Middle East

The Croatia they don’t show you in the tour brochures

Josh Johns wins £200 for his account of a visit to the Croatian resort town of Rovinj – and a bus journey into the country’s forgotten past.

A red hue glistened off the Adriatic as the sun crept above the horizon. Walking along Rovinj’s cobbled streets, through the intricate network of alleys and past the locals setting up their souvenir stalls, I was eventually out of the old town and on my way to the bus station.

By the time I arrived, the sun had risen behind the town’s church tower, casting an orange backdrop behind the pastel-coloured buildings and the red-tiled roofs. The yachts bobbed up and down in the harbour, ready to ship a daily horde of tourists up and down the coast.

This image embodied what Croatia has become famous for in recent times. Admiring the town, no one could guess the struggles and devastation Croatia faced during the Balkan wars. Rovinj masks the country’s dark history and many of the town’s visitors know little about it.

I boarded the bus and headed for the Plitvice, a national park which is home to a stunning series of lakes and waterfalls, nestled deep in green woodland. The journey took a couple of hours and involved driving inland from the Adriatic coast towards the Bosnian border.

As we continued away from the coast, the appearance of the villages began to change. Each village we passed looked less and less inviting. Eventually, we reached a small town. A build-up of traffic caused the bus to creep along the pot hole-riddled road slowly, allowing us to observe our surroundings.

The place looked trapped in the Nineties. The concrete of the grey houses was crumbling away – a stark contrast to Rovinj’s patchwork of colourful structures.

Many of the houses on one street were peppered with bullet holes. Turning a corner, I saw the carcass of a rusting tank on a grass verge. A brutal reminder of Croatia’s past, the tank was disintegrating, like the town in which it lay.

I heard a whisper behind me, sombre in tone: “There is no tourism here.” I turned to see an elderly man with a bushy white beard leaning towards me. “Never got better from war,” he continued. “This is side of Croatia many do not see.” He leant back in his seat and gazed out across the town, the sadness in his voice revealed in his facial expression.

This is the side of Croatia many do not see

I wondered how many tourists, stretched idly on their sunbeds in Rovinj, even knew of this place. I realised that if the bus delivering me to another of Croatia’s tourist honeypots hadn’t passed through the town, then I wouldn’t have known either.

It was a far cry from the Croatia we see on the idyllic Adriatic.

We arrived at Plitvice to be greeted by more souvenir stalls, tour guides and burger stands. We were back in the Croatia people care to see; the one on holiday brochures and postcards. But it involved a trip through the country’s forgotten past. And I never did discover the name of that town.

Enter the Just Back writing competition for your chance to win £200

Email your entry, in 500 words (with the text in the body of the email), to [email protected] by midnight on Tuesday, February 28. For terms and conditions.

The winner will receive £200 in the currency of their choice from the Post Office.

The Post Office is the UK’s largest travel money provider. It offers more than 70 currencies with 0% commission. Customers can buy selected currencies over the counter at 8,000 branches and all currencies can be ordered for next-day delivery at 11,500 branches. Orders can also be placed online at postoffice.co.uk.

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