My first glimpse of this orangey-red city was of the old town that seemed to be floating in a sea of blue and aquamarine. The coolest thing to do was to soak in the summer Sun while sipping the flavorful Dingac red wine. But instead I kept staring at the sunrise and sunset over the tiny medieval town. Dubrovnik you stealthy beauty, I am hooked.
DUBROVNIK WAS A COLORFUL START THAT WOWED ME
Here’s my tiny submission. I don’t follow GOT (Game of Thrones), so that wasn’t the reason I picked this land. Neither was it because I love beaches and sea food. I do love the sea, but simply rush in and back to the shore with the waves. And well, am vegetarian too. As a time traveler (I really wish) and history lover, I often make my vacay gripping like a book that keeps me riveted for hours. That used to be my adrenalin. This time I wanted a holiday that let me float. Croatia the land with just 4 mln people surprised me. You could float and freeze in a moment that was stolen from time. Dubrovnik was just the perfect start.
What if I told you that Dubrovnik was once called Respublica Ragusina (Ragusa)! Well at that time it was just one part of today’s city, which with the rest of the mainland became Dubrovnik much later (name taken from the Croatian name for oak wood, Dubrava). My recount in this post is really about the Old Town which today has around 500 residents only. True, it can get crazily crowded with visitors especially when the cruise ships come in, but it’s a ‘must not miss’ if you want to experience the Adriatic.
TIP: I highly recommend you try and stay inside the Old Town itself. Either at the many home stays or then the two lovely hotels that will give you nice views, Hotel Stari Grad and Pucic Palace. Wake up early or stay on late and you have the town to yourself.
∞ SIGHTS ∞
Much of this old city was reconstructed after the devastating earthquake in 1667. The architecture style moved to Roman Baroque from the earlier Gothic & Renaissance, with a lot of homes mirroring each other in the facade and even inside in structure. I was told in all homes, kitchens moved to the top floor, so that if there was a fire the entire house wouldn’t burn down. As a independent Republic till almost the 19th Century, Dubrovnik stayed out of wars maintaining diplomacy and trading relationships with several lands of yore. This despite threats from the Ottomans, Venetians and Balkan countries.
Enriched with a few of these stories, I alighted from the taxi but all I saw ahead of me was a drawbridge and the entrance with a statue watching over me. That was until I entered the main promenade, Plaça.
This broad street stretches from West to East and you can enter from the Pile Gate or Ploče Gate. I entered from the former dragging my suitcase only to be greeted by a fountain (you can drink water in this city straight from the tap), a monastery (Franciscan with one of Europe’s oldest pharmacies) and an array of shops and cafes.
(Onofrio’s fountain is the story of a unique way of supplying water to the local populi. Instead of collecting rainwater, an aqueduct that took water from the river was created. While many reconstructions have been done since the 15th Century, it is still supplying fresh and potable water even today)
Take a stroll to smell some fresh food, admire the building fronts with its arches and symbols and slip in and out of narrow streets that will reveal a synagogue or a hip bar or a celebration of art. It is most stunning if you are here in the summers especially at sunset.
MOUNT SRD CABLE CAR
When I missed going up on Day 1 of my arrival I felt quite low, as I had planned to start my exploration of Dubrovnik from the top. But nature had decided otherwise and faint mumblings of a storm had made them shut the operations for that day. But I got lucky on Day 4 and was amply rewarded. There is a fortress with a museum up there. There is also a restaurant called Panorama if you want to grab some coffee, wine or dinner. CHURCHES
I visited 3 churches and 1 cathedral but missed out on the beautiful Dominican Monastery, that I only caught from a walk around the city walls. All this within the old town. The patron saint is St. Blaise (also the statue at the Pile Gate) and you can visit the Baroque church of this saint at the Luza Square on the Eastern side.
FRANCISCAN MONASTERY (FRANJEVAČKI SAMOSTAN): Unassuming in its style, you realize it’s a church when you see the doorway. I was told that this was also the resting place for pilgrims and acted as their stopover en route to Jerusalem many centuries ago. I have to admit that I was quite fascinated by the legend of a stone face on the outer wall that had a story of luck and a challenge to climb on its head without ones shirt.
(The Franciscan Monastery is the one with the tower and central courtyard above)
(I remember I had to look for the Maskeron once I got to Dubrovnik and make a wish. However once there I was told one had to take of my shirt while standing on its head for good luck to happen. Err…ummm)
CATHEDRAL OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN: Built and rebuilt a couple of times, its treasury has many valuable church vessels made by goldsmiths of Dubrovnik from 500-600 years ago. It also has several paintings of value made by different Venetian artists. I did sit here for quite a while on my last day in the town away from the bustling streets.
CHURCH OF ST. BLAISE (CRKVA SV. VLAHA): Destroyed in the fire, this was rebuilt in the 18th Century under the aegis of Venetian architect Marino Gropelli who modeled it on the Venetian church of St. Mauritius. Colored marble at the altar, the Gothic statue of St. Blaise in gilt silver and its rich ornamentation on the façade is a beautiful contrast to the simplicity of the homes.
(A martyr from the 4th Century, St. Silvan is seen here with a slit in his throat. And while it is claimed that his body is incorruptible, to me he looked very much like he was created from wax or some such thing)
You can also visit the Sinagoga and Džamija (Mosque) when here. All 3 religions in one tiny town.
PALACES & MUSEUMS
RECTOR’S PALACE & MUSEUM (KNEŽEV DVOR & MUZEJ): Again reconstructed many times over, this palace is now where the History Department of the Museum of Dubrovnik sits. A Baroque flight of stairs in the atrium, rococo ornamentation for the stand with the bell, large biforas as windows makes it still a beautiful piece of architecture despite the many changing styles.
(Capitals on the columns of the Rector’s Palace show small naked boys and girls as angels to cue absolute honesty and transparency. Naked, as they have nothing to hide)
(Statue of Marin Držić, Croatian playwright and known for his comedies and take on the social state in the 16th Century. Let’s say he is considered the Shakespeare of that land. People rub his nose for luck hence the yellow metal shines through)
SPONZA PALACE (PALAČA SPONZA): I was relieved to know that this palace was one structure that had preserved its original Gothic-Rennaisance style from pre-17th Century. At the time of the Republic this was where the most important officers who ran the affairs of state sat. Since trade was its lifeline the customs office, mint, treasury and even the bank was housed in the building. Today it is the Archive and preserver of documents that date back to the 12th Century.
RUPE ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUM: You are likely to miss it if you do not look closely while walking through Ulica od Rupa (Street name). I have to admit I expected stories from over 700 years atleast but really found the social life & practices linked to agriculture, clothing and basic exhibits about equipment used in farming over the last 200 years or so.
It is housed in a former granary hence the unusual shape inside. I got mildly excited on seeing the ethnic costumes and discovered later from a poster near the Church of St. Blaise that there is a folk dance show on specific days, which of course I missed this time.
I also missed seeing the Gallery of Fine Arts which has paintings from local Croatian artists from the 19th and 20th Century. Realized I truly needed minimum a week to savor this city.
∞ TASTES ∞
Vegetarian and thriving in the sea loving Dubrovnik, is how I’d like to describe my foodventure. While you can’t ofcourse take a food tour, here are 3 places where I enjoyed my meal. Not to forget the daily dose of ice cream to soften the summer Sun.
NISHTA – VEGAN & YUMMY: Had scribbled this in before I left for my holiday. They are tiny with limited seats so book in advance. I really like how they had different menus for each day of the week. Just that the day I was there it was lentil based with an Indian spread so I opted for the à la carte. Here is where I was coaxed to have the local drink Rakhija (pronounced Ra-khi-ya). Loved the hospitality
ABOVE 5 – ROOFTOP OF HOTEL STARI GRAD: I was staying in their hotel, but reservations can be done for lunch or dinner by any traveler to the land. I would strongly recommend eating here though the vegetarian fare is very limited but absolutely delicious. The biggest draw for me was the view from the rooftop as you eat. I caught the sunset as the red of the sky melted into the reddish orange tiles of the town
(This was just the tease. It was in the soups & starters serving and was yumm-i-licious)
MEX CANTINA: Clearly not Croatian food, but for a veggie Mexican food is also safe and varied. The menu had tons of options and the serving was large. Filled me up for lunch and the mid evening snack too.
My ice cream every day came from a place that became a favorite called Peppino’s. I totally like that if you are confused about the flavor you want you just have to roll a large wheel and whatever shows on that, shows up on your cone. Fun. Then there is the Dubrovnik Beer Co. a craft brewery in Gruz, just a few minutes away by car. Also I’d highly recommend a place within the old town for some cool glugs, that caught my attention during the city wall walk. Its called Buza Bar and is close to the harbor.
(Can you spot the Buza Bar?)
∞ DISCOVERIES ∞
LOCAL WEAVES/JEWELERY – KOKULA ART & CRAFT SHOP
I walked into this store on impulse just because I loved the cuteness of the dolls outside. And when I met Marija Rilovic I merely chatted up about the quality, patterns used and of course the way I wanted the gift wrapped. A glance at a few typical embroidered pieces got me wondering as they were colorful, beautiful and seemed intricate.
What a pleasure to realize that these creations were handmade and a tradition that has come down generations from grand mom to Marija, the grand daughter. They were special as the tradition of wearing any of these fabrics in any form today, is restricted to weddings & other festivities. What’s lovely is that the store also has many creations by local artists that are personalized souvenirs to take back home
INNER STREETS REVEAL ART POP UPS
In my determined exploration of the old town I found my way through many narrow streets that led me to one-off sellers of the famous Croatian lace, an artists open air studio, homes and families of locals. It was refreshing to be in the midst of the residents finally and while they kept to themselves they were people who have been here through generations. I was told to look out for homes with a clothesline. That’s the way to identify a local home.
(I first saw the gallery glistening with underwater life captured on canvas, then figured it was the work of former sea captain, Stjepko Mamic)
MARITIME TRADING/DEFENSES – WALK AROUND THE CITY WALLS
My biggest most awesome find as a lover of all things visual were the nooks and crannies of the city from the rooftop and city walls. The rooftop view I got from the many runs up and down at my hotel in the early morning & late evening hours were lovely. The most gorgeous view though was from the walk around the walls which is a must do and best done the moment the gates open. Vantage points give you the most stunning pictures for sure, but it’s the story about the town that will fill you up with wonder.
(View of the Lovrijenac Fortress (St. Lawrence Fortress) where much of the GOT shots were filmed. Seen here from the Bakor Fortress. Of course in the 14th Century it served as the strongest defense against threat from land and sea. In its entrance is written, ‘Freedom is not sold for all the gold in the world’)
Here’s where I discovered that the Republic had a powerful fleet of ships, had what they call their embassies in far away lands as a part of their trade routes, came to Goa too in India and was in the business of ship building
PHOTO VIEW ADVANTAGE
A tiny hike for around 20 mins gets you to the vantage point for a fabulous view of Dubrovnik old harbour. It’s a pleasant surprise to see the city & the sea from the Eastern side and for me was a must not miss.
(A final capture of this beautiful old town. I took many shots over two days and while another picture is on a well lit sunny day, I loved getting the Game of Thrones (tour) boat here. Looks almost medieval)
WHERE TO STAY
I chose to stay inside the old town in hotels. You have of course a choice just outside with a beautiful view of the sea in plush hotels, Airbnbs and even in the neighboring areas that are connected by bus
INSIDE OLD TOWN: Hotel Stari Grad & Hotel Pucic Palace (Luxury)
NEXT TO OLD TOWN: Hotel Hilton Imperial is just outside. Hotel Excelsior & Grand Villa Argentina is in Ploče, a small walk ahead of the entrance to the cable car. They have a view of the Adriatic and the old city from a distance
I will be writing real soon about the hotel I enjoyed my stay in most. Called Hotel Stari Grad (means Old town incidentally) it has the best views of the city and a very hospitable team
Most think Croatia is all about sandy, beautiful beaches, unforgettable food, long drives and even with Dubrovnik, Game of Thrones. Well as we’ve seen recently it also has a wild card entry with their crackling football team. But more than anything their history that’s full of back stories makes the land totally delightful. Dubrovnik was my first tryst with the Colors of Croatia. I would say hit the road if you ever get there. The entire land will whet your visual appetite. I am still lost in a shade of tangerine. Or was it amber?!!
(If you enjoyed the pictures here, drop by my Pebblewalks Instagram page and join me as I tell you many visual stories from my travels, long and short)3