Croatia. Dubrovnik. Dalmatian Coast. The Adriatic Sea. Turquoise Waters. Island Hopping. Abundance Seafood.
Just this July, we spent 10 glorious days in Croatia using Dubrovnik as a base. There really is no better place to enjoy summer! We took our time with 10 days, but it is definitely doable with a one week itinerary!
Day 1: Dubrovnik Old Town
Dubrovnik’s walled old town is an unforgettable destination. Encircled with massive stone walls completed in the 16th century, it is carefully preserved and restored. To me, the true highlight of the city is the Wall Walk. With a near 2km circumference, the walk gives a wonderful glimpse of city life from above and amazing views of the turquoise seas beyond the walls. Factor in at least 1.5 hours to complete the walk around as we took time for photos, selfies, climbing the towers and simply appreciating the many facets of the city.
The preferred entrance to the Wall Walk is the one near the Habour and next to the Restaurant 360 – it is usually less congested with tourists; and the one way direction led us first up to the city end of the wall so the entire cityscape can be appreciated immediately.
The most beautiful views of Dubrovnik is from the viewing platform of Mount Srdj right above the city. We had initially planned to take the Dubrovnik Cable Car to transport up to the top, but the tickets for 4 would have costed us 400kns (US$62.50) and driving up was free!! Whichever way to go up, it is a must visit spot!!
Dubrovnik old town itself can essentially be visited in a day – as we had more time, we took it easy with long walks, lazy lunches, afternoon sun-downers, boat trips and deliberately losing ourselves in the maze of narrow pebble-stone streets. Staying longer also meant we were able to visit the many delectable restaurants dotted around the city!! Not a bad trade off indeed!!
Day 2: Elafiti Islands
In many places within the old walls, there are stalls selling day tours to the Elafiti Islands, all with similar itineraries. Each tour company offered to pick us up directly from our apartment, but we didn’t want to be stuck in a van for hours wandering around town picking up other guests. Instead, we opted to take the speed boat from the Dubrovnik harbor. This allowed us to enjoy the views of the outer walls of the old city without paying for an additional tour!
After a short while on the speed boat, we arrived into the first of the 3 islands: Kolocep. We had an hour to walk around this tiny township and see for ourselves the relaxing laid back Dalmatian lifestyle. We then boarded a much larger boat where they served lunch (pick the local grilled fish!) with large bottles of local Croatian white wine. By the time we finished lunch, we had arrived at Sipan.
The largest of the islands with only 500 inhabitants, Sipan is best explored on long hikes. As we only had a short while, we took a stroll along the waterfront at Sudurad before returning to the boat headed for Lopud. This is the most famous of the 3 islands and felt more like a small resort town. It’s claim to fame is its rare sandy Sunj beach. Arriving into Lopud, we realised it was a 3km walk one way from the port of Lopud. So, on the turn near Konaba Dubrovnik, we flagged down one of the motorised golf carts to drive us down to the beach (2 euros per adult). It was money well spent.
Sunji beach was absolutely magnificent! In a large bay, the white sand was fine and smooth and the water clear and quite shallow. It was the perfect place for the boys, and they (us) were in heaven. I brought with me a waterproof case for my phone and was able to capture some great underwater shots!
On the way back, the boat dropped all the guests off at the Gruz harbour near the Lapad peninsula (instead of back in Dubrovnik old town). It actually worked out perfectly for us as Restaurant Komin which we were heading to for dinner was very close by in Lapad. There is definitely a reason why the Elafiti Islands is one of the most popular island tours from Dubrovnik! At 30 euros per adult (kids free), it was an amazingly memorable day!
Day 3: Ston & Peljesac Wine Region
A hours drive from Dubronvik, Ston is a quaint little village that stands at the entrance to the Peljesac region. It is in the nearby Mali Ston Bay where the delightful European flat oysters are farmed. We spent a good part of the day enjoying a slow lazy lunch at Konoba Bakus in Ston ordering dozens of these oysters (at 9kn (US1.40) an oyster, why not?) accompanied by a range of seafood dishes and bottles of wine from the local Peljesac region.
Completely satisfied and a little buzzed, we took a turn around the Ston village and paid a short visit to Solana Ston – the largest and oldest preserved salt pans in Europe, likely begun by the ancient Romans. It was way too hot in the afternoon sun to walk around the saltpans. Luckily, they have a little booth outside selling their produce so we could bring back some souvenirs (perhaps to make our own Ston salt baked fish!).
Having taken our time eating and sightseeing, there wasn’t much time left for a wine tour! We did manage to drive into the Peljesac Peninsula to see the wine region for ourselves and visit the cellar door of one of the oldest wineries around. Vinarija Milos is a family owned winery that has been around for generations. They specialise in producing high quality red wines from their organic vineyards high up on the steeped terraced land up in the Peninsula. What was interesting we learnt was that the Peljesac Peninsula predominately produces red wines, while the nearby island of Korcula, is well
known for its whites!
Day 4: Bosnia: Kravice Falls, Medjugorjie Church, Mostar, Blagaj
Bosnia, and especially Mostar, has been on our bucket list for a long time. We knew it was going to be a long drive, so to break it up, our first stop was Kravice Falls (only 30 mins from Metkovic border crossing). The photos of the stunning water cascades captivated me, but when we got there, the scenery was just breathtaking!
The Falls have become much more commercialized so there are plenty of signage along the way, and it is no longer free entry. If we had more than a day trip, we would have brought swimming clothes and spent an afternoon wandering underneath all the waterfalls and taking a dip in the emerald green lake surrounding the falls. Instead, we chose to soak in the amazing surroundings by enjoying a simple lunch sitting right on the edge of the lake with panorama views of all the falls.
Next was a quick stop at Medjugorjie to visit the old town church, St James, which was on route to Mostar. Though not the apparition site of the Our Lady of Medjugorjie which is further up on Podbrdo Hill, the church itself is humble and unpretentious with capacity for an enormous congregation at its outdoor altar.
Finally, we made it to Mostar!! Now extremely touristy, we weaved through all the souvenir stores, ice cream parlors and local restaurants to make our way to the famous Mostar bridge. The high volume of foot traffic on the bridge has smoothed out all the stones resulting in it being quite slippery to walk up and across! The best vantage point of the bridge and the township is to fork out the 5 euros and climb the minaret at the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque located a little bit further north upstream from the bridge. Perfect place for our family selfie! Having watched many documentaries about the Mostar bridge and the bridge jumping contest, we couldn’t leave without heading down to the banks of the River Neretva and taking a “foot dip” ourselves. The water was clear and clean, but surprisingly freezing on a hot summer day!!
Before heading back to Dubrovnik, we stopped by the tiny village of Blagaj for dinner. The village is truly unique where the Buna River emerges from a underground cave of some magnificent limestone cliffs, and on the riverbank sits an ancient Dervish
monastery built in around the early 14th century. We found that the best way to enjoy this sublime view is to book a table on the terrace of Restaurant Vrelo.
An action packed day with long drives but it was well worth the trip!
Day 5: Lazy Seafood and Beach Day
A lazy day must be had after yesterday’s long drive. The best place we found was to have a long lazy lunch at Gverovic-Orsan. Transformed from a former boat house, this restaurant has been serving amazing seafood dishes for around 51 years. It was the best quality and most refined seafood dishes we’ve had on the trip. Fish is not my favourite, but I would return to Gverovic-Orsan in a heart beat just for its grilled and slightly salted baby scorpion fish – the fresh catch of the day- and the fish carpaccio. While there is a good reason why this restaurant’s Black Risotto “Orsan” is so famous, its White Risotto should not be dismissed at all. The rest of the menu, its octopus salad, grilled prawns and scallops and seafood pasta, were stand outs too, but it was just those earlier mentioned dishes were exceptional!
After the mains, we changed into our swimming clothes and took a dip into the turquoise blue of Zaton Bay via the restaurant’s private beach. It was exhilarating to be in such crystal clear waters. The boys loved exploring the rocky beach and building “rock sand castles”, and we swam to the anchored floater for some sunbathing and water play.
Only after a while did we order our desserts and coffees, and enjoyed them while being in and out of the waters. We did not go wrong with the Rozata (Dubrovnik’s creme brulee) and the honey hazelnut crepes. It was a perfect day of delectable cuisine, unparalleled sea views, soothing swim and bathing in the sun – the ultimate relaxation.
Day 6: Korcula
One would not know that Marco Polo was actually Croatian until you visit Korcula, his birthplace.
It’s around a 2 hr drive from Dubrovnik to Orebic, where we took a car ferry to the island of Korcula (15 mins ride). As luck would have it, we arrived with enough time to get a spot on the line up but we nearly forgot to buy the tickets!! Jeff had to run off in the last minute to buy them before we drove the car onto the ferry!!
Once we disembarked, it was a short drive to the old town of Korcula. The old town is like a very pleasant smaller version of the one in Dubrovnik with its outer promenade full of restaurants and ice cream parlors. The azure sea surrounding the township sparkled in different shades of blue tempting us for a quick dip – if only we had our own sailing boat!!
The island of Korcula itself is quite large, and takes around 40 mins to drive from the old town to Vela Luka on the other side. As we wanted to make sure we caught the 5.30pm ferry back (the one after was too late at 7pm), we only had time for a quick visit to nearby Lumbarda and find its famed Lumbarda Beach. We were fooled by the Google map directions and got ourselves stuck in the narrowest of lanes nearly impossible to turn around!
Lumbarda Beach is again one of the rare sandy beaches in Croatia with shallow waters and a long narrow strip of sand. We met a beautiful Croatian mommy with 4 young children who was fascinated that we’ve traveled so far to see her hometown, and we in turn were jealous that she could live so close to pure turquoise heaven.
On the way back to Dubrovnik, we again stopped by Ston for dinner at Konoba Bakus. Another chance to tastes those special oysters – yum!
Day 7: Cavtat
20km south is the pictureque township of Cavtat. Cavtat is significant as it was the refugees fleeing from this town who founded Dubrovnik all those ancient years ago. Now along the waterfront marina is parked luxury yachts and lined with excellent restaurants like Konoba Bugenvila. We took a relaxing easy walk following the coastline around the Peninsula being taking the regular ferry back to Dubrovnik. Cavtat is the perfect little day trip from Dubrovnik, especially as an escape from the summer hordes of Game of Thrones fans!
It was our first time on Finnair and we were pleasantly surprised by its service, the new fleet and the efficiency of our transit. Everything went smoothly without any hiccups or delays. The best part was that the night flight to Helsinki was only 9 hours (as opposed to almost 13 hours to London or Paris), and with a 1.5 hours transit in a small and uncrowded airport, we were off again on our way to Dubrovnik. By the time we landed, checked into our apartment, and unpacked, we had plenty of time to make our way to the old town for lunch!! It was brilliant!!
With its reasonable fare prices, we are sure to fly Finnair to Europe again!
We absolutely loved our Apartment Zenith!! Its location in the Ploce suburb just above the old town is next to perfect. We could soak in that wonderful view of Lokrum Island and the Dubrovnik old town any time of the day! One evening, at the start of the summer festival, we enjoyed the firework display right in front of the balcony! Unbelievable!
Adding to that is the convenience. It was only a 10 mins walk to and from the old town. There’s a small but well stocked Pemo supermarket just downstairs. As it opens til 9pm, we were able to pop down anytime to grab essentials as well as important things like wine and drinks! The Biker’s Cafe next to the supermarket is extremely well known and served as a great pick up and drop off points when we called for taxis or ubers.
Where we needed to go a little further, we called a Uber or a Taxi.
We rented a car from Sixt for a few days to head to Ston, Korcula and to drive across the border to Bosnia. In Dubrovnik, Sixt is located at the airport or the Hotel Rixos Libertas around 15 minutes walk outside the old town. In summer, it is always busy so its better to expect at least an hour or so for the whole process from lining up, signing the contract, checking the car and car pick up (even if you have “checked in” online beforehand!).
In hindsight, it was wise that we bought full insurance for damage to the car, including for tires and windscreen. That little bit extra gave us a peace of mind. This is especially as the roads in and around Dubrovnik are narrow and the cars on these narrow roads park bumper to bumper to each other. Even if we didn’t bump anyone, someone was bound to bump us! There are also small stone stumps and low stone walls that could easily be missed when parking or reversing.
For crossing the border, it’s important to buy the green card insurance. We did get asked and had to present it at the border crossings.
When we returned the car, the staff was meticulous in checking every part of the car. It turned out that our front bumper at the bottom of the car was scratched and slightly came out from underneath. Apparently this is a common occurrence – thank goodness we were fully covered!
Bosnia – crossing the border
Despite all my research, the best and fastest way to go to Mostar still required us to cross the border 3 times! The issues we had to grapple with were that some lesser known border crossings do not process foreign passports other than Croatian and Bosnian ones, and that the roads on the Bosnian side are not as well paved and managed so delaying travel time. From Dubrovnik, the first border crossing into Bosnia was just before Neum (1 hour or so). After passing this sleepy Bosnian seaside resort town, there’s another border crossing back into Croatia. From there, it’s about another 30 mins drive to the popular Metkovic border for the 3rd crossing back into Bosnia.
To minimise the waiting time at border crossings, we picked a weekday (still avoiding Thursday and Friday) and left Dubrovnik at 8am. With less waiting and lining up at the border crossings, it still took us close to 3 hours to reach Kravice Falls from Dubrovnik. On the way back, we decided to have dinner before returning to Croatia – it was one of the ways to keep away from being in line with all the bus and day tours rushing back to Dubrovnik for dinner.
Look out for parking scams around Mostar!! When we approached the old town Mostar, we were directed by local men wearing vests to park in available spots on the streets (in hindsight, they did look more like a scruffy gang). Once parked, they asked for 200 kn for the cost of a day park. We half knew it was a scam but at the same time, we didn’t want our rental car scratched or stolen so we paid our “protection money”.