pearl of the Adriatic
It takes a hard man to catch a glimpse of Dubrovnik and not fall in love at first sight. Set on a rocky outcrop that juts out into the Adriatic sea, Dubrovnik’s walled-in maze of closely-built houses is a veritable latticework of orange hues when viewed from above, providing a striking contrast to the aquamarine bays and deep blue sea water that encircle it. Small wonder it has been dubbed the Pearl of the Adriatic.
Stepping off the plane, we were greeted by a blast of hot air and a dazzling sun shining from a cloudless blue sky — an affirmation that we had chosen the right destination for R&R. The warmth and sunshine we had sought in vain in Vienna we found in spades in Croatia, and we set about enjoying it as soon as we checked into the hotel while waiting for S’s parents and sister to arrive on a later flight.
Our hotel was located in the hills, a short walk away from the old historic center. The entrance and reception were on the sixth floor. On the ground floor, the elevator opened unto a tunnel, which led to a pool deck that had been tastefully chiseled out of the rocks. By digging a tunnel instead of building right by the water, the hotel’s designers managed to integrate a rather sizable building into the natural surroundings without erecting a tacky eyesore while still giving guests access to the shore. One could literally walk out of the hotel and straight into the Adriatic Sea. We proceeded to do just that, alternating between holding Munchkin while he splashed around in the pool and going swimming in the sea ourselves.
By the time S’s family arrived and settled in, the sun was bending its arc towards the horizon. We strolled to the old town for dinner, but left our explorations of the historic center for the following morning. Dubrovnik has a population of just over 40,000 people, most of whom live in the metropolitan area outside the old town’s fortified stone walls. In the off-season, there is hardly a soul in the historic center, but during the summer months, Dubrovnik becomes a popular destination for cruise ships, and the old town teems with life. At times, the hordes of visitors give the impression that they even outnumber the entirety of Dubrovnik’s permanent residents.
We started our tour by taking a walk along the city walls, a two-kilometer loop that took us about an hour to navigate. Those who watch Game of Thrones will surely recognize Dubrovnik’s fortified turrets and towers. The city’s walls, which earned it UNESCO World Heritage status, serve as the backdrop for the show’s fictional city of King’s Landing. More importantly for us, the wall walk offered amazing bird’s-eye views of the city and its patchwork of orange roofs. After completing the circuit, we descended into the historic city center and ambled around its narrow streets, which all led to a wide promenade. There are supposedly some interesting museums, including a photo exhibit dedicated to the wars that occasioned the dissolution of Yugoslavia, but it was too hot to stay out too long, so we returned to the hotel to read by the pool and cool off with occasional dips in the sea.
We spent three days and four nights in Dubrovnik. For our last day, we had arranged an excursion to a national park on the island of Mljet, but had made no plans for our second day. S’s dad declared that he was content to spend his time poolside with a book, but the rest of us grew restless and took the ferry to the nearby island of Lokrum, which lies barely half a kilometer off Dubrovnik’s shore. The island is a protected nature reserve and was much hyped by one of our guidebooks as a good place to escape the crowds of visiting tourists.
Truth be told, we found Lokrum to be a bit underwhelming, but it made for a good afternoon trip all the same. There is an abandoned botanical garden, a couple of rocky beaches, and the ruins of a 16th century monastery that have been overrun by peacocks. According to local legend, Richard the Lionheart was shipwrecked on his way home from the crusades and found refuge on Lokrum, though this story may very well be apocryphal. To its credit, Lokrum was a lot quieter and less visited than Dubrovnik, and we even found a small lake, called the “dead sea” by locals, where Munchkin went for a swim.
Our first taste of Croatia, Dubrovnik was unforgettable — truly unlike any city we had ever visited. But then we journeyed to some of the islands, visiting Korcula, passing through Hvar, spending a few nights on Vis. Turns out there are many similar towns all along the Dalmatian coast. They are just smaller, quieter, quainter — just as beautiful, but with less hubbub, trading in Dubrovnik’s grandeur for charm and tranquility.