Paradise Regained in Wartorn Dubrovnik; Croatia Is Determined to Recapture Its Popularity as a Holiday Destinat Ion. Mike Hughes Reports
Hughes, Mike, The Birmingham Post (England)
The relaunch of Croatia as a major tourism draw should be a cinch. The brochures have it handed to them on a plate with descriptions that have been tried and tested in a hundred destinations worldwide: "...one of the few remaining unspoilt parts of the w orld... majestic backdrop... translucent blue waters...".
But the image that you will come away with - that will haunt you alongside the sheer beauty and history you cover with very step - is that the 1,185 islands that lie off the coast from Porec down to Cavtat are a priceless necklace of emeralds aroundthe neck of a beautiful woman - who has been battered and bloodied so savagely that you can barely look.
But it is a country that has to be visited - to soak up the spirit of a people who must have wept as one every time a shell from the war found a target and wiped out a landmark, a memory, a home or a family. It is impossible not to enjoy the 1998 version of Croatia, but I defy you not to be moved and inspired by what it has gone through and how it is now back in control and determined not to let go again.
That determination was evident from the first moment we landed at Dubrovnik Airport. TV cameras, lights and microphones shadowed the journalists and travel agents who made up our party, as we were each presented with a single red rose by traditionally-dr essed girls at the door to our Transun coach. That night, we were on the TV and radio news and the following morning, the newspapers carried details of our itinerary for the week.
Tourism is Croatia's new Dayton Accord - and they're queueing up to sign.
Our trip started at the Grand Hotel Park, one of the best in the area and only a short bus ride or decent evening stroll from the undoubted highlight: Dubrovnik.
The buildings in this ancient city are huddled together so tightly beneath its walls that they design the streets - creating narrow, steep alleyways linking the main avenue with a manageable collection of restaurants, bars and balconied apartments.
You get the starkest clue to what went on here a few years ago when you get up on to the walls, which provide an unbroken circuit of the city that can be covered in less than an hour at a gentle stroll. From here, the image of the orange-tiled roofsalmo st touching is broken by a significant number that are noticeably clean and bright.
These belong to the incendiary buildings. As the bombs were lobbed over the city walls, they went through the roofs, burned out the insides, but left the walls standing. From street level, there may not seem to be much missing, but walk on the wallsand you'll find the war.
It is another tribute to Dubrovnik that it remains a city of style. Stylish people stroll throughout the day and night along the main street in their stylish clothes and stylish sunglassses.
This makes a moonlight visit to the city a must. Pick a very late hour, when it isn't too busy and take time to view the street from just inside the main gate. The constant promenading brings a gloss that makes it look as if the surface has been iced ove r.
There is plenty of choice for eating and drinking. While Croatia's menus would struggle to win any awards, the food is welooked and should be looked on as something that can be crossed off your list of concerns. Nothing exotic or adventurous here.
Whatever you do, don't be lured by the "look what we've done for you" approach of the few bars selling British beers. It will be too expensive and nothing like as refreshing as the local bottles. Look around a little and find the bars selling bottles for the equivalent of 50p. You might have to swallow a meal to get them, but they're out there. …