If you’ve never been to Croatia, the one thing you should know is that it’s downright dazzling, and the city of Dubrovnik is the epitome of such beauty. Crystal clear waters glisten under the sun; boats, one of the primary forms of transportation in the area, dot the sea in every direction; and the medieval limestone walls of the Stari Grad that safeguard the terra cotta–roofed buildings are impressive. And while the Pearl of the Adriatic has long seduced visitors, it only continues to grow in popularity. Game of Thrones fans know it as the real-life King’s Landing (yes, this is where they shot Cersei’s walk of shame), but earlier this year, it also served as a film set for Robin Hood: Origins and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, drawing even more attention to the city. Add the news of UberBoat and the country’s first underwater winery in the nearby Peljesac peninsula, and it’s easy to see why the spotlight is shining on Dubrovnik right now.
Where to Stay
This past May, Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik reopened after a seven-month renovation in which its 158 accommodations were redecorated, the lobby transformed, and the Abakus Piano Bar—now complete with an outdoor patio furnished with comfortable lounge seating that’s ideal for sunset cocktails—revamped. Majority of the rooms come with balconies, where uninterrupted views of the Adriatic and the Old Town can be enjoyed from. And while there’s an enormous indoor pool at the spa and an exceptional waterfront restaurant (Prora) that’s great for a seafood lunch, what can’t be beat is the direct access to the sea from the hotel’s beach.
But if you’re looking for something more intimate, look no further than Villa Agave Dubrovnik. Previously the summerhouse of English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, the three-bedroom exclusive-use property is the perfect option for those seeking a little more privacy. Revel in a small cliffside beach, laze by the pool that overlooks Stari Grad, cozy up next to the fireplace on cooler nights, and don’t forget about the five (yes, five) terraces you have to savor views of the sparkling water.
What to Do
A walk around the ancient city walls and a cable car ride up to Mount Srd are most certainly touristy, but they’re absolutely worth it. The former is best done early in the morning to not only beat the heat, but to avoid the throngs of incoming cruisers in the middle of the day, and is a great way to introduce yourself to the Old Town. The latter is remarkable at sunset, when pink and orange hues paint the sky, making the already unparalleled views of Dubrovnik from high above even more astounding.
For a relaxing but eventful day trip, head out to the Peljesac peninsula for fresh oysters and quality wine. Mali Ston bay is home to the rare European flat oyster, and only a few dozen households are allowed to cultivate the delectable mollusks. Briny and brassy, these are said to be some of the best, especially when plucked from this particular body of water that is exceptionally clean and naturally rich in nutrients. If you’re staying at any of the Adriatic Luxury Hotels, the concierge team has an incredible connection with the Drazeta family, who will take you on a quick tour around the oyster farm by boat before docking at their private island where you can sample the plump bivalves pulled straight from the bay. Wash them down with some homemade rakija (fruit brandy) and you’ll be primed for a visit to the wineries nearby. Of note is Saints Hills Winery, which makes a beautiful rosé that’s the definition of summer, and the amazing food at their restaurant is worth the visit alone (seared foie gras delicately perched on a nest of fried potato strings with a drizzle of fig jam is an exemplary amuse-bouche that sets the tone for the rest of your meal).
Lastly, you can’t visit Croatia without some time on the Adriatic Sea. Active travelers will want to hop in a kayak and paddle around to see the picturesque landscape by sea, but island hopping by boat is truly the best way to go. A short 15-minute ferry ride from Old Town Port will take you to Lokrum where peacocks and rabbits run wild, and the island is the home to the original GoT Iron Throne. Fans of the HBO show will also want to visit the botanical gardens, one of the filming locations for the city of Qarth. Make sure to also rent a yacht for the day to head out to the Elaphiti Islands, where hidden coves and sandy beaches await.
Where to Eat and Drink
For the finest in Dalmatian cuisine, Restaurant Dubrovnik and Nautika Restaurantare both great options for an upscale affair. For those who want something a little different, Azur serves up delightful Asian cuisine with items like Croatian-style seafood laksa and Thai-style beef salad. But if you’re looking for something a little more local, you’ll have to head some ways out of the Old Town. Konoba Dubrava—which isn’t too far from the cable car stop at the top of the hill—is a go-to spot for peka, the region’s signature dish of baked meat and vegetables. In the neighborhoods of Lapad and Babin Kuk, you’ll find Pantarul and Orsan, respectively. The former presents local ingredients in a modern way while the latter is a bit more traditional but scrumptious nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Bowa is in a league of its own. Nestled in a secluded portion of Sipan Island, this beach restaurant is the place for some fun in the sun. Spacious cabanas are perfect for a group of you and your friends, while a patch of pebbly beach furnished with chaise lounges and swan floats provide direct access to the Adriatic. It’s an idyllic oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city, with marvelous fare to boot. Orzotto, ravioli, and the octopus and horsebean salad are all great starters, but whatever you do, make sure you order grilled fish as your main—you won’t regret it.
Once you’re ready to throw back a few drinks, the Bar by Azur is a cozy watering hole shaking up refreshing cocktails while D’vino Wine Bar Dubrovnik has an extensive list of Croatian wine in case you weren’t able to make it out to any of the nearby wineries. But if you want to escape the town center for the evening, wander over to Villa Orsula’s Victoria Restaurant & Lounge Bar, where a striking, dimly lit, grapevine-draped terrace beckons.