Weekend Escape to Dubrovnik, Crown of the Adriatic Sea

I’d never been to Eastern Europe before, but the more I dug up on the scenic sea vistas and lush greenery that is Dubrovnik, the more convinced I became of its status as an ideal weekend getaway. The touristic Old Town seemed small, quaint, and navigable, walled in on all sides to protect against the Venetian and Ottoman empires in earlier centuries. The city’s position on the southern tip of Croatia bordering the continent’s purest body of water—the Adriatic Sea—was only further testament to the natural beauty that awaited us.

The clear blue-green waters of the Adriatic Sea

And yet my vision of Dubrovnik fell considerably short of what the experience proved to be. A direct flight from Beirut in the wee hours of a Friday morning in mid-August saw us on board Croatia Airlines, and in a speedy two and a half hours, we were strutting past automated glass doors into the hot summer Dubrovnik air. A pre-arranged shuttle swept us from the airport to the hotel within 25 minutes. We’d be staying in an area called Babin Kuk, northwest of the city center and situated on the farthest reaches of the peninsula with a beautiful claim to the Adriatic.

Still several hours from check-in, we stowed our bags with the porter and made by foot on the picturesque seaboard that winds around the region. We stopped in for lunch at the Orsan Yacht Club, tucked away from the teeming throngs of tourists. You dine al fresco right on the water, and as you await your order, the restaurant offers a plated scoop of tuna paté, a sole anchovy, and a sliver of shrimp to whet the appetite.

Sampler platter to whet the appetite: tuna paté, anchovy and shrimp

Orsan afforded us the perfect introduction to high-quality Croatian seafood robust with flavor and texture. The generous octopus salad marries mollusk morsels to sweet white onion ringlets, capers, and green and black olives, all tossed in an olive oil vinaigrette. The seafood risotto is heftily endowed with mussels, baby shrimp, cuttlefish and a solitary langoustine in an al dente concoction still simmering in fish broth. The oysters are unbelievably fresh and affordable, at just 10 Kn (USD 1.50) each.

Octopus salad with white onions, green olives, capers, and grape tomatoes

Seafood risotto chockfull of baby shrimp, mussels, cuttlefish and a langoustine

Fresh oysters for just 10 Kn (USD 1.50) each

One of the regional specialties is Dalmatian double-smoked ham, Prsut, akin to Italian prosciutto but noticeably less salty. Paired with black olives, honey, and the artisanal sheep milk cheese Paški Sir that bears some resemblance to kashkaval, it makes for a wonderful feast.

Prsut: Dalmatian double-smoked ham, served with tomatoes and olives

In the evening, we took a bus to Grad, the Old Town, which is abuzz with visitors young and old from every corner of the globe. A major avenue connects the west and east entrances to the city, and there is a myriad of narrow streets shooting off from the main drag. Wherever you wander, you are greeted by typical Croatian and Italian restaurants, ice cream parlors, candy shops and pubs. The day’s blistering heat is trapped within the walls of the city, so even in the evening, there is an unmistakable dankness in the air. But it isn’t enough to repel tourists, who seem content to be taking in the aura as they slug back half-liters of Ožujsko Croatian lager.

Outside Old Town, Dubrovnik. Notice the fortress wall that encircles the entire city.

On the following day, we took advantage of the hotel’s private beach and alternated between swimming in the Adriatic and sunbathing. Clear blue waters, neither too cold nor too hot, lap gently at the pebbly shore, and it’s hard to imagine oneself leaving this utopia to head back to a polluted reality.

The beach view from our hotel room balcony

The beach

Dinner at Lokanda Peskarija in the Old Town was a deeper foray into the signature seafood dishes of Dubrovnik, namely a cuttlefish risotto tinted with black squid ink; lightly battered pink-hued calamari; and a bucket of mussels. Don’t bother ordering grease-laden fries—here, the theme of the cuisine is fresh and healthy, and there is a profound respect for the bounties of the sea.

Cuttlefish risotto in black squid ink

Lightly battered calamari

A pot of steamed mussels

Our choice of hotel was spot-on in terms of luxury, comfort, cuisine, and hospitality. Breakfast buffets featured a fresh juice bar (who knew orange and kiwi combined so impeccably?), cheeses, deli meats and smoked fish, cereals, yogurts, fruit, and baked treats including a fragrant banana bread. For those with heartier morning appetites, there were every variety of sausage, bacon, eggs, pancakes and custard- and chocolate-filled croissants. Honestly, nothing was overlooked, and we were always overwhelmed with options.

I prefer sweet notes at breakfast!

During the last 36 hours of our stay, the sunny blue skies transformed to an ominous gray, as thunderstorms hurled heavy rain and the sea undulated with a fierce vengeance. 

But that didn’t crush our spirits, as the spacious hotel lobby and lounges provided relaxing respite as we curled up with our books. In the evening, the hotel’s dinner buffet was replete with seafood, veal, roast beef, cured hams, and cheeses, apart from the slew of hors d’oeuvres, salads, pastas, and gratins. At just 230 Kn (€31) a head, it is easily the best deal in town, and who’d have expected such of a five-star hotel?

The hotel lobby

The memories I bring back with me are of a pristine city that has little regard for poor manners or unfriendliness. People are actively congenial and approachable, and restaurants don’t attempt to dupe unsuspecting tourists. Nature is preserved and pristine, and the sea is a hallowed bastion brimming with edible treasures. Stroll the streets or roam the verdant pathways, and you won’t spot any rubbish dumped in heinous neglect of the land. 

Here is a city that values its tourist economy and couldn’t be more grateful for it. Here is Dubrovnik.


Charter flight on Croatia Airlines arranged via Wild Discovery
Accommodation: Valamar Dubrovnik President Hotel


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