Today, the Old City, completely surrounded for 1.3 miles by its famous walls, is Dubrovnik’s crowning glory. If you find yourself lost among the warren of crooked streets, keep retracing your steps to get back to the Stradun, the main thoroughfare. Lined with Baroque buildings, it is a popular meeting place, especially on Saturday nights. In a ritual known as “dir,” locals and tourists promenade along the Stradun, greeting friends and strangers alike before drifting off to one of the street’s many cafes.
Most of Dubrovnik’s Renaissance buildings were destroyed during a catastrophic earthquake in 1667, but luckily, a few remain. Sponza Palace, now the archives building, was once the Customs Office, where trade with ports throughout the Mediterranean was conducted.
The Renaissance Rector’s Palace was the seat of state authority during Dubrovnik’s Golden Age, and within the cloister of the Franciscan Monastery is Europe’s oldest pharmacy, dating to the 14th century.
Other sights worth a look are Orlando’s Column, dedicated to a famous knight; the church and statue honoring St. Blaise, an Armenian martyr and the city’s patron saint; and the Old Port, with the fort of St. John, which prevented pirates and enemy ships from entering the city.
Enjoy the history lesson, but temper it with relaxation — and a cold drink — at one of the al fresco bars carved out of the rock cliffs above the sea, and take the cable car to Srdj Hill for a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding islands.
Valleys and Villages
Many people associate Dubrovnik with its location on the Adriatic, but nearby areas make for interesting excursions as well. For starters, head to the Konavle region, with its mountains, valleys, vineyards and olive groves. Just before Croatia meets the mountainous terrain of Montenegro, you’ll find the old water mill at Konavoski Dvori on the Ljuta River. Here, you can enjoy a glass of travarica, a local brandy reputed to have healing powers.
Take an excursion to the lovely seaside village of Cilipi, where on Sundays, adults and children in native costume perform folk dances on the square outside the Church of St. Nicholas.
Cruise the Elaphiti Islands with their numerous secluded coves, or detour to the small coastal town of Orebic for a visit to Korta Katarina Winery, where you can arrange for a private tour and tasting among the vineyards overlooking the sea.
Another must-see is the island of Korcula, one of the most beautiful on the Dalmatian Coast, and its walled city of the same name. Often referred to as Little Dubrovnik because of its city walls and narrow, cobbled streets, Korcula has managed to pull off a major public-relations coup. Although no proof exists, the island claims to be the birthplace, in 1254, of Marco Polo, intrepid explorer of China and Mongolia.
The small house in the city center may or may not have been his home, but there is no doubting the authenticity of the Cathedral of St. Marco and the Bishop’s Palace, with its rich collections of Croatian and Italian art and manuscripts, and the 11th-century Church of St. Peter.