August 24, 2020 – As the main season comes to an end in Croatia with rising COVID-19 cases, why a longer-term stay on Hvar this autumn might be a sensible move.
We all have our perspectives of the corona crisis, much of it shaped by personal experience. I was fortunate to spend 63 days of lockdown on idyllic Hvar, a period when the weather was glorious, the island empty, and access to the sea unhindered. During that time, there were just two cases on the island, both imported from returning workers from Austria. While we watched with horror at what was unfolding in Italy and then elsewhere in Europe, none of it seemed real.
With the lack of tourists, as well as locals social distancing, it almost felt like we had the island to ourselves at times, in marked contrast to millions of people whose lockdown was confined to a small apartment in New York or a post-earthquake Zagreb.
When schools closed for 2 weeks in March, we had a decision to make. Stay in the house in Varazdin, where lockdown would inevitably restrict us to a small local area, or head to our apartment on Hvar, where there would be more space, the family field, access to the Adriatic, as well as the perceived extra safety of an island without infections. It was clear that school would not be reopening after two weeks, and that online schooling would probably continue into the summer holidays. As such, it made a lot more sense to head to Hvar, rather than risk a summer of confinement inland, without the chance to swim.
I remember being paranoid about inadvertently bringing the virus to the island. For a whole month, we kept away from everyone, and I was chained to my laptop for most of the day, with only a priceless hour alone by the Adriatic each evening as my decompressing time. Having spent the whole day reporting on death and disease, that hour was what kept me sane.
And as the immediate emergency subsided, and the realities of our new daily lives took hold, I realised that things were not as bad as I had imagined they would get. Panic buying in shops turned out to be unwarranted, and the supply chain held up very well indeed. A reevaluation of the necessities of life concluded that many things that were previously deemed essential in life were not in fact so necessary. And a realisation that working online in a natural paradise with great local food was infinitely more rewarding than life as we had known it. The emergence of Zoom meetings took a while to get used to (and I am still not a total convert), but there was no doubting how much more efficient they make life. I attended online conferences while sitting in bed in Jelsa, and Google Maps told me that in the month of April, I walked a total of 100 km, while travelling just 65 km.
A lot changed since those quiet days in April. Croatia made the decision to open for tourism – and opened more than most European countries. Increased movements inevitably led to an increased number of infections, including what would seem to be the majority of cases from non-tourist contact. The debate on whether or not Croaita should have allowed tourism at all this summer is shaped – at least in part – by those livelihoods depend on tourism, and those who have no reliance on it whatsoever. I don’t think there is a correct answer which suits everyone, and an interesting article on the BBC earlier today looks at the 10 countries which have remained COVID-free – but did they win?
The overwhelming feeling I got from the hundreds of people I met this summer from other countries was the sense of relief and escape that a holiday to Croatia brought., especially from the UK. On my carefree Hvar, it was hard to imagine the scale of the UK lockdown, with barbers and pubs closed until July 4, for example. And many expressed their fears of what awaited them on their return. More lockdown measures to accompany those dark winter nights, with them locked in and working from home.
A potential opportunity for Croatia and its wonderful islands, we discussed over lunch.
As we have written repeatedly over the last 12 months, Croatia has a huge future as a digital nomad destination, and perhaps this autumn is an excellent opportunity for some people to take the opportunity to think out of the box a little. Rather than seeing Croatia as that two-week summer holiday destination, how about considering it for a lockdown alternative to working at home and not being able to enjoy any of the usual freedoms? If you have been sent back from the office to work at home, what do it in the misery of confinement at home when you could combine it with much better weather, freedom of movement and glorious nature.
I fully expect Croatia to toughen its measures in the battle against corona in the coming weeks, but whatever measures those are on a Dalmatian island will be infinitely more bearable than what one will find in major European cities, as well as the bonus of sharing the island with a lot less people. The island of Hvar has a full-time population of just 10,500 and is about 20% bigger than the Gaza Strip, which has a population of 1.9 million, to give you some perspective.
If you are looking to avoid contact with people, it is incredibly easy to do. Online deliveries work and the shops have shown that the supply chain works. Waking up to the sun beaming through the windows is a priceless start to the day. Internet connections are good, and access to nature and the waves of the Adriatic are always there, while the daily birdsong concerts are filled with enthusiastic and talented performers free of charge.
(Free birdsong concerts on Hvar)
And, of course, the money spent in the local economy will be very welcome after this most difficult of seasons.
Space, nature, healthy living, and the ability to control contact with others in a way that is perhaps not so easy in more urban environments. If you have no firm commitments which chain you to your impending lockdown fate back home, why not think out of the box and exchange it for a sunnier alternative? Mental health and the ability to deal with a second lockdown is going to be a key issue this winter.