Dubrovnik looks like a model for Disney`s Fantasyland. Streets paved with blocks of colored stone that shine like marble are lined with tall, narrow stone houses that have been occupied by the same families since the Middle Ages. Arched doorways frame carved wooden doors and windows are adorned with flower boxes. An occasional tree, gnarled with age, snakes up a wall and shades a balcony. There are sparkling public squares with magnificent fountains and dozens of churches whose bells echo hourly through town. This town is a picture postcard well worth the buying.
But that`s not all there is to buy in Dubrovnik. The port has enough boutiques to be a mall-a marble mall set in fairyland. Shops offer standard souvenirs, but unusual Yugoslav handicrafts are much more interesting:
beautifully embroidered clothing, charming and useful articles for the home, silver and gold filigree, leather clothing and accessories, and more.
Dubrovkinja, a state-owned company, has many shops on Praca, the main street. These shops are identified by number (rather than name or address) and salesclerks can tell you where a specific shop is located. Dubrovkinja shops have standardized stock, but each has special treasures as well:
Medieval architecture, cobblestone streets, and a panorama of Navy blue seas are the daily background of Dubrovnik, the coastal city in southern Croatia. In the warmer months, the charming walled town gives a sly wink and opens its arms to those looking for a private getaway more affordable than Saint Tropez, Forte di Marmi, or the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia. And in the winter months, after the crowds depart, the Old Town quiets down but offers no less to curious travelers. Here’s how to best enjoy it any time of year.
By day, the city’s main street, Stradun, teems with activity. It bisects the city and its stones have been polished to an occasionally slippery shine by the feet of multitudes. At one end is the bright white 15th Century Bell Tower and halfway along is the impressive Church of St Blaise, a baroque masterpiece rebuilt following a fire in the early 18th Century, and adorned lavishly.
Adding atmosphere and a welcome sense of calm along the street, old men dressed in traditional costume twang and tap their way through ancestral folk songs and accomplished choirs indulge their audiences with klapa, a mesmerising style of Croatian singing.
One of my favourite places within the walls was the beautifully restored Franciscan Apothecary Museum, where you get an insight into the lives of the potion-toting friars who once lived there.
A word of warning though – in high summer the crowds make Oxford Street on a Saturday seem like an attractive proposition. So unless your idea of fun is getting caught regularly in an American tourist’s camera strap, then visit during the earlier months.
The medieval fortress makes for a memorable morning workout. The stone ramparts, gates, bastions, forts, and towers that they connect span nearly 6,400 feet (1.2 miles). From every point, the walls give visitors a glimpse into the city’s construction and centuries of defense. When you’re ready for a break, the St. John’s Gate has a small juice bar and leads to the Maritime Museum (don’t miss your Instagram-worthy chance to stand next to those large anchors), while the Revelin tower has a nightclub open in the evening. After you’ve walked the perimeter, take a ride on the local cable car to see what you just walked.
Near the city’s Pile gate, the Franciscan Monastery is a feat of Romanesque artistry. Its cloister, with arches and 120 columns, musters mid-14th century charm and nostalgia, and the same goes for its museum collection of paintings and relics. The Old Pharmacy, the third oldest in the world, has been selling its tinctures and potions since 1317.
Get down with Game of Thrones: While the Old Town and its walls may be the site of King’s Landing and Cersei’s walk of shame on the show, the nearby Trsteno Arboretumhas played backdrop to some of the Lannisters’ finest moments. The early Renaissance botanical garden has a world-class collection of plants and trees, including 500-year-old oriental pines, and sits cliff side for the perfect sunset moment.
Tour the city: The Old Town may be tiny, but feels larger than life with Aljosa Lecic, a private guide from Calvados Club. One of the city’s more prolific guides, Aljosa can wax poetic, political, and philosophical, while sharing locals-only tips and sidestepping into the music school where he trained as a child.
Swim: A dip in the Adriatic is meditative and most likely healing, thanks to the perfect combination of temperature, cleanliness, and salt. The city is surrounded by beaches, but there is nothing like the water-level promenade of the Hotel Excelsior.
No other European city boasts such complete and spectacular walls. You can locate one of the entrances to these medieval marvels just inside the Pile Gate (1); ticket sales (60 kuna/£7.50) take place from 8am-5pm. Hang on to your ticket, because you may be asked for it at several checkpoints along the way.
Climb the first of many stone stairways to reach fortifications that date back more than a millennium in places, and are protected by Unesco. Besides providing the ideal introduction to the city and hoisting you high above the terracotta roofs and even church steeples, the walls themselves are full of interest. They are punctuated by bastions and spiced up by cafés and bars, which may help to draw out your tour to a pleasurable two hours or more.
For most people, the best months to come here are May to June or September to October – think sunny days with the sea warm enough to swim, and hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions open, but without the crowds.
During peak season, July to August, Dubrovnik is over-run by tourists – hotel prices rocket and restaurants and beaches are packed, but on the plus side you get the Dubrovnik Summer Festival and a glitzy nightlife.
Low season, November to April, can be lovely, though most facilities are closed and the weather is less reliable. Some hotels and restaurants now open for Christmas and New Year, but almost everything is shut through the rest of January. And while a few places reopen for Carnival in February, the new season only really begins at Easter.