A city for all seasons
“If you want to see heaven on Earth, come to Dubrovnik” said George Bernard Shaw, and the man wasn’t wrong. Perched atop Mount Srd, overlooking the magnificent Old City and the archipelago of Elaphite islands floating in the crystal waters of the Adriatic, glass of Croatian wine in hand, it’s clear to see that Bernard Shaw knew what he was talking about.
From this stunning vantage point, a window seat at the pertinently named Panorama Restaurant, I can see both the hundreds of terracotta roofs that make up Dubrovnik below us and Serbia and Montenegro in the distance. Lunch is a feast not only for the eyes but for our hungry mouths too; platters of fresh fish, cured meats and tasty cheeses arrive at the table.
The meal is well timed; my travel companions and I are ravenous after a morning spent walking the ancient city walls, which encircle Dubrovnik, instantly recognisable after their prominent role in HBO’s Game of Thrones series’. The complex walls spanning over a mile in length were built between the 12th and 17th centuries and are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Full to the brim of Croatian delicacies we board the cable car that whizzed us up to these great heights. At the perfect moment the winter sun breaks through the cloud and our carriage begins its descent into this beautiful ancient city basked in dappled sunlight.
In the expert hands of a local guide we wind our way through the cobbled streets, taking in the architectural wonders within the walls and hearing the myths and legends attributed to each. Dubrovnik really is a city of fairytales like none other. As we pass the 13th century Franciscan monastery, we peek inside at the functioning pharmacy, thought to be the third oldest in the world. The old city has been laid siege to many times throughout history yet has miraculously managed to preserve its beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, fountains and palaces.
The latest threat to the city is a double-edged sword, tourism. 2016 saw a record number of visitors but as numbers show no sign of abating, the city’s mayor is taking measures to limit numbers in peak season, to prevent damage to the listed buildings.
Sitting on the southern tip of Croatia, Dubrovnik is mild all year round so there really is no need to go when everyone else does. Visiting ‘off season’ means we’re sharing the shiny dolomite cobbled streets with a few friendly locals and rather than hoards of cruise ship passengers.
Wine lovers are in luck in Croatia. Sat at giant oak barrels outside the wonderful Wine Bar Dingač Skaramuča, we sample the very best of the local wines and cheeses by candlelight as our animated host Fani Skaramuča talks passionately about the nearby vineyards, farms and producers from which they came.
The soporific effects of our tasting kick in, suddenly bed is the only thing on my mind and boy is the bed at our hotel, the four-star Valamar Lacroma, worthy of a mention. Tucked away on the top floor of the immaculate split-level suite, the bed is big enough for three with a pillow menu to please even the fussiest of guests.
A stone’s throw away on the sea front sits the five-star Valamar Dubrovnik President Hotel, newly-refurbished and boasting beachfront restaurant, piano bar, state-of-the-art spa and rooftop Jacuzzis with panoramic views of the Dalmation Coast.
Such is the wealth of amenities offered between the sister hotels that you’d be justified in never leaving. Yet their greatest asset is without doubt their close proximity to the wonders of Dubrovnik and so it is that after a heavenly night’s sleep we’re all set to explore more.
After a hearty breakfast we walk through gardens and a forest of pine trees, past a white pebble beach, down a jetty and onto a local speedboat to begin our tour of the Elaphiti Islands. As we moor the boat in Lopud’s picture perfect harbour the waves lap up against shoreline in the glorious morning sunshine and so blissful is the peace and calm that I can’t imagine being here or wanting to be here in the heat and crowds of summer.
After journeying back to Dubrovnik’s beautiful harbour and another long lazy lunch I’m as content as can be and in the perfect frame of mind to enjoy an indulgent afternoon in the Valamar Lacroma’s sea-view spa. Replete with massage showers, steam rooms and saunas of all shapes and sizes, the luxurious Ragusa Spa & Wellness Centre is up there with the best of them, as is the signature massage treatment.
Rubbed, scrubbed and squeaky clean, we head down to the Langosto fine-dining restaurant for an epicurean feast beginning with fresh mozzarella and wrapping up with velvety crème brûlée. The meal is delicious, as is every meal we enjoy on the trip and that’s just one of the things about Croatia that caught me by surprise.
Dubrovnik has been on my To Do List for longer than I can remember, granted I’d envisaged being there in a bikini, sipping rosé in a Buza bar but having had the city to ourselves for a weekend I’m feeling smug at the decision to visit out of season. Dubrovnik is a city steeped in history and culture and it’s been a true privilege to see its battle wounds and hear its stories in the peace and quiet of winter.