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Published on Thursday, August 13, 2020

Croatia: What it's like to holiday in Dubrovnik without the crowds

TravelMole Editor Linsey McNeill travelled to Dubrovnik to find out what it's like to holiday in Croatia with new Covid-19 health and safety measures in place.


I chose Croatia for a family holiday at the end of July because it was one of the few destinations to where the FCO said it was safe to travel and the UK government didn't require us to quarantine when we returned. At the time, Croatia had relatively few Covid-19 cases, so it seemed like a safe bet. Since then, Covid-19 cases in parts of Croatia have been rising and currently it has 21 cases per 100,000 people. This is a higher concentration than in the UK, where there are 18 per 100,000, so Croatia might be subject to further travel restrictions, but there aren't any right now.

I'll go into detail about the new health and safety measures being adopted in Croatia to prevent the spread of Covid-19 later, but to get straight to the point, we found that everything was pretty much operating normally. If anything, it was better than normal because it wasn't nearly so busy. In fact, now seems like a fantastic time to visit Croatia.

Our hotel, which was about a 10 to 15-minute bus ride from Dubrovnik old town, was fully operational - and I think it was fully booked too. All facilities including the swimming pools, restaurants and spa were open.

Not all hotels in Dubrovnik have reopened, some 40% were still closed when I checked at the end of July. I noticed at least a couple of large hotels within a 10-minute walk of our hotel hadn't reopened. What this meant was that the bars and restaurants weren't as packed as they would have been had this been a normal summer, so it was easier to find a table, even at Dubrovnik's top restaurants, where you'd usually have to book weeks in advance. We booked the top table at the Michelin-starred Restaurant 360 in Dubrovnik old town just four days ahead, and one of the best 'front row' tables at the Panorama Restaurant overlooking the old town just five days ahead.



All tourist attractions have reopened - but without the queues. We were virtually the only people walking the Walls of Dubrovnik one evening, when usually you have to shuffle along with hundreds of other tourists. The streets of the old town were buzzing, there were lots of people sitting outside bars, but it wasn't heaving like it usually is.

Museums were open and uncrowded, and other tourist activities were available and bookable at short notice, such as kayaking out to the islands, sailing, scuba diving and jet skiing. Now is a good time to negotiate a discount, with lots of businesses vying for fewer visitors. We got 10% off a days' private boat hire.

What about new health and safety measures?

We'd booked a private taxi to take us from the airport to the hotel to avoid taking two separate buses, one to the city centre and one from the centre to the Dubrovnik Palace, a hotel which is featured by Jet2holidays, TUI, First Choice and several more specialist tour operators.

Local rules state that you should wear face masks when travelling by taxi and on public transport in Croatia. Our taxi driver wore his and the vehicle was spotless inside, but I don't know if taxis in Croatia are sanitising vehicles between clients. We took no chances and used our own hand sanitiser.

On arrival at the hotel I was expecting our luggage to be disinfected, as per the new Covid-19 protocols listed on its website. It wasn't. The check in process was the same as pre-coronavirus, except the receptionists were behind plexiglass. There was a hand sanitiser placed in the lobby, but we weren't asked to use it and our temperatures weren't taken.

I had read on the hotel's website that guests should avoid travelling in its lifts with more one other person, unless in a family group, but we weren't given any instructions about this when we arrived. However, most guests seemed to be avoiding getting into the lifts with strangers.

Our room was sealed closed with a sticker, which I presume was to indicate that it had been somehow sanitised prior to our arrival. Inside, apart from the lack of literature, such as a hotel guide, it seemed the same as normal. Same amenities in disposable plastic bottles, same facilities such as hairdryers, kettle and complimentary tea and coffee sachets. The room was still cleaned every day during our stay by housekeeping staff wearing masks and gloves, and the hotel even continued with the evening turndown and chocolate-on-the-pillow routine.

When walking round the hotel, it seemed odd that guests weren't asked to wear masks but the staff did. It seemed like one-way protection. The only place I was asked to wear a mask was in the hotel's beauty salon.


What about in restaurants?

The hotel tried valiantly to offer the breakfast buffet as table service for the first few days of our stay, which didn't work. It was too difficult for the waiting staff to remember all the different orders, so by day four they'd switched back to buffet-style but with chefs dishing up the meals behind plexiglass. Queues built up at some serving stations, but it wasn't too bad.

I did find it weird to be served by waiters wearing white masks and blue surgical gloves, it felt - clinical. Almost like I was in hospital rather than a hotel. It was the same at all the restaurants in Dubrovnik, all waiting staff wore either cloth face masks or screens, and most wore gloves. The PPE did detract from the pleasure of dining out.


And by the pool?

Not all Dubrovnik hotels have reopened their pools, which is one of the reasons I chose the Dubrovnik Palace. It has several outdoor and one indoor pool and they were all open. Every time the sunbeds were vacated, staff were supposed to sanitise them before they were pounced on by the next guests. Sometimes they did spray-and-wipe, sometimes they didn't.



What was it like on public transport?

We made several trips on the public bus from the hotel and Dubrovnik. It was often crowded but everyone wore face masks. You must also wear masks on the cable car up to the viewing point above the city, which is a major tourist attraction. The cable car's capacity has been reduced to a maximum of 12 passengers to maintain social distancing but there's no social distancing inside the building where you queue to come back down, which is worrying.

Did I feel safe?

I certainly felt as safe - safer - than I would if I was out and about in London, mainly because it wasn't as crowded. The biggest risk, I felt, was on the flights to and from Dubrovnik, but only because you can't avoid being close to other people on a plane. If you're interested, you can read my review of flight safety, including the new safety protocols on the British Airways' flights to and from Dubrovnik here.

I'd definitely recommend visiting Croatia and Dubrovnik now, while there are fewer tourists - and, crucially, no cruise ship passengers pouring into the old town every morning - as long as you feel comfortable with the risks of travelling.

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