Our ferry from Korcula took two hours and delivered us to the Dubrovnik Cruise Terminal which is about a 15 minute car ride from the Old Town; we had no trouble finding an Uber to transport us. We planned for six nights in Dubrovnik as we’d heard such wonderful things about the charming old town. Despite not being enthralled with the city as planned, this still turned out to be a perfect home base for multiple day trips. We couldn’t have been more thrilled with our Airbnb accommodation, Apartment Luka – the views were incredible, with a sweet little balcony where we spent every morning with coffee and every evening with wine, plus a very modern, spacious and comfortable interior at an affordable price. We intentionally chose an apartment on the hillside so that we could enjoy the elevated views over the old town, but bear in mind that hillside suites require many, many stairs on the way to and from town.
We arrived at the apartment around 1pm and dropped our luggage before heading to the old town for lunch at Bota Oyster and Sushi Bar. Bota was pretty good, but I should disclose that of the towns we visited, Dubrovnik was definitely the most expensive, though again, less expensive than most European destinations. Other restaurants we dined at inside the city walls included Azur Asian Fusion which is a nice change of pace from seafood with tons of flavor and spice; and Proto Fish Restaurant which is a beautifully decorated and highly acclaimed seafood restaurant that we would certainly recommend (the mussels and seafood platter!)! And we have to mention, just outside the city walls, a restaurant frequently recognized as one of the most romantic in the world, Nautika Restaurant. Nautika was the finest meal we had on our trip, the food was great and service was the best we experienced (though I must admit, the bar for service in this country is set very low), but what really makes Nautika special is the view of the old town and Fort Lovrijenac with the sun setting over them and then lit up wonderfully once it’s dark. We reserved a table on the edge of the terrace about a month in advance.
Every restaurant in the old town has fantastic people watching since it stays packed with tourists from early morning until night. Due to the crowds though, we would recommend reserving dinner spots 1-2 nights in advance if possible as it is very hard to find a last-minute dinner opening. Multiple, massive cruise liners dock here daily and stay for any length of time between about 8am – 10pm. In all honesty, the overcrowding seems to steal the ancient charm from this UNESCO World Heritage site, so we didn’t spend as much time inside the city walls as we thought we might; choosing instead, to book day trips to the surrounding areas which have so much to offer! But before moving on from the old town, we have to encourage a visit to the Rector’s Palace Museum which has something for everyone – it houses a photography exhibit from the “Homeland War” of the ‘90s, an old prison cell, ancient clothing and weapons, art, architecture, furniture and more.
Many people opt to walk the city walls, which sounds better in theory than actuality on a hot, sunny afternoon. We found that the views were no better than our Airbnb and the crowds stole any sense of connection that might’ve been possible to the old guards who patrolled these same paths. A couple of interesting bar scenes inside the walls include Buza Bar which is found through a literal hole-in-the-wall leading out to the cliff side where patrons can jump into the water to cool off. Gradska Kavana Arsenal which is on the old town port where the small boats and Lokrum ferry depart, it has a beautiful view of the harbor and island lit up at night and interesting cocktail choices. We did not make our way up Mount Srd during our stay, though we wish we had to check out the Museum of the Homeland War. There is a cable car or switchback hike to get up and down the mountain and there are sweeping views with a restaurant at the top in addition to the museum.
Of our five days in Dubrovnik, we scheduled four day trip excursions, with the first one being a short ferry ride over to Lokrum island. The ferry leaves every 30 minutes from 9am – 7pm and costs ~$20 USD for a roundtrip ticket, be sure not to miss the last ferry as it is forbidden to spend the night on this uninhabited island. We loved exploring Lokrum’s forested terrain – there are peacocks running wild, carved out caves and magnificent swim spots. Lokrum, as with a lot of Croatia, is home to many Game of Thrones scene shoots, so there are people running all around the island with checklists to locate those spots. You can also kayak over to Lokrum from Dubrovnik, though kayakers are technically not able to explore on the island as it requires a park fee which is included in the ferry ticket price. Circling the island from sea allows for an alternate view of the caves and terrain though, which we were lucky enough to experience a few days later on our boat trip. After hiking around for a few hours, we grabbed lunch at one of the three restaurants on the island, Lacroma, which turned out much better than expected; we had a super fun waiter and delicious food. After lunch, we wandered around all of the mapped-out landmarks before following a cut in the tree line down to some rocks where we found the perfect swim spot. We swam and laid around on the large rocks for a while then made our way back to catch the ferry home to Dubrovnik. We had an excellent day on Lokrum island!
Our next day trip was a wine tour on the Peljašac peninsula (“Croatia’s Napa Valley” as we heard it called throughout the country) which we booked the day before we intended to go – we emailed five different companies which we found online and only one was able to accommodate us, so probably earlier than one day’s notice is better 😊. We weren’t sure what to expect from our last-minute tour, but it was a great experience! We used Tomislav Tours and had Mike as our driver, he was such a genuine, friendly, knowledgeable guide. He provided plenty of interesting facts about the country and scenery we passed on the way to our first stop, the city of Ston. Ston is known for its world class oysters, farmed in the brackish waters of Mali Ston Bay; as well as its 4+ mile long city wall constructed by Dubrovnik’s Republic of Ragusa in the 14th century to protect its precious salt pans. We enjoyed an oyster breakfast in Bistro Stagnum’s courtyard, Ston oysters are a pretty large size but pack a lot of flavor (opposed to Gulf oysters that we’re used to in Texas which are gigantic but flavorless). After breakfast, we continued on to Miloš winery which is a family run, biodynamic operation. The featured wine of the Peljašac peninsula is from plavač mali grapes (“small blue” red varietal) which we mentioned are used secondarily in Lumbarda. The prized growing area is labeled as Dingač while the rest of the peninsula is labeled as Plavač. We toured the cellar at Miloš and loved their wines so much that we ordered a case, including some of their fabulous olive oil; this was definitely our favorite winery we visited. Next up, Edivo which is known for their Navis Mysterium wine, a Dingač aged under the water of the Adriatic, it comes out with barnacles and sea bits coating the bottle and, supposedly, has flavors enhanced by aging in the cool, salty sea. While we enjoyed the wine tasting and lite bites at this location, we couldn’t perceive a difference from the underwater bottle vs. amphora vs. regular barrel aged; though the barnacle coating is a fun gimmick. Our final stop, Matuško has the most interesting, impressive cellar, do the full tour if stopping here. They have a variety of Dingač reserve and superior selections, we tried the full tasting then each indulged in a glass of reserve Dingač. This is the largest operation of the vineyards we visited. We appreciated the variety in size and style of the wineries to which Mike took us. Finally, we stopped by Mali Ston for more oysters at Vila Koruna on the way home. We sincerely appreciated the quality and cost of this day trip!
Our next day trip was to Bosnia-Herzegovina to visit Kravice Falls and Mostar; this was a long day departing at 7:30 am and arriving home around 6pm. This tour involves a lot of time in the car since there are multiple border crossings going to and from Bosnia-Herzegovina (3 each way). We stopped for coffee in Neum which is the tiny section of coastal property that Bosnia owns, separating Dubrovnik from the rest of Croatia (you cannot drive from Dubrovnik to Split without crossing 2 Bosnian borders). It is a beautiful area, but you can tell even in this small stretch that Bosnia-Herzegovina submits to a lower standard of living than Croatia. The rest of the countryside seems desolate, even Mostar home of the prized Stari-most bridge, has many building facades riddled with bullet holes. Our Bosnian tour guide spoke of the ongoing unemployment, particularly among young people, and the hopelessness directed toward a dysfunctional, three-member presidency (1 Bosniak, 1 Croat, 1 Serb who, together, serve a 4 year term). We stopped at Kravice falls first and were, luckily, one of the first tour groups to arrive. It wasn’t too crowded when we arrived, but an hour later, upon our departure, it was filling up fast. There are a dozen or more waterfalls dropping into a large swimming area with bridges, benches and bistros surrounding the pool. The falls are beautiful, but the swimming area gets crowded fast and there is just so much better swimming in Croatia that we didn’t bother getting in here and wouldn’t recommend staying longer than 1 hour. After Kravice, we went to Mostar where we had a Bosnian tour guide take us around the city imparting all kinds of interesting information. We really enjoyed the tour and were impressed by the beauty of the Stari-most bridge and the river, though the rest of Mostar feels like a tourist trap. We would not call this excursion a “must-see” though we did appreciate the experience to contrast Croatia to its neighbor country and to empathize with the plight of the Bosnian people.
Our final day trip, on our last day in Croatia, was a private, chartered boat trip from Dubrovnik to the Elaphiti Islands (Šipan, Lopud, Koločep). We booked through Dubrovnik Boat Rentals about three days in advance and did a full day tour. We loved our skipper he was super knowledgeable about swim spots, quick hikes on the islands and restaurant recommendations. We cruised around Lokrum to check out a massive cave which we had viewed from above while hiking; he pointed out information about the exterior, water side of the Dubrovnik city walls; we visited all three of the Elaphiti islands, viewing a blue grotto on Šipan, stopping to swim a handful of times and grabbing lunch at a great spot on Lopud. It is very interesting to walk around these islands and imagine the lives of the few people who reside here full time; breathtakingly gorgeous but severely isolated. The boat was stocked with water, wine and beer and had canopy for shade. This was a carefree, relaxing and highly entertaining day on the most beautiful, clear, blue water imaginable.
Overall, we found Croatia to be a beautiful, affordable destination with so much to offer. We were blown away by the views, the clear blue Adriatic, the unlimited fresh seafood, and the ancient charm of every town we visited.