Dubrovnik: How to devote 4 days to adventure on the Croatian coast

Getting to Dubrovnik

Flights to Dubrovnik operate daily from London Gatwick with British Airways. Flight time to Dubrovnik is around two hours and thirty minutes, making it a perfectly suitable option for a short break. We took an early morning flight and had landed and checked into the hotel by 9.30 am.

Thanks to our hotel, the Scalini Palace, transfers to the city were provided for a small fee. Being greeted at the airport by our own driver made the beginning of our trip wonderfully easy. Transfer from the airport to Dubrovnik Old Town took around thirty minutes.

Where to stay

Before arranging our trip to Dubrovnik, I’d heard how difficult it was to find good accommodation in the old town. Friends had advised me to find somewhere cheap outside of the city walls. Absolutely, accommodation in the old town is limited but, it can be discovered! I stumbled on the absolute gem that is the Scalini Palace. Located on just down a narrow snicket from the Buža Gate you find the Scalini palace. It’s nestled amongst shops, bars and restaurants so, you’ll need your eyes peeled, it’s easy to stroll past. Trying to find the entrance to the correct street after dinner on our first night was like trying to find the entrance to Diagon Alley. IMG_0016

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Despite our early arrival, the hotel was extremely happy to hold onto our bags allowing us to pootle off and check in later. The hotel is quirky in that it provides lovely self-contained rooms with the option to self-cater. There is no restaurant but the Scalini Palace does provide breakfast each morning, delivered to your room.

Our room was well appointed with a double bed, sitting room area, kitchen facilities and a bright clean bathroom. One of the loveliest parts was our little balcony, equipped with table and chairs. There is something quite soothing about sitting contentedly with the morning sun on your face with a peppermint brew.

Where to eat

The Croatian culinary landscape is a real mish-mash of tastes, flavours and traditions from its neighbouring countries. Traditional Croatian cuisine has also been shaped by the varied nations and empires that have ruled the Dalmatian coastline.

With such a broad and varied selection of food on offer, we were definitely spoilt for choice.

We arrived in the city mid-morning, so we quickly located a lovely bar area looking out to the sea where we indulged in a beer and a coffee. The bar was just a short walk downhill from the Revelin Fortress and the Ploče gate.

Gradska Kavana Arsenal

We ended up returning to this prominent restaurant in the old town. The imposing façade of the historic arsenal makes it hard to miss coupled with a long dark stone passage I was utterly beguiled and hungry in comparable measure.

The passage spits you out at the dining area but if you walk through you encounter the IMG_0018loveliest outdoor courtyard area overlooking the old city port. This idyllic vista made for the perfect lunch spot. The food was reasonably priced and the service efficient. Whilst this isn’t the spot for you if you’re after an authentic Croatian restaurant, the one where the locals eat, as it is particularly popular with tourists. That being said when you’ve left freezing cold blighty that morning it’s hard to turn down a seafront table with old city port and fortress views.

At the front of the restaurant is a terrace on the main square. The terrace proved to be the ideal spot on our final evening for a few glasses of Croatian wine.

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Proto

IMG_0076The most beautiful mash potato I have ever seen. Potato wizardry aside, Proto was a slightly more luxurious choice for dinner. However, it was our first night and the food and service were excellent. We were positioned at a beautiful table on the upper terrace overlooking the streets below. I imagine this place is heaving during the summer months. I would absolutely recommend prior booking if you are visiting during this time.

It goes without saying, but the menu was heavily devoted to fish and the bounty of the sea. We both ordered different fish dishes and both were perfectly cooked and beautifully presented.

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If you are looking for a dinner reservation that’s a little bit special then I would absolutely recommend Proto, the mango mojito is rather good too.

Bota Sushi and Oyster Bar

After a long day’s excursion to Mostar, we arrived back in the Old town around 8 pm. We wanted to something quick, easy and tasty. After significantly indulging in the delight that is Ćevapi in Mostar we didn’t require anything too substantial. So, when the Bota Sushi bar fell into tracks just around the corner from the cathedral it was an inspired choice. The sushi was spectacular, locally caught gorgeously presented and I could easily have ordered our entire meal twice. Whilst we bagged a table, no problem, again I feel that booking would be recommended if you are visiting during the summer months. Top tip – the salmon skin roll and the tiger roll were sushi perfection.

Taj Mahal

Meat. Meat. Meat. The Taj Mahal isn’t one for you if you’re a veggie. This quaint little backstreet eatery offers up a selection of beautifully cooked Bosnian dishes. With five or six tables inside and another eights or side on the cobbled street, our meal felt casual and intimate.

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We were left invigorated after our trip to Mostar that we thought we’d give it a try. And I’m sure glad we did. I went for a kebab and flatbread number whilst my husband opted for a no-nonsense lamb kebab and baked potato. Both were delicious and the service was so friendly and efficient.

What to do

The City Walls

Dubrovnik old town is surrounded by 1940 metres of the historic city wall and punctuated by six spectacular fortresses (Revelin, St John, St Lucas, Bokar, Minčeta, Lovrijenac). The views from the city walls are just fabulous, and I thoroughly recommend this being at the top of your list for your first day.

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Entry to the walls cost 200kn; your ticket should last all day, so you’re free to go up and come down as much as you like. I would, however, recommend doing the full circuit at once. I found that taking our time to walk the whole walls gave us a much more coherent sense of the city and helped with orientation.

Just a few things to note, if you are visiting between April and October it’s going to be hot, particularly throughout July and August. Take plenty of water with you. There isn’t any place to stop for refreshments whilst you are on the walls so, be prepared and stay hydrated.

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Finally, footwear, I’m an avid fan of flip flops being the ultimate footwear choice for most activities however the walls are old and uneven. If I was being clever, I might have donned my trainers rather than flip flops.

Day trip to Mostar

After seeing that a day trip to the historic city of Mostar was an option, I set about IMG_0120booking an excursion for our second day. Mostar is located around fifty miles from Dubrovnik and is a two-and-a-half-hour direct drive. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not currently in the European Union, as such your passport is essential on this trip.

I discovered the perfect trip operated by Laus travel which included a visit to the Kravice waterfalls then, on to Mostar. To read about our day trip in more detail check out my post below.

https://takemefarandaway.com/2019/11/02/dubrovnik-to-mostar-a-1-day-itinerary-from-the-croatian-coast/

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The Blue Cave

Although we didn’t visit during the summer months the weather was still gorgeous. So, I thought nothing of booking up a days’ boat trip to the Blue Cave and Sunj Beach. The sea was a little bracing but still warm enough for a dip.

We met our little group of four others and Captain Joseph at the harbour and set sail. Our first stop was the gloriously secluded beach in Sunj Bay on the island of Lopud. Now, I am under no illusion that this slice of white sandy heaven was only deserted due to the time of year we visited. Rocking up mid-morning at the end of October guarantees you free run of the beach and bar area. I am certain this is a vastly different story in the height of summer. The beach is connected to the other side of the island via golf buggy. The buggies run regularly from the beach bar and the trip takes about 10mintues. It is a pleasant twenty-minute walk too if you don’t mind the hilly parts and slightly rough and ready terrain.

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The other side of the island is utterly charming. One long street butts up against the sea, fishing boats gently bobbing in the blue. The scene which greets you is like something out of The Durrells, there is even a 15th-century monastery at the far-right end of the main street. This first stop on our trip was so relaxing I could easily have spent all day pottering around Lopud and paddling in the tepid waters of Sunj Bay.

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Once back on the boat we headed for the main attraction…caves. As the boat skirted round the coastline, I was speechless, the towering cliffs had been carved out by the water into so many intricate and captivating formations. The uppermost parts of cliffs were covered with trees and shrubs, and the whole scene was just filled with bird song. At the first set of caves, Captain Joseph gave us a quick snorkelling what’s what then we flippered up and headed for the water. At the end of October, there is only one way to enter those crystalline waters, jump.

Once accustomed to the water we headed for the biggest of the three caves. The further in you swam the colder and darker it got. Although it was the biggest there was only Snapseed - Copy (16)room at the very back for one or two of us. If you’re feeling particularly, brave the cave at the end of the trio is for you. There is the option to swim to the back, under the rock, into an antechamber brings you out the other side of the cliff. I am unashamed to say this was one step too far for my level of bravery. The thought of having to swim, even briefly under the rock fills me with absolute dread. Also, I’ve seen the film The Decent one too many times…Who knows what’s lurking down in the belly of a cave system. However, despite my disappointing lack of courage, I thoroughly enjoyed the snorkelling at the mouth of the three caves. There were so many gorgeous, alluring fish and technicolour starfish who were totally unperturbed by my less than graceful splashing about.

Last stop was the absolute highlight of the trip, and Captain Joseph did a fabulous job of hyping it up, the blue cave. As we puttered along the coastline, we were all silently scouring the cliffs to see if we could pick out which opening would be the elusive gateway. When Captain Joseph declared that we were there it is safe to say we were all a little perplexed. The bay we had come into showed absolutely no sign of any caves and the cliff faces were unmarked and remarkably crevasse free. Or so we thought, to our untrained eyes we hadn’t spotted the tiny slither of darkness at the bottom of one of the cliffs. The Blue Cave looks like every other cave we’d swum into not fifteen minutes earlier. But its true glory came upon reaching the back wall and turning around. The entire cathedral-like space was bathed in a luminescent azure glow. This phenomenon is caused by the reflection of sunlight through the opening of the cave off the white sandy floor.

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That little gap at the bottom…yep, that’s the entrance to the Blue Cave!

The whole day was absolutely fabulous, and Captain Joseph made the trip. He was knowledgeable, well organised and had a cracking sense of humour. If you are looking to book this trip, we booked the trip through Trip Advisor, the Blue Cave by Dubrovnik Island Tours. Tours cost £51 per person, and it is worth every penny.

Srd Hill Cable Car

This is a must-do. Make a plan to head up the mountain just before sunset because the view of the sun setting over the ocean and the old town is like nothing else. Once hidden the sun burns through the cloud leaving dappled streaks of pink and orange. The multi-coloured ombre perfectly reflected in the water was the most beautiful end to our trip.

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The cable car costs 170kn for an adult round trip or 90kn for one way. There is a path which you can walk down the mountain if you would prefer stretching your legs. We went for the round trip due to timing our visit at sunset there wouldn’t have been enough daylight to take the path down. I didn’t fancy getting stuck on a dark path halfway up a mountain.

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The cable car operates eleven months of the year but is closed throughout the month of February. The last departure from the lower station is thirty minutes before closing. Closing time varies throughout the year from 4 pm during December and January to midnight in the summer months.

If you fancy taking in more than the view, I can recommend snagging a window table or table on the terrace at the Panorama Restaurant and Bar.

 

 

Franciscan Pharmacy

Just before the mighty Pile Gate is a Franciscan Monastery complete with arguable the oldest pharmacy in Europe. Initially built to serve the needs of the Friars it rapidly grew to service the needs of the town and wider population.IMG_0240

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If you have a spare half an hour then I would recommend a visit. The pretty cloistered monastery garden is wonderfully peaceful. At 9.15 am there was an all-consuming quiet which seemed to wrap around and cocoon you. The old pharmacy museum is also open every day from 9 am to 6 pm.

Red History Museum

IMG_0248On our last morning, we breakfasted early and set off for the Red History Museum. The museum presents Croatia’s modern history and what life was like for ordinary people under the Communist regime of Yugoslavia. The more we travel through countries who were occupied by the Soviet Union or experienced socialist movements and communism, the more I am fascinated by these points in history.

The Red History Museum was around a thirty-five to forty-minute walk from the old town. Entry to the museum costs 50hkr and the museum is open from 9.30 am to 10 pm from April to October. If you are travelling during the winter months opening hours do vary.

The exhibition was exceptionally well presented and really hands-on. I am a total child when it comes to museums, I love nothing more than to be able to practically engage in some way with the information being presented. The Red History Museum did not disappoint, learning about the Communist regime in Yugoslavia, its subsequent disintegration and how it affected the lives of normal people was fascinating.

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Final thoughts

Our four days in Dubrovnik was the perfect mix of adventure and time to chill. I am so pleased that we opted for the two days trips away from the city. However, I do feel as though more time is needed to really get under the surface of this magnificent city. I reckon a return visit would see Dubrovnik as a stop on a more multi-centred trip of Croatia and its fabulous islands. One of the best things about our trip was definitely our choice to visit at the end of October. The crowds were diminished, and we got into some of the best restaurants without any prior booking. The weather was still glorious, and the sea was warm enough for an invigorating swim. If you can visit outside of July and August then I would urge you to get booking.

Happy travels

Jess

Dubrovnik to Mostar: A 1 day itinerary from the Croatian coast

Stari Most, the Old Town Bridge of Mostar has become a bit of a siren song for travellers in recent years. Admittedly, I had seen pictures of the exquisitely sweeping, half-moon structure with the crystal-clear blue river dancing beneath, but I genuinely had no idea where in the world this beautiful scene was.

Whilst planning my recent trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia I discovered that a day trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina was entirely possible. After a little more research on the rich history, culture and what to do in the city of Mostar I was sold.

Mostar is located around fifty miles from Dubrovnik and is a two-and-a-half-hour direct drive. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not currently in the European Union, as such your passport is essential on this trip.

Who to travel with and how to get there

Walking around Dubrovnik you have your pick of tour agencies and companies offering day trips. I opted for Laus Travel. Laus Travel has a comprehensive website, a 2018 certificate of excellence from Trip Advisor and everything can be booked online. The backing of Trip Advisor did give me a little comfort in the knowledge that I had booked a quality and reputable trip. The tour cost £43 which included travel, professional guide and all local fees and taxes.

I received confirmation from Laus Travel within an hour of booking. All the relevant details of our collection point and key information for also provided, notably “don’t forget your passport!”.

Our collection point at the Pile Gate at 7.20 am was a five-minute walk from our hotel in the Old Town. From there we were taken to the main meeting point where we transferred to a larger more comfortable minibus for the day. Our party was a small group of twenty-eight, so it never felt too crowded or chaotic. The early start was, unfortunately, necessary as you never know how long the border crossings are going to take. Thankfully there is a coffee stop around 9 am, then a brief onward journey to our first stop. Despite spending a considerable chunk of our day on the bus, Sylvia was a brilliant storyteller and historian. The time just slipped away as we were all engrossed in our history lesson.

Kravice Waterfalls

First stop of the day was Kravice Waterfalls in the Herzegovinian region of Bosnia. The waterfalls are nature at it’s very best. With twenty falls tumbling over the edge of limestone cliffs, it’s clear why this natural beauty spot has been protected by the state government.

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Entry to the falls cost an additional €5/40Kuna to your tour price although prices do vary depending on the time of year you visit. We visited late October which is off-peak close to the tail end of the season. The primary benefits of visiting in late October were the lack of tourists and the weather was still gloriously warm and sunny. Other than our group of twenty-eight, there didn’t appear to any other travellers visiting. Exploring a place without the buzz of hundreds of tourists is definitely a bonus and made our visit feel a little more intimate.

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Our tour stopped at the falls for around an hour which was plenty of time to experience the area and the falls close up. Boat trips into the lake are available for €5/40Kuna and last around twenty minutes.

Stari Most

Stari Most or ‘Old Bridge’ is probably the most iconic landmark in Mostar. The bridge has connected the two halves of the city since it’s initial construction between 1557 – 1566. IMG_0136.JPGThe gloriously curved half-moon archway, originally commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent stood the test of time until it was brutally destroyed in November 1993 by Croatian artillery. The new bridge, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, was finished in 2004. The reconstruction is a delicate, sensitive and accurate restoration using original sixteenth-century building techniques. The final result is an awe-inspiring piece of engineering and every bit as magnificent as it’s sixteenth-century counterpart.

For the best views of the bridge, I would head to any one of the cafes which line the banks just off the main bazaar. Alternatively, amble down to the shores on either side and lookup.

A small word of caution when crossing the bridge – it is incredibly slippery! The beautiful stone which perfectly reflects the golden sunlight will play havoc with footwear with poor grip. My crossing in flip flops had me diving for the side rails just to retain my balance.

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Food & Drink

Before leaving the bus, our guide Sylvia gave us a list of local foods we should try for lunch. Sylvia also recommended trying a traditional Bosnian coffee.

We opted for the first and largest café on the right-hand side of the Eastern side of the bridge. There was a large outdoor courtyard with unobstructed views of the bridge. We were still confident at that point that we might catch a glimpse of some bridge diving. Sylvia was not wrong when she said your money goes a long way when it comes to food in Mostar. We ordered two soft drinks and two plates of Ćevapi and the final bill was under £10.

Ćevapi is a traditional dish, consisting of small rolls of grilled lamb or beef served in pita bread with onions, chips and salad. I’m fairly sure the chips and salad have been added to appease the hungry tourists rather than being a staple part of traditional cuisine. But it did the job and, the whole thing was delicious.

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Before heading back to the bus, we decided to try the coffee, both my husband and I are avid coffee drinkers so this was a caffeine encounter we were willing to try. Sylvia’s tip had been to put the whole sugar cube in the cup then stir, of course, the traditional Turkish option of putting the sugar in your mouth first then drinking is also an option. Liking to keep my sugar consumption to a respectable minimum I thought I’d try the coffee without any sweetener to start…bitter, grainy and oh my life that’s just not pleasant. I opted for the whole cube in the cup, and the result was a much tastier caffeine fix. To sweeten the deal further our coffee was served in an exquisitely worked copper pot with a fabulous Aladdin’s cave vibe and topped off with traditional Turkish delight flavoured with nuts.

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Neretva River

IMG_0116.JPGThe beautiful blue Neretva River runs through the centre of Mostar splitting the town in two. It is possible to swim in the river, but I would recommend visiting in the summer months when the water temperature is a little warmer!

One of the main spectacles on the river is the locals who fearlessly jump the seventy-eight feet into the depths of the river below. Sadly, we didn’t see anyone jumping on our trip but there were several local men in swimming shorts who looked ready and were waiting for the opportune moment. The Stari Most bridge and the Neretva River have drawn worldwide attention with Red Bull using the location for the 2015 World Cliff Diving Championships. Whilst it is an incredible spectacle, jumping from the bridge is best left to the trained professionals that is of course unless you are a hard-core adrenaline junkie and have some seriously good travel insurance.

Old Bazar Kujundziluk

On either side of the bridge are tightly packed, slightly tipsy sixteenth-century buildings jostling for prime position on the cobbled streets. Each building houses different handmade crafts and artisans’ workshops. From intricate works of copper to traditional woven carpets and jewellery, the Old Bazar has a lot to offer. Yes, there are some standard tourist tat offerings but in amongst that are some real gems. During the Ottoman period, there were over five hundred workshops occupying these small streets, making the Old Bazar a real hive of historical commerce. So, if like me you love a good nose around take a trip into some of the shops and workshops to really soak up the history or snap up a bargain.

Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

A short walk down the Eastern side of the bridge you come to the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque. The Mosque dates back to 1618 and is accessed from a small courtyard. Sadly, the Mosque was significantly damaged during the war but has been carefully restored whilst still leaving some signs of the devastation which befell it during the 1990s. Entry to the Mosque is 12Kuna and is available to anyone of any faith. The only time when access to the Mosque may be restricted is during prayer times. Additional layers of clothing for legs, shoulders and heads are provided for both men and women at no extra charge.

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We opted for the Mosque, Parapet and Minaret ticket at a cost of 12Kuna. Inside the Mosque the main prayer room is simple yet beautiful. Botanical motifs decorate the domed ceiling and bright coloured glass windows interrupt and juxtapose the plain whitewashed walls.

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I am not someone who is anxious about heights. However, on all our trips we end up climbing some sort of tower. I guess I’m a sucker for a panoramic view. So, climbing the Minaret seemed like an excellent idea. The inner staircase is tight, twisty and peppered with the faint scent of claustrophobia and danger as there is no handrail. This part I could handle. Upon emerging from the staircase, you are greeted with the most spectacular view of the city. East and West sides connected by Stari Most, Church spires and Minarets punctuating the horizon, a stark reminder of the multicultural origins of the city, it truly is breath-taking. My issue lay in that the parapet we had emerged onto only came to around thigh height. With no barrier or handrail I was suddenly struck by how high up I was. In the interests of safety, I would advise hugging the interior column to take in the vista. The parapet is only wide enough for one person so it’s worth checking that you are the only ones taking the trip up. After composing myself for a moment crouched on the floor of the parapet, I was fully able to embrace the view and the experience. A trip to the top is at the top of my recommendations for your trip to Mostar.

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Finally, we ended in the private courtyard behind the Mosque. This small area was a gorgeously secluded place away from the buzz of the main bazar to take in the views.

War Photo Exhibition

As we ambled back to the West side, my attention was piqued by a small sign announcing a war photo exhibition. Carefully picking my way across the slippery stone, I made my way up a wooden staircase tucked into the side of the Westside entrance. Entry to the exhibition was 6Kuna. The exhibition was laid out over two floors of the West Tower. Although there aren’t hundreds of images on display, my husband and I didn’t speak for the thirty minutes it took to go around. We were so engrossed in the stories and moments captured during the Bosnian war.

It was so easy to see geographically how Mostar became a target. Surrounded on all sides and sitting at the bottom of a valley. It must have been horrific. The photographs on display show various facets of life during the conflict; from people washing, salvaging car parts to an aid worker thrown into a gutter by the force of a snipers shot, thankfully she was wearing a bulletproof vest and walked away unharmed.

The whole exhibition although modest was incredibly powerful and thought-provoking.

Old Bridge Museum

Although our time in Mostar was limited, we didn’t get an opportunity to visit the Old Bridge Museum. The museum is dedicated to the story of the bridge including the pre-Ottoman archaeology all the way through to the devastation of November 1993 to the reconstruction after the war. This was on our guide Sylvia’s list of recommendations, so it will be firmly at the top of my list when I return.

Our day trip to Mostar was fabulous. I learnt so much about a place and time in history that I knew relatively little about. Sylvia our guide was knowledgeable, friendly and made the time spent on the bus thoroughly enjoyable. After learning about the history and troubles of the not so distant past, I am keen to explore more of the Balkan region, so will definitely be booking some visits in the future. I would absolutely recommend a day trip to Mostar if you are travelling to Dubrovnik and have time to explore.

Happy travels

Jess x

 

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