“Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik,” declared the playwright George Bernard Shaw about the sea-flanked city at the southern point of Croatia. With its rich cultural heritage, beautiful island-studded waters and its more recent status as a filming location for Game of Thrones, it is easy to see why.
In fact, Dubrovnik welcomed over a million tourists from January to August in 2019, and the famous city walls were flocked by daily visitors, especially with the arrival of cruise ships, which have the destination as a must-see on their itineraries.
While such services have been paused this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Croatia’s tourist-based economy has suffered alongside so many others. But, for those able to travel and explore while socially distanced, Dubrovnik’s ability to combine the culture of a city break with coast-side relaxation will surely help it recover quickly and thrive once again.
Where to stay
With a location that best defines Dubrovnik’s dual-heritage as both a culture-rich and coastal, Rixos Premium Dubrovnik provides the opportunity to relax and unwind in five-star luxury, while being within a short walk or taxi ride to the heart of the city.
Benefitting immensely from its recent renovation (the biggest investment in the area’s tourism this year), the best of the hotel’s 310 rooms are the suites that overlook the sea, offering fresh and clean decor with a view across the blue waters towards the old city walls.
The modern interior is the work of the award-winning designer Ina Rindernecht – well-known for her work in Switzerland – categorised by the mild and relaxing blend of Mediterranean colours and small olive-trees that are found throughout the hotel.
Each year, the minimalist but stylish hotel plays host to events as part of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, as part of a programme of not-to-be-missed classical music, theatre, opera and dance performances.
What to do
Take the lift from the floor of your room and ride it right down to the pool side.
Loungers are very popular at busy times, but competition for space can be avoided by hiring out a cabana. These allow you to recline while fresh fruit, salads and after-lunch refreshments including Italian fare are served directly to you by the staff, half of whom are Croatian natives. Those looking to toast their holiday should order one of the Tiki-themed cocktails.
Rouse yourself to swim in a choice of two pools (one inside and one outdoors) or take the steps down to the ocean and plunge straight into its clear waters. There might not be beach, but you can experience exactly how the locals embrace the sea: by diving straight into it from the rocks above.
Where to relax
The Anjana Spa is a jewel in the crown of the hotel, from which you’ll emerge fresh and rejuvenated. Spread over two floors, make a selection from a wealth of face, body and mind treatments to help soothe and revitalise you, before spending your time enjoying the Hammam, Turkish bath and an impressively equipped gym, should you be so inclined.
The highlight is the Signature Body Treatment, which combines the art of relaxation with rich Dubrovnik culture. In an utterly unique experience, it is achieved using organic handmade oils from the Old Pharmacy of the Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik, which you can visit in town. The recipe is over 700 years old, with scents chosen by you just before your treatment, and is designed to soothe out mental knots as easily as the tension in your back, legs and shoulders. In addition, you receive the rest of your chosen bottle to take home with you – an extra-special touch as the oil is not normally for sale.
What to eat
There are three restaurants at Rixos, so you are unlikely to go hungry. The pool-side bar area is transformed into the Libertas Fish restaurant by night, offering beautiful views (and the chance to dine under the stars) with even more unforgettable food. The freshly caught fish and unbelievably good steak are recommendations to savour.
Truly memorable is the Umi Teppanyaki experience, which brings the expertise of Japanese show cooking to the Adriatic Sea. As much a piece of evening theatre as it is dining, all the food is made in front of you on the chef’s table. It is a wise decision to eat very little beforehand, as you’ll want to make as much room as possible for each mouth-watering course.
Turquoise, which also offers the hotel’s abundant breakfast-buffet service, is lovely for families, but if you needed to skip one of the restaurants to sample one in the city itself, make it this, because the other two are unmissable.
Where to go
To see the sights
Whiling away the hours walking around the Unesco-listed city is a delight, with its narrow streets and uniform architecture (the result of an earthquake in 1667) that create a unique atmosphere akin to being on a film set.
For a more in-depth discovery into the backstory of the city, hire a private tour guide to learn of Dubrovnik’s influence throughout history; or duck into the host of spectacular buildings, including the monastery, cathedral and traditional pharmacy.
No trip to Dubrovnik is complete without walking the walls that surround the old city, which offer magnificent 360-degree views. Go early to avoid queues, or just before it closes at sunset for golden-hour lighting that will add that something extra special to your holiday photographs.
Then, from the city, take the ferry to the island opposite Dubrovnik known as Lokrum – a slice of paradise that whisks you away from the crowds. There, you can swim and relax or explore the pine forests up to the old fort, where there is another spectacular panoramic view.
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Providing classic Croatian fare from recipes passed down through the centuries, Kopun is a must-visit to discover traditional dishes. Named after the copun dish (a full chicken intended to be shared by two), which used to be a decadent centrepiece at European feasts, you can also treat yourself to traditional fresh stews and local wine. The setting boasts a striking architectural backdrop, right next to the Historic Steps, which you will recognise either as mimicking the Spanish Steps in Rome, or from the Walk of Shame scene in Game of Thrones.
For an unforgettable view over Dubrovnik, take the cable car up to the top of Mount Srd. There you will find the suitably named Panorama restaurant, which, alongside a charming meal, provides the perfect scene to watch the sun set and the lights of the city slowly twinkle into life.
Not to be missed
See Croatia by sea
The locals say that the best point to look at Dubrovnik is from the water, and you’ll be hard pressed to beat the experience of island-hopping on a Dubrovnik Boat charter.
Rise early to have the waters to yourself, and choose the itinerary that best suits you, whether that’s getting a glimpse into authentic island life with an ice-cream in your hand, diving into the crystal blue-watered caves with an underwater camera to capture it all, or simply enjoy speeding along with the sea breeze in your hair.
While you are out there, take the opportunity to book a table at Bowa Restaurant, which is situated on an island most easily accessible by boat. Yet, it’s not just the exclusivity that has seen Bowa become the playground of the rich and famous. The tasting menu is second to none, offering a daily catch of fresh fish, hand-picked vegetables and fruit from the gardens, as well as island-sourced olive oil. With breaks to swim and sunbathe readily welcomed, you could spend all day there.
If Croatia hasn’t captured your heart yet, this is a day-long experience that will clinch it…
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How to get there
Cruises are a popular opportunity to discover Dubrovnik, but it is also a brilliant weekend-break destination that is easily reached via a flight from many UK airports. Fly British Airways and arrive in just over two and a half hours.