My suspicions have been confirmed. If you want to explore the culture, history and gems that the Old City of Dubrovnik offer then forget the summer months – come in the winter.
The north wind was bitingly harsh, overcast skies promised more downpours and yet a handful of foreigners were joyfully having their minds opened to the magnificence of the historic core. I joined them, and I am so glad that I did.
Photo - Mark Thomas
I was sure that it would be cancelled due to the awful weather, or maybe I would be the only one to turn up. I was wrong on both counts. Wrapped in winter attire a whole host of nationalities had braved the unforgiving wind and were looking forward to a tour. “We’re from near Cardiff in Wales,” smiled one couple. I should have asked how and why they decided to visit Dubrovnik at the end of November, but their smiling faces was enough to distract me.
A few years ago I remember a slogan about tourism which was something like “People are the key to tourism.” And I was reminded of this very slogan when our guide for the morning started her tour. Her passion and love for the city was infectious. These front line workers create memories for tourists that they will take home with them. And in spite of the terrible weather the stories that they heard were unforgettable.
“Find a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” once wrote Mark Twain. Our guide was clearly loving every minute of her job.
“Why isn’t there more people here, I feel like I have the whole place to myself,” smiled one Australian man. I stopped myself from saying that I was surprised that there were so many people on this tour.
They had time to soak up the sights, to ask questions and to roam the empty streets and get a real feel for the city. Time and space that are rare in the warmer months.
Photo - Mark Thomas
“What a perfect destination for a winter weekend getaway,” said a smiling lady from Ireland. She was right.
I am guessing that all the tourists in my group had had a challenging journey (to say the least) to get to the city in the winter. It is crazy, but sadly true. But for those who make the effort the rewards are great.
To be honest my wife and I generally much prefer to travel in the off-season. We try our best to avoid the tourist traps and “in” destinations that are suffocating under the weight of tourists. Never has it been easier and more affordable to travel and whilst this has brought incredible riches to some destinations it has also brought considerable downsides. The balancing act between financial gain and protecting heritage and locals is evident everywhere. The slogan Respect the City could quite easily be Protect the City.
However, there still are “golden” times to travel and they are in the off-season.
The majority of shops were closed this weekend in Dubrovnik, but that’s fine by me and seemingly the rest of the group. For these are the souvenir shops that generally sell awful Made in China trinkets are exuberant prices. Who buys this crap anyway? Quality not quantity should be the buzzword.
“We just need one good café bar that makes real coffee and one or two places to eat that are used by locals and we are happy,” stated a man from Spain. He is right. And in the winter in Dubrovnik you can find these places. They tend to get drowned out by the tourist traps in the summer, but they are still there and this group had found them.
Maybe the system is working at the moment, maybe these tourists don’t want to see more tourists, maybe our inertness in attracting tourists in the off-season is paying dividends? I repeat, I am so glad that I went on this tour, for so many reasons.
Was it cold, yes. But to appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold.
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