The countries dotted along the Adriatic coast have some of the bluest waters and unspoilt beaches. What makes them even more appealing is the ancient history, with fortresses, lighthouses, ruins where you walk through a beautiful part of the country with history on one side and the sea on the other. I must admit that I was not very excited about heading to Dubrovnik for a long weekend as my first trip to Croatia. My initial plan was to fly to Split, explore the islands there and then head to Plitvice Lakes National Park. To my surprise, the air fare to Split was twice of what we paid for Dubrovnik. In hindsight, I am so grateful that we managed to visit Dubrovnik, which was still busy in its off season.
We landed on a Saturday morning in early October and got a bus to the centre from the airport. After a few winding roads along the coast, I can’t forget the first sight of the city. I knew immediately that this was going to be an amazing trip. I don’t know if it was because we were visiting Dubrovnik for the first time, but I can vouch for the fact that a sense of awe never fails to descend when you set eyes on the beauty of this Old Town.
What we didn’t realise when the bus dropped us at Ploče Gate was how this city has more stairs than roads. We climbed nearly 250 steps from here onto a hill where we had booked our apartment. After an exhausting climb, dragging our suitcases, pointing in the direction of the Old Town to fellow tourists who were walking towards it and meeting a few cats along the way, we finally made it.
The view from our apartment (photos below) was breath-taking. We had the sea, the red tiled rooftops of the houses whose parking lots were laced with grapevines (how amazing is that!) and a few islands that were visible at a distance. As we were still tired, we decided to head to the harbour on our first day and try some local wine. Down those 250 odd stairs again, we went to a veggie friendly restaurant overlooking the sea and had some burgers and dessert wine which I fell in love with. It was crisp and not overly sweet.
After taking it easy, the next day was an adventure. Tickets to the Old Town walls cost 200 Croats each, can be purchased on the spot and are valid for four days. The town itself is absolutely stunning. Yes it’s touristy and crowded with many cruise ships docking here, but well worth it for the views. As we walked along the walls, there were ever-changing perspectives over the terracotta rooftops of the Old Town and the sea. Here's a tip: to dodge the crowds, check how many cruise ships will be in Dubrovnik on any particular day on the Dubrovnik Port Authority, and then pick what looks like the quietest date.
Wanting to make the most of the day, we also managed a visit to the 13th-century Fort Lovrijenac (Od Tabakarije). Lying outside the Old Town, it affords superb views of the city walls, has fewer people and appears to be a favourite photo spot. We climbed up its 175 steps, to reach the upper level, complete with canons and a small chapel. Fun story here, it closes at 6pm and not realising the time, we got locked in with a few others and were told that the officials were coming back to let us out. In a span of those ten minutes, I’d struck up a fun conversation with a traveller from New Zealand who was also locked in with us and exchanged a few travel stories.
Finally, after walking past many Game of Thrones filming locations, we rounded off this fun-filled day with some Mexican food as most of the restaurants serving local delicacies were packed with tourists and one Bosnian restaurant that I had in mind did not have any vegetarian options. We then ended the evening by the sea at Bar by Azur. What was amazing was this very moment – the bright full moon and its reflection on the dark Adriatic waters. It was somewhat relaxing, yet romantic. As we walked back, climbing those stairs to our apartment, I kept turning back to see the moon, and every glimpse of it overlooking the city was absolutely spectacular.
On our third day, we decided to cook and eat in our apartment and then head over to the suburbs of Lapad and Babin Kuk to catch the sunset. These are very popular areas dotted with upscale hotels that overlook the sea. We walked all the way past harbours, local houses and came across many pomegranate trees. We reached Sunset beach which was lovely but crowded, so we decided to walk along the rocky coast to find a more peaceful spot. We found various points offering stunning views of the sea and finally with a cocktail at hand at On the Rocks bar, we watched the sun go down over the Adriatic. We decided to get an Uber back (cost us about 5 Euros) as we did not have the energy to climb those stairs again and also got a glimpse into Dubrovnik's glitzy nightlife as the streets were buzzing with many bars and restaurants.
On our last day, I woke up feeling like I needed to visit the Old Town once again and this time, have a more leisurely stroll than a historic walk. I also couldn’t get enough of the wines here and this was surprising for me, being a whisky girl. I’d heard about some fantastic local wine bars and decided to end our trip with an amusing and informative Dalmatian wine tasting at D'Vino wine bar in the Old Town – it was mellow and cosy, with several outdoor tables in the narrow side street. We also managed to get some time by the pool at our apartment to relax completely before heading back to London. Aboard our bus back to the airport, we drove past the nearby coastal town of Cavtat that was founded by the ancient Greeks. This huddle of old stone houses are built on a pine-scented peninsular sheltering a pebble beach to one side, and a natural harbour to the other and if we had more time, we would probably spend a day here.
I can now say that Dubrovnik lives up to the hype. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anyone not smitten by the city’s cobbled stone streets, baroque buildings, and the endless shimmer of the Adriatic, or failing to be awe-struck by a walk along the ancient city walls that protected the capital of a sophisticated republic for centuries.
George Bernard Shaw was enchanted by this beautiful city, about which he said “those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik”, as well as, famously, describing it as “the pearl of the Adriatic”. I agree with the wise Mr. Shaw. If an opportunity presents itself to visit, especially in the off-peak season, it shouldn’t be missed!