HomeJournalWhy Visit Now: Dubrovnik
28 Apr, 2024

Why Visit Now: Dubrovnik

Author
Jane Foster
Based on the Dalmatian coast, Jane specializes in Croatia travel for Conde Nast Traveler, Wanderlust, NatGeo, and Decanter. Author of Bradt, Frommer's, and DK guidebooks, she blends her architecture background with passions for travel, food and wine.

Overlooking the glorious blue Adriatic Sea in South Dalmatia, proud medieval-walled Dubrovnik is Croatia's most romantic destination. Much-loved by couples and newlyweds, the car-free old town is home to the Baroque cathedral with its green copper cupola, several outstanding museums, and aristocratic palazzi, once the homes to nobles and wealthy sea-faring families.

Many buildings now host chic cafes and classy seafood eateries at ground level, with the choice ever expanding. Regarding accommodation, expect grand waterside hotels (several recently refurbished, and a couple due to reopen following renovation) offering fine dining, lush spas and contemporary design, as well as several luxurious boutique hotels in the old town.

In the past, Dubrovnik had little in the way of nightlife, but a handful of candle-lit wine bars, staffed by qualified sommeliers, have recently opened. In addition, several local family-run wineries have now added tasting rooms, making a fine addition to Dubrovnik's out-of-town excursions. Keep in mind: Some of the establishments listed here are closed during Winter.

1. Dubrovnik's City Walls

Dubrovnik is one of the world's greatest fortified cities and no visit here would be complete without walking a full one-mile circuit of the mighty 13th-century city walls.

Up until 1808, Dubrovnik was the capital of the tiny Republic of Ragusa, with its extraordinary wealth based on seafaring. The walls, up to 80ft high and 20ft thick, reinforced with towers, bastions and canons, were intended to defend the city from attack from land and sea.

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6365 Feet Long

The 1940m (6365 feet) long walls consist of the main city wall, sixteen towers, three fortresses, six bastions, two corner fortifications (’kantonate’), three bulwarks with rows of turrets, three moats, two flank fortresses, one breakwater, and two drawbridges. [Photo: Julien Duval]

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20 Feet Thick

At some points up to 25 m high , the main wall is 4 – 6 m thick on the land side and 1.5 to 3 m on the seaside. [Photo: Zoran Marinovic]

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80 Feet High

Many local and foreign architects, along with renowned and distinguished craftsmen, played roles in its construction, but the identities of most will forever remain a mystery. [Photo: Zoran Marinovic]

Your route around the ramparts follows the guards' walkway, protected by parapets. From up on high, you have magnificent views over the belltowers and terracotta rooftops of the charming UNESCO-listed old town, and out across the glimmering blue Adriatic Sea. Afterwards, explore the old town (ideally with a private tour guide) to see Baroque churches and cloistered monasteries. Visit the cathedral treasury, displaying golden Byzantine reliquaries, and the Rector's Palace, housing the Cultural History Museum.

2. Luxury Waterside Hotels

Dubrovnik has more 5-star hotels than any other Croatian destination. Just outside Ploče Gate, Hotel Excelsior occupies a waterside villa from 1913. Numerous dignitaries and celebrities have slept here and enjoyed glorious views of the city fortifications from its beachfront and arcaded terrace restaurant.

Hotel ExcelsiorThe Hotel Excelsior is ideally located on the water's edge. [Photo: ALH]

West of town, Hotel Bellevue is built into a cliff above a sheltered bay with a pebble beach. Renovated in 2019, it has sea-view rooms with cool contemporary décor, and two excellent restaurants: Vapor, serving Creative Mediterranean fare on an upper terrace overlooking the bay, and Nevera specializing in fish down on the beach.

On Lapad peninsula, 3mi west of the old town, the Dubrovnik Palace affords spectacular sunset views towards the Elaphiti islets. It has a terraced rock-and-concrete beach front with a PADI diving centre, and a top-floor Wellness and Spa with a sea-view indoor pool and hot-tub, making it a lovely winter retreat.

3. Dalmatian Seafood

Dating from 1886, Proto is widely regarded as Dubrovnik's top fish restaurant. In the old town, with a lovely secluded upper-floor stone terrace shaded by white awnings, this is where serious gourmets come to feast on genuine Dalmatian seafood. It's expensive, but everything is guaranteed to be tip-top.

Traditional Dalmatian specialties include black risotto (made from cuttlefish ink), škampi na buzaru (shrimps in garlic, white wine, and parsley) and the Fisherman's Platter for two (fish fillet, lobster, shrimps, octopus, and scallops).

01 - Dubrovnik Top 10 - Jane Foster - 3 Classic Dalmatian Seafood - Proto Fisherman Platter for twoProto offers a classic Dalmatian seafood platter for two.

Alternatively, opt for the six-course degustation menu, with optional wine-pairing. Start with fish tartar, followed by fettuccine pasta with scampi and truffles. Then comes the grilled fish fillet - possibly sea bass or sea bream, depending on what local fishermen brought in fresh that morning. You'll round off with a rich chocolate mousse, followed by a selection of Croatian cheeses. Vegetarian options include pasta with mushroom and truffles.

4. Fusion Cuisine

01 - Dubrovnik Top 10 - Jane Foster - 4 Funky Fusion Cuisine - Azur II.jpg

While traditional Dalmatian fare still dominates the restaurant scene, over the last decade several eateries have tried to do something different. The most successful is undoubtedly Azur, where the owner-cook, Darko Perojević, is from Dubrovnik but lived several years in China.

He has created his own unique CroAsian fusion dishes, combining locally-sourced fresh ingredients (mainly seafood) with fragrant Oriental herbs and spices, so you can expect delights such as Szechuan chili and garlic prawns, monkfish in black curry sauce, and Beijing pork belly tacos.

01 - Dubrovnik Top 10 - Jane Foster - 4 Funky Fusion Cuisine - Azur II.jpg

Azur lies in a narrow stone alley near the seaward walls in the old town. In 2022, Azur opened Kiosk Dubrovnik, serving global-fusion street food close to Dubrovnik's Gruž port. It's very popular with locals. Expect tasty snacks such as salmon poke bowl, beef pho-ramen, Thai green curry, and vegan poke bowl. You can eat there, at small tables with high stools, or request take-away.

5. Open-Air Wine Bars

01 - Dubrovnik Top 10 - Jane Foster - 5 Open-air wine bars - M'arden II.jpgA table being prepared, ready for organic regional wines made from indigenous grapes by small-scale producers. [Photo: M'arden]

On a balmy summer evening, what better way to celebrate your travels than with a glass of seriously good wine by candle-light? In Dubrovnik's old town, summer 2023 saw two local sommeliers open of a gorgeous little wine bar, M'arden.

Hidden away in a walled garden, planted with plane trees, jasmine, kiwi, rosemary and sage, they serve organic regional wines made from indigenous grapes by small-scale producers, accompanied by exquisite savory snacks.

West of the old town, Fratello's Prosecco Bar occupies a terraced garden, high above the coast, with superb sea views and stunning sunsets. They serve a selection of Italian prosecco and other sparkling wines, cocktails, and tapas-style bites. Take this opportunity to try a Croatian sparkling wine - Jagunić Three Stars Brut (from the Plešivica region, southwest of Zagreb) is highly recommended. Both bars are romantic and relaxed, and stage occasional after-dark live jazz.

6. Piknik Dubrovnik

A gourmet picnic – what a wonderful way to dodge the city crowds. Piknik Dubrovnik do an "escape kit" lunch, neatly packed in tiffin carriers in an insulated rucksack, with a blanket and map included. You can choose from several menus - everything is homemade or bought fresh from the farmer's market.

Expect regional delicacies such as cow's cheese from Konavle; spicy kulen salami from Slavonia; pršut (similar to Italian prosciutto) from Drniš; and sundried olives and figs.

A summery salad might combine fennel, beet, pear, cheese and walnuts, and for desserts they do a divine Dubrovnik lemon almond tart. For drinks, there's homemade rosehip ginger lemonade and wine.

01 - Dubrovnik Top 10 - Jane Foster - 6 Piknik Dubrovnik IIA summer picnic in Dubrovnik. [Photo: Piknik Dubrovnik]

Take your picnic to Lokrum islet for a swim, or up Mount Srđ for panoramic sunset views.

7. Dubrovnik Summer Festival

Each summer, Dubrovnik's pedestrian-only old town becomes an open-air stage for six weeks (from mid-Jul to late-Aug). Founded in 1950, the Dubrovnik Summer Festival begins with an opening ceremony in front of the Church of St Blaise, followed by spectacular firework display.

01 - Dubrovnik Top 10 - Jane Foster - 7 Dubrovnik Summer Festival  - Opening concert  St Blaise Church - credit Dubrovnik Summer FestivalThe opening concert of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival at St. Blaise Church. [Photo: Dubrovnik Summer Festival]

A program of cultural events ensues, including classical music, jazz, opera, theatre and dance, at some 70 outdoor locations.

Highlights include classical music recitals in the atrium of the Rector's Palace (noted for its excellent acoustics), staging of Shakespeare's Hamlet at Lovrjenac Fortress, and Linđo Folklore Ensemble dance performances on the Revelin Tower roof terrace.

Through the decades, numerous internationally-acclaimed musicians have performed here - American jazz pianist Duke Ellington and jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar, Spanish operatic soprano Montserrat Caballé, and British singer Tom Jones. And world famous actors have taken lead roles in Hamlet, notably Brits Daniel Day Lewis and Derek Jacobi.

8. Ston Oysters

01 - Dubrovnik Top 10 - Jane Foster - 8 Ston oysters - credit Bota Šare.Ston oysters that can be enjoyed in the twin towns of Ston and Mali Ston. [Photo: Bota Šare]

The twin towns of Ston and Mali Ston, linked by 14th-century fortifications, built to demarcate Dubrovnik's north-western border, make a perfect half-day out-of-town excursion.

Way back in the 17th-century, Dubrovnik nobles were already lauding praise upon aphrodisiacal oysters from Mali Ston Bay. The River Neretva flows into the Adriatic here, creating ideal conditions for oyster cultivation, as the mix of freshwater and seawater provide optimum salinity levels.

Nowadays, the Šare family (who own Bota Šare restaurants in Mali Ston, Dubrovnik, and Split) offer tours of their oyster beds by boat. They'll take you to a wooden raft, and demonstrate how these delectable mollusks are cultivated on ropes.

You'll be able to taste them raw, pulled directly from the sea, served with a squeeze of lemon and a glass of white wine.

Afterwards, walk the walls linking Mali Ston and Ston, brining you to the sunny south side of Pelješac peninsular.

9. Pelješac Red Wines

Pelješac peninsula hosts some of Croatia's top wineries, and makes a fine day-trip from Dubrovnik. Here, on limestone soils exposed to intense sunlight, indigenous Plavac Mali vines bear small black grapes to produce strong full-bodied red wine.

Begin at the Miloš winery near Ston, to sample their organic red Plavac Mali, aged in big Slavonian oak barrels. Then head to the Bura-Mrgudić winery, with terraced vineyards on Pelješac's steepest seaward slopes, accessed through a tunnel from Potomje. The family have made Dingač here for generations, using traditional methods – hand-harvested grapes are fermented naturally on their skins, and the wine aged in French oak barrels.

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Villa Korta Katarina

Villa Korta Katarina, superb wine hotel. [Photo: Jane Foster]

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Korta Katarina Tasting Room

Beautiful ambiance of the tasting room and restaurant at Korta Katarina Winery. [Photo: Jane Foster]

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Milos Vineyard

Beautiful landscape surrounding Milos Vineyard. [Photo: Jane Foster]

Conclude in Orebić, where Villa Korta Katarina is a superb wine hotel, set in gardens above the sea. Their five-course Royal Culinary Wine Pairing dinner offers delights such as tuna tartar accompanied by their white KK Pošip, and beef with truffles, served with KK Plavac Mali.

10. Life According to Kawa Concept Store

Before leaving Dubrovnik, shop for gifts to bring home at Life According to KAWA, a hip concept store stocking works by Croatian designers and artisans, just outside the old town. Check out their own KAWA special edition printed T-shirts, as well as leather travel bags, satchels and wallets by Go Retro from Zagreb, and Natalio scented candles from Dubrovnik, recalling natural fragrances from your vacation, such as pine trees and wild herbs.

Funky handmade ceramic items include Marinski espresso cups with gold details, and OaZa air plant wall hangers. KAWA also stock several producers of natural organic cosmetics, such as 757 (from Žrnovnica, a small village near Split), who make beautifully packaged hydrating face creams, regenerative serums and body scrubs.

Also look out for locally designed posters, finely-crafted jewelry, Croatian cookery books, and a selection of award-winning extra virgin olive oils and quality local wines and spirits. ||