Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Kerry Murray

A fairy-tale city at the southern tip of Croatia, Dubrovnik is without a doubt the country’s crown jewel. As we travelled from north to south down the length of this narrow, coast-hugging land, we had the distinct impression that Croatia was saving the best for last; an instinct that turned out to be100% on the money. Dubrovnik makes for a breath-taking first impression and it´s not for nothing that it´s considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful walled cities, clinging to the steep mountainside and perched over the stunning Adriatic, her sandstone walls and terracotta roofs contrast with the deep blue sea, and you literally feel as though you have stepped back in time. It´s little wonder that the period-fantasy series “Game of Thrones” was filmed here.

During the 16th century Dubrovnik was one of the wealthiest port cities in Europe, her merchant traders rivalling Venice in both riches and reputation. The walled city is now a UNESCO world heritage site, and while wandering through the narrow streets, it´s hard to believe that only a few decades ago the city was badly hit during the Yugoslav war. The damage was quickly repaired, and now the only visible signs are bullet holes in some of the old building walls, proudly pointed out by the locals as a testament to the strength and endurance of the city they love.

Photo: Kerry Murray

Photo: Kerry Murray

Where to stay

Perfectly situated right in the heart of the old city, St Joseph’s Boutique Hotel is hidden away down a narrow cobblestone road. Housed in a fully restored 16th-century building, the hotel is small but elegant, and with only six rooms the focus is on personalised service for the discerning traveller. Their breakfasts are legendary and as an added little touch of luxury, are served in your suite. Because who doesn´t like breakfast in bed when on holiday?

For full-blown luxury stay at the Hotel Dubrovnik Palace. The name conjures up images of gilded old-world opulence and red velvet curtains but thankfully this couldn´t be further from the truth. Tucked away in a pine forest at the end of the Lapad Peninsula, the hotel is all clean lines and minimal styling, every room has a sea view, and the entire hotel is designed around its most alluring asset: the mesmerising blue waters of the Adriatic. The hotel boasts a private beach, a vast range of dining and drinking options as well as an in-house wellness centre and spa dedicated to your complete relaxation.

Another equally gorgeous option is the Villa Dubrovnik, an exclusive boutique hotel situated on the cliffs to the south of the old town, with spectacular views over the city and entire coastline. Tucked away in amongst pine and citrus trees on one of Dubrovnik’s most upmarket stretches of coastline, the hotel is a private oasis of tranquillity a short distance away from the old city: 15 minutes on foot or make use of the exclusive Venetian style Vaporetto service for a stylish arrival.

Banje Beach | Photo: Kerry Murray

Banje Beach | Photo: Kerry Murray

Things to do

The best way to get to know this city is on foot of course. Explore the narrow streets and steep staircases; the further you venture from the central avenue the quieter it becomes, and you get a sense of what it would be like to live here. In terms of shopping, Dubrovnik leans a bit towards the usual touristy fare but there are a few stores on the Stradun that specialise in local produce and handcrafts, stylishly presented. Olive oil, Croatian honey and wine as well as ceramics and olive wood home wares are all good options. Walking the perimeter walls is also a must-do; there are several points where you can enter the walls and then walk all the way around the city, taking in the magnificent views from all directions. Keep in mind that this is a very popular activity. The best time to avoid crowds is first thing in the morning or as the sun is setting, shortly before they close.

For those looking to catch some sun, there are several beaches within the city limits. Banje Beach is Dubrovnik’s most famous and is a short walk to the south of the old city. It´s THE place to see and be seen but can get quite crowded in the peak of summer, in which case you should head to quieter Sveti Jacob beach, a bit further down the coast. For wild beaches and an escape from the summer crowds, make a day trip to Lokrum, the densely forested island just off the coast from the city. The beaches on the eastern side of the island are locally known as nudist and gay-friendly, and there are regular ferries throughout the day. If you´re feeling energetic, take a kayak tour around the island and stop off for a swim at any one of the many sheltered coves.

Photo: Kerry Murray

Photo: Kerry Murray

Eats and drinks

Croatia is famous for its seafood, so it goes without saying that the best restaurants in Dubrovnik all feature fresh fish and shellfish on the menu. Proto in the centre of the old town, just off the Stradun (the main avenue that runs through the middle of town) is one of the cities oldest and most reputable restaurants. Dating back to 1886, it has been recently modernised without losing its sense of history and tradition. In addition to a sublime selection of seafood (the lobster and squid both come highly recommended) the restaurant also boasts an extensive wine list featuring the best of Croatia´s wines.

Outside the city walls, a few meters from the Pile Gate (the western entrance to the old city) Nautika is another of Dubrovnik’s most highly acclaimed restaurants, with seafood again featuring strongly on the menu. With an emphasis on local produce, the menu focuses on simple, traditional ingredients combined with innovative techniques to create modern dishes with home-grown flavour. And to add to the sensorial experience, Nautika boasts one of the best views in town, facing the western fortresses and overlooking the rocky cliffs and small bays that surround the old town; the perfect spot to watch the sun set.

For something a bit different, head to Portrait, a concept store, bistro and museum all rolled into one, housed in a Renaissance-era palace in the centre of the city. Sesame is another lovely restaurant worth a visit, a short walk to the west of the Old Town and a bit removed from the crowds. It´s a great place for those seeking a leisurely lunch in tranquil, leafy surroundings.

Like most Mediterranean countries, Croatia has a long history of wine making, and no visit would be complete without exploring the wines from this unique and distinctive region. And by exploring I mean drinking, with perhaps a bit of cheese and olive oil soaked bread on the side, locally sourced of course. Serving more than 60 wines by the glass, D´vino Wine Bar is a great spot to stop in and enjoy a glass or 2 of locally produced wine, many of which aren´t available to buy in mainstream outlets as they´re sourced from small-scale family estates. For a taste of something truly local, try one of the wines from the nearby Konavle Valley, a lush green region a short distance south of the city, famous for Dubrovnik Malvasia, an old-world white varietal that sank into oblivion for several centuries until its recent revival at the hands of a few dedicated winemakers.

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