The Croatian city of Dubrovnik and the nearby islands are well worth a visit. Richard Webber takes a personal tour
It’s nicknamed the Pearl of the Adriatic and the historic city of Dubrovnik, lying at the southern tip of Croatia’s elongated coastline – the Dalmatian Coast – is a true gem.
Rightly designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s a perfect short-break destination and will leave you longing to return.
The first beguiling glimpse I got of Dubrovnik was from the winding road I’d travelled on from the airport. High above the city, I stopped at a lay-by and admired the stunning vista below.
The Old Town’s red-tiled roofs shone in the afternoon sun while beyond the calm Adriatic glistened. Yachts cut through the brilliant blue water while palatial boats lay anchored off the nearby island of Lokrum.
Later, as I strolled through narrow passageways admiring gleaming stone buildings, I found it hard to believe that during the 1990s Balkan War, bombing caused significant damage to this prestigious city.
Thankfully, it’s been painstakingly restored.
Heart of town
Dubrovnik’s main attractions are found in and around the Old Town, encircled by over a mile of preserved medieval ramparts.
These ancient fortifications were built to repel enemies attracted by the city’s beauty and wealth.
Nowadays, the walls teem not with soldiers but tourists. Over half a million visit each year to marvel at the array of historic attractions, including baroque, Renaissance and medieval churches and palaces.
After relaxing in the sun at one of many pavement cafes and restaurants, I wandered along Stradun, the main street, and around the arcaded courtyard of Sponza Palace before admiring Rector’s Palace, Church of St Blaise and Roland’s Column, a 15th-century stone monument.
Standing against the column is a huge stone sculpture depicting a warrior. It represents Roland, a revered knight who saved the city from the Saracens.
Dubrovnik, a key location in the award-winning TV series Game Of Thrones, offers countless things to see and do, including lazing on its little beach.
But my favourite activities included catching the cable car to the top of Mount Srd.
There I enjoyed breathtaking views of not just the city but along the mountain-backed Dalmatian coast.
Another highlight included walking around the city walls. Towers, bastions, castles and fortresses form part of this fortification complex.
I kept stopping to admire the views and watch Alpine swifts, which nest in the walls, flitting across the sky.
When it comes to city walls, those at the small town of Ston, an hour up the coast, are even more impressive.
In fact, they’re reputedly the second longest self-standing walls in the world after the Great Wall of China. Built in the 14th century to protect the town’s prosperous salt plains, nearly four miles of wall rise up the hillside; it’s certainly an impressive sight.
But you can’t visit this region without experiencing the islands. Scattered like jewels, hundreds are waiting to be explored.
Not far from Ston, I caught the ferry to Mljet, the most southerly and easterly of the region’s larger islands.
Classed as one of the country’s most beautiful, the relaxed, unspoilt way of life is the perfect antidote to the frenetic world most of us seem to live in.
Dubbed Croatia’s greenest island, too, its gentle sandy shoreline gives way to a dense forest.
After exploring much of the island, I jumped aboard a motor boat which took me around one of two salted lakes, stopping so I could explore a Benedictine monastery.
My pleasant island adventure was rounded off with a late lunch at Restaurant Stermasi (00 385 98 939 0362; stermasi.hr), a tranquil spot at the island’s south-eastern corner.
On my final day, I headed 14 miles down the coast to Cavtat. Once on the main pathway of the major trading routes, the seas hide ancient shipwrecks.
But I stayed on dry land, exploring Croatia’s southernmost tourist destination.
Once again, there are many historical things to see, including the painting collection of St Nicholas Church and the Franciscan monastery. The town occupies an enviable position on a wooded spit of land and is a must for any itinerary.
All too soon my Dubrovnik visit had come to an end. But rather than ‘goodbye’, the words ‘look forward to seeing you again one day’ seemed more appropriate; after all, once you’ve visited you’ll be mesmerised by the city’s charm.