You can hardly open a newsfeed without seeing alluring pictures of Dubrovnik simply calling you to jump on a plane. The music festivals, the cruise ships and the tv series all keep this part of Croatia firmly on the tourist trails. According to the locals, ”The season” starts in February and ends in October. I am not a fan of big crowds or selfie sticks where they are not needed. So, being the maverick I am I travelled to Dubrovnik in January.
As I arrived around 10pm local time nothing was open and the streets were deserted. However, getting a taxi just outside the airport was easy and felt safe. My driver was remarkably chirpy for someone who was still working at 10pm.
As late as it was I could make out the coast line from the back of my taxi. The flickering lights of houses and hotels on the cliffs made the whole place seem magical. I was like a like a child on Christmas eve by the time I arrived at my hotel. I woke up to a view beyond my dreams. The sky seemed so close I could touch it. The sea was as calm as a lake and the rays of the sun filtered through the clouds. In the light of day I could see that the hotels and houses built on the cliffs had taken nothing away from it’s natural beauty. A real credit to the Croatians and a great lesson to the rest of us.
My hotel, Rixos Libertas, is a grand place boasting it’s own boutiques, gym, spa and indoor and outdoor pools. From anywhere in the hotel it was possible to see breath taking views of the Adriatic sea. The service here was amazing. No sleepy porters here! The staff have incredible local knowledge and are happy to help at any time of the day. Kudos to the chefs and the kitchen staff who turned out the most sumptuous feasts every evening despite it being out of season and the hotel having just a handful of guests. Standards never slipped.
The must see sight in Dubrovnik is Grad or The Old Town. I won’t bore you listing all the things you should do and see here. As with all major tourist hotspots there are hundreds of guide books listing the same things over and over. What I will say however, is as a Unesco World Heritage site The Old Town is not just well preserved but a close knit hive of schools, offices, shops, bars and restaurants. It’s a buzzing metropolis. With the help of my map I walked around the Old Town in less than two hours. As it was out of season a few places on the map were closed or under renovation. But there was still so much to see.
The highlight of my walking trip was definitely St. Ignatius Church right at the very top of the old Town. It’s towering presence on the outside is no match for it’s humbling interior. Go in and sit for a while. Let it soak you in it’s history. The centuries old Baroque frescoes will draw you gently into their past until you find yourself searching in every crevice with child like wonder.
Walk down to the bottom of The Old Town and you will find the Serbian Orthodox Church. In Contrast to St. Ignatius the most striking feature of this church is it’s orchard. Stone corridors open out into the courtyard. The immaculate garden here is surrounded by trees heavy with oranges glistening in the sunshine even in January. In the summer months this place must feel like the garden of Eden.
Another highlight in Dubrovnik is its City Walls. Walking the city walls is a must. It takes around 40 minutes to complete but every minute spent up there is worth it. As the light changes you will be treated to spectacular views of Dubrovnik. On one side the view stretches from the coast across the ocean as far as the horizon. On the other side it starts at the edge of the city walls right up towards the mountains as far as your eyes can see. Just when you think this place couldn’t spoil you any more it does.
There is no shortage of places to eat in The Old Town. You can find coffee shops, restaurants and bars down any one of the narrow cobbled streets. Eating outside appears to be the norm. You cannot ignore the Mediterranean ambience of this place. Ever the maverick, I stopped off at a an Irish pub – The Gaffe! The staff were attentive and the coffee was perfect. However, the buzzy atmosphere and live football coverage means this is not the place for a quiet drink.
In the evening The Old Town simply comes alive. I stopped off for a sundowner at the Buza Bar. This you MUST do. I am a sucker for view of the sunset and have been known to sit and wait for hours! (Sad but true). The bar is set on a cliff side with a panoramic view of the sea. Entrance to the bar is through a literal hole in the wall hence it’s name (Buza means “hole” in the local dialect). This is also a local swimming spot when the weather is warmer if you’re that way inclined.
The thing I would most recommend doing in Dubrovnik is walking. Yes, walk! Walk as much as you can to really take this place in. Let it get under your skin. Or rather get under it’s skin. Talk to the buskers, the teenagers kissing on benches, the strangers. Ask for directions and listen to the patient responses in return. Watch the kids play and the adults laugh. Eat the pastries in the local bakeries along your walk. Drink the local wine. Do the things which aren’t listed in your guidebook. I guarantee you will not want to leave.
Travel tip: Go out of season and get the place to yourself. I travelled from London Gatwick on Croatia Airlines and stayed at the Rixos Libertas Hotel.