While the on-again/off-again alliances of Serbia and Montenegro have been uneasy at times, Croatia’s relations with those countries exploded into full-fledged war in 1991 after Croatia declared its independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Croatia eventually won its independence, after four years of armed conflict, but not before the world was shocked by Serbia and Montenegro’s siege and shelling of Dubrovnik, one of the oldest and most beautiful cities on the Adriatic coast. Fortunately, while the damage was substantial (the city’s famed old town was hit 650 times) it has been painstakingly repaired and Dubrovnik has once again become one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Mediterranean Sea—with attractions ranging from centuries-old red-roofed architecture to nude beaches. Where the only red on display is the occasional unusually located sunburn.
As you’ll have the opportunity to see for yourself during our Beautiful Balkans tour in April.
After exploring the medieval city of Kotor in Montenegro, we’ll drive north across the border into Croatia to Dubrovnik for the first of two overnights, which will comprise the whole of our stay in Croatia.
If you find your first sight of the gorgeous walled city stunning, you’ll certainly be in good company. While touring the region in 1929, George Bernard Shaw (who also thought highly of the mountains in Montenegro) wrote “those who search for paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik.”
Dubrovnik’s beauty, its architectural riches and its historical significance caused it earned a designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1979, when Croatia was still part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. And it had been already been noted long before for the progressiveness of its laws and social services. Slave trading was abolished there in 1418 and the city’s first orphanage opened in 1432. An almshouse benefiting the city’s poor and elderly was opened in 1347 and a medical service was created in 1301, with the city’s first pharmacy (still operating today, though hopefully no longer stocking leeches) opened in 1317. And a 12-mile fresh water system, including an aqueduct and two public fountains, was created in 1438.
We’ll spend our first day touring some of its many highlights including the Pile Gate with its stone arch and drawbridge, built in 1537 (roughly 700 years after Dubrovnik was founded), as part of the city’s encircling wall. The wall is an attraction in its own right, by the
way, 82 feet high at its tallest point and 20 feet thick at its deepest—and it has brand-new caché thanks to its role in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series as part of the defenses of surrounding the fictional city of Kings Landing. We’ll also visit Orlando’s Column, an early 15th century carving of a medieval warrior honoring the legend of Orlando, who reportedly saved the city from sieges by 8th-century Arab pirates. Plus the Gothic-styled Rector’s Palace (seat of the governor from the 14th century to 1808, when Dubrovnik was known as the Republic of Ragusa), the 13th century Franciscan Church and Monastery (home to the aforementioned pharmacy and a large 17th-century library), and the 13th century Dominican monastery, with a museum exhibiting a wealth of paintings, artifacts and jewelry from Dubrovnik’s earliest days.
After a lunch break, the tour will continue, featuring special points of interest such as the St. Savior Church (one of the few Renaissance-period buildings to survive a catastrophic earthquake in 1667), St. Blaise’s Church (an 18th-century Baroque cathedral featuring a treasury of relics of the city’s patron saint, and the 15th century Arboretum Trsteno, the oldest Renaissance park in Croatia.
One day isn’t nearly enough to appreciate all that Dubrovnik has to offer, however, so we’ve added another and left it up to you how best to use the time best. You could explore the city in greater depth, ride a cable car to the top of Dubrovnik’s mountain for a spectacular view of the city and the bay, or arrange a boat trip to one several nearby islands, each with its own particular attractions, including Lokrum Island with its nude beach, for a bit of au natural sunbathing. Or if you’re not feeling quite that adventurous but you’re still in the mood for a beach day, there are several near Dubrovnik where the sand is plentiful and the swimsuits are not optional.