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Croatia - Jewel of the Adriatic

Published: Wed 15 Aug 2012 at 11:50

Updated: Wed 15 Aug 2012 at 11:51

With its cobblestone charm and buzzing café scene, Dubrovnik is undoubtedly one of the finest, most beautifully preserved medieval cities in Europe. Sarah Woods checks out what Croatia's sunniest hot spot has to offer and discovers a historic seafaring port edged by gin-clear waters, gorgeous beaches and walkable rugged hills.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote that "those who seek heaven  on earth must come to Dubrovnik" – and today over ten million visitors a year descend on Croatia’s rugged Dalmatia coastline to discover the region’s unique charm. As the nation’s number one tourism draw for much of the past, Dubrovnik is a must-visit architectural jewel in the Croatian south: a handsome, stone-walled medieval harbor city set amongst oak forests and shimmering waters. 

Dubbed "the pearl of the Adriatic", Dubrovnik became aUNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 due to the historical, artistic and cultural importance of its fine, red-roofed alabaster-coloured buildings and charming cobblestone streets polished marble-smooth by time. It also boasts the distinction of being Croatia’s sunniest city with over 2,600 hours per annum.

Renaissance churches and palaces snuggle up against outdoor cafés and paved plazas framed by skinny sidestreets that reach out into the hills. Sip Croatian fruit brandy amidst Gothic and Baroque ramparts, towers and spires whilst admiring pink and white pompom oleander blooms, citrus trees and the glassy waters of the Adriatic. Enter Dubrovnik’s ancient core through two main entrances (the Pile Gate to the west and the Ploce Gate to the east) to meander through a labyrinth of tree-shaded courtyard gardens over stone bridges to carved stone monuments and grand fountains. 

Stradun (or Placa) – a rodstraight wide street at the centre of town – forms the main arterial, offering access to the robust, thick stone walls and jaw-dropping views across craggy rocks, gabled roof-tops, monasteries and washing lines strung with clothes to sparkling boat-scattered waters and beyond. Gaze down from towers, bastions and citadels onto a city founded in the 7th century and marvel at its Franciscan cloisters, Dominican stonemasonry and ornate palatial grandeur. In 16th-century Sponza Palace (originally a customs house) visitors walk in the footsteps of merchants from all over the globe, through national archives containing over 100,000 documents,  books and manuscripts protected by a statue of St Blaise (Dubrovnik’s patron saint) nestled in an alcove.  

Dubrovnik’s lengthy literary tradition is still celebrated through poetry, plays, music and colourful festivals. 

Cosy backstreet bars remain the gathering place of men of letters engaged in lively debates about politics, love and the arts. Choirs, artists, soloists, orchestras, dance and theatre groups all have a home in Dubrovnik and a myriad of performances,  shows and recitals celebrate this heritage such as the magical candle-lit concerts and choral programmes held in numerous churches and the Rector’s Palace and classical plays, including Shakespeare, performed atop the fort with the city’s beauty and the Adriatic’s turquoise depths as an unforgettable backdrop.  Yet Dubrovnik is so much more than a fascinating Old Town with an olden history, as its world-class Adriatic beach resorts testify. A string of gorgeous beaches stretch out from the city’s historical centre and look out onto a necklace of offshore wooded islands that beg day-trip exploration. 

Hikers, birders and mountain bikers delve into the loosestone leafy trails that weave  up to the top of the majestic Mount Srd. Join a captained fishing excursion around the  Dubrovnik isles or dive down to an historical wreck or reef covered in coral and seashells. After dark, the city’s treasure trove of architecture takes on an ethereal quality as moonlight, torch light and candlelight illuminate an inviting array of cafés, bars and clubs. Choose from cocktail lounges, sports cafés, Croatian soul food, jazz, rock, DJs or folk music as the Dalmatian Riviera’s most vibrant nightlife truly comes into its own and the streets fill with the sounds of conviviality and the sizzling aromas of grilled fish and seafood.

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