Dubrovnik, called the Jewel of the Adriatic, was the last stop on the Raffsâ€™ Croatia itinerary. Tourism in this town has skyrocketed in the last few years primarily fueled by Game of Thrones, as it was a major filming site and inspiration for Kingâ€™s Landing. It is famous for its city walls which are the best preserved in all of Europe and kept the city independent for centuries.
We felt a bit of crowd shock upon our arrival after leaving tiny, slow-paced Korcula. Hopping off the local bus, we were welcomed at the gate by what felt like hordes of tourists. It made me thankful that we were here in â€œoff-seasonâ€ with no cruise boats, well at least today. I canâ€™t imagine what it would be like in peak season! However, we soon discovered that it was possible to lose the crowds and find a few empty lanes in the old city. One of my favorite things about exploring these old walled towns is just getting lost. Walk around, seek out the tiny courtyards, and find the small restaurants and shops!
I was most excited about walking the city walls. In fact, I was so excited, I barely slept that night in anticipation and worry to not oversleep! The best time to walk the walls is first thing in the morning to avoid tour groups and cruise ship crowds. We were among the first few people of the morning and had a beautiful sunny day to enjoy the 2 km walk. They smartly have the walls set up as a one-way walk with 3 entrances to help with crowd control. We took our time enjoying the views over 2 hours and really lucked out with the cool day and lack of people!
We started at the Pile gate which gave us a grand view down the Stradum. This is the main boulevard in town with shops lining both sides and is paved with marble. The shops are uniform and not fancy from the outside. This was to keep their riches secret from Venice. Usually, the Stradum is packed with tourists, but our view this morning allowed us to enjoy its beauty.
Most of the city was destroyed during an earthquake in 1667. It was rebuilt into what we see today with the Stradum as the main street and small lanes on each side heading uphill towards the sea (the richer people lived here) or towards the mountains (the working people). We could really appreciate the city layout from above.
We continued to walk toward the sea enjoying spectacular views of St. Lawrence Fort across a small, rocky bay. Putting on our GOT hat, the bay was the inspiration for Blackwater Bay, and St. Lawrence was the Red Keep. I enjoyed the views and looking down the wall into the sea just imagining how intimidating it must have been to arrive at this city via sea and look up at these walls!
To get to the wall section facing the mountains is a steep uphill hike past the old port. This portion gave us the best views of the city itself. The buildings all had orange tiled roofs, most bright, but a few were faded. This city saw heavy fighting in the 1990â€™s, so most of the roofs are new. A few of the buildings were not harmed, so they have the faded roofs.
This portion of the wall was heavily fortified with different lookouts to protect the hillside. What a strategic place to build this city and its fortifications! It sure was impressive and beautiful.
After our hike, we decided we needed a refreshment. Since we had our tourist hat on, we headed to Buza bar to enjoy a drink while clinging to the cliffside outside the wall. Buza in Croatian means hole. To get to the bar, you literally had to crawl through a hole in the wall. It was a gorgeous view!
A siesta is a must in Dubrovnik to avoid the heat of the day and the brunt of the crowds. We enjoyed some downtime and even a nap for me (a highly unusual event) before heading back out to explore. In the afternoon, we toured St. Lawrence Fort and enjoyed views of the city wall that we had just walked that morning! Nice to have a different perspective.
We also went up to the top of Mt. Srd, the towering mountain above town to get a good perspective of the whole city. There was also an interesting war museum highlighting the siege of Dubrovnik from 1991-1992. The city defended itself and again did not fall. The exhibit had pictures showing retrofitted fishing boats with machine guns and what city life was like during the siege.
The next day, we decided to escape the old town for Lokrum Island via a 10-minute ferry ride from the old port. During our wall walk, we enjoyed great views of the island, so we were looking forward to seeing the city from a different perspective. The island is a great little getaway to enjoy a botanical garden, nature trails, peacocks and beaches. No swimming for the Raffs, as the weather was looking ominous. Instead, we just wandered around enjoying the views. We did happen upon a GOT exhibit and just had to sit in the iron throne!
Our last day in Dubrovnik had a terrible weather forecastâ€¦ 100% chance of rain all day long. What do the Raffs do on a rainy dayâ€¦ we go wine tasting! Luckily for us, the Peljesac peninsula is a quick 1.5-hour drive to one of the best wine regions in Croatia! Off we went in our little rental car into the down pour which at one point was so heavy, I had to pull over because I couldnâ€™t see! By the time we arrived at the first winery, the weather cleared up, and I needed some wine!
The main grape grown in this region is the Plavic Mali which means little blue.Â It is a distant relative to zinfandel.Â The peninsula has 2 different climates separated by a tiny mountain range.Â The seaside of the mountains is called Dingac.Â It is very steep, rocky, windy and sunny.Â The grapes have a hard existence which means good wine.Â On the other side of the mountains is a fertile valley, so the grapes grow big and happy.Â These are used primarily for every-day wines.Â There is a 400m tunnel that goes through the mountain separating the 2 regions.Â It was very interesting to taste the same grape from each region â€“ totally different!
I really enjoyed the two small family wineries that we visited. The wines were excellent, and we bought enough wine to last us through our remaining time in the Balkans! However, my favorite part was meeting the winemakers and learning about life on the peninsula in their tiny village. The population is very small so for high school, the kids either board in Dubrovnik or take a ferry to a nearby island daily to attend classes! We learned about a special wine that they make when their children are born to drink at their weddings. It was fascinating and such an incredible experience to sit down and have a one-on-one conversation. They could learn about us, and we learned about them. It was really, really special.
Dubrovnik earns its name as the Jewel in the Adriatic.Â The walls glimmered in the brilliant sunlight and the sea sparkled below.Â I really enjoyed its fairy tale walls, wandering its tiny lanes and enjoying delicious food and wine.Â It was a great capstone to our Croatia travels.