligently washes the walls and bottom of the pool.

There is also a fire pit next to the sunbathing area of ​​the pool, an unusual round place dug into the ground where you can sit around the fire in the evening, warm yourself, and if you wish, sing along with the guitar.

Mali Medo“ house also offers a wellness area, one of the contents is a salt room, you carefully planned everything with the intention of developing health tourism. The estate is also an ideal place for relaxation and entertainment.

My daughter is a physiotherapist, together we completed a three-year school for shiatsu therapists, so the concept of the house is also based on the future development of health tourism.

Down by the pool is a house with wellness, which is all made of wood. There is a jacuzzi with 2 lying and 1 sitting place, which provides comfort for the soul and body, a Finnish sauna after which you will feel reborn and an accompanying bathroom.

Our wellness also offers a salt room, a small spa that helps with bronchial, lung and skin diseases. It’s really effective. It saved me after corona and severe pneumonia, in 15 days I recovered as if nothing had happened to me.

There is also a rest area, comfortable armchairs where you can rest and enjoy the fine aromas of tea. We also have several handy exercise equipment, weights, bands. There is also a Himalayan salt wall for relaxation. In case of bad weather during your vacation, the wellness oasis will relax you and you will find bad weather conditions an advantage. In winter, you will enjoy the warmth of our little place for enjoyment and recharging your batteries. While enjoying the warm jacuzzi, you can watch the snowflakes fall or the hungry birds come to feed at our feeding area. We thought about that too.

Every day I put cookies with tallow and seeds on the apple trees so that the birds can withstand the cold Lika winter. That’s why in the spring and summer they reciprocate with a beautiful song in the early dawn. They build nests and raise their young in many places because they feel safe there. Isn’t that the most beautiful wellness you can experience?

We also have a children’s corner in the garden so parents can relax, a swing in the shape of a nest in addition to a regular swing, a rock for climbing for our little guests, a sandbox. We also thought about fun for adults in nature. There are goals for soccer, nets and balls for volleyball and handball, badminton, bicycles for riding along the numerous bicycle paths in the area. In winter, sleds are also available to guests, as our hill turns into a sledding area. A warm house with wellness after winter activities is a favorite.

Mali Medo“ and the entire property act as a positive example of a self-sustaining, touristic ecosystem, among the rest you offer guests a charger for electric vehicles, which is a rarity for the Croatian approach to tourism. How did you reach the high standards of sustainability?

When decorating, I consciously did everything to be environmentally conscious and as self-sufficient as possible. So we use solar panels for water heating, instead of a septic tank that pollutes the environment and needs to be emptied, we have a bio-purifier.

Namely, all waste water that enters the bio-purifier is processed by bacteria, and 96% pure water comes out of it, which can be used for irrigation. In every bathroom we have a sticker where we ask guests not to throw wet wipes and all other synthetic hygiene material down the drain because our valuable bacteria cannot process it.

We have a water flow regulator on all faucets, so less water is used when washing hands and showering. LED lighting is installed throughout the house, which consumes less electricity. We have bins for sorting waste, enabling our guests to sort their own waste and thereby contribute to the preservation of the environment.

Given that an increasing number of guests, especially from Scandinavian countries, have electric powered vehicles, we also provided them with a charger for their vehicles. While they sleep carefree, their tin pet gets energy to move.

At the end of the garden, we have a composter where our guests can dispose of all degradable waste, thus returning to nature what we have received from nature. The house is maintained and cleaned exclusively with ecologically acceptable or naturally prepared detergents. Together, the diligent Mrs. Ivana and I bring the house to a state in which every guest is satisfied and safe in it.

If the guests decide to leave the house and all the enjoyment that the property offers for a few hours, to see Lika or to get to know the wider Croatia, what would you recommend for a tour?

Our guests can visit Nikola Tesla’s birthplace and museum in the village of Smiljan, which is 8 km from our house, „Likos“ adrenaline park in the center of Gospić with many fun activities. You can rent canoes and ride along the Novčica, Bogdanica and Lika rivers. Guests love to enjoy in the peace and quiet of the water, which is disturbed only by the croaking of some frogs or the occasional duck that swims by. They can also enjoy fishing at Lake Kruščica, where large specimens of fish are hidden.

A raft runs through the Lika river canyon and it is a wonderful experience to sail that mighty river. Cycling is a real discovery because Gospić offers 397 km of cycling paths, mountaineers enjoy numerous mountain peaks and discovering the paths of the nearby Velebit, Tulove grede are known to everyone.

In Gospić, you can visit the Lika Museum, the Zera souvenir shop, which offers plenty of real Lika souvenirs and handicrafts, as well as Lika delicacies.

If our guests want to visit the sea, Karlobag is 40 km from us, and Zadar is 80 km away. There are also numerous OPGs (farms) that offer homemade products, cheeses, brandies, fruits and vegetables, and guests buy the foods they consumed in „Mali medo“ for gifts and for their own needs at home.

Plitvice lakes are 60 km from us. Majerovo vrilo and Tonkovića vrilo are the two most famous sources of the clear river Gacka, which is known for its trout. „Ruspante“ pizzeria is widely known in Sinac. There is an old stone bridge in Kosinj. In Veliki Žitnik is the home of dr. Ante Starčević. There is a famous brewery in Pazarište where excellent „Velebitsko“ beer is produced, which is interesting for tourists. There are also the famous Cerovac Caves. Vegilium cheese is famous in Baški Oštarije.

I could list for hours all the specialities of Lika and the attractions that await tourists and guests of „Mali Medo“, but we will leave them the remaining beauties of Croatia to discover for themselves.

Author: Sunčana Matić, LUX

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