A Walled City
A protected gem in the Adriatic, and an idyllic TV set, Eloise Carey discovers Dubrovnik has a lot to offer
For such a small city, Dubrovnik has an incredible amount to offer all ages. With a fascinating history, the city comes to life during tours.
And it’s proved its stunning aesthetic as a backdrop in TV saga Game of Thrones, although even the show’s cinematography doesn’t fully do justice to the beauty of this little pocket of life, surrounded by azure seas and sun-baked walls.
Despite its compact size, there is much to do and the food and hotel business has flourished while still retaining the city’s authenticity.
A new perspective
Dubrovnik is famous for both its walls and the panoramic sea views from them, as well as its moments in the spotlight as a TV location. However, there is an eerie convergence between its role as a fictional city in Game of Thrones and its violent real-life history, which you don’t fully appreciate until you’re standing on the battered walls. While the picturesque and spotless main street down to the clock tower gives little indication of its past, the bright orange roofs are evidence of the huge reconstruction the city underwent following the onslaught of nearly 200 bombs in one day, courtesy of the Yugoslav National Army in 1991.
The few weathered and darker roofs left untouched are a poignant reminder that the city that was once at real risk of destruction.
Sights from sea level
Although the main tourist draws in Dubrovnik are the views from its walls (and I agree, they are a must-see!), there is a way to see the city from a less lofty position. We kayaked around the city walls and nearby island of Lokrum on a guided tour. You get to see the city as it would have looked to approaching boats in the past, and the grandeur of the fortified walls when you are excluded from them is aweinspiring. Being on the water is also a great way to escape some of the heat of the day.
Our tour guide gave us engaging descriptions of the city’s history as well as explaining his own personal ties to it. We also had the chance to stop
at a tiny beach across the bay for lunch and look back over the crystal waters at the city. These views are from a totally unique angle, one you won’t find on the postcards.
A ride into the past
Another way to see Dubrovnik is to book on to a buggy ride at the top of Mount Srd – a great alternative to the queues for the crowded cable car. My family took a dirt buggy tour around the old forts, which gave a real sense of the isolation of the Croatians as they tried to hold their attackers at bay and protect the city.
Our guide really wanted to share the history of his country, and it made the visit to the museum at the end all the more moving. The buggies are a brilliant way to get around for adrenaline junkies and if you don’t fancy driving, you can opt for the passenger seat while a more adventurous companion takes the wheel! After an action-packed day, we decided to have a drink in the square under the clock tower before dinner. As dusk fell on the city and shadows lengthened down the stone, the atmosphere in the city was fantastic. We spent a happy few hours watching tourists and locals alike pouring out of the side alleys and boutique hotels heading for the centre.
Sunsets and showers
The sunsets are spectacular, even from within the walls, and the sky is often lit pink and red in the evenings, although watch out for sudden downpours. If they do happen, be sure to watch your step as the steep side streets become streams of fast-flowing water, giving the city an almost Venetian feel!
Although it’s enjoyable to eat in the centre, we decided to search back alleys for a more authentic restaurant, and we were not disappointed with the choice. Each offered an amazing range of food, and the fresh seafood is not to be missed.
Dubrovnik’s imposing fortifications and harbour glow in the sunshine
Verdant Lokrum island (left) is one of the sights to be seen on a kayak tour