Monday, 5 March 2018

Travel | A city break in Dubrovnik, Croatia

I’ve never been to Croatia before. A good friend of mine is half Croatian and her enthusiasm for the country always had me intrigued… In October, I got to experience wonderful Dubrovnik for the first time and here’s what I discovered on my city break.

Croatia: A luxury travel destination?

If your mental image of Croatia is more Eastern bloc than luxury holiday destination, think again. I’d been aware of increasing numbers of Sunday supplement features on how Croatia is the new Italy, but I wasn’t prepared for just how appealing it is. From food and drink to spa hotels, my experience of Dubrovnik has been one that compares to the best European cities.

Our hotel – the 4 star Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik Hotel – has won countless ‘Croatia’s Leading Hotel’ and ‘Croatia’s Leading Business Hotel' World Travel Awards. It was GORGEOUS. A five minute drive outside Dubrovnik itself, the Valamar Lacroma sits on the Babin Kuk peninsula, surrounded by pine tree forests and white pebble beaches. Yes, it’s as lovely as it sounds.

There’s a spa. A fitness studio. Two pools. Two restaurants. Four bars, one of which has panoramic views of the Elaphiti Islands. And the rooms are spacious and relaxing - look at that view!

You can properly tell a fancy place by the company it keeps, and the Croatians are a stylish breed. Whether it’s their immaculate hair and make up, well turned out clothes or blingy accessories, us Brits looked like total scruffs. We emerged slightly more groomed from the Ragusa Spa at the Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik Hotel one evening, after an afternoon of swimming, infra red sauna and a massage.

There’s much more to Dubrovnik than Game of Thrones locations

When I mentioned to my mum that I was off to Dubrovnik for a few days, she swooned at her pre-war memories of this beautiful city. ‘The streets are shiny like marble!’, she said. I didn’t pay that much attention until I walked through one of the city’s gates and out into the most incredibly sparkling scene. UNESCO don’t declare World Heritage Sites lightly, but this one can’t have been a hard sell!

Dubrovnik's distinctive limestone pedestrianised Stradun are lined with shops and restuarants, and there are no cars within the city walls meaning you can wander through the restored streets undisturbed. Much of the city was destroyed during the war, but rebuilt in the 1990s and 2000s using uniform building materials and roof tiles, which makes for an incredibly picturesque experience.

As well as exploring on the ground, Dubrovnik is famous for its city walls. These 4-6 metre thick walls were built for protection centuries ago, and you can now walk the almost 2 kilometre round trip to see the city from up high (25 metres high to be precise!). The views are spectacular, both over the city itself and beyond to the beaches, sea and mountains surrounding Dubrovnik.

The walls also make for some excellent nooks and crannies just waiting to be explored. We followed the signs to the Buza bar (Buza meaning ‘hole-in-the-wall’) and emerged through the wall onto a tiny cliffside area where tables and chairs were arranged overlooking a quite breathtaking sea view.

We wandered through the city, led by our tour guide who pointed out some of Dubrovnik’s famous spots including the oldest pharmacy in Europe and plenty of Game of Thrones locations.

Dubrovnik can get incredibly busy in the summer months when cruise ships dock daily and tourists crowd into the city. Our trip took place in October when things were a lot quieter, which I can very much recommend, although city officials are figuring out a way to cap summer tourism to more manageable levels.

As the sun went down, we visited a wine bar called Dingac Skaramuca which is just off Old Town square. Here, we were introduced to some of the Croatian wines – more of that later – and the waiter had prepared by asking some vegan friends what snacks would work for me (so kind!) and so I nibbled on breadsticks, olives, nuts and smoked tofu.

The city is particularly beautiful by night, its shiny streets looking even glitterier and more magical in contrast with the dark sky.

And yes, there are those Game of Thrones locations teeming with fans taking selfies. No, I’ve never seen it (I KNOW!). But having visited Dubrovnik, I think I’m going to give it a go. The city has inspired me in so many ways, from my upcoming telly choices to my future travel plans.

I’ll be back here again, no doubt.

My stay at the Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik Hotel was provided for the purposes of this review but all words and thoughts are my own.

For more information and to book, visit the Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik Hotel website.

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Can you be vegan in Croatia? What's the wine like? Food and drink in Dubrovnik

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