Let’s say there’s a standard Lonely Planet checklist that every country has to fill out if they want a book written in their honour. If there was a list, Croatia seems like it would fulfil the list easily. It’s an easy tourist destination. The people are beautiful and accommodating. The scenery is astounding yet not too cliché. What more could you want?
Let’s start with:
1. It’s an easy tourist destination.
Menus come in every different language, there are maps and signs everywhere you look, and you could almost go an entire week without realising that Croatia actually doesn’t use Euros as its currency. It’s a slow 2 day car ride from Venice, and probably a very quick flight from so many different parts of Europe. The food options range from daring (did he say goatfish or goldfish?) to pleasing the most picky of eaters (thanks, gluten-free vegans). You could take your nine year old toddler and your ninety year old great-grandfather and be able to please both at the same time.
Ok, so it’s easy to travel to and holiday in. Is that all?
2. The people are kind and accommodating.
There’s a man who works in a gelati shop in Old Town Dubrovnik who speaks to each customer in a different language and accent. And this isn’t even that out of the ordinary. The casual, bantering familiarity with which most Croatians will greet you with instantly makes even the most shy little 15 year old boy come alive and become friendly. The men can come across a little overfriendly, but it’s much more polite and nowhere near as intimidating as some of the leers girls can produce back home.
Alright so the people are nice, and it’s touristy. So?
3. The scenery is astounding yet not too cliché.
They filmed Game of Thrones here, for god’s sake. And not the shitty cold parts of Game of Thrones, but the warm, beautiful, summer-filled places. Every photo you take of Dubrovnik’s Old Town is postcard material. And each village you visit by boat is beautiful and picturesque in its own unique way, some little hamlets and others paved and painted for the world to see. And you have some more edgy areas, where you can take your friends and you all can whip out your vintage disposable cameras and talk about how the lighting is just right to capture the juxtaposition of the manmade buildings and the Adriatic and how it will look so good on your tumblr. Art, darling.
So, if this place really ticks all these Lonely Planet boxes, then what’s the inevitable “but”? Why does it sound like Croatia is already on the defensive? And is there something, behind all the tourist stuff, that makes Croatia inherently Croatian?
Croatia seems like a tourist’s dream. But that’s exactly the problem: it doesn’t seem to have much else besides. Take away the easy tourist destination, how accommodating the locals are, and the pretty scenery, and it seems difficult to distinguish Croatia from an overly bored Lonely Planet writer having a crack at fiction writing. That isn’t to say that it isn’t a beautiful place with its own unique culture, language, and history, separated from tourism and globalisation and commercialisation. It’s just that it’s hard to find, or at least I didn’t find it.
Words by Sam Blue and Hamish Litster
Photos by Xandy Blue, Hamish Litster and Elli Webb