back in croatia – exploring dubrovnik

A weekend visit to Dubrovnik in February was not an obvious choice but it's one that I'm pleased we made*. 

The heart of the city is the old town, which is wrapped by 2km of tall and wide medieval walls, which have protected the city throughout its history. These walls are where I suggest you start your visit, climbing onto and then walking around them, so you can gaze across the orange rooftops, towards the sea, noticing the domes of the city's churches and getting your bearings. There are two entrances onto the walls – one by each of the city’s two gates; I suggest you go up near Ploce gate as this means you’ll get the hilly part, with all the steps, out of the way first; you also see some of the best views of the Old Town from here. Partway round the wall, on the sea side, you'll see Buza Bar which has a terrace that looks out over the sea and offers a fabulous place to stop for a drink and watch the waves. To find this, when you’re not on the wall, head to the Jesuit church of St Ignatius and you will see, to the left, a sign telling you which way leads to the hole in the wall, cold drinks and a beautiful view.

Also near Ploce gate and well worth a stop is Kawa, a shop that stocks a wide variety of modern Croatian products. This is the perfect place to pick up some souvenirs - pungently smoky sea salt, local honey, jams, chilli sauces, beer and wine; beautifully designed ceramic cups and homewares; hand creams, soaps and skincare plus clothes and bags.  Kawa is linked to the fresh sheets kathedral bed & breakfast which is perfectly located in the old town and is where we were welcomed with local drinks, cheese and ham when we checked in and where we then had a very comfortable stay.

Scattered around the old town are several wine bars where you can ask for advice and be guided through the local wines.  Favourites for us were D'Vino and Razonoda (this is linked to the Pucic Palace Hotel as is the Café Royal restaurant so, if you want to eat something other than bar snacks, you can eat at the restaurant but choose your wine from the wine bar list - we did this so we could have a bottle of local sparkling wine with the local ston oysters that I also wanted to try; I had hoped to have them at Oyster & Sushi Bar BOTA but it was closed).

We had two very different evening meals during our trip. Pantarul (which means fork) is a modern restaurant in the Lapad suburb where we enjoyed wonderful homemade pasta - delicate "macaroni" tubes with a beef ragu and fettuccini with fresh pesto and grilled squid; I also really enjoyed my starter which was a rich tomatoey octopus ragu with mascarpone polenta. If you want to continue exploring a range of local wines, everything is available by the glass.

In contrast with Pantarul's bright interior, the larger room at Konoba Dubrava had a more traditional feel, with stone walls, a wood-timbered ceiling and large open fire.  This restaurant, which is at the top of the hill, which overlooks the old town**, serves local Dalmatian food. I pre-ordered the house specialty - peka. There is a choice of octopus, lamb, veal or lamb & veal and in each case the dish is cooked slowly "under a bell" aka a domed metal lid. Our lamb was beautifully tender and served with a huge pile of potatoes that had obviously been cooked with the lamb to absorb its flavour. 

As we ate at the restaurant on a Saturday night there was live music, with a trio of musicians singing local folk songs, many of which people joined in with, and in one instance started dancing to.  On learning we weren't local the band happily launched into "maybe it's because I'm a Londoner" so we too could feel involved! Somehow it all felt like a lot of fun, rather than horribly naff - no doubt partly due to the homemade walnut liqueur we tried, but probably also because we were the only non-locals and everyone else seemed to be having a great time (the menus are all in Croatian butthere were plenty of staff who spoke English).

As when we visited Split and Hvar a few years ago, we had a wonderful time in Dubrovnik – visiting over a winter weekend, when the city is quiet and people have time to talk, worked well for us. I particularly exploring loved the Museum of Modern Art on a wet afternoon (there are plenty of museums and galleries if you need to escape from rain or sunshine!). I know I want to explore more of Croatia, it’s just a matter of choosing where and when.

* Early March would probably have been better, as much of the city closes for the winter, with local businesses taking the opportunity have a break and get ready for "the season" (some of the restaurants I tried to book told me they would not open until 1 March or, in the case of those more remote spots which overlook beaches, not until 1 April). Many of the local people we met agreed and also said that October is another good time to visit if you don’t like crowds – in “the season” several cruise ships stop and offload their passengers each day which really swells the number of visitors.

** if you don’t get the cable car up the hill then get your taxi driver to take you to the cable car station, which is a bit further than the restaurant, so you can see the views over the old town, its suburbs and the sea. If it’s dark you’ll need a torch to see your way along the road.