Dubrovnik, Croatia & A Peek at Montenegro

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Dubrovnik is a city that captured my imagination way back when I was very young.  It had the same sense of romance and history that it shares with Venice, Prague, Krakow and places like Lucca in Italy.  That it was designated a World Heritage Site is a great relief because in our living memory the city and its citizens had experienced severe challenges….which thankfully are now well behind them all.

We visited in September 2014 and I do recommend that time of the year for its warmth and sunshine and the sea is also still warm enough in which to swim and relax.  We took a small apartment for ten days but actually a week is a good length of time.

Between emerging as a settlement in the 7th century and its conquest by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th, Dubrovnik repeatedly held a significant position beyond what could have been expected of this tiny city-state. Its diplomatic expertise was legendary, its political stamina extraordinary; its merchants, trading throughout the huge Ottoman Empire, enjoyed privileges denied to other Western states. A politically skilled and commercially enterprising ruling class took every opportunity to maximise the Ragusan Republic’s wealth.

But Dubrovnik also faced the extreme dangers posed by Venetian plotters, Ottoman aggressors, a terrible earthquake in 1667 and, finally, Napoleon. In modern times, the city has survived the besieging Yugoslav army in 1991-92, which heavily damaged but did not destroy Dubrovnik’s cultural heritage.  The roof tops demonstrate how much had to be restored or rebuilt and the ancient graceful little city in the sunshine is a memory I will treasure.

Whether you visit for the total experience or just one concentrating on heritage, or you want to position yourself for sand sea and leisure or indeed go out to the Adriatic Dalmatian Coast for the sailing you can be assured of a good time.  I loved the position of our apartment which overlooked the Bay and the lovely island of Lokrum and we accessed the medieval city through the Ploce Gate.  There are three gates, the western Ploce Gate, the northern Gate and the Pile Gate on the east.  I consider our view day in and day out with sunrise and stunning sunsets was superb.

Croatia has about 1200 islands and some of them are large and others are tiny but in terms of heritage and nature and eco conservation there are good developments here and as for the sailing….well we observed all the lovely craft that entered the bay be they large or small.  Cruise ships are a feature and as someone said to me there was a day in 2006 when about four or five of them all came together and that must have been a nightmare because logistically it is a tiny citadel and the influx of all those thousands would have been a great challenge.  I believe there is a directive that only two cruise ships are allowed to anchor in the Bay these days, but then some are virtual behemoths!  Others I quite fancied that also have sails as a feature and a more select number of passengers.

The Old City Walls are an absolute essential to experience provided one is fit and well.  We walked into the city on a sunny morning when significantly there were no cruise ships and were on the walls at 08.45 hours….thus we could enjoy 75% of the walk alone or with very few companions….whereas on cruise ship days and later in the day one could see ‘crocodiles’ of people and that must have been very hot and thirsty work.

As it was we were glad of a long cool fresh orange drink above the Maritime Museum and then we went back to our apartment for the swimming togs for the afternoon spent on Banje Beach which literally was just down the stairs for us.

There are high class restaurants and ordinary bistros and cafes and some are really impressive in their service and standard of cuisine and others are underwhelming.  However, sitting in the early morning sunshine with a cappuccino and perhaps an omelette or continental breakfast people watching is enjoyable.  The beer is very good and local wines in carafes are good value.  We enjoyed the calamari, and some good pork and others just fed their pizza hunger….some very good pizzas they seemed to me but I am wheat sensitive so cannot indulge.

The Maritime Museum was particularly impressive as Dubrovnik by virtue of its position has dominated that part of Europe and the Republic of Ragusa had a rich and eclectic maritime heritage with early maps, maritime scientific instruments and models of ships plus perhaps the earliest surviving charts of the oceans and the archival photography of the shipbuilding was very interesting.  For anyone interested in naval architecture, sailing or boat building this is a must…even for this uninitiated sailor!

We went on a boat trip around the walls and in the Bay which was interesting because the boatman talked of the time of war in the early 1990s and showed us buildings that had been blasted by the Serbs from their gunboats, but thankfully now the whole area has become the backdrop for a great many scenes of the globally famous saga Game of Thrones!

We then visited the lovely Island of Lokrum which is a delight.  Take your swimming costume and towel because the swimming is very good and safe and the walks are lovely.  The island is home to a huge number of peacocks that have no predators so are happily colonising the whole island and add a touch of the exotic.

The first mention of Lokrum was in about 1023 AD.  According to legend Richard the Lion-Heart was cast ashore here after being shipwrecked in 1192 while returning from the Crusades.  He actually came ashore in Lokrum but at the request of the people of Dubrovnik he agreed to build a church in the city itself.  The name of the island of Lokrum is derived from the Latin acrumen, sour fruit.  The Benedictines commenced gardening in this little idyll and then the Emperor Maximillian Ferdinand continued the tradition in the 19th century.  In 1959 a Botanical Garden was started and continues today.  This is a lovely day trip which I recommend heartily as the swimming is good and varied and there are some good café restaurants in shade, or you could take a picnic…but the cafes are charming and the peacocks come along and potter around you.

In Dubrovnik the Stradun, which is the main street off which open many narrow lanes leading to other small squares and alleys, there is very often live music and various music festivals take place.  On Saturday and Sunday and one day in the week there is an open air market which is fun and some of the produce is totally yummy.  We adored the candied orange peel which is sold in strips in bags and is so moreish….plus lovely syrups and eau de vie.

The Croatians and People of Dubrovnik make you feel welcome though sometimes the sheer numbers of tourists can be overwhelming….which I suspect is the result of the fame of the series Game of Thrones.

We made an excursion to Montenegro and so enjoyed that day out as well.  The tiny country of Montenegro is less than one hour’s drive and is truly beautiful with a sort of combination for us of the mountains of northern Mallorca…the Tramuntina and the sea lochs of the West Coast of Scotland.  There is also a rich history to this tiny country and we drove along the coast to the walled town of Kotor.

It too is a UNESCO World Heritage site and deservedly so.  The town is known for its nautical tradition and the merchant navy and indeed many Montenegrin sailors have gone out to other lands and sailed the seas.  The little citadel abounds with both Catholic and Orthodox churches and the major landmark is St Tryphon’s Cathedral from the 12th century.

After the most delicious panna cotta and coffee in a lovely restaurant we walked around and enjoyed this gem of a place but then bundled back into the coach to go down the coast to see the beautiful St. Stefan Island which is photographically world famous and I was able to take some good photos too.  Sadly it seems to have become the playground for Russian oligarchs and others whereas it origin was the island home of five fisher folk families….

And one can no longer actually visit as a tourist. Then we stopped in Budva and looked around.  This is where old meets modern in a challenging way to my eye but apparently Montenegro is the destination for those who need serious dentistry at moderate prices – it had become a haunt of the Russians who now seem to be changing their minds.   We found a most excellent restaurant down on the marina and had a leisurely lunch.

Returning from Montenegro was lovely in the westering sun; the sunset that evening was totally stunning and I was able to capture it on the return and when we arrived back.

Dubrovnik, has number of luxury five star hotels, most of which were situated right on the water’s edge beneath where we lived.  We frequented the Excelsior on three nights and found its food, service and welcome excellent.  It has the most wonderful Spa and inside swimming pool as well as a pool right down by the water’s edge and is in a stunning position. I have happy memories of seeing the new moon come up over the Bay of Dubrovnik whilst the sun set behind the citadel with a warm breeze, a chilled beer in my hand and the prospect of a good delicious meal ahead.   A truly lovely place.

For more great photos, see my collection from the trip.

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