I wonder whether we are typical travelers (and what the difference is between a traveler and a tourist?). I like to think we are untypical but really I’m not sure. We are definitely not culture vultures and you won’t find us sniffing around museums or old ruins (so if you want a history lesson you may need to read elsewhere, and there are a million guidebooks which talk about places we visit or have been). However, we are also not tourists. I can only believe that in the major cities we visit that the numerous shops selling the same tourist tat are there because there is demand (standard capitalist economics), if there was not demand they would not exist (or is there some mind game going on that we actually buy what they decide to sell us?). Anyway we (mostly) shy away from that.
So I think we are travelers who are seeking a degree of authenticity but happy also to look at the ‘top ten list’ of things to see and do. We read travel guides and trip advisor and pick and choose from there. We may wander off the beaten track (and we find you don’t have to be too far off that path to get away from the crowds) but we’re also happy to benefit from the research of the many that have trodden the path before us.
For us therefore, when we go to a new place it’s about how it feels, and particularly whether it has that authenticity.
Our destination for this long weekend trip is Dubrovnik.
Badly damaged in the conflicts which followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s Dubrovnik was rebuilt and restored. It is a major Mediterranean destination with several cruise ships arriving weekly and therein lies one of the key dilemma of modern tourism. What to do when the number of perceived safe tourist destinations is reducing? When you can no longer rely on safe travel in northern Africa and Turkey, where do those people go? Answer. They head for the Med!
Let’s get this out of the way. Dubrovnik is crowded. Ok, we are here at the beginning of summer but the old town (the main reason for being here) is seriously packed. The 45 minute ‘must do’ walk around the city walls is less crowded, probably because of the up and downs and general poor accessibility, and actually very good value for money (150kn or about €20). The walls give a good perspective both of the City (including hints therefore on where to head once you’ve finished the walk), of the surrounding landscape as well as the view out to sea. Our advice is to either go very early in the morning before the cruise ships arrive or in the evening after they have gone. Oh and when we were there it was 30 plus degrees so take plenty of water and a mopping towel!
For me, inside the city walls has a feeling similar to Venice (without the water) with lots of narrow streets, tall thin buildings and seemingly tiny restaurants. Those tiny restaurants are not always as small as they appear. We stopped for an iced coffee and a coke (€8 including tip) and when I asked for the bathroom was directed to the third floor! Unlike Venice there seems to be a range of good quality restaurants at reasonable prices. We had dinner at Dubravka 1836 Restaurant which sits just outside the city walls and serves a range of simple but tasty local dishes (mostly fish based). It’s possible to stay inside the city walls but based on the views of some travelers we met, not to be recommended as the crowds make the whole experience tiresome.
I like the city and in the evening it’s much more pleasant than our first visit earlier in the day.
Having traveled a lot on business I find it incredibly difficult to pick hotels for private travel and this was no exception. Given its position Dubrovnik has lots of hotels facing the ocean (and if you come here you MUST have a room facing the ocean as everything else faces the road!). There are a number of attractive (and expensive) hotels and a lot of fantastic looking (in the pictures at least) unpleasant hotels. Based on reviews on TripAdvisor, we finally settled on the Hotel Dubrovnik Palace which is out on a peninsula about a 20 minute bus ride from downtown but really nice, refurbished and very modern with spectacular ocean views, friendly staff and a great breakfast. It’s not cheap but we liked it a lot. I’ll emphasize again, you may be tempted to book a non-ocean view room because it will be around 20% cheaper but of the people we saw on the balconies of their non-ocean view rooms everyone was looking miserable. It will ruin your holiday so don’t be a cheapskate and don’t do it.
Once you’ve been to the old town, the other thing you’re going to want to do is go and discover some of the nearby islands. There are masses of tour companies offering trips and you really have two options. Either you take a private boat which will cost around €250 for the smallest boat (with a guide of course) or you take one of the mass market
boats which are considerably cheaper and fine if you don’t mind a bit of a crowd. We took an Elaphite Islands Tour which at €37 a head is decent value for money, especially as it includes a really rather tasty lunch. Just be warned, it is a long (we were out for around 8 hours in total) hot day visiting three islands (we visited Koločep, Šipan and Lopud) so you need to make sure you sit under cover on the boat, taking plenty of sunblock and be prepared to be sociable (we were lucky as we sat with three very well-traveled, articulate and interesting Americans). Interestingly, most people do not venture much further than 500 meters from where the boat docks, being happy to laze on the beach. And that’s fine. The islands all feel very similar with Lopod the exception, where, for the energetic, there is a fabulous walk to an old fort at the top of the island with some spectacular views and, joy upon joy, absolutely nobody there! We liked the trip but if sitting on the beach is your goal you might think about taking a ferry rather than signing up for an organized tour.
On our final day we decided to spend some time researching farther afield. First stop though was a drive to the top of the cable car station for a view of the old town. It’s a good use of the hire car as the tickets to the top in the cable car cost around €20 per person although the drive up is not for the nervous driver as the road is very narrow and allowing people past requires a trip into the undergrowth! Whichever way you decide to go it’s really an essential trip as the view from the top is amazing.
Our next destination was out of town and drive up the coast to the the Pelješac peninsula. it’s only just over 100km, but it’s a long trip as there are lots of stop off points and the road is mainly single twisty track which makes it especially slow particularly when following a campervan. Although it’s July, it’s really not very busy and I guess most people stay around Dubrovnik town. We head for Orebić which is toward the end of the peninsula and the ferry port for the short hop over to Korčula. We don’t have time for that today but it’s definitely something on the ‘to do’ list. It’s an interesting drive and has shown us that there is so much more to Croatia than just the coastal towns. The peninsula is packed with wineries, another reason to stop off and
again that’s something we’ll need to come back for. If you’re feeling energetic you can stop off in Ston along the way which has an amazing Hill Fort where you can walk for what looks like a few thousand steps. But as it’s 35 degrees we decide to give it a miss!
We’re at the end of our long weekend. Like many first time trips we’ve focused on the highlights and not spent a lot of time at the beach. We’ve really enjoyed it but it feels like we’ve missed a fair bit as some of the great places to visit are a little off the beaten track. The heat makes it difficult to spend too much time doing strenuous activity so next time we think we’ll drive with our own car earlier in the year! A highly recommended trip.