There’s Something Special About Dubrovnik, Croatia

Text by PJ Wheeler

It’s hard to put my finger on it exactly, but there’s something special about Dubrovnik. Sure, the Old City charms you the second it comes into view, with its terracotta rooftops that are crammed together by a stone wall that reaches 82 feet high that crystalline Turkish blue water pounds against. Perhaps it’s the citizens, that speak English and are so welcoming and polite that a Canadian will wonder if they are chatting with someone from their homeland. It could be the hundreds of wine plantations dotting the valley and decorate the lower portion of towering craggy mountains; each vineyard inviting you to sit, sip and enjoy the Mediterranean climate. whatever it is, I know that I want more of it.

Be Sure to Drive on The Correct Side Of The Road

Normally, I am a solo traveler, making my way around a country by bus, but at this destination my boyfriend joined me and we rented a car. Ian lives in Wales, where they drive on the left side of the road. Croatians drive on the right. After we set the GPS coordinates, I confirmed my belief in his ability to maneuver the car safely, yet stated “old habits die hard, so please don’t be offended by my constant reminder of what lane to drive in.” He’s a logical man and welcomed my input.

There is one main road that runs the length of Croatia. When you leave the airport, if you turn left you will cross the border into Montenegro, a right turn will take you to Dubrovnik and beyond. Our apartment for the next seven nights is just beyond Dubrovnik in the village of Mokošica. I instructed Ian to follow the red car ahead of us and away we went.

The Perfect Solution for Where to Stay

Finding perfect logistics for your vacation property can be mind numbing even for seasoned travelers. Based on reviews for bus convivence, hospitality, needs, reasonably priced and stunning views, I reserved ours stay at Du Lux Apartments.

Located in the bay right around the corner from Dubrovnik are a series of small hamlets. Our community was last, but even then, it was ten minutes from the popular tourist town. We found it with ease and proceeded. Zdenka welcomed us to the vogue apartment with Turkish coffee and cookies. We had a friendly chat going over apartment information and excursions that could be set up. This type of conversation usually falls into Ian’s worst nightmare category, he likes to be left alone, but our host didn’t overstay her welcome and Ian was at peace.

There are a couple apartments for rent in the building, ours was two-stories and located on the top floor on the backside. The lower level offered the kitchen, dining and living area and a bathroom that contained a washer. Ascend the spiral staircase to the sleeping quarters to find a queen bed and a twin, along with a bathroom that is partitioned off by a frosted glass wall.

Out the back door, on the bottom floor, you can enjoy your breakfast while taking in the rugged mountain scenery, or if you prefer like we did, make use of the cozy seating area outside the front door in a little alcove that offers a grand

view of the bay and bridge. Sunsets from this location are not to be missed.

Postcard Perfect Ancient City

The best way to get to Old Town is by bus, a three-minute walk away. Tickets can be purchased on-board, but for a better rate buy them at the tobacco store. The bus stop is located across the street.

Twenty-five minutes later, we were walking through ancient gates into a courtyard that was alive with the hustle and bustle of tourist and hawkers. We made our way past the commotion for a more peaceful experience. My mission was to find a restaurant that I could not resist; most dining takes place outdoors, so it’s easy to look over what people are eating. We meandered through slender alleyways, letting the city unfold itself.

We had about concluded our tour when I stopped in my tracks. My eyes glazed over and I think a bit of drool escaped the corner of my lips

  • pizza. Table after table people were lifting triangular slices of heavenly goodness to their mouths. Each face radiated pleasure; I found my restaurant. The patrons sat upon pink chairs, Mea Culpa Pizzeria and Trattoria was written across the back. We searched for an open table. Two restaurants use the alley for dining and their tables intertwine; we made sure to seat ourselves in pink chairs. Ian ordered the diablo: pepperoni, olives and hot peppers. It was hard making up my mind, but the fungi won. Each pizza is large enough to feed two, unless you’re like us and you don’t think about ordering salads and splitting the pie until the large round disk is delivered to the table. Oh, by the way, all my expectations were met upon first bite.

With our bellies expanded to maximum capacity, we headed towards the south gate, which offers postcard perfect views. After I captured snapshots of my subject, we made our way to the overview that is located along the main road, since the cable car was not running due to high wind. The overlook is a popular stop, yet many tourists fail to notice the pathway that leads up the hillside. It is a tad overgrown in spots, but the stone walkway is intact and allows great aerial shots of Old Town without the road activity being included.

The Medieval Fort of Sokol

In my opinion, two days in Dubrovnik is enough. It is very compact. Having car allowed us freedom to stray. On one of

our backroad drives, we came upon Sokol Grad. The fort is appropriately named “falcon,” due to it being built upon a craggy rock. What a treasure trove of artifacts dating back to the Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages! There is an extensive battalion spear collection, knives and metal plates that made up the soldier’s armor, along with pottery, jewelry, keys and glassware.

While Ian read about the area’s history, I trotted up to take in the view and what a sight to behold. The Croatian flag swayed in the breeze to my right, behind me jagged mountains made a dramatic statement, standing like forgotten soldiers, numerous Mediterranean cypress encompassed the fort. Below in the valley, red roofs dot the farmland landscape and off in the distance, the blue Adriatic Sea expanded to meet the sky at the horizon. The fort’s cafe on the second level enticed me to pull up a chair to drink in the view and a brew, instead I decided to let the past in and met Ian where I left him.

Walking the Fifth Largest Structure In The World

The town of Ston is a popular excursion from Dubrovnik for two reasons: fresh oysters and its ancient walls. Eating oysters was not on our agenda; walking the 4.3-mile wall that was built in 1333 was our desire. It is the longest fortress system in Europe and second in the world, after the Great Wall of China. Starting in Mali Ston, we paid the entrance fee and started the upward climb, it started to drizzle then proceeded into a proper soaking. I looked over my shoulder to see a black sky with lightening zig-zagging and started counting. I got to eight-seconds then thunder boomed. We were told it’s a forty-five-minute walk to the other side; getting caught along the side of a mountain holding onto a metal railing didn’t seem like the best place to be. We weighed our options and made a run for it, uphill. The sprint was short lived, it’s a very steep grade. Luckily, by the time we got to the top the sky was blue once again. We even considered bypassing the exit and up another side, but off

in the distance another storm threatened.

A Day Island Hopping

Croatia’s coastline is speckled with twelve hundred islands; it’s big business getting tourist to these destinations. Taking the guessing game out of which company to use, our host took care of setting everything up for us. From the moment we were picked up at our doorstep to the time we were dropped off, the crew of the Regina Maris provided their best.

The Elaphite islands are clustered just beyond the shores of Dubrovnik. while there isn’t much time to do more than take a short hike on Kolocep and Šipan, we were pleased to sit on a bench and watch the goings on around us.

The tables were set for lunch when we boarded the ship at Šipan, complete with a bottle of white wine and bottled water. Once we were seated our requested meal was served; I ordered chicken and Ian had the mackerel. By the time we finished our meals, we had arrived at the last port.

Lopud, the largest island of the three, is the jewel of the cruise. Guest have two hours to explore the area. We decided to keep the day relaxed and strolled the promenade with ice creams, then tucked into boutique’s and art shops to see if there was anything that we couldn’t live without. Some of our fellow passengers brought their beach towels to sunbath or to dry off after frolicking in the cool clear water.

I cannot say that this is an exciting cruise, but for us it was exactly what we wanted. The harbor inside Old Town is full of vendors offering a variety of day cruises, so there is bound to be an itinerary that will suit your fancy.

The group of nine follow the guide, eager to hear the next story told: the secret underground tunnels (so the nuns and priest whose families chose that life for them could rendezvous without prying eyes), there’s a river that flows under Catania and the cave restaurant, A putia dell’Ostello, has eating next to it, and also, that each lamp-post in the university square was inspired by folk tales.

The three-hour tour ended at the Roman Amphitheater. Only a fraction can be seen, the rest is hidden under pavement and buildings; Daniela has a pair of virtual glasses in her backpack, allowing us to “see” the whole structure. In its heyday it was the largest amphitheater in Sicily, holding 15,000 spectators. It is hard to believe its original size, since now all that is left are some pillars and brick tunnels.

Meandering alone again, I decide to find a Roman Theater I read about. Sometimes my GPS gets a little “off” and this is one of those times that I start to think it’s crazy. I’ve walked down Via Vittorio Emanuele, twice, and I do not see an ancient theater. I’m pretty sure it’s something that wouldn’t go undetected passing by. I submit the attraction name again and retrace my steps; immediately my device notifies that I have arrived, so I start reading business names.

Two doors down the window states “Museum.” I peak in the window and lo and behold, the Roman structure is behind the building’s facade. Entering the excavated structure, I realize how easy it was for me to walk right on by; for centuries the theater was buried under the residential neighborhood. As with most of Italy, there’s a treasure trove beneath the surface that is long forgotten. A half-hour later, I finish examining this piece of history.

Without any destination in mind, I zig-zag the streets to see what I could find, until my feet are tired of pounding the pavement, then I head home. I stop at the grocery store a few doors away from the apartment and buy fresh ravioli’s filled with asparagus and pine nuts, along with a jar of pistachio pesto. I don’t feel like having wine, so opt for a can of Radler lemon beer instead. Popping into the delicatessen I ask for a small portion of eggplant parmesan to go. With the olives that I bought earlier at the farmers market my dinner is complete and I have the perfect terrace to savor it.

Day Trip Outside of Town

Catania is a fantastic location as a base to visit the surrounding areas. I don’t have proper clothing to hike Mt. Etna and I’m not keen to take a bus to the base of the volcano for a day trip. My interest is along the coast. I hop aboard the train to see what Taormina and nearby seaside towns have to offer. Arriving at the station I set myself on a Hop On Hop Off bus, which cost a lot more than the city bus, but allows me access to each town without any thought involved. I conclude easily that Taormina is the only village I need to investigate further on my next visit to Sicily. It offers romantic buildings, Castello di Taormina and the famous archeological site Teatro Antico di Taormina, the ancient Greek-style amphitheater, which is still used today during the summer.

The other coastal towns I found drab and only beneficial for relaxing on the beach, which is not my interest. I ponder a minute if I want to head back to Taormina for dinner, but decide to hold off and return to Catania for Santo’s recommendation. I cannot leave Sicily without eating pizza. In the apartment there’s a small stack of referrals from Santo, locating a pizzeria’s business card I head out. Ale’ Restorante offers a pizza menu unlike any before, starting with a choice of special flours: Timilia, Perciasacchi, Rice, Wheat and Majorcan. All grains come from the heart of Sicily for a crust that reflects the taste from generations ago. There are many odd, yet enticing concoctions that I am curious about, but when I spot my favorite nut leading the star role, I know my order.

A creamy pistachio sauce is spread over the perfectly baked wheat crust, along with buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto and crushed pistachios. What a heavenly manifesto. Back on the balcony, my sanctuary of serenity, I relish each bite of cannoli that I ordered to go with leisurely delight as I ponder coming back with my beau. To enhance my desire to share this experience with him, all church domes lights flicker on, illuminating the structures and my inner peace.


Paula Wheeler

Paula Wheeler has been living a nomadic life, sonce June 2017, as a freelance writer and videographer. You can find her adventures at

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