Whenever asked about our favorite place we’ve visited, coming up with an answer has been impossible. How can you compare Christmas markets in Germany to wine and fruit tasting in Spain to river cruising in Austria? Our trips have all been quite different and I’ve loved each of them for particular reasons.
However, that all changed after spending three unbelievable days in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Between being amongst my people (I’m a small part Croatian, but now mostly identify with them 😉 ), boating around and swimming in hidden caves, and tasting some of the best wine we’ve had, this trip was unlike any other. Before leaving, both the hubs and I agreed that coming back before our stint as expats ends should happen. We simply didn’t have enough time to enjoy and explore this place enough, so consider this the Dubrovnik recap part one.
A two and a half hour direct flight had us in Dubrovnik just as the sun was setting. Fortunately, we were on the right (and right) side of the plane and had spectacular views flying in. The aerial perspective is what drove me to want to visit Croatia in the first place- the hubs snapped this one while flying into Split, Croatia, a few months ago on a quick business trip and it hasn’t left my mind since.
Once checked into the gorgeous Hotel Bellevue, thanks to A & B’s glowing recommendation, we were off to dinner at Taverna Otto. The small, recently remodeled restaurant in a local area next to the harbor was a treat. Our sweet waiter was eager to help with suggestions and continuously made sure we were happy with our wine and dinner choices.
The food was excellent, especially the seafood as we had expected. Dessert looked and tasted irresistible. Most importantly, the much-anticipated wine was amazing. I’d read rave reviews about Croatian wine, which is hard to come by outside of the country, and couldn’t wait to try it. The hubs and I learned quickly that we love wine from the Dingač region- big, bold and can get over 17% in alcohol content which is pretty crazy.
We chatted with the restaurant owner before leaving and learned that he was good friends with the owner of Dubrovnik Boats, who we had arranged a boat excursion with the following day. The weather was not looking good, but any concerns were assuaged when Ante (short for Anthony- so cute) assured us that his friend (the boat company owner) would certainly be able to arrange a wine tasting outing in the nearby region should the skies not cooperate. Then of course we got to talking about wine- an hour later, we walked out with a coveted list of his favorite wineries which will come in handy when planning Dubrovnik part two. Nothing beats a hand written list of recommendations from a knowledgeable local.In exchange for this priceless information, we mapped out the best spots in Napa and Sonoma for his upcoming visit to California. By the time we left, I wasn’t sure if I should pray for a rainy day of wine touring or sunny skies on a boat. Our trip was off to a great start, and this ended up being our favorite dinner of the weekend. I found this restaurant on a local’s blog- she was the wife of an athlete of some sort. It was “off the beaten path” (ie, not in the Old Town area), and a great chance to experience the local part of Dubrovnik.
Sun peeked through the blinds Friday morning and I was totally kilig. We got ready as quickly as possible to have some breakfast before the boat picked us up. I didn’t think it could get better than coffee, delicious granola and this view…
…but then skipper Tom (short for Tomislav- I’m quickly becoming obsessed with Croatian names) showed up with our complimentary double upgraded boat. The hubs absolutely loves boating, and seeing him light up like a kid at Christmas as we boarded was the best.
First on the agenda was a cruise around the Elafiti islands. There are 13 in total and Tom knowledgeably pointed out and named them all, while giving us insight into how many people live on the island (some uninhabited, one with just 300 residents) and other notable characteristics.
We ducked into a cave, which highlighted Tom’s skipper skills, but capitalized more on his expertise of the island by swimming into this sort of hidden cave.
He pointed it out to us from the boat, noting that you have to swim under the tiny opening. Once inside, you look out through that same opening surrounded by pure turquoise colored water which was indescribable. I could have stayed there all day.
After a bit more cruising around, we stopped on an island for a walk and ice cream. Croatia feels like another world, and transports you back a few decades. Life is simple there with small shops, beautiful surroundings and few distractions. A group of elderly men and women circled in the shallow part of the sea chatting away and waving for their friends to join, convincing me that this is THE place to retire. Their laissez-faire characters were contagious and made me want to be just like them when I grow up- bikini and all at 75!
Back on the boat, there was more shoreline to cover with mile after kilometer of white-washed stone backed by gloriously green tree-covered mountains.
Next up, Tom promised us a fresh appetizer before lunch. He claimed he could spot sea eggs from the shore and proceeded to tell us that they’re extremely rare and expensive (something like $1,000 a kilo). I did some research and couldn’t find much information, other than another guy saying that he had a similar experience and tried to find out more but also came up empty-handed. It was a delicious and possibly once in a lifetime experience!
Ready for lunch, Tom cruised over to Villa Ruža where the most beautiful restaurant sat perched on the edge of an island. The view and seafood dishes were unbeatable. I was in a state of heavenly disbelief!
Dark clouds threatened parts of the sea while sunshine was pouring through clouds in another, so off we went to seek out the rays. The hubs and I relaxed on the boat while Tom checked out nearby caves. I’m definitely considering a career change that includes snorkeling on the job.
The peacocks apparently had enough companions and weren’t so interested.
A quick dip in the Dead Sea, a 10m deep salt lake in the middle of the island, was chilly and surreal. Just before getting back on the boat, we checked out the view just above the Dead Sea which was simply stunning and my favorite of the trip. On the way home, we had perfect views of the 2km long city walls originally built to protect the old city of Dubrovnik starting in the 12th century. It’s among the 10 best preserved medieval walled cities in the world and a truly remarkable site. After much-needed tea and coffee on the balcony looking onto the sunset, we walked to the old town and enjoyed another wonderful dinner on the terrace of Proto. The fresh fish never got old, and neither did our newly discovered love for Dingač wine. Saturday was perfectly relaxing and lazy; we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the beach. Between dips in the sea and entertaining cliff jumpers, the two of us were perfectly content. The sun quickly started setting and the concierge kindly directed us towards Hotel Neptun’s susnet lounge at the tip of the peninsula, the best spot to catch it go down. We may have benefited by getting there a bit earlier, but even though we caught the sun just as it slipped beneath the horizon, the colorful sky made for the perfect pre-dinner drink backdrop. Little did we know, our night had just begun. Ready for wine tasting, we taxied to D’Vino Wine Bar for charcuterie and tastings.The staff was fantastic and helpful in directing us based on our likes. They even suggested going to Matusko Wine Bar, since we’d really liked those wines and could buy directly there. Enthralled with the prospect of bringing bottles home, the hubs called the airlines to see what we could bring back in our bags- 6 bottles- we were on a mission to make them count.
A short walk away, Matusko is a lovely little wine bar and we quickly made friends with the British couple sitting next to us. We tasted and bought our favorites before the four of us headed back to D’Vino. Hours later, we closed down the bar with all of our new friends.Despite the mere four hours of sleep, I was jumping on the bed at 8:30 am the next morning to wake up the hubs- the sun was out and we had a couple of hours before needing to pack up.