It seems that unfortunately my prediction has come true. To be honest it wasn’t a difficult one to make. About a year ago I wrote a column entitled “Has the new Peljesac Bridge created Dubrovnik’s Route 66.”
The basic gist of the piece was how the new road that connects the Peljesac bridge would cut off many people and business from the main road and lead to a catastrophic drop-off of much needed tourists. “The road was the lifeblood of the small towns along the way. In fact, many businesses sprung up and grew thanks to the traffic on the road. Communities were formed, families lived off the revenue from passing trade and infrastructure was constructed,” is taken from that text.
Well, last week I had to visit Korčula on business. Driving there I took the new road and indeed it is much faster, although the views are so mind-blowing that concentrating on driving is a challenge.
Korčula was a glorious as ever. Not as busy as Dubrovnik, apart from the queues for the ferry, but still with the similar parking problems.
So on the way back, later in the afternoon, I had some extra time. So instead of taking the shorter option I decided to go along the older option and the road that runs parallel to the shining new one. I hadn’t been down this route for years.
The first thing to say is that all GPS and communication devices start to go mad. “Turn round at the first opportunity,” – “Make a U-turn where possible,” literally yelled the on-board navigation. Listening to the messages you would have thought I was crossing the Korean Demilitarized Zone into North Korea!
I ignored them, but I’m guessing most tourists don’t.
So distance wise the length of road to Ston stretches for around 14 kilometres. I set off and reached the first hamlet without seeing any cars in either direction. I was driving slow on purpose just to be curious. Onto the next slightly larger village, Sparagovići, and I was on a ghost road. There was however an abundance of cyclists.
I slowed down again as I passed through the next collection of homes and actually stopped. “Ah, so it came true,” I said to myself. A sign that had probably in the past attracted passing drivers to stop was now lying dusty on the ground. It read “Wine Tastings/Olive Oil.” The doors and windows to the small house were firmly closed. And I am guessing that nobody had sipped a glass of wine here since the new bypass opened.
Ironically in the distance I could see hundreds of cars, caravans and buses whizzing by on the new road.
A pattern soon formed. Closed wineries everywhere. Small stands that had once sold OPG products now homes for stray cats. I had almost got to Ston and along the whole way had passed two cars, one a local and one a Polish car who had probably got lost somewhere judging by the looks one their faces.
I did however see quite a few bikes. It seems that the new road has created the longest cycle route in the south of Croatia.
But no fruit and vegetable stands and no wineries open. I am hoping and praying that they have moved to new premises and found a new solution to sell their products. Then I found the oasis in the desert. The one remaining OPG that was stubbornly still open. “So I guess business has dropped off a little,” is said to the friendly lady. Her face answered my question. Tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables basically sunbathing. I bought a couple of watermelons waved goodbye and set off to Ston.
In the whole journey the total car count remained just two!
“At least four small villages are completely off the radar now. If they were looking for a tranquil life then great, but if the old road brought you a way of living, well not great,” another line from that text a year ago. I guess it is the price to pay for progress. The bridge has certainly changed the region, but change can be both positive and negative. And I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future these old “Wine Tasting” signs are replaced by “For Sale” signs.
There is an old English idiom “One man’s loss is another man’s gain.” Never has this been more true.
Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to
About the author
Mark Thomas (aka Englez u Dubrovniku) is the editor of The Dubrovnik Times. He was born and educated in the UK and moved to live in Dubrovnik in 1998. He works across a whole range of media, from a daily radio show to TV and in print. Thomas is fluent in Croatian and this column is available in Croatia on the website – Dubrovnik Vjesnik