I love Dalmatia.
I love Dalmatians. Hell, I married one, and she is as lovely as ever, as well as one of the most dedicated and hard-working people I know.
My wife got that work ethic from her father, who is from the village of Brusje on the island of Hvar. One of ten kids, there was never money for anything, and the 12-kilimetre round-trip walk to school in Hvar Town each day certainly kept him fit. Without ever taking a kuna of credit in his life, he managed to buy land in the most prime part of Jelsa, build a 4-storey house and put all four kids through university, while at the same time spending hours in the family field each day, supplying the family with much of its food.
Total respect, and I am only sorry that he did not get a proper son-in-law who loved to spend time in the field and not on a laptop, or at least one who adored blitva…
When people say that Dalmatians are lazy, I always smile and think of my father-in-law, who is always on the road about 5 am each day to tend to the field before his daily chores. I think of the many Dalmatians who left the country in the 19th century, who emigrated out of economic necessity with little more than the shirts on their backs and went on to build incredible businesses and new lives in countries where initially they did not even speak the language. Seriously impressive stuff, and I read somewhere that if the Croatian diaspora was its own country, it would be one of the richest in the world in terms of GDP.
I know I am going to get slaughtered on social media for this article (particularly by those who don’t read beyond the title), and I am ok with that. When you have a double lawsuit ongoing from the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism, a little additional social media abuse it like water off a duck’s back.
I am also aware that nothing will change with anything that I write, for a learned a long time ago that there is a reason that Dalmatia seems to be a little slower in time, without all the latest brand stores and latest technology – the locals like it that way. Like many foreigners coming to Dlamatia over the years, I used to get frustrated at the lack of local interest in embracing change and things that I called ‘progress’. The reason these things did not exist were because locals did not want them. It took me 15 years but I managed to condense my advice to incoming foreigners into one sentence. If they could accept and live by this sentence from day one, they would truly have found paradise. But if – like me – you spend years fighting against that sentence before finally accepting its truth, a long period of frustration ensued. The sentence is this:
Do not try and change Dalmatia, but expect Dalmatia to change you.
Dalmatia definitely changed me – for the better – and I long ago gave up trying to change Damlatia. But there is one small area where I think I can contribute to a small change that I think would be beneficial to all, and it is one which divides locals.
Not many people know that organised tourism in Europe began in Dalmatia.
With a focus on the winter.
The founding of the Hvar Health Society in 1868 attracted convalescing aristocrats in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rest in the temperate climes of the island known as the Austrian Madeira. Even as late as 1990, winter tourism was rocking, with Americans coming for up to 6 weeks for the art, nature, food and wine – read this fascinating interview with a UK tour rep based here from 1986-91. Croatian Winter Tourism in 1990: Full of Life! Tour Rep Interview.
The issue of winter tourism comes up each year, and I always smile at the responses. We are tired, we have worked so hard in the season. We made enough in the season, we don’t want it. I have to attend to my olives and fields etc. It is October after all, and the season has now been a full six months.
While I used to smile at this more when I actually lived in Dalmatia, it is somehow a little less amusing living in continental Croatia, where people work equally as hard, usually without the benefit of lucrative tourism that happens accidentally, and they have to slog it out 12 months to survive.
But that I guess is one of the joys of being born a Damatian in Dalmatia – it really is God’s own paradise.
The thing is, though, that this seasonality is – at least in the humble opinion of this foreigner, if he is allowed one – is that it is really affecting the quality of life in Dalmatia, and I think this seasonality is becoming a real issue. Living on Hvar was an incredible experience, and running TCN kept me shielded from the extremes due to the interesting assignments that constantly popped up. But the reality is that during the season, most people are working 5 jobs to make the most they can in the season, and in the winter, there is nothing open to enjoy.
I was in both Osijek and Split this month, and there is no question which is the better city to live in during the winter. And it is not the Dalmatian capital. Split SHOULD be one of the top cities in Europe for lifestyle. It has so much to offer, and it has the potential to be one of the most attractive remote work destinations in Europe. And yet sadly, it is showing signs of esging towards overtourism in summer and a strangulation of life in winter. It really doesn’t need to be that way.
One of the most interesting points in TCN’s recent winter tourism initiative (which has led to the Split winter tourism round table with Mayor Puljak and others on December 13), was in this great interivew with the team from The Daltonist, who lament the lack of local life in town. This is detrminental both to tourism, as people want to exeprience the local vibe (did I mention Osijek?), but also it is not that much fun for locals either.
Not all people want to work all year in Dalmatia. And that is fine – that is one part of the essence of the Dalmatian lifestyle. But others do. Why not look at rather than working 12 hours a day 7 days a week for a seasonal worker, who is then unemployed during the winter, perhaps closing for a day or even two each week to give the staff a chance to breathe and enjoy life a little. At the same time, work with others to develop content and local life, so that things are open longer. By moving away from seasonality, workers can be given permanent contracts, find stability and become invested in the company’s success.
And there would be life in winter. And that would be a win for both tourists and locals.
And creating content and fun out of season need not be that complicated or successful. Build it and they will come. Check out Nomad Table by Saltwater Nomads at Zinfandel each Friday through the winter in Split. A sell-out each week.
But imagine that Damatian work ethic of only working for half the year was applied to the global economy. Those Wall Street brokers and the like who work 50 weeks a year so that they afford the fortnight in Croatia on the Dalmatian coast – now working for just 26 weeks and staying home, with the appropriate mild negative effect on Dalmatian tourism. In fact, if all of Dalmatia’s visitors only worked half a year, how many would be able to afford to come to Dalmatia at all?
The difference is, of course, that they are not Dalmatian, living in God’s Own Paradise.
Do not try and change Dalmatia, but expect Dalmatia to change you. But build in a little winter tourism for those who want it – it will improve the quality of life all round.