You’ve all seen Mamma Mia two haven’t you? Far from being shot in Greece where it was set, it was in fact shot in Croatia on an island called Vis. The Magpie Anthology didn’t quite make Vis, but instead explored the Unesco World Heritage site of Dubrovnik which had all the credentials for the stuff that films are made of and Games of Thrones thought so too.
Stuck on the tarmac at Gatwick because the airline had ‘forgotten’ two passengers at six in the morning is not the most auspicious start to a holiday but never mind. Arriving in Dubrovnik was a world away from the dull morning we’d left behind as we landed amidst sparkling sunshine having flown across turquoise seas and red roofed houses to get to our destination.
We’d chosen the Hotel Zagreb in Lapad outside the main town, not because it seemed like the best bet but more because there were very few hotel rooms available it seemed in October. The hotel has a sort of Cote d’Azur faded glamour about it, lots of marble floors and in need of an update, but the staff were friendly and the buffet breakfast wasn’t bad so in we checked. Lapad is a 15 minute bus ride outside the old town of Dubrovnik and the clever hack is to get a three day pass (you can also get one day or five) for around £30 which will give you three return bus journeys into town, access to the city walls and various museums and a bus ticket to Cavtat of which more later.
The old town of Dubrovnik is just fabulous. Take a turn around the city walls all 2km of it and just drink in the stunning views across the sea, the old houses and buildings within the walled town up to the hills and mountains beyond. Even in October, the old town is busy as cruise ships dock at the nearby port of Gruz and there are innumerable tours and guided walks going on all the time – I can’t imagine how busy (and hot) it must be in the summer. There are various places along the walls to stop off for refreshment, but beware they are expensive, we paid £4 for a small Coke. There are steps. Lots and lots of steps so take sensible shoes and leave your Manolos at home. The city walls are fairly onerous walking and if you want to get up to the upper road then be prepared for many steps! Inside the town there’s lots to see with museums, galleries and plenty of shops and restaurants for every taste. We ate in the old port, fish pate, fried octopus and a ginormous salad – not cheap but very good and lots of opportunity for people watching. It’s very much a town for wandering, having a coffee, a spot of lunch, a glass of wine…
Lapad where we stayed was actually a stroke of unintended genius. Set on a peninsula outside town, there is a pedestrianised walkway full of restaurants, bars and cafes with kiosks for those essentials and goes right down to the beach. Sunset Beach to be precise. This is where people come just to watch the spectacular sunsets which seem to occur nightly (there are even boats trips out to see these sunsets) and it really is a sight not to be missed – perfect Instagram shots to make your friends roll their eyes!
Just the other side of Dubrovnik and back towards the airport is the little fishing village of Cavtat. Get on the number 10 bus which goes from up beside the cable car station and half an hour later there you are. It’s picture perfect pretty and you can hike around the peninsula which takes around an hour before returning to town for lunch. We had ours at Restaurant Leut, a study in old fashioned charm, manners and some very fresh fish and shellfish. They threw in a complimentary grappa and some sort of local sweet wine which made the husband and I both nod off on the bus back. There’s lots to see in Cavtat if you like mausoleums and churches. If not, then sit in the port and watch the big yacht charters come in a dream like you’re a Getty.
There are loads and loads of things you could do in Dubrovnik – boat trips to the Elaphite Islands, kayaking, Game of Thrones tours, wine tours and trips to Bosnia and Motenegro. None of them are cheap and I must admit we decided against them and had our last day on the beach as we’d managed to walk 60km in four days. It’s a great place off season as the weather is still lovely in October and I imagine would be in spring too and we had temperatures of around 75 degrees whilst we were there. Stand out places to eat were the Atlantic (as opposed to Adriatic) Kitchen in Lapad where we had dinner twice – plumptious prawns and a sublime sea bass. It’s tucked away at the back of the pedestrianised part and up many many steps but worth the climb and there’s the Pink Shrimp in the old town which is simple but tasty street food. Apart from that nothing really stood out.
Go to Dubrovnik, the people are genuinely friendly, the sights are simply stunning and you can seafood yourself to your heart’s content whist sipping the local Grasevina, the white wine of Croatia. It isn’t cheap but then again it isn’t a rip off either but it’s definitely tourist orientated. If I went again I’d hire a car and go to Montenegro and into the Konavle region to taste wine and a little less tourist culture but go back I would. It has a really friendly vibe, I need to explore some islands and who knows, might channel my inner Meryl Streep…
We flew with Easyjet and stayed at the Hotel Zagreb
Words & Pictures: Mary Anne Singleton