Dubrovnik, Croatia – Travel Review
By Helen Johnston
History shimmers in the very air of Dubrovnik, its centuries-old city walls still intact and circling the old town. The clear turquoise waters of the Adriatic lap at its feet, its stone houses with their terracotta roofs huddled close.
Dubrovnik lies at the foot of Croatia, close to the neighbouring countries of Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina, with which it shares a chequered history. They were all once part of the socialist republic of Yugoslavia governed by President Tito, but as Communism crumbled the federation broke up, leading to war.
A walk around Dubrovnik’s city walls reveals the occasional bomb-damaged building, and roofs which had to be replaced are brighter terracotta than the others, but the beauty of the place surpasses it all. A heatwave cranking the temperature up to 38c makes the walk a test of endurance, but it is worth every sweltering step.
“Feeling the heat”
The views along the coastline with its string of islands and forts are stunning. Game of Thrones fans will recognise some of these sights because parts of the fantasy drama are filmed here. Looking down on to the main street Stradun, it is comical to see a neat divide between the shady side which is packed with people, and the sunny side which is empty. Everyone is feeling the heat.
A local woman has told us that Croatians don’t have a culture of eating out, preferring to entertain at home, and there is a blessed relief in knowing you will not find the golden arches of Maccy D’s marring any scene.
We are staying in Cavtat, an entertaining half-hour bus journey from Dubrovnik. The driver is the generous type who insists on picking up every passenger from every stop, even when the bus is already full. Standing passengers have moved so far down the bus they are virtually hanging out of the back window, yet still more passengers pile on, some with rucksacks and cases. Eventually they are even sitting in the windscreen.
As we lean round hairpin bends, the sweat of fear joins the sweat from the heat, and the meagre air con all but gave up the battle. By some miracle we survive and scrambling over luggage and people, emerge from the bus trying to work out which direction we need for the Old Town. We needn’t worry, it is just a case of following the crowd and the occasional hand-painted ‘Old Town this way’ daubing on a wall.
The boat journey from Cavtat to Dubrovnik takes roughly the same time, is cooler with the sea breeze, and provides a closer look at the beauty of this unspoiled coastline. On another day we take a boat to Lokrum Island which is a nature reserve and uninhabited, by humans at least. There is a café and a restaurant, and a tourist information centre, open during the day, but no one is allowed to stay overnight on the island.
Wooden signs point us in the direction of the intriguing Pigeons’ Cave and the Dead Sea, although a lack of signs further on lead to confused tourists asking each other “which way now?”. Almost by accident we stumble across the Dead Sea, a hidden lagoon of warm sea water surrounded by cliffs. Luckily we have come prepared with swimming costumes and jump in, glad of the relief from another day of scorching temperatures.
The island has a small disused monastery and is alleged to have been cursed by the monks when they left. If there is a curse it doesn’t seem to have affected the ubiquitous Game of Thrones. A room in the monastery is now home to the Iron Throne of Westeros, for those in the know.
The boat journey back to Cavtat is almost as crowded as the Dubrovnik bus and we end up sitting on the bow, hunkered down low to avoid obscuring the captain’s view. Good job they’re not hung up on health and safety.
Cavtat is worth a mention too. It’s a lovely old town nestling in a bay and attracting plenty of luxury yachts. We are told by other holidaymakers that Jeremy Corbyn was in Croatia at the same time as us, so maybe he was on one of the yachts. Wearing a hair shirt though, of course.