Dubrovnik is so beautiful that it is almost impossible to describe its sophistication and uniqueness. This amazing town is rightly described as the “pearl of the Adriatic”. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and offers a fascinating history, stunning Venetian architecture, wonderful streets, town squares and alleyways in which to stroll and stop to enjoy a meal or a coffee, museums and cultural events, a fine choice of restaurants and a vibrant nightlife, all within a setting of exceptional beauty.
The city is dominated by its great walls and fortifications which incorporate several large castles. The walls are open to the public and a walk around them is an essential element of any trip to Dubrovnik. The view from the high wall above the town, over the red tiled rooftops of the ancient city and beyond to the blue Adriatic sea and the green island of Lokrum is an unforgettable image.
The car-free old town within the castle walls is packed with 17th century Venetian houses and renaissance palaces, the grandest of which line the main street Stradun, a most beautiful street packed with sightseers and shoppers, in daily sunshine or throughout warm summer nights. The Franciscan and Dominican monasteries with their cool cloisters are important landmarks as well as the “clock” at one end of Stradun, which is a meeting place for the local people.
Just offshore from the Old Town is the island of Lokrum, a peaceful wooded island where generations of Dubrovnik residents have gone to relax and swim. There are regular ferries from the harbour to the island. Dubrovnik itself has very good beaches, just outside the city walls.
Dubrovnik today extends well beyond the old town and incorporates Gruz, a large natural harbour where cruise ships and large yachts tie up at the quays. The Dubrovnik noblemen of the 16th and 17th centuries built their summer palaces on the shores of Gruz harbour and today these wonderful building form a part of a busy commercial centre with shops and markets.
The Lapad peninsula of Dubrovnik, just outside the medieval walls, contains many beaches with great swimming, and a mixture of excellent hotels and private villas in large Mediterranean gardens, stretching down to the sea shore.
From Dubrovnik ferry services run to the islands of Sipan, Lopud and Kolocep which will charm you with their unspoilt and authentic atmosphere of the slow pace of the Mediterranean life, incredibly lovely fishermen’s cottages and again the summer palaces which the Dubrovnik nobles built for themselves to enjoy cooler summers in their gardens by the sea.
Travelling south east from Dubrovnik on the mainland you will encounter the lovely villages of Mlini, Plat, Molunat and others, each with their stone cottages, luxury villas and lovely beaches. The small town of Cavtat, set in a sheltered bay, is particularly beautiful. All are popular tourist destinations.
Going north westwards, a magnificent coastal road takes you past the arboretum and, Mediterranean garden of the historic villa of Trsteno built between 1494 and 1502. Continuing along the coast road will take you to the peninsula of Peljesac. This long and rugged peninsula runs parallel to the mainland for 65 kilometres and is between 2 and 7 kilometres wide. It joined to the mainland by a narrow isthmus at its south east end. The Dubrovnik Republic acquired control over Peljesac in 1333 and proceeded to construct massive fortifications in the form of a 5.5 kilometre wall spanning the isthmus and circling the towns of Ston and Mali Ston that were constructed on the coast at either end of the wall. These are historic and picturesque fortified towns that were laid to a grid plan similar to Dubrovnik in the 14th and 15th centuries and today are immensely picturesque and famed for their restaurants and the local oysters.
From Prapratno (near Ston) a ferry runs to the island of Mljet, the most wooded of Croatia’s 1100 islands. Mljet is 30km long and only 3km wide. One third of the island is a national park that contains two lakes that are linked to each other and to the sea. In the centre of the large lake is an island with a Benedictine monastery first established in the 12th century and rebuilt in the Renaissance period. There are several excellent seafood restaurants in the village of Polace.
As you proceed up the Peljesac peninsula the many wineries add a further dimension to a visit to this region. Most are open to the public so you can stop and sample the highly regarded Dingac and Mali Plavac red wines. The pretty seaside villages of Zulijana, and Trpanj (also a ferry port for a shortcut back to the mainland), and the town of Orebic are charming. The latter with its famous captains’ houses is an important historic town and also the crossing point to the island of Korcula. Korcula town is one of the most picturesque Venetian island towns and the birth place of Marco Polo.
On the mainland itself after crossing a short stretch of Bosnia that extends all the way to the coast you re-enter Croatia to find a changed landscape. The coast road winds down into the lush green Neretva Delta where fresh oranges and other produce are sold from the road side. Continuing northwest the Makarska Riviera is a popular holiday destination and a crossing point to the island of Brac.
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