Dubrovnik – Undeniably Beautiful

Dubrovnik is beautiful.

That’s evident from the moment you step over the drawbridge across the (now dry) moat and through the Pile gate watched over by a benevolent Saint Blaise, onto the gleaming promenade: the Stradun. It’s 16th century limestone paving worn so smooth, it could be mistaken for marble.

Along the length of the main thoroughfare that was once a water channel bisecting mainland Dubrovnik from the Roman island of Ragusium, an eclectic array of religious structures ranging from the Baroque to the Neoclassical, vie for attention with bustling, touristy cafes.

An orderly grid of narrow alleys, tightly packed with three storey stone buildings, slopes down towards the Adriatic in one direction and climbs steeply up the hillside on the other. Forming a most picturesque cluster of terracotta roofs that makes for breathtaking panoramas from high ground.

Dubrovnik - View from Srd hill
Dubrovnik: Birds eye view
DSC_6558 copy
The Stradun after dark
DSC_6540 copy
The church of Saint Blaise. The Rector’s palace on the left was closed for restoration. At the far end is the Roman Catholic Assumption Cathedral

But the beauty feels strangely unreal.

The onus of catapulting this once obscure Dalmatian port onto the world tourist map, and in the process, transforming its character and demographics, lies fully with the location scouts for Star Wars and Game of Thrones. With more than 80% of its residential buildings converted to tourist rentals and with just about 300 permanent residents within the walls, it now has the feel of a museum rather than a living city. A movie set awaiting a call to action. Nearly every single business (within the old town walls) caters to visitors.

So should you go? Of course you should. Dubrovnik is Croatia’s star destination for a reason. And once you get over the feeling of having stepped into a fantasy set and learn to sidestep the cruise ship surge (even in early May!) there is a lot more to do than click selfies at key Game of Thrones locations.

DSC_6583 copy
Saint Blaise also watches over the Ploce gate.
DSC_6770 copy
As local as it can get in Dubrovnik. Children gather in Luza square late evening. Sponza Palace is beyond and the arched opening at right leads to Ploce gate.

The architecture – most reconstructed post a 1667 earthquake – reflects Dubrovnik’s importance as a trading port rivalling those of Venice and Genoa, during its time as the Republic of Ragusa. And the wily diplomatic skills that helped thwart seiges and maintain relative independence for four whole centuries, even while it changed hands from Byzantine, to Ottoman, to Austro Hungarian and to the Venetian republic, before its eventual fall in the early nineteenth century to victorious French forces.

Nearly half of those historic buildings suffered serious damage when Dubrovnik’s capacity to withstand sieges was put to the test once again in 1991 – despite the fact that it was already designated a UNESCO Heritage site – by the (mostly Serbian) Yugoslav People’s Army, opposing Croatia’s secession from erstwhile Yugoslavia. Dubrovnik prevailed yet again.

The physical scars of what is now termed the ‘Homeland War’, have been patched up to strict UNESCO guidelines. The loss to life is commemorated in a moving audio visual display within the Sponza Palace at one end of the Stradun, and in the museum up on Srd hill.

The sight of a young girl shedding quiet tears before a movie clip of the shelling is a startling reminder of that all too recent conflict, whose emotional scars are yet to be relegated to the dim realm of history.

Dubrovnik: War damage
A post war image of the Stradun by Romano Cagnoni (Photo credit: romanocagnoni.com/gallery/darkness/
Dubrovnik - Stradun
The restored Stradun today
Dubrovnik view
Restored rooftops and Lokrum island beyond.

The Franciscan monastery is a stand out among the many wonderful religious structures, with its well preserved cloister and the adjacent pharmacy said to be the third oldest functioning pharmacy in the world.

If you like art, Vlaho Bukovac’s exquisite paintings in the Museum of Moden Art are unmissable. (I cannot imagine why I hadn’t heard of him or of Ivan Meštrović, another renowned Croatian sculptor/architect, or seen any of their work before!) Then there is the Judean history in the city’s lone synagogue, as poignant as the story of the Jews of Calcutta or the Armenians of Madras.

Beach buffs can hop across on a ferry to Lokrum, the little islet just off the coast or to any of the other larger outlying islands. We ditch our plans to visit Korcula because the logistics are complicated, and we in our slow(er) travel mode, are too lazy to make the effort.

DSC_7337 copy
From the terrace of the Museum of Modern Art!
DSC_7439 copy
We chance upon the fabulous “Lake Collection of Picasso Ceramics” at the Saint Clare Monastery.

We do however cross the border to spend a night in Kotor. An easy detour that is somewhat marred by bad weather, but is still an enchanting teaser for a future visit to Montenegro*. A whole afternoon of incessant rain on our return, clears the streets of tour groups, giving us a glimpse of what Dubrovnik must have been like a decade ago.

It helps to have a ‘home’ within the walls that one can escape to easily when the crowds got too unbearable or the weather too wet. And to toddle down those magically claustrophobic alleys anytime we please, looking for yet another fresh plate of seafood. Strangely though, our food highlights are both vegetarian: a vegan starter named Twister (meatballs made of eggplant and rice served with zucchini spaghetti and date sauce!) in Nishta, around the corner from our apartment, and a pricier, pizza-like truffle and burrata in Gil’s, just off the Stradun.

DSC_7535 copy
My favourite of a hundred shots of these steep alleys

To truly appreciate the city and its renaissance planners, you need to go above and beyond the city walls. Walk the entire length of the massive fortification on a sunny afternoon. Drink in the birds eye view from the cafe on top of Srd hill. Or enjoy a late picnic on the rocks bordering a deserted Baja beach (beyond the Ploce gate at the far end of the Stradun), watching darkness descend over that magical skyline in utter, unexpected silence, save for the rhythmic lap of waves at your feet.

DSC_6639 copy copy
View from the wall
Dubrovnik cable car
Panorama from Srd hill accessed by cable car or by foot. It is possible to drive up as well.
DSC_7162 copy
Lovrijenac fort viewed from Srd hill.
DSC_7624 copy
View from our picnic spot on our final evening.

 

*Indian citizens considering a visit to Montenegro from Croatia need to apply for separate Montenegro visas unless you hold valid US visas. Bosnia Herzegovina on the other hand does not recognise US papers (for Indians), but will allow short stays on multiple-entry Croatian visas. The embassy took its own sweet time to respond to my query, or we would have fitted in a night in Mostar enroute to Split.

Disclaimer: Our stay in Dubrovnik was hosted by Airbnb.

 

Posted by

Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

49 thoughts on “Dubrovnik – Undeniably Beautiful

  1. What a delight to revisit Dubrovnik through your eyes and your lens: those terra cotta roofs and the blue sea. I particularly love the night time shot of the Stradun and the perfect shot of the steep alley. You also brought back lovely memories of a ramble round Lokrum. Can I ask how much you plan before you visit a place, and how much you just nose out once you arrive? I’m trying to develop the perfect strategy for a four-day stay in a totally unknown place, so I don’t leave regretting what I miss!

    1. Thank you Meg. Glad this brought back fond memories.

      Normally, I plan down to the minutest detail! This trip was unplanned and I hastily put together an itinerary based on our daughter’s from a few years earlier. Looking back we feel we could have fitted in a lot more than we did in our 13 days in Croatia – an average tourist itinerary covers the entire Balkan region in less time – but we are beginning to enjoy the slower pace, with a lot more eating and drinking and lingering 🙂

      1. Thanks. I’m finding summer’s good. I can be out for a few hours early, return for breakfast, go out again and then doze before a third adventure. I packed. A heap into four days in Gdańsk, but still have a list a mile long of things I wish I’d done. In Dubrovnik I was a bit away from the city centre and that used up valuable time.

  2. We had a day in Dubrovnik via cruise ship. A spectacular place – but your stay was better because yours was longer … plus you’ve captured it so well in this post. Love the night pics … after all, I didn’t get to see that.

    1. Thank you dear Frank! Staying the night does gives one a better perspective of a place than rushing in and out on a daytrip. But it also involves more juggling of time and logistics as opposed to the freedom of a cruise/tour.

      1. We governed out time there, but it was still too short … .then again, that’s a downside of cruising … Nonetheless, we’re glad to visit this gem.

  3. I love the views over the rooftops and the steep alley image is fabulous. I don’t think I’d want to climb up or go down either though. It seems a pity that hardly any locals live there, the world has gone crazy hasn’t it? How does Croatia rank in all the places you’ve been Madhu?

    1. That alley shot is my favourite too Gilly. Our apartment was thankfully located closer to the flat part of town. But you should know that none of the rentals within the walls have elevators, so if you do go, you will need to confirm your apartment is housed in a lower floor.

      Croatia – even without having visited the Istrian coast – ranks very high on visual appeal. But as a package, I much preferred the Basque region in Europe and find more inspiration (as a blogger) in gritty Asian destinations! Myanmar and even just four days in our dirty, smoggy capital have each inspired over half a dozen posts while I struggle to churn out one for each of these gorgeous cities! 🙂

    1. The entire country is visually stunning Sue and considerably cheaper than the rest of Europe.Hope you get there soon 🙂

  4. The stradun after dark was my fav of the pics – but all so nice and five a feel for this place – would love to visit Croatia some year – hope u have a nice well m- peace

  5. Your photos are beautiful as always, Madhu, but I especially love the night shots. We were there so many years ago (pre-war) and so a much quieter place. Cruise ships. Sacrilege! I can still see the glint of sunlight on the Stradun and feel the heat on those city walls if I close my eyes. 🙂

    1. Thanks muchly dear Jo. I imagine there were more local people as well. Pre-war is about the time I visited London! 🙂

  6. Wonderful photos Madhu, especially the one of the steep alley – fabulous shot! I think Dubrovnik just made our endless list, even if it is a museum city. It looks thoroughly captivating.
    Alison

    1. Ha, that endless list! Just to stretch it a bit more, Zadar was our favourite of the Dalmatian cities we visited, although it was far less striking visually. Post coming up…hopefully soon 🙂 Thank you very much for your visit and lovely comment Alison.

    1. The architecture is beautiful, but Croatia is more about stunning panoramas Sha. The pristine coastline coupled with medieval cities against mountain backdrops make for some major visual spectacles.

Let me know what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.