We spent ten days in Croatia, traveling up the Dalmatian coast in August of 2014. Jon & I wanted this holiday to be of a slower pace than Morocco, it was to be relaxed in nature and gave us the opportunity to explore the Dalmatian coast on our own without a tour guide; to help us learn how to travel around a country without the comfort of a tour company or package deal. Morocco in March 2014 was our first holiday together and so going on an adventure tour had the perfect balance of feeling safe with a certified guide yet having that back packer freedom to visit many locations around the country. This second holiday being European, reminded me a little of Cyprus and was rather easy going so backpacking on our own in Croatia was not a scary concept.
Our first location was Dubrovnik for 4 days. As well as this we also went on a day trip to visit Montenegro and another day trip to a nearby island off the coast of Dubrovnik called Lokrum and I will write about these places separately.
Dubrovnik being the first stop,was probably our favourite place to visit although we were glad we also spent time in about 8 other locations so that we can say we did actually visit the country.
From the airport you are ushered onto a coach that takes about an hour to get to the old town of Dubrovnik. You are asked whether you want to be dropped off just outside the old town or to go straight to the bus station in a district of Dubrovnik called Gruz. I would suggest you opt to be dropped off just outside the old town simply because everything is pretty central to the old town, including your accommodation so if you opt to be dropped at the bus station it is a long walk or expensive taxi ride back where you need to be in the first place. The old town of Dubrovnik and it’s surrounding areas are really easy to navigate around, our apartment was a ten minute walk up a straight but sloping road, away from the main square but very close to Petka hill which has stunning views of the Adriatic sea and hosts a number of trees, flowers, plant life and quaint white washed chapels. A secret nudist beach can also be found along the coast of Petka hill! We chose not to be central for two reasons, firstly a lot of the hotels within and just outside the old town are expensive and secondly being a bit further afield means it is quieter plus as a bonus we were able to enjoy a gorgeous early morning stroll from our apartment, alongside the main road looking out to sea every day!
Dubrovnik is both a seaport and the centre of the Dubrovnik-Neretva County and is nicknamed “Pearl of the Adriatic”.
The city of Dubrovnik (Latin: Ragusa) was built on maritime trade. In the Middle Ages it became the only city-state in the Adriatic to rival Venice. Supported by its wealth and skilled diplomacy, the city achieved a remarkable level of development during the 15th and 16th centuries. Furthermore, Dubrovnik was one of the centres of the development of the Croatian language and literature, home to many notable poets, playwrights, painters, mathematicians, physicists and other scholars. Today Dubrovnik is the proudest feather in Croatia’s tourist cap, an elite destination and one of the most beautiful towns in the Mediterranean. Dubrovnik is steeped in stunning architecture and sculptural detail, and boasts spectacular churches, monasteries, museums, and fountains. With a multitude of quaint districts and excursions there is much to do here such as: visiting Lokrum & The Elaphiti Islands, enjoying exquisite jazz bars and street performers, arranging intriguing day trips to Montenegro or Bosnia,walk around the old town city walls and take in the stunning views below, be entertained by a cable car ride with plentiful cheery Japanese tourists, cycle around Petka hill or snorkel in the sea within nearby coves.
The Old Town can feel difficult to navigate on first appearances, as it really is a warren of little streets however you very quickly find your bearings. The city is completely pedestrianized and easily small enough to get around on foot, some of the streets are a little steep though. If you are brave enough to explore outside the main square full of coffee shops, bars, grand buildings and museums you can take a walk up side streets (which usually includes numerous steep steps) eventually you come to quieter areas of the old town where some locals still live. These areas are not as well kept, part of the walls have crumbled, bullet holes still remain from the Croatian War of Independence in 1991 to 1995 and yet these areas still retain their prettiness, due to the sandstone cobbles and white wash structures surrounded by cute pots and hanging baskets of flowers denoting a Mediterranean state of grace against the backdrop of a sombre past.
Whilst here, do relish in drinking the water from Dubrovnik’s beautifully carved fountains! It is safe, I promise and probably the best water I have ever tasted. Croatia boast having the cleanest fresh water in the world perhaps due to rain water running from low mountains and highlands near the Adriatic coastline and islands.
Most Croats are fiercely patriotic and immensely proud of their cultural heritage, their language and their history, their civil war was not that long ago and therefore much like the British can appear aloof and standoffish on first appearances but behind that stoic & blunt surface lies a big heart & friendly disposition. It really helps that you learn a few phrases of their language because you are showing that you are interested and care about their culture that they are so intensely proud of and suddenly you will find a Croatian warm to you and genuinely want to help, if you are lost, some will go out of their way to walk with you where you need to go. The lady who owned the apartment we stayed in made us cake because I left a handmade paper rose on her table after she served us biscuits & Juice. Croatians love genuine signs of appreciate and affection or an honest attempt at learning a few Croatian words, they will love you for trying.
Walking around this place is so relaxing, nobody is rushing around, nobody is bored and playing with their phone or ipad, everybody is enjoying homemade ice cream and marveling at the grand architecture permeating with the golden rays of the sunshine. You will notice that some of the buildings look white whilst others look sandy in different light, this is just trick of the sunshine and a variety of citrine, pearl and antique colours will seep through the brick work throughout the day. Dubrovnik is surrounded by its city walls which are 2km long and famous all around the world, the views whilst walking around these walls are stunning but don’t forget to wear high factor sun cream in the summer because it can feel toasty. The sense of awe never failed to descend upon me when I set eyes on the beauty of the old town. The city’s charming marble streets, baroque buildings and the endless shimmer of the enchanting Adriatic sea view inspired me to write poems and create paintings which is probably why Dubrovnik has a rich art scene with many local artists exhibiting in galleries & art markets or musicians performing in the streets or nearby jazz bars. Croatians are very cultured and appreciate the beauty of art, music, poetry & literature so much so in fact that even the younger generations were seen leisurely reading novels instead of smart phones or tablets which as you can imagine made my heart sing with joy! The old town also inspired the directors & producers of Game of Thrones too and a lot of scenes have been filmed here for a number of episodes, unfortunately there were no filming during our stay, if there was I would have begged to be an extra!
In the time Jon & I were in Dubrovnik we spent the first day exploring the old town, the second day was a trip to Lokrum island, the third day was an excursion touring around Montenegro and the last day involved a lovely walk around Petka hill, a swim in the sea, an afternoon stroll around the city walls & enjoying the cable car ride. If we had stayed longer I would have wanted to do the day trip to Bosnia and visit other local islands just off the coast of Dubrovnik. I have recommended a visit to Dubrovnik as a mini break for my Mum who now lives in Bulgaria as I believe she would enjoy a few days here. The only negative about Dubrovnik (and Croatia) is that it doesnt have any sandy beaches. Most beaches are rocky and you have to be careful when walking into the sea as the rocks are slippery with sea moss. However this is a great destination to bring families, Dubrovnik is safe and clean, their food is organic and fast food restaurants are scarce (Hurray!). This place is strangely (and thankfully) not popular to the Brits, meaning no hen & stag groups, no drunken idiots rolling around the floor and howling at 4am, no vulgar behaviour from ignoramus families, no tacky souvenir shops and no individuals walking around without respect for themselves or others. Many Italian and Arabic families visit here as well as large groups of Japanese tourists. The atmosphere is both casual and cultured, children are largely well behaved and people in general are respectful of their environment. Dubrovnik really is a lovely place to be.
The lady we stayed with is called Merta which brings me to another tip, if you are a lone traveler or perhaps in a couple or small group, do opt to stay in an ‘Apartment’ room which is basically staying in someone’s home they are opening up to guests and have pretty much turned their house into a guest house, it’s so much more cheaper than staying in a hotel, it has all the mod cons plus a really hospitable host welcoming you into their home and you are helping out a local earn a living. Here is where we stayed: Guesthouse Le Mirage I would definitely stay at her home again.
Up next we spend the day on Lokrum island which is a short boat ride from Dubrovnik, stay tuned for next weeks post.
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And here are the other destinations in Croatia we travelled to:
Day trip to Lokrum Island.
Day excurision to Montenegro.
Three days in Split.
Day trip to Milna on Brac Island.
A night & day in Plitvice Lakes.
Two days in Rijeka.
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