The scenery around this spectacular area starts well before you even get off the plane. If you’re flying in any time during the day you’re in for a treat as you’ll be greeted with insane views of glistening aqua sea inlets amidst the mountainous terrain. My guess is that travelling anywhere along the Adriatic coast will provide stunning views and aqua sea but there is something special about Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik town is about half an hour from the airport by car and well, it’s one of the most scenic half hour commutes you’ll ever do. The town itself is nestled within the castle walls built between the 12th and 14th century to protect the country from invasions. We were filled in on the history of the town by our taxi driver, a local man and a serious patriot to say the least. The man had served time in the army – fighting to defend Croatia in 1991 and showed us where missiles had been dropped beside his former primary school when we drove by. Some of his chat was hard to decipher – a combination of broken English and a thick slavic accent, but one thing that stood out for me was his comment referring to the castle walls surrounding the town – “Once the bridge is closed, nobody get in and nobody get out.” This was said with every ounce of seriousness and you could sense the man’s pride, and that the city’s protection was still extremely important to him.
1991 wasn’t that long ago at all and nowadays the town’s walls are viewed by the outside world as a tourist attraction, yet I got the impression from both listening to the taxi driver and a couple of other locals throughout the week, that the walls mean a lot more than that to them. They’re still very much a security for their prized gem of a town. Looking around the stunning area it was hard to imagine the place shelled and and attacked by the Serbs not so long ago.
Dubrovnik Old Town
As you can probably tell from a quick google image search of Dubrovnik old town, it literally feels like you’re stepping back in time once inside the walls. The beauty of the town is that it’s untouched, it hasn’t been ruined, it’s not commercialised and it’s fair to say it holds a bit of a magical atmosphere. It reminded me of my recent travel to Venice in many ways with the narrow side streets littered in character and an undeniable romantic / enchanted feel about the place.
The Main Square
In some parts, particularly near where the giant clock tower is, there was also a slight Western Bank / Israeli type feel off it with the tall cream walls and the pristine tiles on the ground. For whatever reason, there are ice cream parlours around every corner and there’s consistently a great buzz around the town at night time, especially down at the pier.
Things to do in Dubrovnik
Things to do here range from chilling all day at one of the beaches, walking on top of the city walls, exploring the narrow winding streets or sit around and watch the world go by over a coffee. The best thing however in my opinion is getting a cable car up to the top of Mount Srd. This amenity provides breathtaking panoramic views of the city plus you can wander around Fort Imperial which sits atop of Mount Srd and dates back to the 19th century.
During the trip, a nearby harbour town by the name of Cavtat came highly recommended. It is 30 minutes by public bus and is an absolute must. The town’s harbour is lined with impressive looking yachts and boats and the sparkliest aqua sea you will ever see. If you decide to venture past the harbour and restaurants and up the hill, you can drool over some of the summer houses belonging to some of Croatia’s wealthy families. To be frank, walking around the place is like walking around a real life Instagram filter. The place is B-E-A-utiful. Taxi boats run every hour from Cavtat back to Dubrovnik pier for 74 Croatian kuna (roughly ten Euro) and this again is a must do, the views are out of this world and it’s the cherry on the cake to finish off the day.
As Dubrovnik is right down the southern tip of Croatia it’s extremely near to both the Montenegro border and the Bosnia & Herzegovina border, countries that were all previous members of the former Yugoslavia. Making the most of this, I did a day trip to Montenegro, which encompassed the towns of Perast, Kotor and Budva.
Perast is a small village located on a land inlet at the banks of the bay of Kotor and is famous for its “Our Lady of the Rocks Shrine” which holds the tale that 2 fisherman saw a visionary of Mary on the rock. I wouldn’t consider myself the most religious of people but after getting a small boat out to the shrine and taking in the scenes, it leaves you with an uplifting feeling I can’t quite describe.
Kotor is again an old Medieval town built within the castles’ walls and houses several old churches (Orthodox and Catholic) and an ancient clock tower. It’s the type of place that’s ideal for strolling around and sipping on a coffee. When I was there it was touching on 36 degrees so I was happy to sit in the shade with a cold drink.
The last stop was Budva which is a combination of the old, original walled town on one side and a sprawling, relatively built up, modern city to the other, with sky rise blocks dotted around in no particular order. The tour guide informed us that the city’s image has been changed and tampered with due to wealthy foreigners exploiting the area and building sky rise blocks. The planning laws are weak due to corruption in the country and the city definitely has an “up and coming” feel to it. Down near the beach there are beach clubs and bars with a huge promenade lined with balmy palm trees. The wealth is evident and the beach area oozed Miami / Florida type vibes, not typical vibes I would have associated with an Eastern European country.
Montenegro in summary
I recently read a Lonely Planet post about Montenegro and a line from it really hit home – “If all the world’s a stage, then Montenegro struts upon it, continuously playing out the most dramatic act.” For a country with a 20% unemployment rate and the victim of negative untrue associations people tend to make about “Eastern European” countries, Montenegro really blew me away. The country is simply a lesser known hidden gem and I think that’s what adds to its charm.