Sight: cypress trees, red shingles, vibrant sea spotted with islands
Sound: boat horns, open air cinemas, street vendors singing in local Croatian tongue
Smell: salty sea, lavender, sweat (from this weekend anyways)
Taste: fresh natural water, gelato, Dalmatian ham
Touch: soft stray kittens, limestone, knitted cotton
If there’s one sentence I could use to describe my weekend in Croatia, it would be “I’m sweating like a sinner in church.” But at least I wasn’t alone. Every. Single. Person. Seemed to be
glistening drenched from head to toe. I have never in my life known such unbearable heat, and I’ve lived in Florida for crying out loud! I found out later this Croatian heat wave made the international news, and now it makes sense why people were dropping like flies everywhere you looked – even one of my tour guides passed out mid sentence! I literally had to take 2 showers every day of my visit, so it was an experience to say the least. That being said, we can move on to the happier bits because the Old Town of Dubrovnik was truly enchanting in every sense of the word!
It started with the airport shuttle, which caravans fearlessly down twisty cliffside roads. An impeccable view of the Adriatic Sea awaits all travelers to the villages surrounding the Old Town. Confident cypress trees shot towards the sky as if to compete begrudgingly with the towering mountains adjacent. The bus took me straight to the Pile Gate (aka unavoidable tourist trap and main entrance to the wall-protected Old Town). My advice to you is to get the *@!% out of there the second you arrive. The mix of sweaty crowds, pushy excursion salesmen and constant bus dumps is something you just don’t want to compete with. Trust me.
I headed straight for my hotel in the neighboring village of Lapad , only 10 minutes away by local city bus. (Hint hint: this is the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to travel in this region!) I wanted an easy day by the sea, and Lapad has a lovely pebbled beach with white umbrellas and fruity cocktails. Sold! For dinner I made my way towards my hotel’s recommendation: Marianno. You would think I was on an all-protein diet the way I consumed their Dalmatian ham (aka delish Proscuitto) and Croatian beefsteak. Paired with a local Syrah and a dimming sun, it was just the kind of peaceful moment I needed.
The next morning, I had an early start as I wanted to beat the crowds to the ancient city walls. This is a MUST DO. I would go so far as to say don’t mess around with this anytime after 11am as the crowds are abundant and the sun unforgiving. Steep, narrow staircases built from pale white 8th century limestone lead you towards the clouds, and the view of King’s Landing (did I mention Game of Thrones is filmed here?) is enough to make one cry. Whether that’s from the heights or the panorama, who am I to judge? The shingled roofs throughout the city boast 50 shades of red, and it’s easy to see which ones have spanned centuries. Not long into the 2km journey, I began to see why Dubrovnik was an undefeatable fortress. As if the Adriatic Sea wasn’t enough protection, they even had a moat for good measure! The whole trip takes about 1-2 hours walking, and there are a few cute souvenir shops + water carts dotting the way. Here I nicked a few painterly postcards and ceramic tray to feed my addiction. You should also know there are 3 different entrances to the city walls, though I recommend starting at the Pile Gate since this will give you a final end view worth waiting for!
What I loved most about this walk was the variety of views – pale pink stucco peeling from old buildings, boldly painted shutters, colorful sailboats bobbing in the harbor and a flurry of banana-colored kayaks rowing towards paradise. As I descended right back where I started, I headed into the square for some refreshing water from Onofrio’s fountain. A 16-sided container with a cupola, I could finally check this item off the bucket list! I wandered the alleyways fully recharged, marveling at the churches and playing tourist at some of the shops along the Stradun (aka Main Street).
Not sure where to go for lunch, I consulted a local who recommended Marco Polo, a tiny little gem tucked in the middle of the city’s spiderweb-like grid. Easily one of the best pork bellys I have ever tasted, this mouthwatering delicacy was dusted with a light layer of panko bread crumbs, sitting upon a fusion of sauces that honestly mirrored the line at which the Baltic and North Sea meet. The bill is even presented in a scroll! Must. Go. Here.
Day 3 began with a much anticipated Game of Thrones Tour, which took me everywhere from the Red Keep to Little Finger’s brothel. Our tour guide was even an extra for some of the most important scenes of the entire series, so it was quite amazing to hear her stories about the cast and filming process. Luckily in real life, Jack Gleeson is a charming bloke, though of course every cast has their divas (no spoilers here since it kind of broke my heart). High point: reenacting the Walk of Shame, obviously. Low point: two people passing out from heat (including the tour guide!) I would highly recommend this tour to anyone that watches the show as it’s the perfect way to see the city. We wandered through places I never would have found otherwise!
Following another recommendation, I made the climb towards Lady Pi-Pi for a Croatian lunch. Don’t ask me how it’s name came to be, because judging by the statue out front, it is exactly what you think. Luckily I missed that on the way in! An open air restaurant with a terrace covered in grapevines, they grill your meal right in front of you. I decided to order cevapi, a sort of grilled pork sausage in small little links. Definitely exceeding my expectations, I savored every bite. I’m not a big seafood buff, but the locals will not stop singing the mixed seafood platter’s praises. So go for it if you’re more adventurous than I, and try coming during the lunch hour since they don’t take reservations and evenings often have a wait of 3 hours!
Next I skipped towards the harbor to catch a quick ferry to the Island of Lokrum. Definitely take the time to spend a half day on this little slice of heaven. There are a few bars and restaurants if you need a break, as well as an Iron Throne! But my heart was set on the sea alone. Now for those of you who know me know I can’t swim, but the water was simply irresistible. I decided to embrace the #yolo culture for a change and jump from the rocks without reservation. Doggy-paddling like a madman I eventually found a rock to plant my feet on and simultaneously enjoy the gentle waves. Once my energy was spent, I performed probably the poorest breaststroke the world has ever seen to make my way back towards the sunny expanse of flat rocks where my towel lay waiting. The smooth, crooning voice of Bon Iver beckoning “let it be me” was tonic. I could have spent the whole day lounging free-spiritedly by the sea, but alas I’m a ginger and that just might kill me. So I made my way back towards the mainland ready for a shower before dinner.
You’d be silly to waste an opportunity to enjoy a Croatian sunset, and I’m not one to play fool. I figured no better ambience than the panorama view of the city from the top of the cable car ride. So with Caribbean cocktail in hand, I watched the Old Town go into a brief dusk slumber and stir slowly back to life with twinkling lights from the inhabitants within. Such an amazing moment that I completely lost track of time and didn’t make it back down for dinner until 9pm! But in true European fashion, this is just when the evening fun begins. I ended the night counting my blessings as I enjoyed a sautéed beef pasta from Lucin Kantun – an intimate boutique restaurant with a gallery wall of framed crochet pieces.
Before my departure the next morning, I made a point to have a quiet breakfast at Gradska Kavana Arsenal. I watched the city awaken as I sipped my cappuccino, and the first cool breeze in the last 3 days rippled across my back. I couldn’t imagine a better way to say goodbye to this beautiful land, and if anything is for certain it’s that Split and Hvar no longer have a question mark on my bucket list!