We spent four nights in Dubrovnik, and for the first two days, I couldn’t stop thinking that I was on a “Game of Thrones” set. From the moment we entered the city walls, via the Pile Gate, with CROWDS of people, I was questioning the “realness” of our surroundings. The beauty of all the stoic stone buildings, smooth stone streets, and imposing stone walls is undeniable. Through restoration, Dubrovnik has fought back against the atrocity of war and ruin, proudly refurbishing Croatia’s jewel of the Adriatic. Tourism has returned tenfold and the city is now bombarded not by an enemy, but by waves of cruise ship passengers, and armies of foreign visitors. Thousands descend on the Old City every day to walk the walls, eat Dalmatian seafood, and shop for Croatian souvenirs. In truth, it was all a bit overwhelming.
On the one hand, we knew we were visiting one of the most beautifully preserved cities of the ancient world, but we were also aware that our presence, as well as 95% of those wrapped within the city’s walls, was only turning Dubrovnik into a Disneyland-like theme park. We learned that most locals who have homes in the city core, now choose to live outside its’ walls, renting their apartments to travelers instead. The majority of restaurants have homogenized and expensive meals catering to the tourist dollar and taking advantage of location vs. appealing to the finer palate (*Although we did enjoy plates piled high with mussels and calamari, and a Mexican and Indian meal for a change of pace).
Thankfully, we were staying at the edge of the old city, up an insane amount of stairs, far from the noise of the center. This allowed us to feel a glimmer of the haunting magic of old Dubrovnik, since we were no longer side-stepping selfie sticks! Even with its’ crowds of cargo shorts and headphone-wearing tour groups, Dubrovnik was classy. There was a high culture element, with an under the stars operatic concert attended by the well heeled, coifed, and adorned, and the yacht set, who were fine dining in the nooks of the old port and hidden lanes.
When we had had enough of monasteries, museums, forts, and churches, we escaped to the beach. In particular, we had a wonderful afternoon exploring Lokrum, a small island only a 10-15 minute boat ride from the port. Here we found calm and quiet, admiring peacocks and botanical gardens, sunbathing on rocky shores, jumping into the sea, and hiking this purely pedestrian island with no residents.
It is too bad that stunning Dubrovnik is no longer a secret, but it is certainly worth its’ fame.