I last visited Dubrovnik 4 years ago on a University trip and I’ve never stopped singing its praises. I reminisced over the emerald-green islands that popped out of the cascading blues of the Adriatic, as if a picture from Peter Pan. The castle walls that tour you around the 16th century city, showcasing its mix of baroque and renaissance architecture. Mediterranean squares alive with restaurants, bars and boutiques, seamlessly blending into their historic surroundings. Occasionally crowded by a daily dose of cruisers, Dubrovnik still managed to retain an understated charm, as if Europe’s best kept secret.
Summer of 2016 was quite a different story. Geographically and historically it’s the same, yet its quaint character is all but unrecognisable. Dubrovnik, which was under siege during the 1991 war for independence from Yugoslavia, has noticed a steady increase in tourism over the past decade, putting itself on the map in the latest ‘Star Wars’ film and ‘Game of Thrones’ series. These productions have notably assisted in commercialising the city, with hourly tours exhibiting various filming locations around Old Town. The 1,400 year-old city appears to place more pride in these productions than its past, with every other gift shop selling over-priced memorabilia and gimmicky goods. In his article for Bloomberg, James Gomez argues that Old Town has been turned into a “Disneyland (style)… stage for film and television.” I can’t help but agree; it wasn’t the crowds that frustrated me but the excessive commercialisation, which has usurped Old Town’s natural and historical beauty.
As expected, an influx of tourists has caused an increase in commerce. However, the prices in Dubrovnik were ridiculously high, often out-doing London in many of the main squares. The city has tapped into tourist mentality of “well we’re on holiday so we might as well splurge!” and taken this to the extreme, charging up to 100 Kuna- nearly £12- for a small glass of house wine (and their small measures are a minuscule 100ml!) Thankfully not every bar was overpriced and in the same square as ‘£12 glass of wine’ bar we found Mirage, a café and cocktail bar that was much cheaper than its neighbours (and sells big pitchers of cocktails and beer to share!) Proving that even in the tourist hubs you can save if you shop around a bit! Post-pitcher we found ourselves tempted by a free entry flyer into the city’s most celebrated club: Revelin. As it turns out we weren’t the only ones dashing across town to get in before the 12am cut-off and crowded in to the converted fortress that used to protect the city from invaders. With its high ceiling and enormous rooms, Dubrovnik’s 16th century military unknowingly constructed the perfect party setting. Unfortunately it was far too packed and again, drink prices were extortionate, costing almost £15 for a shot and mixer! So upon hearing the disastrous ‘warm-up’ DJ, we decided to make an early exit and save ourselves for the beach the next day.
What didn’t disappoint was climbing up Mount Srd. With a peak at 412 metres, its spectacular views showcase Dubrovnik’s natural beauty and otherworldly surroundings (it’s definitely the closest I’ve come to finding ‘neverland’!) We decided to climb on a rainy morning (yes we experienced rainfall in August!) which turned out to be a great idea, as the slight breeze and drizzle offered a welcome relief from the humidity during the 70-minute climb. The path starts from Jadranska Cesta (near the long sign board which welcomes folks to Dubrovnik) just above the Old Town and takes you right up to the Fort Imperial. It zig-zags its way up the mountainside ensuring that the incline is never overly intense. I would recommend wearing proper walking shoes and taking plenty of water with you, as the path is very exposed to the sun (although we saw none of this on our ascent!) Grateful to get out of the rain, we stopped at Panorama Restaurant for a quick bite to eat but sadly had to admire the views from inside the restaurant (as you’d expect their outside tables are unavailable on rainy days!) Hate walking? or hoping to eat an evening meal at Panorama but don’t fancy hiking in heels? Thankfully there’s another option: the cable car, although the hike is a much healthier option for both your waistline and your wallet!
Outside of Old-Town, Dubrovnik didn’t seem so far away from the dream-like destination I visited in 2012. Its best beaches are located a few miles outside of the medieval city and whilst there are no sandy shores, the major beaches are well equipped with sun loungers and VIP areas if you’re feeling particularly fancy! Here’s my round up of the best beaches outside of centre (Banje Beach is the closest to Old Town and therefore the busiest, so we deliberately avoided this towel-to-towel tourist trap!)
Coral Beach Club was by far the classiest beach we visited, situated on the west coast of Babin Kuk. It’s quite pricey but you really are paying for a piece of paradise away from the packed public beaches. Dan’s parents wined and dined on the club’s delicious food, with the most generous portions. However, prices for a main dish are upwards of 180 kn (£20) so if you are on a bit of budget but want a little bit of luxury, I’d recommend doing as we did and hiring a double sun lounger for 200 Kuna (approximately £22) then eating/drinking in the street just above the beach towards the camp site (just take the path that runs up from the entrance the club; you’ll think your going in the wrong direction but suddenly a row of restaurants and shops will appear as if out of nowhere!) Rucan became our favourite lunchtime spot, with its friendly waitress and mixed menu- varying from Italian to seafood.
Right next door you’ll find Copacabana Beach, where you have the option to throw your towel down on the cobbled beach. Plastic sun loungers are on offer for 40 kn each (approximately £5), but if you find these too uncomfortable- as we did- then there’s the option of ‘upgrading’ to the V.I.P area where you can get cocktails served right to your sun lounger. Again- it’s not cheap (220 kn/ £25 for a double bed) but it’s certainly sunbathing in style. There is also a naturist beach nearby if that takes your fancy!
Lapad Beach lies about 3km northwest of the Old Town at the end of a long strip of bars and restaurants that are far more reasonable than anything you will find in Old Town. It wasn’t my favourite beach but there were far more options for food and drink in this area, offering lively sports bars and quirky restaurants with swinging chairs (I’m definitely a child at heart!) We dined at Sphere Restaurant one evening as the sun was setting and were blessed with stunning views of the Lapad bay whilst indulging in seafood.
Aside from sunbathing (and eating) we did quite a bit of walking, discovering a wonderful path that takes you right around the coast to Copacabana beach. It starts from Dubrovnik Port and weaves along the coastline and if you continue on it, will take you all the way back to Lapad Beach (we tried this one day and it was far longer than we expected, but it did take us past some incredibly fancy sea-front hotels!) The path is sparingly signposted but quite straightforward to follow: if in doubt, just follow the coast! Without this path we wouldn’t have stumbled across Lekri, a lovely little winery situated in Dubrovnik Port. The family run wine bar keeps it simple, offering only 3 types of wine that they have been developing over the past 5 years. The friendly couple toured us around the cellar and then offered us a free wine and liqueur tasting, which was so delicious we couldn’t help but order seconds and then buy bottles to take home!
Tempted by the trendy tapas bar next door I booked Peppers Eatery for our final night in Dubrovnik. Set around a small courtyard the restaurant is incredibly funky with light up wall signs and vinyls decorating the interior. I also loved their food mantra: “Peppers is all about having a great meal in good company. No strict rules here; share a few small plates and a couple of desserts or do the traditional starter-main run. Or just have cake.” Wanting all of the small plate options I opted instead for the tuna steak, which was cooked to perfection and well matched with a gin cocktail: I went for the Hendrick’s, Cucumber & Elderflower Collins, one of over 60 cocktails on the menu!
Whilst Dubrovnik wasn’t quite as charming as it was on my first visit, I still found myself captivated by Croatia’s cultural capital and I can see why it’s the Dalmatian Coast’s top tourist town. The time of year certainly affected my experience, as my last visit was in April, whereas August is the city’s busiest month of the year (so Spring is a great time to go as you get warm weather without the crowds!) When I go back - which I certainly will- I think I will book a long weekend during Dubrovnik’s quieter months for more of a city break rather than a beach week. That said, I still had a wonderful week away. However, in this instance it wasn’t so much the place that made this trip for me, but the people. So thank you to the 7 lovely people who made this trip so special!
Where we went:
-Mirage Café and Cocktail Bar
Where: Buniceva Poljana 3, Dubrovnik
I’m sure it’s better outside of high season but we were packed in like sardines, with barely any breathing space (let alone dancing space!)
Where: Ul. Svetog Dominika 3, 20000, Croatia
-Dubrovnik Cable Car/ Panorama Restaurant
Prices for the cable car:
Adult round-trip ticket: 120,00 kn
Adult one-way ticket: 70,00 kn
Children round-trip ticket (4 - 12 years): 50,00 kn
Children one-way ticket (4 - 12 years): 30,00 kn
Children up to 4 years: free of charge
-Coral Beach Club
Where: Ul. Ivana pl. Zajca 30, 20000, Dubrovnik
Where: I couldn’t find a exact address for this secret little street of reasonably priced restaurants, but it neighbours Solitudo Campsite. Just walk up the footpath away from Copacabana Beach and Coral Beach Club and you will find it! (Here’s the address for the campsite in case you are driving: Ul. Valtroslava Lisinskog 60, 2000, Dubrovnik).
-Sphere Restaurant and Lounge Bar
Where: Setaliste Kralja Zvonimira 56, Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik winery with local snacks.
Where: Škar Winery, Lapadska obala 17, Dubrovnik
-Bloomberg: “‘Star Wars’ Just Ruined Your Holiday to Dubrovnik”: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-22/-star-wars-filming-shows-the-dark-side-for-tourism-in-dubrovnik
-Telegraph: Dubrovnik city break guide: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/croatia/dubrovnik/articles/dubrovnik-city-breakguide/
-TripAdvisor: Best of Dubrovnik: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Tourism-g295371-Dubrovnik_Dubrovnik_Neretva_County_Dalmatia-Vacations.html