Heart & Soul of Croatia
After more than three decades as a guide, Lela, a tour leader for Classic Journeys on the Dalmatian Coast, brings fresh passion and her lively imagination to every trip. You could say she was born to lead, as she reminded us when we sat down over a bottle of her favorite local wine in her hometown of Split.
Q: How did you become a guide?
LELA: I started guiding during the war when there were no tourists. I was the guide for journalists from the BBC and other places in the war zones of Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. I have also been very honored to be selected to act as a guide for our Croatian president and his family. When people ask me how do I know so much, the answer is that I have been through a lot.
Q: What did you do before?
LELA: So many things! My first job was being in charge of costumes for a Yugoslavian folk ensemble. Then I was an airline hostess while simultaneously studying Yugoslav literature and languages. I was a representative for a tourist agency in hotels on the Dalmatian Coast. I also studied traditional Chinese medicine, and I am a therapist.
Q: Why are Croatians so friendly?
LELA: We are many cultures in a small country. Croatians are very open to each other and to our visitors. As a native, I am lucky to have friends everywhere in Croatia. Sometimes they cook dinner in their homes for us or welcome us to their wine cellars or ateliers. I ask and they say, “Yes!” They even invited Classic Journeys guests to a baptism!
Q: A baptism? How did that happen?
LELA: We were due to visit a vineyard. But just before, the owner called to say, “I am so sorry but my firstborn will be baptized today and it is only for family.” But quickly he called back. “My family almost killed me for telling you not to come. Of course, you are invited!” So instead of a walk, we joined the ceremony. Every trip is special in some way. One time it is a grape harvest or an art show. One of my colleagues from the war years is always happy to tell personal stories over some food and wine.
Q: What would you say that travelers like best about Croatia?
LELA: Everybody is amazed by the beauty of my country. Mesmerized, I would say. I am happy to say that a lot of people are keeping the trip as a fond memory.