Lokrum is for lovers and legends. This unspoiled island, lush with pines, palms and cypress trees, basks in the Adriatic less than a kilometre from Dubrovnik's Old Town.Dotted with diverse ruins and remnants - medieval and ecclesiastical, Napoleonic, Habsburg - it has long been given over to nature. It's a UNESCO-protected nature reserve: no rubbish, no dogs, no fires, no smoking, no overnight stays.
In late summer, stunning fluorescent blue damselfish appear through seagrass brushed by starfish and sea urchins. A more idyllic setting so close to Dubrovnik you could not imagine. Yet mention Lokrum to an older local and you will hear tales of curses and ill fortune. The liveliest of these legends surrounds the departure of the Benedictine monks, settled on Lokrum since 1023. On the fateful eve of their departure in 1798, the monks tramped around Lokrum in candlelit procession. A curse is said to have resulted from their solemn farewell. Soon afterwards, rich Ragusans who bought the island suffered various strokes of misfortune, but nothing like as bad as those incurred by the Austrian nobility to whom they sold Lokrum lock, stock and barrel to in 1859.
The buyer, Maximilian, brother of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef, loved Lokrum. He turned the island into his own pleasure garden, building the summer residence you can still see mingled with the ruins of the medieval monastery complex a short walk from Portoć. Around it were his exotic gardens. Some 150 years later, imported plants blend with native ones. Maximilian's tree-lined walks run through the island; the Path of Paradise leads from the Napoleonic Fort Royal to his residence via an old olive grove planted by the Benedictines. Peacocks still roam here but not the parrots Maximilian also brought. His gardens may have been idylilic but his end certainly was not, he was famously shot by firing squad in Mexico and his beloved wife went mad.
The attraction of Lokrum for today's visitors remains. In its south-west corner, a lake of warm saltwater, the so-called Dead Sea, formed by tectonic fracture, is surrounded by rocky beaches. In the middle bloom botanical gardens beside a tranquil cafe-restaurant, handy if you haven't brought supplies with you. Check out the latest promo video below.
RECOMMENDED: our full guide to Dubrovnik.