My kind of place: Croatia’s most popular destination is a fairy-tale location for Game of Thrones.
Dubrovnik in Croatia is a small-screen star
Even the hordes of cruise passengers that descend on this Unesco World Heritage Site can’t diminish the beauty of this glittering city jutting into the Adriatic Sea. The medieval walls that circle the Old Town look like something out of a fairy tale – a fact not lost on fans of Game of Thrones who have been adding another layer of tourism to the star of the HBO drama, Croatia’s most popular destination.
The polished marble stones of the main pedestrianised thoroughfare, Stradun, gleam in the sun, flanked by green-shuttered stone houses. Walk around the medieval walls (100 Croatian kuna [Dh54]) for the best views of the baroque and Renaissance palaces and terracotta rooftops.
A comfortable bed
The super-luxurious Villa Dubrovnik (www.villa-dubrovnik.hr; 00385 20 500300) is in a sublime setting on the cliffs overlooking St Jacob’s Beach. All 56 rooms have sea-view terraces, and a boat regularly ferries guests over to the Old Town. There’s a private rocky beach down below, and the indoor pool has enormous windows that open on to the terrace. Doubles cost from €240 (Dh983), room only.
Tucked away in a peaceful lane off Stradun is St Joseph’s (www.stjosephs.hr; 00385 95 822 3740), a stylish new boutique hotel that opened last summer. Its six elegant rooms have an upmarket French country-cottage feel, with exposed pale stone walls and a real sense of history in a 500-year-old house – but the kitchenettes and marble bathrooms are thoroughly modern. Doubles cost from €250 (Dh1,024), including breakfast.
You’re guaranteed a warm welcome at Fresh Sheets (www.freshsheetsbedandbreakfast.com; 00385 91896 7509), a cosy B&B run by a Croatian-Canadian couple in a historic house by the cathedral. The light, airy rooms have smart contemporary decor, and one overlooks the bustling Gundulic daily market (but has excellent soundproofing). Doubles cost from €188 (Dh770), which includes a very generous breakfast.
Find your feet
Flanked by the Pile and Ploce gates, the Old Town is the heart of the tourist industry. Just outside Ploce Gate is the Old Town’s pebbly beach, Banje. Pile Gate is a busy transport hub, with buses disgorging passengers from the cruise ships. Here you’ll find the main tourist office at Brsalje 5 (www.tzdubrovnik.hr).
Walk beyond Pile Gate and you reach the newer districts of Lapad and Babin Kuk, where modern hotels hover above family-friendly beaches. Next door is Gruž, the departure point for ferries heading to islands including Mljet.
Looming over the city is Mount Srd, connected by cable car (www.dubrovnikcablecar.com; 100 kuna [Dh54]) – or a two-hour hike. Once at the 405-metre peak, you’re rewarded with sweeping views of the city and the rocky coast.
Meet the locals
Climb the steep steps leading off Stradun on Palmoticeva to D’Vino (www.dvino.net; 00385 20 321130), a buzzing bar with a vaulted interior and tables squeezed into the narrow street. South of Stradun towards the Pile Gate is the Dionysus Pub (00385 99 649 9244), run by a passionate ambassador for local brands. Buza Bar (00385 98 361 934) is a tourist magnet, but locals too head to this beautiful spot clinging to the rocks beneath the city walls, especially at sunset. Residents escaping the Old Town crowds haunt the bars along Iva Vojnovica street in Lapad, including Culto and Mirakul.
Book a table
There’s more than a hint of Asia at the relaxed Azur (www.facebook.com/AzurDubrovnik; 00385 20 324 806) on a tiny street near the aquarium. Mediterranean dishes are given a hefty eastern kick, such as grilled swordfish in black curry sauce (148 kuna [Dh80]). Round off the meal with sticky baklava (28 kuna [Dh15]).
If you want to take a breather from the Old Town, try Pantarul (www.pantarul.com; 00385 20 333 486) in Lapad for innovative takes on Croatian cuisine. The five-course tasting menu (270 kuna [Dh146]) is good value and includes steak tartare, duck liver mousse and veal rib confit.
Get your fill of delicious Ston oysters at Oyster & Sushi Bar Bota (www.bota-sare.hr; 00385 20 324 034), a shiny, modern restaurant near the cathedral. It’s a sushi, teriyaki and tempura temple to Adriatic seafood: try the oyster roll in tempura (46 kuna [Dh25]).
Dubrovnik isn’t known for extensive shopping, but there’s a large collection of designer labels at Maria Store (www.mariastore.hr; 00385 20 321 330) on Sveti Dominika near Ploce Gate. Check out Je*s (www.jegerstar.com; 00385 20 323843) at Od Puca 7 for high-street labels. The main daily food market is at Gruž Harbour, a handy place to stock up on picnic treats if you’re taking an island ferry. The market in Gundulic Square is more geared towards tourists, but is still a lively spectacle.
What to avoid
Stradun at midday, when cruise crowds throng the Old Town. You won’t be able to move.
Escape the city for a day by catching a boat to the island of Lokrum. Covered in forested trails and ringed by rocky beaches, it’s an idyllic spot for a lazy picnic.
A return flight with Qatar Airways (www.qatarairways.com) from Dubai to Dubrovnik, via Doha and Athens, takes about nine hours and costs from Dh3,115, including taxes.
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