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Davis Cup, Croatia vs. Great Britain (Umag, Croatia)

18 September 2013

Hundreds of Britons travelled this weekend to this enchanting resort on the Adriatic coast to support Great Britain Team, led by Andy Murray, in their attempt to return to the Davis Cup elite. They expected to win, but what they got was a win-win.


The victories were certainly made sweeter because they were won in front of the biggest away crowd the British team had for 30 or 40 years. Murray himself admitted it: „This is an incredible surprise for me. It's beautiful here in Umag, I like the weather very much, the stadium where we play is wonderful, all the best conditions for great tennis“.


The stadium, named Stella Maris (Sea Star) ater the surrounding resort, has been called „the prettiest little stadium on the ATP Tour“, and it certainly lives up to its reputation. It is also the venue for Vegeta Croatia Open, ATP tournament organised every July, when Umag gets filled with literally tens of thousand guests, attracted not only by world-class tennis but also by food and wine that are among the best Mediterranean can offer. Umag tournament is much more than tennis: for ten days there are concerts and parties, while the winemakers, cheesemakers, trufflehunters and olive oil producers take out their best products and offer them at fairly reasonable prices.


Croatia is getting more popular with British travellers year-by-year: over 90 thousand Brits vacationed in this Gem of Adriatic only in August this year, and over 300 thousand visited the country in the first eight months of this year, which is 26 per cent more than the previous year. One of the most popular regions is Istria, the biggest peninsula of the Adriatic, today largely part of Croatia. In the first eight months of this year 53 thousands Brits visited Istria, the land of wines, olive oil and truffles. Some of the best of those delicasies are found in Umag and surrounding beautiful little towns and villages. Local truffles are among the most expensive in the world, the best ones sold for over 3,000 pounds per kilo.


Istria attracts not only thousands of regular tourists, but also the richest, even the royals. So it is no wonder that British fans in Umag were joined by HRH Duchess of Gloucester, in her role as Honorary President of the Lawn Tennis Association. Flanked by Peter Bretherton and Franjo Lukovic, presidents of British and Croatian tennis associations, the Duchess visited the charming little medieval town of Grožnjan, one of the most romantic places in Croatia. Although inhabited by less than 800 people, its artistic events, especially exhibitions and concerts, attract thousands of guests during the year. Known in Italian as Grisignana (Istria is a bilingual region) Grožnjan is also the center of an international music camp, where over 10 thousand young musicians from 58 countries played in the last 30 years. 
Although rather small in quantity, Istrian wine production is big in quality, getting bigger, moving out of the shadow of better known, but certainly not better French or Italian wines. Best known for its refreshing and tender Istrian Malvasia and strong red Teran wine, the region is also the home of some unique indigenous sorts. One of them is Momjan Muscat, grown only in the tiny village of Momjan, about ten miles inland from Umag. Rich in fruity aromas of orange, white rose and honey this semi-sweet wine was the star of the tasting in Kabola winery in Momjan, also visited by Her Royal Highness.


After long being overshadowed by the nearby Venice or Tuscany, Istria is making huge strides in placing itself on the top of the list of popular destinations for Britons. The secret of its growing success is that it's offering much more than just the sun and the sea, though they are impressive. Along with food and wine, sport venues, especially for tennis, but also for soccer, volleyball and cycling are fast becoming cornerstones of tourism development. There are over 200 hundred miles of cycling tracks, dozens of tennis courts and the best tennis academy in the wider region, while Umag's soccer center is a training camp for Croatian national team and Juventus soccer academy.
With British low-cost carriers and charter planes Umag is getting nearer every day. Many Britons, tennis or no tennis, will certainly come back here, to the land of wine and truffles. Cheers to that!

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