And that was that!

At last we are ready. The formidable Tourist Classification lady visits, as we take the plunge and apply for our tourist rental licence. Websites are created and, with Kovaci close to being declared ‘ready’, our restoration project draws to a close. It’s been a long, hard slog. Was it all worth it and … would I do it again?


Braving the dragon

Kovaci property garden, ready and waiting inspection in IstriaLate September and we’re finally ready. P has drawn me proper scale drawings for the evacuation plans and I’ve copies of all my other necessary paperwork: so with Snjezana as translator and moral support, I’m all set to face the Classification Dragon in her den. I use the name ‘Dragon’ deliberately because she has a well-earned reputation for being rather fearsome. She is a woman holding great power – the power to grant or deny your tourist classification. One doesn’t enter this process lightly. Just visiting her is a challenge – she occupies the highest office in the Opcina building, so up and up the stairs you climb, just hoping she’s in a good mood and not too intimidating. 

But I must also be honest: my previous experiences have shown that while she’s fierce, she is also fair and, for Croatia, amazingly reliable – she applies the rules consistently. I have also come to believe she has a soft heart under her gruff exterior, and that she basically means me well (everyone else thinks I’m mad, and that she’s a dragon through and through!). But we all agree, she’s totally straight: if Kovaci meets the requirements, we’ll get our classification; if it doesn’t …

Handing over our papers, I wait. Palms sweaty with nerves, heart pounding, I try to show no fear or doubt. Everything will be OK … won’t it!? I know, in theory, it should all be fine, our (well-researched) papers are correct and we have everything requested. But after all, this is Croatia …

Kitchen-diner in Kovaci, IstriaAfter what feels an eternity of her either checking papers or cross-questioning Snjezana in rapid, gruff Croatian, she finally nods and stamps our application. We’ve passed stage one! We’re dispatched to the basement to formally hand in our papers: she’ll be in touch soon to let us know when the inspection will be. Heaving a huge sigh of relief, I head downstairs.

As can happen in this unpredictable country, it all then moves very quickly. Having resigned myself to a month’s wait (which I’m told it usually takes), I’m stunned when the visit is arranged for two days later. Autumn, it seems, is a quiet time for classifications.


Classification day

Heart once again in my mouth, Snjezana and I sit on the wall waiting for the Classification Lady. Will it be the Dragon who arrives, or will we see her softer side today? It’s the Dragon and I’m in for a nerve-racking hour or so.

Master bedroom with offending railing, in Kovaci, IstriaAll goes fine, until we reach the master bedroom which takes up the whole top floor of the house. The inspection stops at the top of the stairs and a huge discussion starts. We have a big problem. The door, it seems, should be at the top of the stairs, not the bottom. This isn’t some small alteration, I realise: it will take a lot of work, not to mention ruining the look of the bedroom!

The discussion ranges back and forth, Snježana occasionally throwing me a translation. Eventually an agreement is reached. The door can stay where it is (relief!), but we need to do something to prevent people stumbling down the stairs in the dark – something it had never occurred to me might happen! The ruling is that we need a rope which can be hooked across the stairway and a fold-down ‘door’ to cover the top few steps.

The rope’s a great idea, but I’ve doubts about the ‘door’. Surely it will make the top of the stairs more dangerous as, instead of mis-stepping onto the top step, you could now be tipped head-first down the whole staircase? More discussion, but the Dragon’s adamant: we must have the ‘door’. (Later, to make it as visible as possible, we decide ourselves to paint it white and put ‘danger’ signs on it.)

Kovaci master bedroom fix of railings, fold-down step & protective ropeWe also need to change all the staircase railings – another safety issue. Ours run parallel to the stairs, right along their length. Classification Dragon wants to add vertical rails, so children can’t play on the stairs, slip through and hurt themselves. Muttering to myself about parental responsibility and how the vertical rails will mar the house’s open feel, I nevertheless can see why she wants this modification and agree we’ll change them.

If the Dragon seems paranoid about safety, she is, and we found out there’s a good reason. “While I check the ‘classification’ list, my main priority is safety,” she explains, as she finishes the paperwork, “especially with old houses. Unlike new houses, which are checked by building inspectors, I’m often the only official inspector who’ll ever see inside older ones like this, so it is vital I ensure they are safe. Holidaymakers’ lives could depend on it!”

So while I might find it irritating, having to make these last minute changes, it’s in fact also rather reassuring to know there’s an official who cares passionately about tourists’ safety. I begin to understand a bit better why she can be so demanding and fierce.

House stairs in Kovaci, Istria, with vertical railings“When will the work be done?” she barks, handing over her works list. I’m not sure. “As soon as possible,” I say, just hoping I’ll be able to get Miro back ASAP and that he won’t give me too much heartache about the changes.

In the end I’m worrying unduly, as Miro and Toni come immediately and, by the end of the week, all is finished – and looks magnificent! I have to confess, the vertical stair rails also look much classier than the horizontal rails, and, with its attractive, rope handle (Miro’s idea) the fold-down ‘door’ at the top of the stairs makes an interesting rustic feature. I buy a couple of curtain ties with fancy pompom ends, knot them together, put up some brass hooks… and we’re done – I hope  :). 

Monday morning, I’m back in the Dragon’s den with photos of the work. I hold my breath … is she satisfied? She nods yes, and that is that! She signs our temporary approval form and the official copy arrives a few days later by post. Kovaci now has an official classification and can be legally let to tourists! Cheer loudly!!!!


Letting the world know

Barn stairs in Kovaci, Istria, with vertical railingsAnd this all doesn’t happen a moment too soon. With October upon us, it is time to get Kovaci on-line and let the world know about it. A week’s worth of frantic website building follows, as I add Kovaci to our Istria Cottages site, and then advertise it on-line alongside our other properties.

Once that’s done, it’s out of my hands. I’ve done all I can to create a wonderful, courtyard property: I just hope there’ll be plenty of people out there who agree it’s the perfect place for their holiday. Bring on the bookings! (As I write this, in late December, we’ve already had two bookings. Fingers crossed for more to follow.)


And that was that!

All of a sudden, I realise our huge Kovaci project is finished! From an idea that grew out of a quick discussion with P in late 2009, it took getting on for two years research (on and off) to find and buy the right place, followed by a year’s frenetic activity to restore it and get it ready for rental. If this was a movie, we’d finish with a huge party, where everyone involved could take a final bow. But this is reality, so no party – and anyway, everyone’s moved onto other things.

Nevertheless, in the best traditions of Hollywood, I’d like to thank everyone who helped make it happen – and most notably, my marvellous Istrian crew (Miro and Toni especially): for making Kovaci a wonderful place again; for putting up with my pigeon Croatian and lack of building knowledge; and for allowing me to tell our story on Live Istria. “Thank you guys – you made it happen!” And thanks to you for reading my tale. I hope you feel inspired to go out and do something as equally reckless and fool hardy!

It’s been a wonderful, if exhausting, rollercoaster ride … but would I do it again? Absolutely – just let me get my breath back. Am I doing it again? Yes – next year (I have a masochistic streak)! After much debate and endless negotiation with the Bank, we bought the ugly duckling next door (somehow you knew we would) and, in January, I plan to start work knocking that awful extension down. Then, when we’ve got planning permission (that might take a while …), we’re going to turn it into a lovely little one-bedroom cottage with a roof terrace and stunning sea views. Anyone interested?


Also see

Restoration diary:



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