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Welcome to Dubrovnik and the Konavle Valley
The city of Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rightly so. Often referred to as ‘The Pearl of the Adriatic’, the old city has managed to retain its ancient walls intact despite an earthquake in 1667, together with some beautiful churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Today, the city has a population of around 43,000, but the centre is easily walkable and most sights can be seen in a day or two.
The Dubrovnik region itself has lots to offer. To the south, the narrow strip of coastline down to Montenegro has remained largely undeveloped. Between Dubrovnik and Cavtat there are several lovely beaches (known as the Dubrovnik Riviera) and here the mountains that separate this part of Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina reach almost to the sea. The Konavle Valley is peppered with vineyards and cypress trees, a picturesque setting for the hamlets and villages, where a rural way of life still exists.
The beautiful Old Town of Dubrovnik is well documented in all relevant guidebooks and so its attractions are just covered here briefly.
Did you know?....
In the 19th century the city caught the eye of one of the more eccentric romantics of the era, Lord Byron, who proclaimed it the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’. Byron is not the city’s only literary fan. Playwright George Bernard Shaw, who wrote Pygmalion, once said: “Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik.”
Encased in its 15th century walls, Dubrovnik’s Old Town is diminutive, closed to traffic and easy to navigate. You enter by one of the following three gates; Pile Gate to the west (by the bus station); Ploče Gate to the east; or Ponta Gate at the entrance to the harbor. These entrances lead directly to the main throughfare, the Stradun (also known as Placa), the gracious arcade of wonderful pale buildings which bisects the Old Town. Narrow streets and alleyways run off Stradun rather like fishbones off a spine.
The 2km stroll along Dubrovnik’s ancient city walls presents breathtaking views of the Old Town; the walls climb to 25 metres high in some places. The access is near to the Pile gate (nominal charge). It will approximately take around 90 minutes to do a full circuit. The Pile Gate itself opens directly onto one of the best-known monuments in the city- the circular Onofrio’s Large fountain, that was built in 1438. To the left of this is the Franciscan Monastery, home to one of Europe’s oldest pharmacies with a collection of treatments in china jars and Ceramic bowls on painted shelves dating from the 15th century and whose dispensary is still operational. To the right of this, the convent of St Clair is situated.
Thereafter, stroll down Stradun from the Pile Gate and you’ll see everything from Romanesque monastries, Renaissance churches and Gothic palaces.
Read our guide Top Old Town Highlights of Dubrovnik for a full list of our favourite things to do in the city.
SOUTH OF DUBROVNIK AND THE KONAVLE VALLEY
Heading south from Dubrovnik on the Montenegro-bound road is an area known as the Župa Dubrovacka region.
This narrow stretch of land is fringed by pebble shores to the west and the impressively stark mountains bordering Bosnia to the east. The main coast road runs through a string of erstwhile fishing villages such as Kupari, Srebreno, Mlini and Plat, many of which were badly destroyed during the war when occupied by Serb and Montenegrin troops but now are largely restored. Unofficially, the coast between Dubrovnik and Cavtat is known as the Dubrovnik Riviera, with a mixture of sandy and gravel beaches and coves.
Did you know?....
The main street in Dubrovnik, the Stradun, was once a water channel dividing the original island of Ragusa from the mainland. It was filled in the 12th century and then later laid with limestone slabs which have taken on a shine after many years of footsteps.
Before arriving at the airport, a turning to the right guides you down to dainty Cavtat through subtropical vegetation, pines and cypresses. It was the Austro-Hungarian holidaymakers who first popularised this fishing village for visitors in the early 1900s. Cavtat is the largest town to the south of Dubrovnik, and it is from here that you can catch a taxi-boat across to Dubrovnik Old Town. Visitors to the area often prefer this option, as it eliminates the hassle of parking during the busy summer season. Cavtat also has a great selection of boutique shops, cafes and restaurants that look out over the marina and across to the other side of the green, wooded bay. The water here is crystal clear, and children will love watching the small fish basking in the sunshine just underneath the surface.
Cavtat is the gateway to the southernmost region of Croatia, the Konavle. With Bosnia to the east, Montenegro and the Bay of Kotor to the south, and the Adriatic coast to the west, its boundaries are quite clearly defined. It is a fertile valley, criss-crossed by water courses (or canals, from which the name Konavle is derived) at its heart, so the area is essentially agricultural. Indeed, such was the area’s importance to the Dubrovnik Republic that it forbade any of the workers from signing up to go to sea. These days it is the vineyards and olive groves that the area is best known for. The delightful one-street town of Gruda provides the widest range of amenities. Our two properties Bijela Kuca and Sele are walking distance to all the amenities Gruda has to offer.
Did you know?.....
St Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik, was a healer. He was once credited with saving a child from choking on a fish bone, so became considered the patron saint of ailments of the throat. On his feast day, two crossed candles are placed against people’s throats whilst a blessing is said to protect them from illness.
Another village of note is Čilipi. This is further south than Cavtat and is a smaller village with a beautiful church in the centre. Čilipi is well known in the area for its silk production and traditional embroidery, much of which you will see being sold in Dubrovnik, perhaps framed or used to decorate an elegant tablecloth. Every Sunday you can see local residents dressed in traditional outfits performing traditional dances in the village square.
Molunat, one of the last villages on the southern tip of Croatia, is a charming, working fishing village. The beaches here are either stony or have been constructed using concrete platforms, like some other beaches in the region. The water here is a stunning turquoise blue, and against the backdrop of the green hills and trees around the bay, the scene makes for a beautiful and a very relaxing atmosphere. One curiosity to look out for if you visit in the mornings, is the fisherman waiting for the tuna catch. One man will sit atop a very high wooden chair (much like a tennis umpire’s chair!) and look out for the shadow of a school of tuna coming into the bay. When he sees the fish approaching, he sounds down to the fishing boats waiting in the bay that their catch has arrived!
Find out more about Why Croatia makes a great family destination
One of the main attractions of the Dalmatian coast is of course its beaches.
Most of the beaches along the southern coast are pebbly to some extent and it is useful to take beach shoes with you. Whichever beach you choose you will find crystal clear water; the sea around Dubrovnik has been declared ‘Excellent’ by the European Environment Agency. Please see below for a few of our favourite beaches in the area.
Did you know?...
Dubrovnik is a very popular location in the film world having featured in Game of Thrones, Star Wars and Robin Hood.
Plat is a small village to the south of Dubrovnik between Cavtat and Mljnj. The beach is in four parts with a mixture of pebbles and sand. The resort itself is very quiet and undeveloped. There is a beach bar but not many other facilities, so it is best for a relaxing beach day with a picnic. The water is shallow and the views are wonderful.
This small, pebbly bay is located on the shoreline below the hamlet of Brsecine. Located about a 20 minutes’ drive north of Dubrovnik, it is a lovely, calm location to spend a few hours relaxing in sheltered waters. The beach is backed by green hills and a scattering of old cottages and has fantastic views out to the islands of Sipan and Lopud. You can drive down to the beach and park along the side of the road.
Did you know?....
As of 2023, the Euro is the official currency in Croatia. Prior to this, the currency was the Kuna. This is the Croatian word for pine marten, a ferret-like animal which lives in forested areas. This word was chosen because marten furs were effectively the currency here in medieval times.
The best beach in Molunat is in the village itself. It is a sandy beach which becomes completely covered in high tide, but there are also concrete platforms near the sea to create an area for sunbathing, jumping into the sea and relaxing near the water. The name Molunat derives from the Greek word ‘Molos’ meaning port and many fishing boats are seen bobbing on the water.
The beach at Popovići is gloriously secluded and hidden at the bottom of a steep cliff. The small beach is about 50m in length (although apparently it gets smaller and smaller each year!) and is quite sandy in comparison to other beaches in the area. The walk down to the beach is not for those afraid of heights, as the pathway stretches along the side of the rocky cliff, offering spectacular views but a steep walk back up! That being said, the experience and views from the beach are well worth the journey, and of course the sea is a beautiful turquoise blue, as is most of the coastline in the Dalmatia region.
The cliffs and beaches around Popovići are also internationally recognised as a significant and unique habitat site for many varieties of plants, animals and birds. One protected plant species is the Dubrovnik Centaury, a pale green/grey leafy plant that grows on dry rocky surfaces.
ACTIVITIES IN THE DUBROVNIK AREA
There are plenty of options for activities to partake in in the Dubrovnik area. Below are just a few of you to peruse.
Did you know?....
The Republic of Dubrovnik was one of the first in Europe and the world to ban slavery. The Grand Chamber condemned it calling it ‘shameful, wrong and disgusting’. Harsh punishments were put in place for anyone who was involved with the trade, and its practice practically vanished overnight. Other countries took centuries to follow suit, with Britain only banning it in 1833 and the US in 1865.
There is no better way to appreciate the coastline than from the clear blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. Join a guided tour or hire your own kayak and take in the stunning views of the Old Town of Dubrovnik from a different perspective. Or explore the tiny archipelago close to pretty Cavtat, stopping awhile on one of the islands for a dip in the crystal clear water. There are a number of companies offering both guided tours and rentals, based in Cavtat and Dubrovnik.
Walking and cycling
The local tourist offices produce a booklet describing four specific walking routes in Konavle, two of which are 2-2.5 hours long and one which follows the course of a disused railway line. This line was well used between its opening in July 1901 until its closure in July 1968, following the completion of the airport and the construction of the Adriatic highway. This route, known as the Ciro, is also suitable for cycling.
One of the trails is called the ‘ Ronald Brown’. It starts from the village of Gornji Obod and goes to Velij Do, a 90 minute walk. This route is steeper and rises to the top of Strazisce where there is a memorial to members of an American delegation headed by Ronald Brown, the Minister of Trade, who were killed in a plane crash.
Cycling is also popular in the valley. The country roads wind their way through the valley and hills, passing vineyards, olive groves and orchards, a picturesque backdrop for a bike ride. Bikes can be hired in Cavtat. Alternatively, guided bike tours are also available.
The cuisine in the Dalmatian region revolves to a great extent around fresh seafood from the shores of southern Croatia.
Look out of these local dishes on the menus:
Brudet (brodetto) A fish stewed in tomato sauce often served with polenta.
Minestra This is a thick vegetable and meat soup and is a typical Dalmatian winter dish. It is very similar to Istrian Manestra.
Scampi (Buzara) Done Croatian style, these are large prawns simmered in a tomato, onion and herb sauce.
Palacinke Pancakes filled with jam, chocolate with walnuts or honey.
Fish dishes are often grilled and dressed with simple, fresh produce such as olive oil, lemon and garlic. However, fish is also served baked or pan fried, and you will also be able to find tempura shellfish like calamari on many menus.
Taking inspiration from the region’s Venetian past, you will often see many pasta dishes of all kinds on the menus around the region, often made using fish and shellfish such as shrimp, clams and mussels. Risotto is a popular favourite and is sometimes made using a squid ink sauce turning the rich creamy rice dish jet black in colour.
If you are a carnivore, never fear, as there is also a great selection of meat in Dalmatia. Starters such as Dalmatian ham are often found on menus around the region, as well as main dishes such as a traditional beef stew, known locally as ‘Pasticada’ that is also often served with gnocchi. Beef and lamb steaks will also feature on menus in the area, and will probably be locally sourced from farmers around Dalmatia.
Typical Dubrovnik dishes also include Sporki Makaruli (dirty macaroni) which is often served around the feast of St Blaise. It dates from the days when the rich would eat their fill of the meat and what was left would be made into a sauce and served with macaroni for servants or even latecomers. It is still a very popular and tasty dish.
A dish traditionally cooked in Konavle is Konavoska Menestra, a rich dish consisting of different types of dried pork, with cabbage and other vegetables. The vegetables change according to season so you may find broad beans and spring greens in the warmer months.