Seven days in Dubrovnik
Striding down Dubrovnik’s busy main street of Stradun in summer, you may wonder how you can escape the crowds, enjoy a drink and not have to walk too far in the heat to do so. The solution is easy: Buža I and Buža II, two terrace bars with jaw-dropping vistas set on the seafacing rocky promontory propping up Dubrovnik’s City Walls. Buza, meaning ‘hole in the wall’, suits drinkers, swimmers and sunbathers alike. Of the two, Buža I, is the most basic but also provides sunbathing and easy and safe access to the Adriatic via metal steps fixed to its rocks. From the cathedral, walk down Ilije Sarake; opposite No.10 is a doorway to a stone staircase. Further along, Buža II is the more formal, with a straw roof and waitstaff in logoed T-shirts. From the south-west corner of the open square of Ruđera Boškovića, behind the Jesuit Church, look out for the sign saying ‘Cold Drinks With The Most Beautiful View’.
If you only have a short time in Dubrovnik, the shortest and easiest island hop is Lokrum. This unspoilt island lush with pines, palms and cypress trees basks in the Adriatic less than a kilometre from the Old Town by taxi boat. Lokrum is a UNESCO-protected island nature reserve – no rubbish, no dogs, no fires, no smoking, no overnight stays. Those arriving first thing in the morning feel as if the whole island is theirs. A gecko, turtle or snake lizard might pop up. Man is free to frolic naked around Cape Skrinja, round the corner from Portoč, the jetty for the taxi boat. Lovers carve their names on the cactus leaves. In late summer, stunning fluorescent blue damselfish appear through seagrass brushed by starfish and sea urchins. A more idyllic part of the city – and Lokrum feels close enough as, say, the Château d’If to Marseille – you could not imagine.
The Neretva Delta spreads over a large area some 90 minutes’ drive north of Dubrovnik. The surrounding landscape consists of eight large lakes and fields divided by channels accessible only by boat. Near Metković is the archeological site of Narona, founded by the Greeks and visited by Julius Caesar centuries later. You can still see the forum today, and a museum contains a number of recent archaeological finds from the Roman era. Its golden age came in 700 AD, when Narona was the second biggest town on the coast, ruling over 90 Illyrian settlements. By 900 it was a nest of pirates, inspiring the traditional boat parade held in Metković every summer. Guided tours from Dubrovnik include visits to orchards and bird sites – Neretva is a popular destination for ornithologists, given the varied species that nest there.
A must for summer is a boat trip to the three main islands of the Elafiti archipelago: Koločep, Lopud and Šipan. To experience all three in one day, head to the old harbour and find a fish picnic trip. Prices and departure times (10am out, 6pm back) are pretty standard. The fish is fresh and the wine plentiful. The first stop, Koločep, home to 150 people, offers steep cliffs, wind-carved caves and shaded walking trails for an hour. After that, you are treated to three hours on the sandy beaches and sea promenade of Lopud. A path near the Grand Hotel here leads over the hill to the other side of the island, and the lovely sandy beach of Šunj 15 minutes away. It faces Šipan, the largest of the islands, similarly dotted with old churches, noblemen’s villas, Roman remains and two villages: Šipanska Luka and Suđurađ. This unspoiled island has its own dialect, spoken by locals who still live from growing melons.
Zaton Mali is a small fishing village 7km north-west of Dubrovnik, where Ragusa noblemen had their summer houses. It’s a bohemian community with no hotels and a disproportionate number of artists in its midst. And here you will also find one of the best restaurants in the region, beautifully located, reasonably priced, family-run and a gastronomic winner: Gverović-Orsan. This old noblemen’s boathouse, cut into the cliff, was converted into a restaurant by Niko Gverović in 1966. Niko chose this prime location by the clear water of the Zaton Bay, built a terrace and filled the grotto with restored maritime artefacts and a piano. His son Niko now runs the place with his mother, Mira, and the traditional dishes are just as sublime. The house speciality is black risotto Orsan, four kinds of shells and shrimps sautéed in wine and lemon and mixed with rice soaked in black squid ink. The venue even has its own beach (and shower), so you can take a dip while your dinner is cooking, and enjoy a contemplative digestif afterwards on the terrace jutting out into the water.
From Dubrovnik, regular buses head for Cavtat along the Riviera of coastal resorts. You can also take a boat from Dubrovnik’s Old Port. The southernmost resort in Croatia, Cavtat is an old Greek and Roman settlement, sacked by tribes in the seventh century. Refugees flooded to Ragusa and built what later became known as Dubrovnik. This heritage and the clear waters at this far southern tip of Dalmatia mean that Cavtat contains the most accessible of Croatia’s ancient attractions on the seabed. Within a radius of a few hundred metres are three spots where Greek ships from 2,000 years ago shed their loads of amphorae, jugs containing wine and olive oil. Below this cache of some 600 items is a cargo ship dating from AD 400. Lobsters and other sea life have been squatting the premises for nearly two millennia. Set at 30 metres below the surface, it’s accessible to beginners but only by diving with a registered club as the site is protected as cultural heritage – hence the steel cage around it. Diving centre Epidaurum is one such club and offers other water sports too.
The nearby island of Korčula is best known for its church architecture, its link with the legend of medieval explorer Marco Polo – and its Pošip wine, a signature white produced here since the time of the Ancient Greeks. In July and August, several communities across the island, most notably Smokvica and Čara, host ‘Days of Open Wine Cellars’. In Smokvica, this involves a 2,500-year-old wine press, while tastings take place at several local wineries.
Seasonal stays in Dubrovnik
This leading lodging of the Valamar group has its own attractive selection of beach while the balconies attached to each of its 181 rooms provide gorgeous views of the Adriatic and Elafiti islands beyond. Extensive modernisation saw the hotel gain five-star status in 2014. There are now pools indoor and out, a spa centre, an award-winning restaurant, a full programme of children’s entertainment and access to nearby tennis courts. Fringed by the verdant surroundings of Babin Kuk, the Valamar Dubrovnik President is also set within easy reach of the Old Town.
Recipient of the prestigious World Travel Award as Croatia’s Leading Hotel in 2013, 2015 and 2016, and Croatia’s Leading Business Hotel in 2014, 2015 and 2016, the four-star Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik caters equally to those visiting for work or pleasure. Surrounded by the pine-tree forests of Babin Kuk and white-pebble beaches, the Valamar Lacroma allows you to relax in picturesque tranquillity as well as organise your conference, meeting or exhibition without having to move from the site. With the most extensive MICE facilities in the area, the Valamar Lacroma also features the gourmet restaurant Langusto, a wine bar with a panoramic terrace and top-quality treatments at the in-house Ragusa Spa, a 1000 square meter health complex where you’ll find saunas, pools indoor and out, a private spa, lady-spa Afrodita and cardio-fitness.
Striking the perfect balance by providing contemporary relaxation with attentive service, the Valamar Argosy Hotel best suits a romantic getaway à deux. A newly refurbished and upgraded four-star, the Valamar Argosy now features an infinity pool, impressive landscaped gardens, stylish guestrooms and a complete spa complex. With its quiet location on the Babin Kuk headland overlooking the Adriatic, the Valamar Argosy also allows you to take advantage of Cava Beach less than 200 metres away. In the distance beckon the Elafiti islands that you also see on the horizon as you gaze out from the restaurant terrace and outdoor pool with sunbathing loungers.
The only hotel in Dubrovnik created specifically for families, the Valamar Club is geared towards fun, relaxation and safety. Operating from April to November, this four-star offers all kinds of sports and communal activities all summer long. Multilingual children’s entertainers lead the activities at the Maro Club, with its ice-cream parties, mini discos and play areas designed for three different age groups. Teenagers can play futsal, volleyball and video games, with free cycle hire for all. Trained, professional staff provide child care by day before live music and shows are provided for all the family in the evening. Adults can go in for parasailing, diving and water skiing and take advantage of the spa, sauna and gym facilities at the nearby Valamar Dubrovnik President and Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik Hotels.
Providing great value for money amid the tranquil environs of the Babin Kuk peninsula, the Tirena Hotel is a place to relax and be entertained. As its centrepiece, the three-star Tirena has an expansive, freshwater outdoor pool with swim-up bar for you to sip at your cocktail without having to leave the water. There’s also a shallow children’s pool for visiting families. A couple of hundred metres away, Cava Beach is equipped with sun loungers, showers and changing cubicles. Traditional Dalmatian dishes are prepared right in front of you at the buffet restaurant. Guests can also make use of the superior spa facilities at the nearby Valamar Dubrovnik President and Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik Hotels.