Compared to what generally happens along the coast and especially in Umag, the tourism in Grožnjan seems like it is from another world. We visited this small, Istrian village on a hill several times because it’s a wonderful spot that is inviting, warm, and charming. It is all that the coast is not. Sure, you can’t tan there, but it’s only 15km from the coast, so if that’s what you want, go there for the day.
What makes Grožnjan work is most likely the fact that they haven’t had tourism explode and that it has grown over time, making the people think about how to make it work and most importantly, how to maintain people visiting them. The town can be packed with people, like we saw in the recent Jazz festival that happens there yearly, but you don’t feel it. I don’t know how they do it, because the town is tiny with maybe 1,000 people in it at most. The parking lot (which is astoundingly free to park in) can accommodate a great number of cars, yet you’ll still find yourself strolling the streets in relative serenity compared to the cattle crush of Dubrovnik in high season.
But, they aren’t just saying, “Here’s our town. Come. Buy. Uh… something or just give us money for… something.” No, they have cute shops with local art and culinary delicacies that ply to tourists, but at the same time create an economy that isn’t based upon renting rooms and waiting tables. If some of these products are good enough, they could even, [gasp!] export them in the off season when tourists aren’t there. Yes, that’s right, it’s a sustainable system that produces products for sale and consumption. It’s an incredibly basic concept that has long been ignored on the coast.
I think the most amazing fact is that while I’m sure the tourism ministry of Croatia gives them some money, I credit the people of Grožnjan for creating all of this because they certainly don’t get a lot of press to do it. The powers that be seem more interested in promoting places like Hum, and Buzet. Both of these towns are nowhere near as nice as Grožnjan.
I wonder if they people who live in Grožnjan are a bit happy to keep things the way that they are, since it appears that they are all making a decent living there and were pretty happy. There weren’t the bitter shopkeepers who would rather spit in your face than sell you a half liter of milk, as we experienced in Savudrija.