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1925 elegance lives in Zagreb
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  12/10/2007 | Tourism | Unrated
The Regent Esplanade in Zagreb is easy to like
1925 elegance lives in Zagreb

By Randall Weissman - Tribune staff reporter
December 9, 2007

The Regent Esplanade

Mihanoviceva 1, Zagreb, Croatia; 888-201-1806;

The Regent Esplanade brought glamor and elegance to Zagreb in 1925 when it opened to cater to passengers of the famed Orient Express train route between Paris and Constantinople. Today the Esplanade offers a luxurious gateway to one of Central Europe's hottest destinations - Croatia.

The gleaming black and white marble lobby and its glowing brass trim make it easy to envision Orson Welles, Maria Callas or Pablo Casals (all of whom were regular guests) striding through the doors while one of their entourage rushed to the mahogany reception desk. Vintage photos of the Orient Express and its passengers line the hallways on the upper floors.

A two-year renovation project completed in 2004 successfully married the vintage opulence with the modern amenities required of a first-class hotel in the 21st Century, such as Wi-Fi Internet access in every room and a fully equipped business center. There also is a compact, but very usable health club that offers massages, facial treatments, sauna and fitness equipment.

The Esplanade boasts two excellent dining rooms. Zinfandel's is the gourmet, high-end restaurant, an homage to Mediterranean cuisine and local ingredients, all complemented by an outstanding wine list focused on Croatia's best offerings. Le Bistro Esplanade offers more casual fare that clearly reflects its French name. On Friday evenings the hotel offers a special barbecue with live music outside on the Oleander Terrace.

The hotel's lower level holds a small casino where guests and outsiders both can indulge. It has a poker table, two blackjack tables, three roulette tables and numerous slot machines. It was an extremely quiet night when I stopped by with only the blackjack table getting any play. The croupier told me that things heat up about midnight on Friday.

Most of Zagreb's highlights are an easy walk from the hotel, but one of the main tram terminals is just steps away if you want to save your energy for exploring the charms of the Old Town. The Esplanade also sits at the tip of a series of parks known as Lenuci's Horseshoe, blocks of green space filled with trees and flowers and a string of museums that encourage a leisurely stroll to Trg Jelacica, the city's main square.

From the square, visitors can follow their whims. Head up Bakaceva Street to your right toward the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. "Foodies" and other shoppers can revel in vibrant colors and smells of Dolac market, and the cafes and restaurants of adjacent Tkalciceva Street. Art and history buffs can prowl the narrow streets of what is left of the walled city neighborhood of Gradec.

Chicago art lovers should not miss the Atelier-Ivan Mestrovic. Not only is the artist's former home and studio filled with his works and sketches, there also is a display including old film footage documenting how the artist created the famous Indian statues for Grant Park.

CHECKING IN: Our rental car had barely stopped rolling when the bell staff were welcoming us and taking charge of our luggage and car. Rather than a single reception counter, guests are shown to one of three mahogany desks, where they are seated and offered glasses of Croatian sparkling wine as the paperwork is completed.

ROOMS: There are 145 superior rooms, 49 deluxe rooms, 12 suites plus the presidential suite. Both superior and deluxe rooms have satellite and pay TV, three telephones, in-room safe and a well-stocked mini-bar. The only difference between the two levels of rooms is size, with the deluxe having approximately 60 more square feet of floor space. The rooms are very quiet, with virtually no noise from the street or other rooms.

Our room (No. 222) was one of the deluxe category, thanks to a free upgrade because we booked using a certain credit card. A welcoming basket of fruit, nuts, bread sticks and red wine also came with the upgrade. The extra space of the deluxe room provides a separate sitting area, turning the room into a mini-suite.

BATHROOM: Heated marble floors, a six-foot-long soaking tub, double sink, mist-free mirrors, and separate areas for shower and toilet. The hair dryer was tucked away in its own special drawer, and abundant Arran lavender toiletries completed the amenity stash. The shower featured two heads: one a "rain" style, the other a hand-held version.

KID FRIENDLY: There are no special programs available for children staying at the hotel, but families predominate on the weekends, according to Sanda Sokol, the Esplanade's guest relations manager. She said the hotel is looking into some kid-oriented programs, but has not found any that work so far.

The hotel is extremely pet friendly, though, catering to the European clientele who love to travel with their dogs. If your reservation includes your dog, the hotel provides a dog bed, dog treats, special dog shampoo and a canine toothbrush. There even is a special room service menu for your pet.

ROOM SERVICE: Breakfast is available from 6 to 11 a.m. Room service reopens from noon to 11 p.m. for lunch and dinner.

All the services, amenities and attention to detail make the Esplanade an easy hotel to like. Its location close to the town center and close to Zagreb's main train station gives it easy access to everything. The breakfast buffet is one of the best I have ever encountered. Along with the usual fruit, pastry, meats and cheeses, guests can order French toast, eggs or omelets. I especially liked the do-it-yourself mimosa station. The breakfast was, however, an extra $24. (Breakfast has now gone up to about $32.)

BOTTOM LINE: Rates are quoted in euros. At the current exchange rate -- 1 euro equals $1.46 -- rooms start at $225 (154 euros) for a superior, $261 (179 euros) for the deluxe room and $451 (309 euros) for a suite. Taxes are 22 percent.

Two rooms are handicap accessible.


Formatted for CROWN by Marko Pulji
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