With Dubrovnik at its centre, the Dalmatian coastline is narrow but brimming with places and sites to see. Exploration to the north of the iconic city uncovers pretty bays, islands and vineyards. The Elafiti Islands are celebrated for their beaches, lush vegetation and a laidback atmosphere. Back on the mainland, Trsteno is famous for its Arboretum with a vast collection of worldwide trees and plants. Continue north and the Plješac Peninsula reveals itself to the west. This narrow, mountainous peninsula is about 65km in length with vineyards and orange trees along its southeast coast.
South of Dubrovnik, the road heads for Montenegro, passing by a sweeping bay and through a verdant valley. Gateway to the area is Cavtat, a pretty harbour town with a backdrop of pines and cypresses. Continue on the main road and you will pass by the airport and through Ĉilipi - visit on a Sunday to enjoy the morning show of folk music and dancing, all in national dress. The main village of the area is Gruda, which has all amenities and a number of cafes and restaurants. Head inland and follow the road as it winds up the mountain towards Dubravka through woodland comprising oaks, cypress, pines and laurel trees and you will pass the impressive Sokol Grad Fort, dating from the 15th Century and now open to the public.
Another fort is found in the Prevlaka Natural Park, at the end of a peninsula known as Oštri rt which is the southernmost point of mainland Croatia. Guarding one side of the narrow entrance to the spectacular Bay of Kotor, it affords splendid views of the bay looking directly across to Montenegro.
Further afield, day trips to Bosnia Herzegovina (to the east) and Montenegro (to the south) are possible. Cross the mountains behind Dubrovnik to visit Mostar’s Stari Most, the Ottoman style bridge now a UNESCO site. Cross the Croatian border into Montenegro and drive around the bay of Kotor to the town of Kotor itself, another UNESCO heritage site with a well-preserved old town and city walls.
Dubrovnik Old Town
Awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 1979, Dubrovnik Old Town is quite simply stunning! Well-trodden, hefty stone walls and solid medieval fortress towers enclose the historic centre, filled with terracotta-roof, green-shuttered houses, elegant bell towers and monuments such as the 15th Century Rector’s Palace and several fine Baroque churches with polished copper domes.
The 2km walk around the top of the ramparts is an essential introduction to the city offering stunning, elevated views over the rooftops and the sea, as well as being useful orientation. The centre of the old town is traversed by the main pedestrian promenade, Stradun, paved with glistening white limestone and lined with open air cafes, restaurants and small boutiques.
Notable during the months of July and August in Dubrovnik is the highly acclaimed international summer festival which as well as taking in all musical, dance, theatrical, folklore and artistic genres, also uses all city space imaginable, both inside and out.
Like most in Croatia, the beaches along the coast tend to be pebble, shingle or rock.
The sleepy fishing village of Molunat has a fine shingle beach as well as numerous weathered outcrops; other attractive beaches are found at Pasjaca and close to Cavtat, a popular, easy-going town with a palm-fringed Riva promenade curving around the bay lined with open air cafes and restaurants.
Closer to Dubrovnik, the coastal town of Milini has a beach of shingle and pebbles with plenty of facilities while the many beaches found on the Plješac Peninsula are rarely busy, even in the height of summer.
An authentic dish of the region is meat (often lamb) slow cooked under an iron bell for several hours with potatoes and/or vegetables. Ispod peke is the term for this method of cooking under a dome-shaped lid which leaves the meat deliciously succulent in its own juices. No two peka produce the same results and it is the custom to order this a day in advance.
Try homemade pršut (dried ham), oiled cheeses and a speciality known as šporki macaruli (literally dirty macaroni), tubular pasta served with a goulash sauce. Afterwards, sample rozata (vanilla-flavoured custard dessert) or mantala, a rich cake made from grape juice.
Fresh seafood is abundant and prepared with delicious simplicity: pan-fried in olive oil, grilled on the barbecue or baked. Seafood risottos are often made with squid and dark squid ink or langoustines.
The Konavle vineyards produce respectable red wines of the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Plavac varieties. Also, try Kadrun, a light, fruity rosé. Blanketed with vineyards, the Plješac Peninsula, produces some of Croatia’s finest wines, such as the earthy reds derived from the plavac mali grape.
The Dalmatian coastline is one of the sunniest parts of Europe with a mild, Mediterranean climate. The summer months all along the coast are hot and dry, particularly in July and August which average 10 hours of sunshine per day and temperatures touching 30c. A refreshing mistral breeze often blows in the afternoons.