There’s a painting hanging on my bedroom wall that makes me smile every day.
No matter how tired or fed-up I might be feeling a quick glimpse at it has an instantly calming effect .
It’s really just a series of orange and blue blobs, but the scene it captures so perfectly is this –Dubrovnik in all its glory – one of the best cities I’ve ever visited, on one of the best holidays I’ve ever had…
It’s almost 18 months since we went to Croatia and I’m fairly sure there’s not a day gone by since that my husband and I haven’t discussed plans for our return.
Our decision to go there was pretty spur-of-the-moment, we’d originally been planning a road trip along the east coast of America, but soon realised that funds weren’t going to allow it. Instead we wanted an affordable European holiday, but somewhere a bit different. A friend recommended Croatia and as soon as I started looking in to it I knew it was the one.
We decided we’d fly in and out of Dubrovnik but also spend time on one of the many islands dotted along the country’s coast. After several hours spent looking up accommodation on TripAdvisor I was confident I’d got us the best deals possible. Hotels in Dubrovnik are very expensive, and most are some distance from the Old Town, which is where you really want to be.
The preferred option is to rent a self-catering apartment, of which there is no shortage. Much, much cheaper and closer to the heart of the action, you can almost pretend you are a resident of the city.
Ours was pretty small and basic, but with a view like this I wouldn’t have swapped it for the world.
Just metres from the Ploce Gate entrance to the Old Town it was the perfect location and before long we were exploring the cobbled streets and alleyways.
We ate dinner that night at one of the restaurants along the harbour side. Watching the twinkling lights of the boats bobbing in the water I tucked in to a seafood special – mussels, clams, squid and prawns, served in a copper pan and drizzled with garlic butter. It was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever eaten – and we went on to eat amazingly every single night.
Croatia’s proximity to Italy is evident in much of its cuisine, but as well as beautiful handmade pizzas and spaghetti, we also ate amazing steaks, and one of the best meals we had was at a Bosnian restaurant, tucked away down a back alley in Dubrovnik. Bizarrely, it’s called Taj Mahal, but there’s no chicken korma in sight and it’s definitely worth seeking out if you’re ever in the city.
Our days in Dubrovnik were spent getting lost in the tiny streets of the Old Town, browsing the shops and stopping off to sit and watch the world go by in pavement cafes.
A prime spot for people watching is the Stradun, the main street, which runs from one side of the Old Town to the other. Its limestone paving slabs have become so worn by millions of feet over the years that they glisten in the sun.
There are also numerous historic buildings and churches to explore, as well as museums documenting the city’s bloody history. It’s hard to believe that it is only just over 20 years ago that it was gripped by civil war. Many ancient buildings still bear the scars of the shelling, and there’s a fascinating map near the Ploce Gate which shows just how many buildings were affected.
A must-do while in Dubrovnik is a walk along the city’s ancient walls. The views across the rooftops are spectacular and it’s the perfect vantage point for holiday snaps. My only slight word of warning would be not to do it in the afternoon when it can get extremely busy. Dubrovnik is a popular stop-off for cruise ships and from lunchtime onwards the Old Town fills with thousands of people. By 4pm – 5pm things have calmed down and the temperature is much cooler.
We found the best thing to do was take refuge in one of the many cafes or restaurants for a leisurely lunch, or take the 5 minute boat trip over to the neighbouring island of Lokrum (which you can see in the first picture). The island is uninhabited and is a little oasis of calm, with botanical gardens and a freshwater lake, where we enjoyed soaking up the sun away from all the madness.
The second part of our trip was spent on the island of Hvar. It took a day’s travelling from Dubrovnik to get there (bus from Dubrovnik to Split, and then ferry from Split to Hvar) but was well worth it.
It’s one of Croatia’s bigger islands and is a favourite of the rich and famous who moor their ridiculously expensive yachts in the marina. It is also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
This picture shows the view of Hvar Town and the harbour from the surrounding hillsides.
The harbour is flanked by expensive bars and restaurants, while the side streets are full of craft and gift shops, and even more places to eat. We chose a restaurant that looked rather inconspicuous from the front but were led out in to a courtyard at the back which was full of orange trees and fairy lights. Amazing.
The next day we hired a car and took a tour of the island. But not just any old car. Hvar is such a cool place that there’s no Fiat Puntos or Ford Kas on offer here, just old convertible VW Beetles, or whatever this thing is that we hired…it was described as a ‘sunny car’, and that’s all I need to know.
As you can see from the background, the landscape in Hvar is absolutely breathtaking.
I can’t write about it without getting all poetic about the hillsides flanked with lavender and the heady scent filling the air, so just take a look at these pictures…..I think they say it all….