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Off-season Croatia: why you should head to the holiday hotspot before summer hits

Off-season Croatia: why you should head to the holiday hotspot before summer hits

As I round a western corner of the towering, sheer-drop walls, I’m met with a view so fascinating, I want to stop and paint it. To my left, blue skies and sunshine light hulking, medieval city walls. To my right, a cartoonish thundercloud like a charcoal thumbprint looms over a spiralling headland and its flag-topped fort. It looks like a video game: east or west? Choose your own adventure.

Epic scenery comes as standard when you’re exploring the Old City of Dubrovnik, Croatia, but this moment is enhanced by a bit of space and quiet. With no other tourists around me, I climb onto the high side of this vertiginous bit of wall to contemplate the view, photographing it from several angles.

Finding a vista this peaceful in frequently jampacked Dubrovnik is something of an art. In my case, I got up early and arrived at 8am to be in with a chance of a moment alone here, like a fangirl first in line for a gig. It’s mid-April, in a country where peak season doesn’t technically start until June, but by 10am this portion of the city will be thick with tourists, albeit a comfortable amount. For now.

Tourist numbers are manageable in shoulder season

(Lucy Thackray)

Like Barcelona, Venice and Amsterdam, Dubrovnik suffers from the economy-boosting, locals-bothering phenomenon that is overtourism – a product of cheap flights from all over the world, small- and big-screen exposure, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram hashtags. And when you see Dubrovnik’s old city, you can understand the hype – it’s fantasy-film perfect, a Medieval fever-dream of turrets, domes, battlements, statues and arches, with real-life nuns and monks wandering about.

So I come in April, when the weather is often nice, but mostly up and down. Some days, grey skies and light drizzle prompt the hotel umbrellas to come out; others, 20 or 21 Celsius sunshine encourages visitors onto the city’s shingly city beaches. I realise I need to be flexible with plans: two of the top sights on my hit list, the ferry to Lokrum Island and the cable car to Mount Srd, stay closed for my first two days due to inclement weather.

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