24 Hours in Dubrovnik
One of the best things about visiting summer destinations in the off season is that you have virtually free reign over whichever city it is that you happen to descend upon. No queues to enter attractions and no waiting for tables. It gives you an opportunity to slow your step and look a little a little bit longer at your surroundings.
Our home base for the month of November was Split, Croatia, and since Dubrovnik is just 230 km down the road, it makes for an easy weekend blitz. An early morning departure would get us there in time for lunch. There are over 1000 islands in Croatia, and the scenic drive along the coast allows views of some of the larger ones. There’s also a border crossing on the way, as a sliver of Bosnia and Herzegovina stretches to the sea.
After checking in to our hotel we set off to explore the city. Also known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, Dubrovnik has been an important Mediterranean Sea power since the 13th century. Within its city walls lies an incredible display of remarkably-preserved Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches monasteries, palaces and fountains.
Unlike most Old Towns scattered across Europe, most of the streets here follow a grid pattern, which makes exploring much more orderly than what you might accustomed to. There is however, a surprising elevation change on the northern and southern sides of the small peninsula, which affords great views over the coral rooftops.
It doesn’t take more than a couple of hours to cover most of the streets and admire some of the most important buildings such as Dubrovnik Cathedral, the Church of St. Blaise and the Franciscan Monastery. Since the sun sets well before 5:pm in December, we finished our city exploration just in time to crawl through the southern wall, grab a beer at a makeshift bar and watch the sun set over the Adriatic Sea.
Now dark, it was time to hit up some of the wine bars and have a sample of some of the fine wines that Croatia is increasingly becoming known for. The country has been a winemaking region for over 2000 years and, though it’s still a significant wine producing region in Europe, it lacks a developed export market. The dominant wines are white, which naturally pair well with the Mediterranean flavors that define the dinner table – an abundance of fresh seafood and pasta.
Since the first day was more about unwinding from the week gone by, wandering and getting a lay of the land without a specific plan in mind, our second day was more focused. The bus back to Split would be leaving after lunch, and since savoring the local cuisine is as much a part of travelling as snapping your best shot of the sea, we had to factor in eating time.
Our first stop and perhaps the most logical starting place to start day was from the city’s highest point. The first cable car was whisking passengers to the top of mount Srd since 1969. After being completely destroyed during the Croatian War of Independence, it was restored and reopened in 2010. The city was an important post in the Byzantine Empire and it was cool to imagine what life must have been like in the times when history was written on the sea. At 415m above sea level, the views of the old town and the surrounding sea are staggering. The clouds from the previous day had all drifted away and we were blessed with blue skies and temperatures in the teens – perfectly fine by November standards.
After looking down on the city walls from above, the next logical place to hit up is the city walls themselves. The walls, which were primarily built in the 14th and 15th centuries, are undoubtedly the city’s most defining feature. The structure is completely intact, and is among the largest and most complete fortifications still found in Europe. There are 3 access points, and once you’ve climbed up a 2km circuit lies ahead of you. The more than a dozen towers and handful of bastions add a fun and historical element to you jaunt. With ever-changing views over the choral rooftops and the glistening sea washing up on the other side, you could spend hours taking a leisurely stroll, stopping every hundred metres or so to take it all in from all sides.
By now we could comfortably say we had conquered Dubrovnik from all angles so it was time to satisfy our growling bellies. The coast of Italy is fewer than 200km away so there is no shortage of Italian restaurants in the Old Town. Since fresh pasta is always a good idea, the hard part was deciding which place to stop at. Without crowds of people vying for a table we were able to find a spot that afforded some direct sun rays, backed up by blankets on the backs of each chair. We had just enough time to devour our lunches, wash it down with a nice Istrian white and top it off with an espresso before heading back to the bus to join our fellow Remotes for the bus ride back to Split.
While it’s a city that you could easily take your time to savor, especially during beach season, its manageable size, important history and dramatic scenery make it a great destination for a 24-hour blitz.