Light At End of Tunnel for Konavle?

Total Croatia News

August 29, 2020 – I have been travelling and working between the UK and Croatia for the past 4 years or so after falling in love with the county of Konavle during a cycle touring trip a few years back. I was kindly hosted by Marko Bradvica at Mikulići Nature Park, a man with a big dream regarding a small train!

There are a few generations growing up in the area that never remember Čiro ever chugging its way up the side of Sniježnica mountain on its way to Vojski Do or departing the harbour in Dubrovnik on its winding journey toward Mostar. The Čiro route, now a walking trail, offers stunning panoramic vistas of our beautiful coastline and beyond, a would-be attractive hike for tourists if the summer temperatures weren’t quite so high!

When I was first discussing with Marko the rich history of this often forgotten corner of Croatia the train regularly came into the conversation and since I’ve heard many romantic anecdotes from others describing a train line that did much for the people here and hopefully still will! Perhaps most notably a beautiful account from our friend Danielo who describes his first journey on the train during his first visit to then Yugoslavia as a student in the 1950’s have a read here.

The author Stanislav Vukorep wrote a book chronicling Čiro’s rich history titled ‘Pruge koje su zivot znacile’ or ‘The tracks that brought life’. So important was the train for transport and infrastructure back then, it enriched a large part of the Dalmatian coastline for many, an essential attribute to local commerce as we hope will be the case again.

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Recently Croatian tourism and the Dubrovnik strip especially, have been devastated by the effects of the Coronavirus. The usual tourist numbers in the area have plummeted; down by significant percentages comparative to a steady few years of exponential growth, hard times for many in the area however here at Čiro HQ we remain ever confident that the train will roll again. Previous to the virus, year upon year tourist numbers were steadily rising, 2019 reporting an increase of 13% over the previous year with a total of 1.3 million tourists visiting Dubrovnik and its surroundings.

So what do all these tourists do? Stari Grad or the Old City of Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic is a huge pull to tourists from all over the world. Its imposing walls lauding over the Adriatic Sea beyond yet quaint cobbled streets provide visitors with ample photo opportunities and an insight into its rich historical past, an absolutely fantastic place if you are happy to queue for a few hours just to get inside!

Limited space between those mighty walls restricts the number of tourists at the height of the season, one might only cope with half a day there before the crowds become oppressive and the beach beckons. Beaches are great, I myself am one of their largest fans however even time spent cooking in the sun with dips in the ocean for relief eventually become tedious, what next? ‘’Kovavle…’’, I say, ‘’…a train ride into the mountains’’, ‘’Huh? Konavle, train, what?’’ you quiz, ‘’Čiro!’’ I simply reply with a smile.

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I had the joy of spending part of my career climbing mountains in North Wales, UK. One of my favourite places to climb was the rock slabs overlooking the old slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. This town used to be a hub of activity with the mined slate being transported from the mountains to the sea via a small narrow gauge steam train until imported slate killed the local industry and business eventually dried up. The train was no longer needed so stopped running and mass unemployment ensued as the area slumped into disrepair along with its inhabitants. In the 1990’s a passionate group of people came together and brought the 200-year-old railway back to life as a tourist attraction. Visitors flocked to the restored railway attraction seeking mountain scenery, coastline views and to relive a nostalgic journey back in history. The town of Blaenau Ffestiniog had new life breathed into it and flourishes to this day with the restored train line now being extended further on into the valleys of North Wales.

At present, partly due to Coronavirus and the lack of tourists in our area, unemployment is down by approximately 30% over last year so we look with positivity to the future of Čiro. Not only would the proposed project provide many new job opportunities but would benefit a large part of the local population with the possibility of kick-starting many affiliate businesses.

So is there light at the end of the tunnel amidst these troubling and doubtful times? We very much hope so and look to a much brighter year next with hopefully our first passengers arriving with a new zeal for the area and its opportunities; we’re not done yet, choo choo!

James Manning

Photos courtesy of Stanislav Vukorep

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