Booking a holiday following a redundancy and a hectic house move seemed the perfect formula to recharge the batteries and lower our heightened stress levels. Recent events must have left us more fraught than we realised however as the secret code hidden deep in the description of our chosen destination didn’t jump out at us or ring alarm bells. Instead, we blindly booked a holiday on the “relaxing” island of Kolocep, Croatia and looked forward to the “easy-going” pace of life we would experience during our 2 week stay. If we had our wits about us, we would have substituted “relaxing” for “absolutely nothing to do” or “so quiet you’ll want to leave after 2 days” and “easy-going” for “the locals are so rude, it is you, the holiday maker who needs to be easy-going if you don’t want to finish your holiday more wound-up than you arrived!”
Kolocep one of three islands which make up the Elafiti Islands, is situated off the coast of Dubrovnik in Croatia’s Dalmatia Region. The island’s coastline is 12km and takes approximately 25 minutes to walk across and has a permanent population of 165. With such a small and aging population, it relies heavily on tourism and markets itself accordingly. All three islands; Kolocep, Lopud and Sipan are traffic free and are accessed by boat from Dubrovnik’s Port. Herein lies the first and most prominent of the obstacles associated with staying on this island; lack of transportation. The daily ferries run 3 times a day; morning, lunch-time and early evening; fine if you want to leave the island at 8.30am and return at either 2.30pm or 8pm. If, like many, you wish to spend the day sightseeing in Dubrovnik and the evening dining in one of the many fabulous restaurants in the city before returning to the island then you will come unstuck.
One Saturday mid-way through our stay we decided to visit Dubrovnik for the day and finish off the trip in a restaurant we had spotted on a previous visit. We were assured that should we choose not to catch the 8pm ferry, highly likely as we were not planning to eat until later, there would be water taxis’ at the Port to return us to the island. Needless to say that after an hour spent fruitlessly searching the Port trying to locate anything resembling a taxi; we gave up and booked into the only hotel on the waterfront, Hotel Petka, to await the 8am ferry the following morning. The receptionist at Hotel Petka didn’t even raise an eyebrow, or muster a smile, at our tale of missed boats and imaginary of taxis’; evidently we were not the first customers and nor would we be the last requiring the hotels services. At £109 a night the added expense of a hotel room tripled our daily budget in our failed attempt to get back to Kolocep at the more than salubrious hour of 11pm on a Saturday night.
The island itself is, without question, beautiful and a favoured pastime is to sit on the sea wall to watch the sun set over Lopud and Sipan. The tiny settlement of Kolocep itself with its two churches, shop, post office, school, bar and restaurants is pretty to wander through as the sun sets and if you venture above the town, the uninterrupted views across the sea to either Dubrovnik or to the Elafiti Islands makes the visit worthwhile. They are truly stunning.
The island of Kolocep has three restaurants; two in Kolocep town and one in Gornje Celo a 25 minute walk across the island. However, the ‘Skerac’ situated in Gornje Celo is really a café with a very basic menu so is more suited to a light lunch-time meal. The first bar, Café Bar Callamotta, and restaurant, La Trattoria, you come to after existing the boat is the most popular with visitors as it is the most accessible from the islands only hotel. It should be noted that Hotel Kolocep also provides an adequate, if basic, menu for residents. However, on a two week holiday, the limited menu at Hotel Kolocep and La Trattoria is very challenging to eat night after night and the reluctance of the third restaurant Villa Ruza (voted the 3rd best restaurant in Dubrovnik*) to accept walk-ins (despite the island not being accessible by boat post 8pm and therefore sitting empty of customers in the latter stages of the evening) makes the island a frustrating place to stay for more than a few days. At Villa Ruza, they insist on customers making a reservation, something their literature fails to mention and we were unaware of, so despite the restaurant being empty except for 3 people drinking cocktails, we were turned away. They were also incapable, or unwilling, to show us a menu or a drinks list citing a broken printer, so we were even unable to look at the food on offer in an attempt to decide if we wanted to book a table for later in our stay. For an island desperately in need of tourism to keep it economically viable, the total lack of politeness, social graces or tourist awareness was breath-taking in its absence.
The guide books suggest that the islands have wonderful hidden beaches only accessed by those willing and able to walk around the island to find them. The ugly truth is that whilst the island is extremely easy to walk around and even across, it is not set up for tourism. The walkways ploughed across the island are a concrete eyesore and the signposts constantly send visitors on wild goose chases to visit churches which cannot be found. The lack of any bins ensured that the sheer scale of pollution in the form of dumped rubbish filling each and every cove was distressing see. An elderly Australian couple forewarned us about the levels of dumped rubbish but to our shame we didn’t believe them and ploughed on with our mission to visit the coves regardless. The enormous volume of discarded rubbish unfortunately forms my abiding memory of the island.
When a holiday is as bad as the one we experienced on the isle of Kolocep; you do wonder if you entered the holiday with expectations set too high or if the events leading up to the holiday clouded our ability to appreciate a good holiday. It was a relief, albeit an ironical one, when we discovered that an entire family of 5 had cancelled their 2 week stay after 48hours and booked into a villa on the mainland. It transpired that they couldn’t stand the thought of having to stay on an island with three children, which offered nothing after sunset, for an entire fortnight. Other couples, of all ages and nationalities were similarly disgruntled with their experience both at the hotel and with the islands restaurants. The consensus with other travellers and holiday makers mirrored our own; Kolocep is wonderful to visit. But if you want a holiday that offers good food, good wine, good service, happy staff or beautiful, tidy and clean beaches, do not stay on it.
Next time, we will stay on the mainland, avoid the islands, enjoy Dubrovnik in all its glory and learn to read the hidden code in travel guides. An expensive lesson learnt!