Croatia: Spotlight on Dubrovnik

By Mick Webb

Why go now?

Dubrovnik's Old Town is wrapped in 2km of majestic medieval walls. Photo / Thinkstock
Dubrovnik's Old Town is wrapped in 2km of majestic medieval walls. Photo / Thinkstock

The dramatic location of Dubrovnik - between the mountains and the Adriatic - is trumped by the glorious Old Town itself, wrapped in two kilometres of majestic medieval walls. The Dubrovnik Summer Festival adds to the cultural offering with film, dance, classical music and art events.

Touch down

Try to time your flight to arrive in daylight, allowing you to enjoy the spectacular half-hour road journey 20km north from Dubrovnik airport into the city, twisting high above the Adriatic shore.

Buses depart sporadically, in connection with Croatia Airlines arrivals (though any passenger may use them; 40 kuna (NZ$9.20). They pause at Pile, the main gate of the walled old town, and continue to the main bus terminal, three km north-west and well-placed for many hotels. Return buses to the airport start out from this terminal two hours before Croatia Airlines departures.

A taxi will cost around 250 kuna.

Get your bearings

The main approach is across a stone bridge and through the intricately-constructed Pile Gate - outside of which you can find the local bus station and the main tourist office at Brsalje 5 (8am-10pm daily).

Pile gate leads to the broad central boulevard, Stradun, which is lined by beautiful 17th-century buildings. This thoroughfare cuts right through the city, and lanes climb steeply away from it on either side. At the far end, where the majority of the main monuments are found, is the tiny harbour and - close by - the east gate, Ploce.

Check in

Most places of interest are within the old town, but almost all visitors stay outside. The few accommodation options are mainly hostels, such as Fresh Sheets at Svetog Simuna 15, where the sole double room (called "Heaven") costs €66 without breakfast; single dorm beds are €33.

A reasonably priced hotel (by Dubrovnik standards) within the walls is the three-star Stari Grad at 4 Od Sigurate. Doubles with breakfast start at €142.

A notch further up the price range, the Excelsior Hotel & Spa at Frana Supila 12 is stylishly mid-20th century, with an A-list register of celebrity guests and superb views out to sea. Doubles start at €218, including breakfast.

Many visitors stay in rented apartments, costing from around €50 per night for two people, self-catered. There are plenty located in the district of Lapad, a 20-minute bus ride from Pile Gate.

The Dubrovnik Tourist Board provides photos and contact details.


Take a hike

No other European city boasts such complete and spectacular walls. You can locate one of the entrances to these medieval marvels just inside the Pile Gate; ticket sales (60 kuna) take place from 8am-5pm. Hang on to your ticket, because you may be asked for it at several checkpoints along the way.

Climb the first of many stone stairways to reach fortifications that date back more than a millennium in places, and are protected by Unesco. Besides providing the ideal introduction to the city and hoisting you high above the terracotta roofs and even church steeples, the walls themselves are full of interest. They are punctuated by bastions and spiced up by cafes and bars, which may help to draw out your tour to a pleasurable two hours or more.

Lunch on the run

In such a touristy location, finding a reasonably priced lunch is tricky. So you may prefer to assemble a picnic from the produce on sale at the old-town market that fills Gunduliceva Poljana square; it opens seven days a week for souvenirs, but on any day except Sunday you can also find fresh fruit and vegetables. In the same square are two supermarkets where you can augment your feast.

For a sit-down snack or sandwich, Skola at Antuninska 1 is a good bet. It's family-run, the ingredients are fresh and the price of a ham and cheese sandwich, for example, made with home-baked bread is 28 kuna.

Window shopping

Given the sheer quantity of shops selling souvenirs, it's hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. Dubrovacka Kuca at Svetog Dominika 2 is an Aladdin's Cave filled with all kinds of crafts and products, from honey and olive oil to paintings and porcelain.

In the same street, closer to Stradun, Kate Stojanovic, dressed in traditional costume, sells her own embroidery from an open-air stall.

The best of the city's many jewellery shops are found on Od Puca, parallel with Stradun at the Pile Gate end.

You can buy excellent local wines from the nearby Peljesac Peninsula at Vina Milicic at Od Sigurate 2.

Cultural afternoon

The most interesting of the historical museums is in the striking Dominican Monastery near the Ploce Gate at Svetzog Domenica 4 (9am-6pm daily, 20 kuna). As well as a beautiful 15th-century cloister, you can admire the monks' collection of medieval and renaissance religious paintings - which includes Titian's painting of Mary Magdalene and St Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik.

For a contrasting experience, the War Photo Limited gallery at Antuninska 6 (9am-9pm, 30 kuna), has changing exhibitions of images by the world's top war photographers. By implication, it's also a sobering reminder of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, which is also recalled in telling detail on public panels in other parts of the city.

An aperitif

Next door to the gallery, you can mingle with the arty set at the Talir cafe/bar at Antuninska 5 (8am-2am), surrounded by photos of actors and sipping a tall glass of Ozujsko beer (15 kuna).

Dining with the locals

Al fresco dining is the order of the day and seafood the staple on most menus. The tables at Kamenice at Gunduliceva Polijana 8 spread across the attractive market square. Simple fare is served at reasonable prices, including excellent mussels "Buzara" - in a wine, garlic and tomato sauce for 56 kuna. Opening hours are 8am-11pm daily.

If pizza is more your style, Mea Culpa dispenses its vast, tempting creations on the narrow sidestreet Za Rokom 3.


Sunday morning: Go to church

St Blaise's church, celebrating the patron saint of Dubrovnik, is a domed baroque building at the eastern end of the Stradun. The decorated facade outshines that of the nearby cathedral and the graceful early 18th-century interior boasts an elaborate altarpiece glinting with statuary. Sunday Mass takes place at 8am and noon.

Take a ride

Frequent buses (route 4 and 6) from Pile Gate whisk you to the other face of Dubrovnik: the beautiful Lapad peninsula. Alight at the post office - Posta Lapad - to enjoy a stroll along Setaliste kralja Zvonimira, a pedestrian-only boulevard lined by trees, villas and plenty of cafes serving Italian-grade coffee. The nearby town beach is clean, well-equipped and backed by shady gardens where you can escape the attentions of the midday sun.

Out to brunch

Back in the heart of the city, Gradska Kavana at Pred Dvorom 1, near the colonnaded Rector's Palace, is the place to relax with a helping of the substantial torta od makarula (macaroni, walnut and chocolate cake) for 21 kuna. Open 8am-midnight daily.

If location is more important than excellent service and tasty food, try Orhan, a partly outdoor restaurant serving meats and salads, overlooking the water outside the Pile Gate.

Take in the view

Dubrovnik's communist-era cable car, wrecked during the Yugoslav civil war, was restored to active service last summer, and is once more speeding visitors in three minutes from the base station to the top of Srdj - the bare hill that towers over the city.

The view from the 400m-high summit takes in the the walled city itself, the scattering of beautiful Elaphiti islands and, on a clear day, the neighbouring country of Montenegro.

Opening hours during the summer are 9am-midnight; 80 kuna return.

The icing on the cake

The most stylish way to reach Dubrovnik airport is to hop aboard one of the regular tourist boats from the old port to the seaside town of Cavtat (pronounced "Tsavtat"). A one-way trip costs 100 kuna. The 45-minute ride offers fine views, and deposits you at a pretty arc of shoreline fringed by bars and restaurants.

Have a drink and leave your bags at one of these venues while you explore Cavtat's hilly hinterland of elegant villas - one of which was the birthplace of the local artist, Vlaho Bukovac, and is now a museum. Then take a quick 80-kuna cab ride to the airport.


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