Jelsa's Digital Nomads

Published in Highlights

Jessica Romano and Thibaud Duprat settled in Jelsa as remote workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. They found the ideal spiritual retreat in which to ride out the crisis.

Jessica and Thibaud, official nomad residents Jessica and Thibaud, official nomad residents Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The Digital Nomad Visa scheme, introduced in Croatia in January 2021, is a major step forward in Croatia's capacity for attracting guests to the country. All credit to Jan de Jong for initiating the scheme, Paul Bradbury, Director of Total Croatia News, for recognizing its value and promoting it, and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković for taking prompt action to make it happen. The result was a new Law passed in record quick time, for the benefit of all concerned!

Digital nomads Thibaud and Jessica exploring Hvar Town. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Digital nomads are people who can work remotely at their jobs via the internet. Some have been roaming the world over the last few years, settling in the countries which welcomed them for months at a time. The Covid-19 crisis, which began worldwide in 2020, was an added powerful incentive for remote workers to seek out pleasant and relatively safe places in which they could continue to earn their living, and Croatia has always had much to offer them. The Digital Nomad Visa scheme gives them added benefits, most notably beneficial tax regulations.

Local lore has it that visitors who drink from Jelsa's historic fountain will stay on...Photo: Vivian Grisogono

By definition, digital nomads are energetic, enterprising and adventurous. They hail from all parts of the globe and are keen to explore the world. Many of them want to do good in the places they visit, so they volunteer to take part in local projects to help the people around them. Digital nomad Cynthia Burkhardt from New York sees volunteering as a way of giving something back to her host countries, which gets her away from the computer, as well as helping her to keep in touch with the real world and make new friends.

Enjoying the historic sights of Hvar Town. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Hvar has been attracting digital nomads for some time. In August 2020, Jessica Romano and Thibaud Duprat arrived from the United States, and quickly settled in Jelsa. They had done a lot of travelling previously, covering some 50 countries around the globe between them. They had even thought of staying long-term in some places, including Singapore, France, U.K., Spain, Italy and Australia. Jessica is a New Yorker; Thibaud was born in Paris, but his family moved to the United States when he was 10. Their work in IT brought them together over five years ago, when they were both working for the same firm in Silicon Valley. Jessica works in business development with a specialization in financial technology, while Thibaud is a Product Manager, the link between the business and technology sides of companies.

Happy in Jelsa. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Their choice of such a small place as Jelsa might seem surprising. Their explanation: "A few months into Covid-19, we decided to take full advantage of our ability to work remotely. Our initial intent was to spend a month or so in different European countries until we felt like laying down roots in one place. We had wanted to relocate to Europe for a while - and, despite the uncertainty of 2020, the timing and situation made it possible for us to finally make it happen. We chose Croatia because of its beauty, central location, and it was one of the few places open to Americans."

Walking the dogs in Pitve. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Jessica had visited Hvar before in 2016, but only discovered Jelsa when she and Thibaud were looking for accommodation. They fell in love with the views and thought that a small town on an island would be a great place to ride out the pandemic. "Our original plan was to travel on to Italy or Spain in November, but with Covid-19 rising again at that time, we decided to stay put. We had quickly grown to enjoy our life here in Jelsa. Within a few weeks of arriving, we began to make friends and felt comfortable with our surroundings and routine. These reasons influenced our decision to stay. We’d love to be able to visit other places in Croatia and around Europe but will wait until the pandemic subsides. Despite the restrictions, Jelsa has felt like an oasis over the past few months. It’s been great to live in a place that is relatively isolated during this time. The friends we made, combined with our current home being really great, meant we felt we didn't need to move, especially during a pandemic."

Thibaud and happy dogs in Pitve. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Thibaud and Jessica have found plenty to enjoy in Jelsa. As Jessica describes it: "I love walking around and seeing the sea, other islands, the changing colors of the sky, the farmland, the mountains on the mainland, the olive groves, the historic buildings - even the stones around the harbor. I’ve always enjoyed going for walks, hikes and runs, and Jelsa is one of the most gorgeous places to do that. I also like that life here is seemingly more relaxed and grounded than other places I’ve lived... I like to get outside and explore the island. Anything that supports wellness, such as walks, hikes, other workouts, and meditation, is particularly enjoyable for me." Thibaud sums up what Jelsa means to them: "It's stunningly beautiful, it's small and peaceful". Both Jessica and Thibaud love sports and exercise. Thibaud is a good soccer player, and was quickly drafted into the Jelsa soccer team. For him, experiencing rock climbing for the first time was a particular highlight.

The Cave Monastery, Sveta Nedjelja. Photo: Ivica Drinković

In the summer, they enjoyed swimming, as well as discovering Hvar's hidden coves and beaches. Over winter, they visited some of Hvar's wondrous sites, such as the Tor above Jelsa and the 15th century Cave Monastery above Sveta Nedjelja.

Olive picking. Photo courtesy of Jess Romano

They have also enjoyed being introduced to local activities and customs, such as olive picking in the autumn, wine tasting, and the local cuisine. They both love cooking. Their social activities, outside of lockdown, include inviting friends for meals to sample 'exotic' international dishes, and in exchange being invited to try Dalmatian recipes cooked up by expert local chefs within their social circle. They have established friendships which are set to last a lifetime. Language differences are not a problem: they are, slowly but surely, learning a little basic Croatian, while their friends revel in the opportunity to practise and improve their English communication skills.

Jessica and Thibaud love cooking and entertaining friends. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Besides the fact that they are easygoing, sociable characters, one of the reasons why Jessica and Thibaud made friends quickly was their willingness to contribute to the community. Not long after arriving in Jelsa, they volunteered to help our charity Eco Hvar, and have provided invaluable help caring for the animals on a regular basis ever since. Thibaud also helped a local group to build two climbing walls for aspiring alpinists. They care about the environment: having noticed the amount of litter scattered around, Jessica always carries gloves and a trash bag for collecting it up when she goes out walking or running.

Getting a car has meant the freedom to explore further afield. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The Digital Nomad Visa with its attendant benefits was introduced early in 2021, and has been a bonus for remote workers. On March 1st, Jessica, as an employee of an American IT firm, became the first digital nomad on Hvar to have her application approved. As Thibaud is independent, he is not eligible for the special visa, but has acquired temporary residence. They both feel that the Digital Nomad Visa is "a smart move for Croatia and a wonderful opportunity for expats. Getting a visa or temporary residence can be stressful (or impossible) in some places, so having a straightforward path to maintaining temporary but extended residence is a great option." Thibaud adds that a further step forward would be for Croatia to introduce "a business incentive à la Belarus for startup and tech".

Relaxing in the sun. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Thibaud and Jessica are planning to stay on in Jelsa for some time, and have invested in a car to make exploring the island easier. When (or if!) they eventually leave, they will take with them extremely happy memories, and will leave behind lasting positive traces of their sojourn. Wherever they roam, the friendships they have forged will endure and go with them. And they will always be welcome to return. We at Eco Hvar are extremely grateful to them for their invaluable help and support!

© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon) March 2021.

You can follow Jessica and Thibaud's travel experiences on their blog: Tales Traversed.

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