Cavtat in the summer time, especially in September, is a hive of activity. The street-side restaurants would be full with al fresco diners, the souvenir shops awash with guests looking for that special gift and the beaches lined with colourful towels. This picturesque seaside town should be alive to the sounds of children splashing in the shallows, beer glasses clinking together and the roll of chains as another superyacht drops anchor. But this is no normal year.
The colours of sounds of September seem a million miles away. It feels like February but with bright sunshine and baking temperatures. A seagull perches on a stone bollard, probably wondering to itself where everybody went. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions have almost turned Cavtat into a ghost town.
Normally a bustling town square - Photo Mark Thomas
The handful of tourists enjoying the sights, and quite possibly the sound of silence, are a privileged few. Three Spanish girls stop to take a selfie with a statute, laughing and joking, their voices echo off the stone façades, rather eerily. A nearby restaurant, with upwards of twenty tables, stands completely empty, with only a waiter sitting in the shade and scratching his forehead, probably in disbelief. Two elderly local men sit huddled over expressos in the adjacent café bar, their voices drowned out by MTV on the large screen TV. The owner waves to me in acknowledgement, then shrugs his shoulders.
Alone in thoughts - Photo Mark Thomas
Brightly coloured scarfs, tablecloths and embroidery work hang from the stalls of the small market place, the only thing moving them is a gentle southerly breeze. And the local beach is now the private beach of one couple, quite possibly from the UK, who have a personal waiter from the beach bar. “They will certainly have a relaxing holiday,” smiles one local to me as he walks past with his dog.
Promenade for themselves - Photo Mark Thomas
But this isn’t February, this is midday in the height of the tourist season, lunch time for the tourists and coffee time for the locals.
“We are rolling with the punches,” explains one restaurant owner as he sits alone at one of his pavement tables. “Everyone is in the same boat, the whole world, but I have a feeling some of the boats will sink over the winter,” he adds with a wry smile. And another business owner has a similar tone “It’s a question of adjusting your sails to try and catch some wind, but finding any wind is becoming harder,” she adds.
Empty cafe bar tables in Cavtat - Photo Mark Thomas
Again midday in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the south of Croatia, one that planes fly over all summer in their hundreds. I have spent three hours people watching and have lifted my head up to the skies to the sound of jet engines twice.
“Just how many people in Cavtat have had this virus?” a young couple from Poland ask. “Well, not sure about Cavtat, but in this borough of Konavle I think its 36 people.” They look back at me in disbelief, and all they can answer is “shame.” Whether they meant it’s a shame that 36 got the virus, or a shame that with relatively low numbers the place is deserted I didn’t comprehend. I guess both ways it’s a shame.