For those unfamiliar with Croatia, Dubrovnik is a good place to start. Although the name Dubrovnik actually comes from the word for “grove,” the forest for which the city was named has long since been chopped away, and a more desert-like climate has taken over. The city is located on the southern coast and is itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 15th century history is well preserved and ready to be devoured, as are the many goodies to be found in shops lining the streets.
People here – naturally – speak Croatian, but most can converse in English. As always, it’s a great idea to be a gracious guest in another country and learn a few words before you go. Our favorite? Živjeli, which means cheers!
Home away from Home
This newly renovated five-star hotel has an unbeatable view from above Dubrovnik’s prestigious St. Jacob precinct, and is minutes away from the Old City. It is built into the side of a cliff, and the sea can be enjoyed from every room, as well as the rooftop bar. Fashioned from Brac stone by local architects, this hotel experience is undeniably Croatian and 100% relaxing, from balcony to spa (and back again).
Walk to one of the nearby public beaches if you’re looking for a spot to swim, because the hotel’s private beach is really more of rocky outpost where you can either access the water via ladder or just dive in. Unfortunately our plans to wander the expansive gardens were rained out, but they looked enticing.
We did get out in the hotel’s boat to explore the surrounding coastline and were mesmerized by the crystal clear blue water. Although the dock is nestled into a rocky area, our captain expertly maneuvered into place in less than a minute – an entertaining testament to the local residents’ seafaring past. Get a glimpse of the sparkling sea from our video below. Just be warned that it is extremely alluring, and you may find yourself planning an unexpected vacation!
Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast contains over 300 geographically defined and classified wine regions. Our favorite among the specialties is Dingač, a full-bodied, smooth red made from hand-harvested grapes closely related to Zinfandel. It is favored for use in religious ceremonies and has such strong regional roots that it is traditionally known as “the blood of the soil.”
Shop hop: Dubrovnik is a city rife with galleries, cafés, and shops ideal for exploring. Everyone here haggles, so it’s culturally encouraged to negotiate with vendors. You can get some beautiful local handicrafts as souvenirs for the non-tourist price, if you’re willing to play the game. We had fun speaking with the friendly local merchants and picked up a few intricately crocheted items for our homes. Major sights to guide your walking tour include the Rector’s Palace for Gothic architecture and a Republic of Regusa history lesson, and the Fransiscan monastery, also home to one of Europe’s oldest pharmacies, opened at a time in history when illness was treated more as a celestial plague than something preventable, let alone curable.
Be the walker on the walls: Though Dubrovnik is the setting for King’s Landing on HBO’s Game of Thrones, we say, let your inner John Snow out on these medieval city walls – thankfully much more temperate than Castle Black. It’s not hard to imagine you’ve traveled back a few centuries while standing sentry up there. This is an absolute Dubrovnik must-do. The climb will get your heart pumping, but the view from the top is a worthy reward, as are the cafes sprinkled along the way for your resting pleasure. We recommend refreshing with a bevanda – the region’s red wine spritzer and the most popular way to imbibe.
Day trip to Korcula: A two and a half hour cruise will bring you to this beautiful island town, which lays claim to a cathedral, a palace, and the childhood home of Marco Polo. A quiet respite away from the bustle of Dubrovnik, Korkula is also home to lovely vineyards where you can wine-taste and buggy-ride to your heart’s content.
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Set out to sea: Bobbing on the Adriatic Sea in a kayak is, in our opinion, a much better way to get your daily workout in than hitting the treadmill. Check out the coast from the other side, and explore the nearby island of Lokrum, an ideal lunch spot when you need a little repose. Explore the beautiful monastery and botanical garden which remain from Austrian archduke Maximilian’s time, and Fort Royal Castle, built by the French at the island’s highest point.
Restaurant Nautika: Nautika has been awarded the title of 6th most romantic restaurant in the world, and we were feeling the love. The seafood is divine, but may take second place to the extraordinary vista. Perched at the edge of the sea, many would argue that the restaurant enjoys the best view in the entire city of both famous fortresses Lovrijenac and Bokar. Sipping local wine, we watched kayakers and yachts float by during our leisurely meal. That said, it comes with quite a price tag, although the prix fixe menu is a good way to get some of everything at its freshest. Ours was a delicious truffle-themed menu with generous portions.
Lokanda Peskarija: Sitting just in the shade of the city walls, Lokanda Peskarija is known for its seafood and – like everything else in this part of the world, it seems – a spectacular view. This time it’s of the old Dubrovnik port. The chef’s unique service of local specialties pairs wonderfully with the intimate atmosphere of this cozy spot, only serving forty guests at a time. We were delighted with the freshness of the plentiful seafood platter that came with grilled fish, sardines, baby octopus, and mussels. Important note: abandon any foolish no-carb ideas and dig into the warm, freshly baked bread.