Tag Archives: Croatia

Romanian Firms Lead South-East Europe

The largest oil companies and banks in south-east Europe are based in Romania, according to an independent ranking of the top 100 firms in the region.

For the seventh consecutive year, Romanian oil and gas company OMV Petrom, majority owned by Austria’s OMV, is the biggest company in south-east Europe, according to the ranking for 2013 published by SeeNews agency.

OMV Petrom claimed the top spot despite a drop in revenues by nearly three per cent to 4.27 billion euro in 2013. 

At the same time, however, its net profit rose to 1.08 billion euro, the highest among the top 100 companies in south-east Europe.

Oil and gas companies continued to dominate the annual SeeNews rankings and to generate the bulk of total revenue, although this decreased by 5.45 per cent to 41.8 billion euro in 2013, and their total profit fell to 659 million euro from 1.09 billion euro.

Romania, the biggest market in the region, expanded its domination of the rankings, with 53 companies on the 2013 list, up from 51 a year earlier.

Despite a 10 per cent drop in assets to 14.16 billion euro, Romania’s Banca Comerciala Romana, a part of Austria’s Erste, was rated the biggest bank in the region for the fourth year in a row.

Croatia’s Zagrebacka Banka ranked second and another Romanian bank, BRD-Groupe Societe Generale, was third. A total of 38 banks in the rankings saw their assets decline in 2013.

Slovenia’s Zavarovalnica Triglav kept the mantle of the region’s biggest insurer in 2013 despite a 6.46 per cent decline in gross written premiums to 605.8 million euro.

The slow economic recovery in the European Union, the main trading partner forcountries in south-east Europe, the sluggish prospects facing most economies in the region and shrunken domestic demand all left their mark on corporate bottom lines in 2013.

At the same time, long overdue structural reforms, fiscal and regulatory volatility and poor infrastructure continued to be a drag on local businesses.

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10 of the best European islands … that you’ve probably never heard of

Lyngør Islands, Norway

A far cry from Norway’s jagged western fjord-filled coastline, the Lyngør Islands offer Baltic calm rather than wild Atlantic. Base yourself on the islands of Sandøya or Borøya (where you can park your car) and use the ferries to get around. If ferries are too mainstream, Norwegians rave about kayaking between these tiny islands, so expect to see lots of brightly coloured boats being hefted around by visitors. Kayak rental is available in Tvedestrand, the town at the head of the fjord. Lyngør Island can only be reached by boat: there are no cars, and the main village consists of weathered clapboard wooden houses.

Stay The Tvedestrand 58 holiday house on the island of Boroya, which sleeps up to six, costs from £455 for seven nights.

Getting there Norwegian airlines flies to Oslo from £40 return; it’s then a two-hour drive south.

Mljet, Croatia

Beach Stara Baska - island Krk, Croatia

Odysseus was allegedly held captive here, for seven years, by the nymph Calypso, but it can’t really have been all that bad. One of Croatia’s southernmost islands, it’s best known for exceptional local produce and wild beauty. There are great hiking opportunities around the two saltwater lakes in Mljet national park and it is possible to hire a sailing boat to reach the 12th-century Benedictine monastery on Melita Island. Scramble around the island’s shady trails and swim in some of the clearest water in the Adriatic at Blace Bay. Choose a bottle of local red for your sundowner – Dingac and Postup are produced on the island – and try the plates of raw mussels drizzled with lemon juice, a local speciality.

Stay There’s only one hotel and it’s right on the coast – the three-star Odisej Mljet, with doubles from £33 B&B.

Getting there It’s a 90-minute ferry from Dubrovnik to the bay of Sobra on Mljet on Jadrolinjia lines.

Aegina, Greece

The hillside village of Vagia on Aegina, Greece

Come for the seafood, stay for the peace. Aegina, only one hour by ferry from Athens, is a great base during a summer weekend break. The heat in the city can be harsh; escape the crowds to spend evenings snorkelling the coast and devouring cuttlefish in wine sauce at Nontas – a beachside taverna close enough to the water to see your dinner being caught by local fishermen. As for hiking, the island’s trails lead you past ruined churches, meadows of wildflowers, and craggy hillsides.

Stay Clean, bright, and sun-drenched rooms at the Marini Luxury Apartments come with balconies and panoramic views over the sea, doubles from £66.

Getting there Metro from Athens centre to Piraeus port, an hour’s hydrofoil journey (£7) to Aegina.

Fehmarn, Germany

Dike Path, Sulsdorfer Wiek with Sun, Summer, Orth, Baltic Island of Fehmarn, Germany

Fehmarn, an island just off Germany’s Baltic coastline, catches the rays in spades while adventure junkies can kitesurf the days away (it plays host to various kite surfing competitions every year). Those after a more gentle ramble should pack their boots for Fehmarn’s portion of the Via Scandinavia: a walking route from Lübeck that runs through Germany and Poland, and on to Norway. Fehmarn’s scenery makes it unique among Germany’s Baltic islands. Badwelt Fehmare is a spa complex on the island and many visitors make the journey to enjoy seaweed wraps (taken from the shore) and natural saltwater scrubs.

Stay Close to the old town and a sandy beach, Apartments mit Flair has accommodation from £42 a night.

Getting there From Hamburg it’s a 90-minute drive to Burg, the historical capital of Fehmarn.

Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, Ireland

Inisheer (Inis Oirr), Aran Islands, Ireland.

This is an island of ancient language and mythology where the white beaches stretch out into the Atlantic. The smallest island in the Aran archipelago, Inis Oírr (pronounced Inisheer) only got permanent electricity in 1997. The Inis Oírr trail threads through fields carpeted with wildflowers; gentian, cranesbill and ladies mantle dust your ankles as you pace around the island under the shadow of O’Brien’s ruined 14th-century castle. Recuperate at Ostan Inis Oírr with a pint of Guinness and live music, which gets visitors up for a dance.

Stay South Aran House, with doubles from £60 B&B, is a guesthouse with free Wi-Fi, four en suite rooms and underfloor heating. The attached cooking school suggests that guests are in for a treat at breakfast.

Getting there Ferry from Ros a’Mhil costs £19, adult return, with Aran Island Ferries.

Belle-Île en Mer, Brittany, France

The port of Le Palais on Belle-Île-en-Mer.

An island that lives up to its name, its dramatic coastline and green interior inspired 19th-century authors and artists, most famously Flaubert and Monet. Now it draws holidaymakers in their droves in August, but outside of this short peak season its 60 beaches are gloriously crowd-free; and even in August your fellow tourists are unlikely to be Brits, who prefer chichi Île de Ré further south over its wilder Atlantic cousin. While Belle-Île has a handful of low-key attractions, including Sarah Bernhardt’s house, now a museum, and the lighthouse at Bangor, the main draw is the natural environment. In August beach lovers and walkers are joined on the island by opera buffs who come for the popular classical music festival Lyrique en Mer. Read more on the island in our Brittany article.

Stay Hotel Le Clos Fleuri has doubles from £53.

Getting there Ferries leave from Qubieron, 14km away.

Cíes islands, Galicia, Spain

Rodas beach on Las Islas Cíes

Despite this paper naming Rodas beach on Las Islas Cíes one of the best beaches in the world, these islands remain an off-the-beaten-track gem, thanks to a strict limit of 2,200 tourists a day. Their nickname – the Maldives or Seychelles of Spain – gives a clear indication of what to expect: gorgeous white beaches, turquoise waters … in other words, your average untouched paradise. The three islands (Monteagudo, San Martiño and Faro) opposite the town of Vigo on the Galician coast form part of the Islas Atlánticas national park. This means its wildlife, including colonies of marine birds and rich marine life – which can be explored by scuba divers (with a permit) – is protected.

Stay The only accommodation is a campsite – Camping de las Islas Cíes – with 800 places on Faro, which opens in Easter week, and on subsequent weekends until June, and then regularly between June and September. From £5 adults, £4 kids; £50 to hire a double tent.

Getting there A ferry service from the harbours of Vigo, Cangas and Baiona starts in Easter week and runs weekends and then everyday between the beginning of June and the end of September.

Hiiumaa, Estonia

Tahkuna Lighthouse on Hiiumaa.

The smell of nature hangs heavy on Hiiumaa: from white sand beaches slightly damp after a rainfall, and seaweed sweetly fermenting at one end of the beach. The second largest island in Estonia, this is the place to come if you have a book to write or pictures to paint. There’s not much to do other than tramp along the coastal paths and admire centuries-old Baltic-style lighthouses. For history buffs, there’s an old Soviet bunker to explore, but mostly people come here to feel the sand between their toes and clear their heads. Thanks to the island’s microclimate, Hiiumaa is a lot warmer than Estonia’s mainland, which makes exploring the town of Kardia’s wooden houses and relaxing in Roograhu harbour’s floating sauna even more appealing.

Stay Kassari Puhkekeskus, doubles from £50, has bicycles to rent and a large sauna.

Getting there It’s a 35-minute flight from Tallinn or half-hour ferry ride from Rohuküla, details for both at hiiumaa.ee

Samothrace, Greece

DDR639 Doric Hieron temple, Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Oros Fengari (Mount Moon), Samothrace island. Northern Aegean Sea, Greece

The drums beat late into the night and oil torches flare at one of Samothrace’s many beach parties. Eyes closed, the smell of bonfires and tannic red wine transport you back to when life was dictated by the Temple of the Winged Nike, now a crumbling ruin. Its many repeat visitors love the unaffected nature of this north Aegean island. As well as a solid collection of hiking paths, a bucolic waterfall trail, and sweeping deserted beaches, the island’s hot springs and hillside thermal pools only add to the sense of otherworldliness.

Stay The Archondissa Boutique Beach Aparthotel is secluded and just 20 metres from the beach. Each room has a sizeable balcony and terrace, studios from £40.

Getting there A Saos ferry from Alexandroupoli (on the mainland) takes three hours. Thessaloniki is six hours including drive and ferry.

Margaret Island, Budapest, Hungary

Margaret Island in Budapest Hungary

Margaret Island, in the middle of the Danube in central Budapest, spends winter shrouded in mist; come summer the island is an oasis in the midst the city. Encircled by a 5km asphalt running track and jetties from which to launch small boats (and bodies – some of the swimmers here are hardy folk), the illusion of an island holiday is enhanced by two thermal spa complexes. Both cost less than £10 for the day, and, after you’ve soaked, take a romantic walk around the island to visit the ruins of the 13th-century nunnery. At sunset grab an ice-cream and sit down to watch the fountains dance in time to the music.

Stay The Danubias Grand Hotel Margritsziget has doubles from £68.

Getting there The island is a five-minute walk across the bridge from Budapest’s district IV.

Central European Forests Are Regrowing After the Breakup of the USSR

Central European Forests Are Regrowing After the Breakup of the USSR

Central European Forests Are Regrowing After the Breakup of the USSR

The collapse of the Soviet Union didn’t just affect humans—forests across Europe and Asia were impacted, too.

Some 533 million acres of forest in Eastern Europe have regrown since 1985, largely due to the disintegration of timber industries and abandonment of agricultural lands in countries such as Hungary, Croatia, and Bulgaria.

Drawing on 52,539 images collected by Landsat satellites between 1985 and 2012, a team of scientists has just published a series of maps showing how Eastern Europe’s forests have been changing over the past 27 years.

Bottom line: They’ve been coming back, with the exception of a small number of countries where the logging industry has actually picked up.

Central European Forests Are Regrowing After the Breakup of the USSR

Across the entire study area, forest cover grew by nearly 5 percent, although we can see from the chart above that several smaller countries experienced much, much more regrowth.

Zooming in on specific regions, it becomes clear just how much these changes fall along country lines. Take, for instance, the Latvia-Russia border, pictured on the zoomed-in map below:

Central European Forests Are Regrowing After the Breakup of the USSR

In Russia, a lot of the regrowth has been taking place in massive collective farms that went bust after the Soviet Union fell. And as this regrowth goes on, scientists expect that Russia will continue to be a major carbon sink into the future, according to NASA:

Overall, about 34 percent of all cropland in Russia was abandoned after 1991. So far, only about 14 percent of that abandoned farmland has been converted back to forest, suggesting that forest re-growth could represent a significant “carbon sink” for Russia in the future.

How significant are we talking? Well, a study published in 2013 in Global Change Biologyfound that abandoned farmlands in the parts of the former USSR that are now Russia have been soaking up 42.6 million tonnes of carbon every year since 1990—or roughly ten percent of Russia’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, according to New Scientist.

That may be an environmental win, but it’s come with a major price tag: Enormous social and economic hardship. Reminding us, yet again, just how tricky it is to balance the needs of our changing planet alongside those of its human beings.

Croatia to Start Building Adriatic Bridge in 2016

Zagreb government on Wednesday said construction of a bridge over the Adriatic on the Peljesac peninsula, joining Dubrovnik to the rest of Croatia by land, will start in 2016.

Croatia on Wednesday announced that plans to build a long-awaited bridge over the Adriatic sea, connecting the Peljesac peninsula to the mainland, will get underway next year.

An idea dating back to the late 1990s, the 2.4-km-long bridge should connect up two parts of Croatia divided by a 14-km stretch of territory belonging to Bosnia.

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said the construction of the bridge would secure the easier and safer transport of people and goods within Croatia.

“Above all… there is this desire for Croatia to merge so that one no longer has to travel to and from Dubrovnik through the territory of another state,” he added.

The tourist resort and port city of Dubrovnik, the “pearl” of the Adriatic, is currently divided from the rest of Croatia, hindering access to it by land.

Transport Minister Sinisa Hajdas Doncic said the tender for construction will be announced by the end of the year, while construction will most probably start in the spring of 2016.

The total cost of the project will be 380 million euro, while the bridge itself will cost around 206 million euro, Hajdas Doncic stated.

He said that Croatia could potentially get up to 85 per cent co-financing from EU funds, while construction will last from 2.5 to three years.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has expressed dissatisfaction with Peljesac bridge project, claiming that the bridge’s dimensions would block maritime access to its port town of Neum.

Top 10 nude beaches in the world

World’s 10 best nude beaches
Florida’s Haulover Beach is known as “America’s Riviera.” Picture: Osseous/Flickr

ARE you a fan of getting an all-over tan? Then you need to put these best nude beaches from around the world on your bucket list.

According to Fiona Hunt, managing director of Adventure World, getting buff in the buff is a hot travel trend, with many of the beaches below offering opportunities to work out via activities such as beach volleyball or fitness classes.

Don’t giggle. The Greek word “gymnos”, which coined the term gymnasium, means “naked.” In Ancient Greece athletes competed nude because it encouraged aesthetic appreciation of the human body. So there!

Here are the world’s top sandy spots to indulge in the latest exercise craze …

1. Playa las Suecas — Contadora Island, Panama

Playa de las Suecas, Costa Rica. Picture: ThinkStock

Playa las Suecas, Costa Rica. Picture: ThinkStock

Located on Contadora Island, Playa de las Suecas is the only place in Panama you are officially allowed to be completely nude. Perfect for buff beach walks.

2. Haulover Beach — Florida, United States

Haulover Beach, Florida. Picture: Osseous/Flickr

Haulover Beach, Florida. Picture: Osseous/Flickr

Beautiful Haulover Beach is famous known as “America’s Riviera”. So it’s only fitting that this small stretch of bay in Miami has adopted the Mediterranean’s much more liberal approach to beachwear — that is, clothes are absolutely optional.

3. Le Grottes Plage — Costa Azul, France

Les Grottes Plage, France.

Les Grottes Plage, France.

Nestled among a number of nude resorts in the surrounding area on Il du Levant is Le Grottes Plage. While clothing is optional, there aren’t many visitors to the beach that choose to keep clothed. In fact, there are even a number of local restaurants on board where you can grab a bite to eat in the buff without anyone batting an eyelid.

4. Abrico Beach — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Abrico Beach, Brazil.

Abrico Beach, Brazil.

Rio is world renowned for its body beautiful locals, however Abrico is the only beach where you are officially allowed to bare all. It has been operating as a naturalist hot spot since the country’s ban on nude beaches was lifted in 2003. Fitness classes are held there every Sunday, weather permitting.

5. Arambol Beach — Goa, India

Arambol Beach, Goa. Picture: ThinkStock

Arambol Beach, Goa. Picture: ThinkStock

Many travellers believe Arambol to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Goa, and perhaps even all of India. Shy travellers may want to cover their modesty with mud from the lake at the end of the rocky lagoon. Locals and tourists alike swear by its restorative properties.

6. Lokrum Island — Dubrovnik, Croatia

Lokrum Island, Dubrovnik. Picture: ThinkStock

Lokrum Island, Dubrovnik. Picture: ThinkStock

Only a short boat ride from Dubrovnik’s old city jetty is Croatia’s naturist haven, Lokrum Island. The far eastern tip is frequented by nude bathers, who stretch out sans clothes on the beach’s large rocks. There are sponge mats available for purchase at one of the kiosks to keep nudists comfortable as they sunbathe.

7. El Torn Beach — Tarragona, Spain

El Torn Beach, Spain. Picture: Albert/Flickr

El Torn Beach, Spain. Picture: Albert/Flickr

While it’s not unusual to see sun-lovers in various states of undress on any of Spain’s beaches, there are a number that are dedicated specifically to nudists and naturists. El Torn, which is adjacent to a nudist campsite, is one of the biggest and most popular nude beaches. It is situated an hour or so south of Barcelona.

8. Black’s Beach — San Diego, United States

Blacks Beach, San Diego. Picture: ThinkStock

Blacks Beach, San Diego. Picture: ThinkStock

Black’s is the largest and most famous nude beach in all of the United States. The swell makes it popular with surfers, while the dress-code or lack thereof, draws naturists from states far and wide.

9. Plakias Beach — Crete, Greece

Plakias Beach, Crete. Picture: ThinkStock

Plakias Beach, Crete. Picture: ThinkStock

Nestled at the bottom of breathtaking cliffs on Crete’s southern edge is Plakias, one of the island’s biggest beaches. Sunbaking and swimming in the nude isn’t the only activity on the agenda here, waterspouts such as scuba diving and windsurfing are also popular with its unabashed visitors.

10. Wreck Beach — Vancouver, Canada

Wreck Beach, Vancouver. Picture: Outdoor PDK/Flickr

Wreck Beach, Vancouver. Picture: Outdoor PDK/Flickr

Located just 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver is Wreck Beach. Stretching over 7.8km, it’s North America’s largest nudist beach, and Canada’s first clothing-optional variety. It was even recently nominated as one of the “Seven Wonders of Canada”.

For more information about travelling to these extraordinary destinations, visitwww.adventureworld.com.au, call 1300 363 055 or see your travel agent.

Hungary Offers Olive Branch to U.S.

NATO Ally Shows Willingness to Mend Bridges as Hostilities Continue Between Ukraine and Russia

Hungary’s foreign minister has extended an olive branch to the U.S., saying his country is ready to start mending bridges weakened recently by Washington’s corruption allegations, which Budapest firmly rejects.

The country hopes to overcome its differences with the U.S., a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, amid deepening hostility between neighboring Ukraine and Russia, Peter Szijjarto said in an interview.

“In the current situation, when there is a military conflict under way in a neighboring country, cooperation with our ally gains ever greater significance,” he said. “We are hoping that our friend, the U.S., will present signs that this situation could come to a close.”

Washington last year put several Hungarian government officials on its visa-ban list because of alleged involvement in corruption. There have been regular protests against the populist Fidesz government since October.

Mr. Szijjarto dismissed such allegations and said the U.S. needs to present evidence of wrongdoing by Hungarian officials. The U.S. has said it may not name those on its visa-ban list, but has presented some documents to the Hungarian government, which were dismissed by it as irrelevant.

“If we were speaking about corruption in earnest, the Hungarian government’s initiatives and measures do deserve acknowledgment,” Mr. Szijjarto said.

The foreign minister also said he was troubled by remarks made by Sarah Sewall, Under Secretary of State, who said in December that U.S. “embassies in two dozen countries in Central and Eastern Europe are currently drafting action plans for supporting and cooperating on anticorruption reform in their host country.”

Mr. Szijjarto said the comment came close to meddling in Hungary’s internal affairs.

“If someone has a self-declared action plan about another country, it is only acceptable if it is coordinated and carried out with our involvement,” he said.

“I do acknowledge the U.S.’s commitment to democratic values and spreading its values, but one of the most important democratic value is sovereignty. The Hungarian people made an unequivocal decision in 2010 and 2014 as well, which is only proper to respect,” Mr. Szijjarto added.

The Fidesz party won parliamentary elections convincingly in 2010 and was re-elected in 2014, giving the government of Viktor Orban a two-third majority each time.

The combative premier has introduced controversial measures, including a new constitution, prompting Sen. John McCain to recently brand him “a neofascist dictator,” a charge Hungary angrily rebuffed.

Public support for Fidesz has fallen sharply since the most recent vote in April last year, but the party continues to lead in the polls, despite the protests.

Mr. Szijjarto said Hungary was sharply criticized during his visit to Washington last year “over every single measure” in its current legal framework, which he rejected, saying the country’s laws comply with those of the 28-nation European Union, which it joined in 2004.

While walking tightrope between the EU and Russia, Hungary has stood out in Central Europe during the crisis in Ukraine by pursuing closer business ties with the Kremlin.

Last year, it agreed to expand its nuclear plant in partnership with Russia’s state-owned Rosatom. It has been far less critical of Moscow and its actions in Ukraine than some of its regional peers.

Still, Mr. Szijjarto said attempts to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian energy resources should continue.

Hungary is highly dependent on Russian natural gas, with more than 80% of its imports coming through a pipeline from Russia via Ukraine. The country would favor the diversification of its sources for gas, or at least the routes for access.

Since Russia scrapped the plan for the South Stream gas pipeline through the Black Sea, a link that would have crossed Hungary, it has to seek other opportunities and Mr. Szijjarto said the European Commission in Brussels, the bloc’s executive arm, should help in that process.

One such opportunity could be a gas pipeline from Azerbaijan, another a connection to the planned Russian gas hub in Turkey, or a line allowing it to receive liquefied natural gas from Qatar or the U.S., the minister said.

He urged the construction of an LNG terminal in Croatia, which would allow gas supplies to be delivered by ships in the Mediterranean Sea.

Gazprom, Hungary Talk Natural Gas Supply, South Stream in Budapest

Hungary and Russian natural gas firm OAO Gazprom on Monday discussed natural gas supplies for Hungary this winter and the planned construction of a natural gas pipeline dubbed South Stream as Budapest appears to be unharmed by the shortage of Russian gas some countries experienced amid the separatist conflict in Ukraine.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who earlier this year signed up for a Russian nuclear reactor along with Russian financing, met on Monday with Gazprom’s CEO Alexei Miller.

Unlike some European Union member countries, particularly in Central Europe, Russia hasn’t cut its natural gas exports to Hungary. Russia is the only gas exporter to Hungary. In 2013, the volume of Russian gas supplies to Hungary amounted to about 6 billion cubic meters.

Hungary’s storage facilities were 56% full earlier this month, at 3.3 billion cubic meters, and gas is still being pumped into storage, data state power firm MVM Zrt. and the Hungarian Energy and Public Utility Regulatory Authority show.

Out of Hungary’s 3.9 million inhabited households, 45% are heated with natural gas only.

With South Stream, planned to run from Russia to the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Varna before extending overland through Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia, will supply gas to Western Europe via Italy and Austria. The new pipeline will allow Gazprom to reduce the role Ukraine plans in transit to Europe.

The pipeline’s capacity will amount to 63 billion cubic meters but the construction could still be hampered by the European Commission, which has yet to approve the contracts of six EU countries that have struck inter-governmental agreements with Russia on building South Stream.

Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria must amend their agreements to comply with the bloc’s laws, in particular opening up the pipeline to Gazprom’s competition.

Hungary will choose the designer for its section of the gas pipeline by the end of October, Gazprom said in the statement.

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