Review: Dubrovnik, Croatia, is a delight for each and every visitor

PUBLISHED: 09:03 03 September 2018 | UPDATED: 17:19 10 September 2018

The Bowa restaurant on the Sipan island. Picture: LCF Media

The Bowa restaurant on the Sipan island. Picture: LCF Media

LCF Media

Travellers from across the world will tell you – in whatever language – of the beauty of the old town of Dubrovnik, one of the most iconic cities in Croatia.

The Valamar Argosy outdoor pool. Picture: ValamarThe Valamar Argosy outdoor pool. Picture: Valamar

As you enter the town made of limestone, polished by so many feet that it gleams like marble, you’ll find the Onofrio Fountain.

The hexagonal structure has the many faces of the city carved into it, with just as many tanned complexions taking a rest below.

This gamut of identities captures the essence of the city, and the country as a whole; a delight finding its feet having been seeped in violence, embedded in the living memory.

The Old Town, encased in two kilometres of stone wall is both a fortress and a fairytale.

Val President Relax Beach. Picture: ValamarVal President Relax Beach. Picture: Valamar

From the outside, the dark walls towering over the Adriatic are both impressive and formidable.

But within the boundary the reflections of well-heeled women, and children chasing footballs, bounce off the shining floors.

Souvenir shops boasting ‘original’ Game of Thrones merchandise nestle between ancient Croatian palaces.

The food and drink on offer is also mixed; largely down to the turbulent history of Croatia.

Valamar Argosy - Sea view room with balcony. Picture: ValamarValamar Argosy - Sea view room with balcony. Picture: Valamar

In the most southernly points of the country, visitors will find dishes akin to Italian food, as well as a multitude of fresh fish.

Further north, German influences appear on the menu with heavier meat dishes.

Given the choice, I would recommend picking a seafood dish every time.

The Bowa restaurant. Picture: BowaThe Bowa restaurant. Picture: Bowa

A short boat ride away from the ancient city lies the Elaphiti Islands.

Kolocep, just 10 minutes from the mainland, is inhabited largely by locals whizzing around in golf buggies, perhaps taking one of the three pupils at the local school to their studies.

You can walk around and over the island in an afternoon, visiting both of the beaches, and stopping for lunch in one of the beach bars on the seafront.

If wandering around an island doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, Sunj beach on the neighbouring Lopud island is a lovely way to spend the day.

Valamar Argosy lounge. Picture: ValamarValamar Argosy lounge. Picture: Valamar

There’s plenty of ways to stay entertained, from snorkelling spots to beach bars.

If you decide to visit the islands via a private boat trip, I could not recommend stopping for a meal at Bowa on the nearby Sipan island enough.

The stilted beach huts house tables for around 10 people. The tasting menu offers everything from an exceptional tuna tartare to strange but deliciously pungent cheese.

However good the food was, it could not outshine the view.

You can either kick back with a mojito and watch the yachts meander along the coast between the islands and the mainland, or, you could make your way down to Bowa’s private beach to work off the food.

On the mainland the food is equally as good. A particular favourite of mine was Villa Ruza, a terraced restaurant which looks down over the streets.

Here I tried smoked swordfish, which I would recommend sampling – it’s sweeter than tuna but similar in texture. Their wine selection is also second to none.

For dinner guests looking to extend their evening on the mainland, you can find old town bars with live music, lighting up in the cobbled alleyways as the sun goes down.

Locals spend their evenings strolling up and down the Placa finding a place to drink, and they’re not without options.

But despite the balmy atmosphere in this city of two halves, no one has forgotten that it was once seeped in violence that almost saw it destroyed.

A map on the city walls show the worst-hit parts of the UNESCO site at the beginning of the Yugoslav war in 1991.

Many of the drinkers relaxing under the fairy-lit canopies will remember their fathers leaving for war, and being evacuated from the homes they grew up in.

And for me, this is the thing not to forget.

Tour guides will tell you with bemused smiles of tourists who rub the nose of playwright Marin Drzic for good luck.

This is neither folklore nor local superstition, just a habit which has only resulted in the copper being rubbed away on the poor bloke’s nose.

Everyone should go to Croatia. It’s beautiful and friendly and full of energy.

I just hope tourism doesn’t paint a false picture over the canvas of what this place truly represents.

How to get there:

• Flights to Croatia are deceptively cheap. To the point where you’re wondering if you’ve accidentally booked tickets to Dundee instead of Dubrovnik.

• Coach drives to the city are regular and take you for a short ride of around 20 minutes down the winding cliff road along the seafront. There’s not really a better introduction to the place than glimpsing the Old Town perched on the water in the sea below.

• Once you get to there, bus services are widely available. If you want to take a bus to Split for example, it’ll set you back a big 12 euros for the four hour trip, which will for a brief time take you into Bosnia and Herzegovina.

If that’s not your idea of fun- there’s also a catamaran and ferry service which run in peak season.

If you are staying at Valamar, the bus number 6 will take you the ten minute journey to your hotel’s front door.

Where to stay:

If trekking around islands and backpacking between cities isn’t quite to your taste- or to your toddlers- then I would suggest staying at one of the many Valamar Hotels.

This hotel franchise has capitalised on the fact that there is no one ‘typical’ Dubrovnik tourist.

The Valamar Collection Dubrovnik President Hotel is, as you would expect, the most premium. It boasts panoramic views of the sea whether you’re in the lobby or on the beach, as well as having a spa and a number of beachside bars and restaurant.

The Valamar Argosy is where I stayed for my trip, and is honestly the most tranquil place I’ve ever stayed. The entire place has a Scandi-spa vibe, with treatments to match.

For families there is the Valamar Club Dubrovnik, and for businesses the Lacroma.

The staff are friendly and helpful, and for reasonably priced rooms they feel luxurious. Especially if you bag one with a sea view.

Of course, you don’t have to stay in Dubrovnik. The franchise has a handful of hotels all along the coastline, and in cities from Dubrovnik to Porec.

You can go all inclusive – but the food doesn’t taste it. I would say however that the lunch and dinner options are more premium than the breakfast.

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