04 May 2010

Trapped in Dubrovnik


I've spent a lot of time in the countries that make up the former Yugoslavia, but I'd never had the chance to visit Dubrovnik until last month. Yes, I know it's a major oversight for a travel writer not to have visited the "Jewel of the Adriatic", especially a writer whose parents were born in Croatia. But I finally managed to squeeze in three days there while doing some travel writing in next-door Montenegro. And I have to say I was left disappointed.

I couldn't shake off the feeling that Dubrovnik existed for one reason only: to process as many tourists as possible before chucking them out and waiting for the next batch to come in from the cruise liners and tour coaches. Plenty of cities function in a similar way, but I felt that this desire to wring tourists dry pervaded the air of Dubrovnik. Its undeniable beauty is breathtaking but it's soulless.

It's not a particularly expensive place if you're used to London prices. Gorgeous plates of fresh seafood can be had for less than £10 each. (Try Lokanda Peskarija by the harbour or Kamenice in the market square, both in the walled old town.) And the biggest bargain was the flat we rented from Holiday Rentals (www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/p96216), which charged only €165 for three nights for a small but well-equipped one-bedroom flat right in the old town. You can do Dubrovnik on the cheap if you rent a place of your own. But saving money isn't particularly my point.

What annoyed me was the disorganised way the various tourist bodies went about their business. The tiny tourist office just off Stradun, the old town's main street, had no knowledge of timetables or fares for the boats that head off to the many surrounding islands. You have to go to all the separate quaysides for that. I had done a lot of research and I speak the language, and I still couldn't get the information I needed. It was only April, but staff were already grumpy. (I'd hate to see them in the height of summer.) And the so-called Tourist Centre near an entrance to the old town is merely a collection of shops, neatly confusing people who naturally assumed they could pick up some tourist brochures for free.

It's a city with many museums and attractions, almost all of which charge admission. No problem with that. After all, they have to pay for the maintenance of these historically vital sites. But most cities have some sort of city pass that combines admission for selected museums and even transport. If Dubrovnik has such a pass, it was doing its best not to advertise it.

I had booked three nights, thinking that wouldn't be enough time to see everything, as well as an island or two. Two nights would have been more than enough. The highlights were the time spent away from Dubrovnik, namely in the pretty village of Cavtat further along the coast and the island of Lokrum, a short boat ride away. A spell of bad weather put paid to boat trips to more distant islands.

The city has many fans, I know, but I'm afraid I'm not one of them. Does anyone have a more heartening experience of the place? I'd like to know.

4 comments:

  1. simon Hardeman05 May, 2010

    Felt similar when I was there for a piece: "The last time Dubrovnik was attacked, as maps placed prominently around its formidable and intact city walls emphasise, was 1992, when hundreds of shells shattered its signature red terracotta roofs. But the most recent successful invasion is of coach-loads of intercontinental package tourists. Fluorescent-bibbed, mindlessly they pursue their amplified Pied Pipers along the Placa (“the most beautiful main street in the world”), under the city walls (“the most complete examples anywhere”), and through the cloister of the Franciscan monastery (home to “the third oldest public pharmacy in the world” – this is the point at which the need for superlatives becomes ludicrous.

    Rather like the final lap of a marathon, my 500-mile journey ends with a tour of the city walls. But I don’t feel fulfilled. I’ve reached a dead city – beautiful, perfectly preserved or rebuilt, but so lifeless that the most vibrant place after dark is the local Irish pub."

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  2. So glad you agree with me, Simon. I was afraid I was a lone voice.

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