The crystal clear Adriatic splashes at its ancient walls, the national flag flaps proudly from its turrets and its baroque architectural masterpieces glow majestically beneath that Dalmatian sun.
Dubrovnik – Jewel of the Adriatic.
This is a catch phase that gets thrown around a hell of a lot when people write about this magnificent walled city.
Dubrovnik is a city I always hoped I’d return to some day. The first time was in 2002, and then, finally, one more time in 2017. Seeing it from a distance as we approached from the east almost gave me goosebumps, especially coupled with the fact we’d finally come back to Croatia.
Sveti Ignacije – Church of Saint Ignatius
We stayed in an apartment just outside the old city walls, and walking down the steps that lead straight towards the Minčeta Tower – the highest point of the old city walls – was a breathtaking experience.
The steps descend towards the Pile Gate – built in 1573 – located on the west side of the city, and it was approaching this entrance that immediately sapped me of my excitement.
A sea of humans surrounded it, spilling across the old stone bridge and through the Pile Gate. Flag-carrying guides and countless tour groups shoved about, prams clipped your heels, people yelled and screeched and an obstacle course of selfie stick-wielders capped it all off.
We got as far as Onofrio’s Fountain just beyond the gate, looked at each other in disbelief, looked back out at the ebb and flow of hundreds of humans along the main thoroughfare of Stradun, then hightailed it out of there.
Mid-afternoon in September was clearly not the time to properly enjoy this beautiful old city. Well, not for us, anyway.
Gundulićeva Poljana Market
The following morning we returned at 8am and found a Dubrovnik that resembled the one I remember from 2002. Significantly less people and a chance to explore its gorgeous streets before those cruise ships and tour buses dumped their passengers at the gates at 9am.
The restaurants and shops may not have been open yet, but we didn’t care. A coffee at one of the cafés tucked in the backstreets, picking up fresh fruit at the farmers’ market in Gundulić’s Square and taking photos without pouting photobombs or people giving the ‘victory sign’ in the background.
Seeing those stunning buildings and squares bathed in morning sun – minus the hoards – made it all the more magical.
Thanks to Dubrovnik’s inflated prices and our travellers budget, all meals were prepared in our apartment. Something we were prepared for as Croatia, especially Dubrovnik, aren’t the cheapest places around.
The sparsely-stocked Pemo convenience store provided us with ingredients, and thanks to bay trees growing in the neighbourhood and fresh sage and thyme growing wild on the walking track up Srđ (the mountain), we had enough herbage to make it taste mighty fine. Plus some extra that I dried to keep in my travellers herb and spice container!
Most of our time in Dubrovnik was actually spent outside the old city walls. Hiking up Srđ to the lookout, having beers or coffee at Yummi Café and Biker’s Café near the cable car station, and just hanging out.
Sadly mass tourism is rapidly turning Dubrovnik into a beautiful amusement park completely overrun with people. It’s undoubtedly my least favourite of all the places we’d visited over our 15 months of travel; something I’m horribly saddened to even say.
I’m not one that enjoys having to fight and shove my way through streets to enjoy a destination, so here’s hoping the new Dubrovnik mayor Mato Franković follows through with his plans to curb the number of cruise ship visitors that plague this city in peak times.
Buses to Dubrovnik depart Kotor bus station at 10.10am and arrive at the main bus station at 2pm. Cost is €20 per person.