3 nights and 3 days in Dubrovnik on the Adriatic Sea… Dobra Dan!
For our two year anniversary we flew from London nonstop into the Dubrovnik Airport which is about a 25-30 minute drive from the Old City and only a 2.5 hour flight. We wanted some sun and sailing with old European charm… and found it! The water off of Croatia is a lovely clear blue and warm enough to spend an afternoon swimming around the coast’s rocky shores, full of caves and little fish to spy on when snorkeling. Croatia is really interesting. It’s come a long way in the years since the Croatian War of Independence, especially in attracting more tourists, but the evidence of the conflict remains. It’s odd seeing the sparkling water and peaceful hills spotted with ruined hotels on the coast. These have become tourist destinations in themselves, but we chose a more romantic trip full of late mornings and late nights, sun and swimming.
If you like being on the water, make sure to sail Dubrovnik. We did a half day on the water with the aptly named, Dubrovnik Sailing. Our skipper, Lovre, a 26 y/o Croatian who spent a year studying in West Virginia as a teenager, took us to around the Elaphiti (Greek for “Deer”) Islands. We jumped in for a swim by one of the islands where the water was crystal clear and a swimming cave allowed for us to snorkel into a nice wide open area where your feet could touch the ground. [Ed note: V did not go in the cave but still enjoyed swimming in the open water near it.] Highly recommend Lovre and his crew. There is nothing better than relaxing on a private sail boat with an expert guide with the sun shining and wind in your face.
There is a lovely beach near the sailing pickup that was calling our names, but since we only had a few days to explore we decided to grab a quick treat (Lemon sorbet on the promenade) and continue on to the Old City. If you do a half day sailing tour, we recommend sauntering off the boat and claiming a spot on the beach for the rest of the day.
In Dubrovnik, make sure to visit the Old City. You may recognize the wall and many of the sites as the set of King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. Enjoy walking along the maze of old streets, the restaurants all spilling onto the small passageways and their shaded seats offering a very nice reprieve from the heat. We visited in early September and the little clothing we had on still felt like too much.
You can’t miss the cable car with a view of the city from the top of Srd Hill. For ~$13 round trip you can get some okay photos (the cables were in the way for most of our shots) but it’s worth it for the IRL memories of seeing just how majestic this city sits on the azure waters of the Adriatic. We loved the contrast of the blue water and terra cotta rooftops from up above.
For great drinks and atmosphere, find your way to the Mala Buža Bar – our absolute most favorite thing to do in the Old City – a super cool bar on a small cliff overlooking sunbathers and cliff-divers on the outside of the wall. Bring your swimsuit and jump right in for great views of the islands and the Old City wall (aka the best way to get a sense of the walls without paying to walk around them). The European saxophone-house music was on point and the sunset from the bar was one of the best we saw. Friendly staff, ability to jump into the sea and reasonably priced drinks = a huge win/win for us. Gin & tonics were standard and cooling and their local beer, Karlovačko, was light and refreshingly bitter. Plus be entertained by Europeans not shy about changing into their birthday suits in front of you and little cats lounging in the sun.
Food & Wine: We ate only once in the Old City at Posat, where the prices were like Disneyland and the quality nothing worth writing home about. We’d been warned about this by a few friends who had visited about poor price to value in Dubrovnik.The service was a bit over the top but good for special occasions. They greeted us “Welcome, good evening” and every time the waiter spoke to V, they addressed her as “Lady.” While it was cool when they came out with a platter showcasing their fresh seafood, you should avoid the “Whole Fish” fresh catch option if you find yourself dining at any of Dubrovnik’s hot spots… unless you want to overpay for simple (albeit delicious) Grilled Fish. We paid 550 Kuna at Posat per KG, or roughly $80, for a fish for two. The portions definitely didn’t seem to match the price we paid either. It was our first night in town so we opted for the glass of Prosecco to start (you can never go wrong with starting off with bubbly) and then ordered a bottle of French Pouilly Fume – you will pay for imported wine but after trying the local white wine earlier in the day we felt that at these prices we might as well suck it up. And oui, it was delicious.
In Mlini across from the Sheraton, we also dined at the new Ruz Marin one evening across from the property where our waiter was quite friendly but service slow (the place was understaffed). We ordered a whole fresh fish here, prepared table-side, which at 400 Kruna/KG was 20%+ less than Dubrovnik and of comparable quality though still quite expensive. You see the theme here. We did go with some Croatian wine – and you know… it’s not bad. It’s just very distinct. The white wine here tastes chalky since everything is limestone. We enjoyed the bottle, we just wouldn’t want a lot. Which is tough, when that’s all that is on the menus everywhere! 🙂
What we would do differently: In Dubrovnik, we really liked staying on the Riviera and would probably try the Radisson next time to get the beach view but add in more dining options on site. You honestly only need a half day to tour the old city and we’d recommend spending more time in cute towns like Ston (30 minutes up the road) and also enjoy sunning views of the surrounding area as you drive around. In Ston you can grab fresh out of the water oysters (see above)and walk on an Ancient Wall known as the “European Wall of China” spanning some 7 miles (see view below). Ston has lovely old homes and a Salt Works facility dating back to the Ottoman Empire and still used today to produce Artisan Sea Salt. We did not do the tour, but we did get a photo. 🙂 And for anyone crazy enough to attempt this, there is a marathon along the wall in Stone which looks like a death trap to us but to each his own!
Hotel: We opted to stay at The Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera, a 1 year old architecturally beautiful hotel on the Dubrovnik Riviera in Mlini. As Starwood Gold Members, it also was our best option to go with one of our go-to loyalty options. With beautiful views of the mountains and Adriatic from Sea facing windows, the hotel offers a lot of promise but still has a few growing pains. There’s also not much to see in Mlini immediately around the hotel and Dubrovnik is a 15 minute cab or Uber ride, costing 150 Kruna (Roughly 100 Kuna to $15 at the time of writing) from the hotel or around 80 Kruna from Uber, so factor that into your decision to go Riviera vs Old Town. The food was fairly limited at the hotel and there was only one decent restaurant within walking distance but the rooms were very comfortable and modern and the house keeping excellent. Make sure to request a King Size Bed in advance or you might end up with two European doubles if traveling as a couple.
As mentioned, the Sheraton was “meh” when it came to dining options. The buffet breakfast was extensive and pretty good but at $20+ per person, avoidable. With only one forgettable restaurant on property serving the same menu for lunch and dinner, we wouldn’t recommend this for foodies at all.
Car Rental: We flew in and out of Dubrovnik, and rented a car to drive the 3.5 hour coastal and mountain route to Split. Prepare to wait a bit for your vehicle as the queues get hectic and the stalls for servicing customers are small. We went with Sixt as they had Audi’s for the prices of economy cars at Enterprise and ended up with a great A4 to tour Croatia. The main roads were very safe and well maintained although anyone with a a fear of heights should be cautioned: the roads are VERY high.
You can’t go to Croatia without seeing Dubrovnik and traveling around the country by car is easy. DO it. Explore. Sail. Get some freckles. Invite us. 🙂
And now, off to Split!