As we walk Dubrovnik’s massive city walls we realise that while they were built to protect against barbarian invasions they are equally effective today in keeping motorists at bay. The result is a city that is a joy to visit except at the height of summer when it is over run by tourists.
My wife and I have arrived here in Croatia after a spin through the lesser known areas of Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Montenegro. In a way, it is good to be back on the tourist trail where English is more common and most services seem to work.
We are faced with the choice of two small hotels and a range of apartments in the Old Town or a wide range of beach-front properties on the Lapad Peninsula. We decide that space, romantic views, a swimming pool and modern facilities meet our needs more than convenience so we opt for a room overlooking the Adriatic Sea in the mixed residential/ tourist area of Lapad.
After a swim, a great dinner and a wonderful night’s sleep we are ready to explore what we came here for; the Old Town. Pile Gate, built in 1537, is the western entrance to the town and the last stop for local buses from Lapad. Originally, the drawbridge was lifted every evening, the gate closed and the key handed to the city’s ruler.
Now we pass through an inner gate and into Placa, Dubrovnik’s wonderful pedestrian promenade. Immediately in front of us is the 1438 Onofrio Fountain, on our left is the lovely St Saviour Church and next to this is the Franciscan monastery and museum. Already we love this place.
We wander down Placa to Luza Square, once used as a market place. The 1417 Orlando Column is a popular meeting place while the Clock Tower is a dominant landmark. Across the square is the superb Spnza Palace in a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles.
In front of us is the ornate St Blaise’s Church contrasting with the sober residences surrounding it. We walk further past the ornate Rector’s Palace, now a museum with a beautiful courtyard used for concerts, to the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin.
While we have walked less than a kilometre it has taken us hours and this is the joy of Dubrovnik. Apart from the major attractions, there are steep cobbled streets to explore, hidden churches, staircases, glimpses of the sea and cute architectural detail everywhere.
We find a place to eat, wander some more then visit the port. This is a stunning harbor with great potential for photographs. The water is crystal clear and there are two nice restaurants specializing in fish. We sit in a cafe, have an ice-cream and spend a great time watching the world coming and going.
The light is fading as we think about dinner. We have heard about some restaurants just outside the eastern city gate so we head in this direction. Before reaching there we are tempted by the stark Dominican monastery on our left and find a jewel of a 1450s cloister, a simple church and a wonderful art collection inside.
Just outside the Ploce Gate, there is a lovely restaurant overlooking the harbour. We sit outdoors and watch the sky light up as the sun dips below the horizon. Small boats are bobbing around on the deep blue water and everything seems right with the world.
Next day starts with a ride on the Dubrovnik cable car to the peak of Mount Srd. The 780-metre journey provides breathtaking views over the Old Town. Back in town, we buy our tickets and walk the city walls. Built between the 8th and the 16th centuries, these walls are the finest in the world and undoubtedly Dubrovnik’s highlight.
The two kilometres circumnavigate takes us hours and almost wears out a camera as the views are to die for. There are plenty of stairs and other visitors but this really is a ‘must-do’ experience. There are impressive towers, forts, cafes and even a museum.
Returning to street level we visit the synagogue which is the oldest operating in Europe, the Serbian Orthodox Church which contains a fascinating collection of icons, and War Photos Limited, a modern gallery dedicated to photojournalism from war zones around the world, which attempts to offer unbiased reporting with a human element.
The day is gone but we have one more appointment. On board a small boat, our breath is taken away by the magnificent view of Dubrovnik Old Town, city walls and old harbour at sunset. We enjoy a hearty meal as we pass small islands then see the magnificent view of the city from the water at night. If only this day would never end.
IF YOU GO:
There are direct flights from the UK to Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik relies very much on tourism so restaurant and sightseeing prices tend to be high. Hotel accommodation costs are significantly higher from May to September than the rest of the year.
Read more of Len’s travel adventures at LenRutledge.com
PHOTOS: Phensri Rutledge