The many highs and few lows of Dubrovnik

Letter 110

Finally made it to my last stop in Croatia. 3 weeks in the country culminated with this remarkable city and it was actually a pretty perfect end to this part of my trip.

Dubrovnik was big, beautiful and busy. The old town is something special with yet more cobbled steep streets, stone buildings and surrounded by the famous city walls. Walking on the walls is, like everything else here, very expensive, but not for students. Specifically, students with one of the student cards they are willing to accept. This brought the price down from 150kn to 50kn (£19 to £6) so I didn’t mind paying. I therefore had a glorious walk above Dubrovnik’s old town in the evening light and the views were truly magnificent. It’s a really nice thing to do, but I wouldn’t have paid nearly £20 to do it. The ancient walls were a definite high (quite literally) of my stay in this remarkable city and it was a good start to my short time there.

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I finished off the evening in search of the perfect place to watch the sun setting over the city. I didn’t find it. I was aiming for a park that I never found and instead ended up approximately 20m below it on a winding road around the cliffs. Although I didn’t get where I intended to, I did see a beautiful sunset, made friends with many cats and saw some lovely views. Sometimes unintended is better.

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The next day, after a partially restless hostel night, I took the same route into the old town as I had before my wall walk. The walk snakes along the headland, and the sea, like the rest of Croatia, was crystal clear. Taking it slow and with little on my agenda for the day, it felt like paradise. That is until you see the walls. The stunning expanse of medieval stonework ahead and yet all I could see and hear were tourist boards trying to lure me onto a Game of Thrones tour. The show is alright but I don’t need to see which wall features in season 2 episode 6. This represents one of the downs of Dubrovnik. It is way too touristy. I’m not normally one to moan about tourists – I am one – but it was too much. I wish I’d had the chance to experience this stunning place before Game of Thrones exploded. It has made everything more expensive here and transformed most of this town into a museum, not a living, working city.

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When I broke through and made my way inside the city walls, I simply wandered for a while. I found that there wasn’t a huge list of things to do in Dubrovnik, but there is a lot to see. I walked up and down the main streets, observing street performers, munching on burek and gazing up at the beautiful buildings lining the cobbles. I then strayed away from the crowds down the quieter passages around the old town, finding places that were only mine for a moment or two. These were my favourite parts. In these back alleys and hidden courtyards, I found a simple Croatian old town where people lived and I loved.

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After a successful morning discovering Dubrovnik’s secrets I headed back to my hostel, frankly, to get out of the heat. I ended up meeting some lovely people and we all headed to a local beach to finally get in those crystal waters. It was dreamy and much needed.

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This day, which was actually my last full day in Croatia, ended perfectly. This wonderful country gave me a fantastic send off. I accidentally timed my stay in Dubrovnik with the start of their summer festival which meant I got to spend my last night there with food, friends and fireworks on the beach. It was a stunning display and I felt 100% happy.

dubrovnik fireworks

For my last morning in Dubrovnik before I headed over the border to Montenegro I took the boat to Lokrum Island. Even though it cost more than I would’ve liked, I did think it was worth it. The island is a quiet paradise away from the bustle of the old town and has a lot of hidden gems to discover. As the last thing I did in the city, it was a huge high!

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So there you have Dubrovnik. I had a really lovely time in this city with many highs to end my trip in Croatia. The few lows I experienced were mainly due to the sheer volume of tourists and expense of everything within the walls! Having said that, it’s touristy for a very good reason and I’m glad I went. In the future, July might not be the best time to visit.

That’s my last post on Croatia for a while, I’ll be moving onto Montenegro next. Even though I got back to the UK about a month and a half ago, I still want to post letters about all of the amazing places I visited, so stay tuned!

If you want to read about the rest of my Croatia trip, here are the links:

BUDAPEST, ZAGREB, PLITVICE AND PULA  |  Romantic Rovinj  |  Zadar: hiking to an abandoned fortress  |  The most underrated Croatian city: Šibenik  |  Krka or Plitvice?  |  A snippet of Split  |  Island escapes: Brač and Korčula

Thanks for reading!

From Lou

dubrovnik game of thrones

I don’t even like Game of Thrones

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Island escapes: Brač and Korčula

Letter 108

Island hopping on an organised sail trip is very popular in Croatia, but you can also do it on your own. As I was pushed for time at the end of my stint in Croatia I went from Split to Brač and then over to Korčula before Dubrovnik. I liked this little route however I did miss out the most popular island Hvar for similar reasons that I didn’t stay in Split. (You can read about that here). So let me tell you about these Adriatic gems!

 

Brač

Out of the two, Brač was my favourite. Immediately I felt at home on this charming island and that may be due to the wonderful Croatian family I stayed with. The hostel they own was virtually empty so I had a lovely dorm with a balcony to myself and they even invited me to join them for dinner. It was a great place to spend a few days, and I wanted to stay longer. The hostel was called Central Studio Apartments.

I had two pretty full days there but could’ve spent a week. On the first day I took a 6km walk around the coast to Splitska. This is a sleepy harbour town with very little tourism and a perfect place to relax. On the way I passed a number of quiet bays and stopped off at the nearest one to the town, where I had a part of the beach all to myself. On the way back I stopped at the others. This pretty much took me the whole day but when I returned to Supetar (largest town on the island, and connected to Split via ferries) I had a wander round and headed up the tower for the sunset. It was the first day I’d had to myself in a while and I enjoyed it so much.

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The next day was also my last day (thanks to 2 night quick stays), so my main job was to get to the other side of the island where my catamaran would depart from. Bol is the side of the island near the famous beach of Zlatni Rat so I decided to get a bus in the morning to Bol, accompanied by my backpack, and spend the day on the beach before catching my ride to Korčula. Luckily, a nice guy in a tourist information centre let me leave my bag with him and head off to relax on the stunning beach. As a last image of Brač, it was a nice one, although I have to say I preferred my empty beaches of the previous day. Brač was a pretty special place and I was pleased to have some alone time here enjoying the beauty of this gem. If I went again I’d do the hike Vidova Gora which is the highest peak amongst the islands. Definitely on my list to return!

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Korčula

I arrived in Korčula pretty late to a largely empty hostel again which, after nearly a week by myself, I was a bit disappointed with. The hostel wasn’t the greatest which also tainted my time there. However, it’s a very pretty island with a charming town, sparkling beaches and inland hills and vineyards to offer, but without a car it can be difficult to reach these things. I managed a walk up to a village and then down to some beaches, stopping off in a nature reserve, and then back over to the old town. It was pretty stifling in the heat, but had great views and a glorious dip in the sea at the end.

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So there you have it, two Dalmatian islands to escape to from the bustling cities on Croatia’s coast. If you’re in the country you have to get to at least one island, I recommend Brac personally but both are beautiful and the others are equally desirable. Of course Hvar is the most famous and busiest, but I skipped it. One I really would’ve like to visit is Mljet which I’ve heard is stunning!

Just a quick note – I am way behind on the letters, I am currently 10 days into my Montenegrin stay and leaving in just under a week! I’ll catch up soon!

Happy Travels!

From Lou

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A snippet of Split

Letter 107

For me Split wasn’t a number one place on my list to visit, however I did spend one day there. From Šibenik it was only an hour and a half away so I left early, spent most of the day in Split and then headed off to the islands later in the afternoon. I felt like this was actually enough to see the city, and I wasn’t interested in paying a premium to stay there just to party. So anyway, here is a snippet of Split…

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Walking around the winding streets of the old town doesn’t take long. In addition to this you can head down and check out the underground palace and then wander along the waterfront (if you can stand the smell). The thing I actually enjoyed most was walking up the hill in Marjan Park and getting fantastic views across the whole area. There’s also a beach you can get to from here but I didn’t venture that far.

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Split is nice – you can see that from the photos – but I am glad I decided not to stay there. Like most places in Croatia, it is doable in a day, but Split is just extra touristy and expensive. I believe a quick stop off is the best way to do it.

What are your thoughts on Split?

Happy Travels!

From Lou

About Me

 

PS. I stored my luggage for about 6 hours very near the bus station and it cost me about £2.

Krka or Plitvice?

Letter 106

The two main national parks in Croatia are Krka, known primarily for the giant waterfall you can swim in, and Plitvice, known for the bright blue lakes and winding footpaths. As I’ve now visited both, I thought I’d weigh in on the subject. I’ve already written about Plitvice here, so this will mainly be focused on Krka and my thoughts on which park I preferred and why.

I stayed in Šibenik because it was within easy reach of Krka, being only a 45 minute bus ride away. The bus took me to Skradin (which was actually my first preference to stay but there were no hostels – and I’m quite thankful for that now because I loved Šibenik – read the letter about Šibenik here), and then I had to get a boat over to the park. The boat ride was beautiful and peaceful and then we arrived right in the thick of the action. Straight away you are dropped amongst the sun-worshippers and bathers under the famous waterfall. Honestly, my first impression was that it was very very busy, over-touristy and not very natural at all. Having said that, the waterfall was impressive, the water was milky blue and beautiful and I could see it’s charm and why it attracts these masses of people.

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I decided to first of all go for a walk around the park. I followed the crowds more than the trails because they weren’t that clear. I was told there was only one route around the park but I came to a ‘junction’ many times and just chose one way or another. The walk was busy and only took about an hour which disappointed me because I would’ve liked to have seen more. What I did see were lots of waterfalls cascading into one another, sharp reflections of the nature in the water and lots of bright blue clear pools, like I had seen in Plitvice.

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After the walk I spent the rest of the day swimming and lounging on the grass next to the waterfall. It was quite peaceful despite the hoards of people swarming everywhere. I didn’t do much swimming near the waterfall and instead went under the bridge to the other side which was quieter and deeper. I actually wish I’d done some research and figured out what else I could’ve done, like go to the island with the church on it. Forgive me, I don’t know the name. I think it’s possible to explore more of the park with a bike or, better still, a car. It was a nice relaxing day though.

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I managed to get the photo featuring very few people earlier in the day – by the afternoon it was packed with people either swimming or sunbathing.

So, which is better? I would say, based on my experiences, Plitvice. The sheer amount of people in Krka really put me off and it felt far too much like any old tourist attraction rather than a natural park. This may have been to do with timing as I stayed overnight very near the Plitvice Lakes which meant we started walking at 9 and finished at 1, whereas in Krka I started at 10:30. The length of the walk in Plitvice was also much more desirable for me. It felt like a decent walk where I explored a large area, but in Krka it was too short and not much information was given. I think this is because the majority of people just want to swim. Even with aesthetics, I think Plitvice is just prettier. I would love to return to Plitvice out of season and see it dressed in Autumnal oranges or even covered in snow.

Both are worth a visit – Croatia really does have some of the most stunning nature I’ve ever seen! Try to avoid July and August though because the prices shoot up as I discovered in Krka. I would always advise to try and stay nearby and start your day trip as early as possible to beat the crowds. I believe any place is nicer when you remove half of the people.

If you’ve been, which one was your favourite?

Hope this was helpful!

From Lou

About Me

The most underrated Croatian city: Šibenik

Letter 105

A city steeped on the banks of the Adriatic overlooking nearby islands, featuring four fortresses, many churches, a maze of cobbles and spellbinding sunsets – and yet hardly anyone visits. Šibenik is located about halfway between Zadar and Split and only a short drive away from Skradin and the entrance to the Krka National Park (which I’ll get to in another letter). Even with this ideal position and most buses stopping off here, not many travellers chose to spend time in Šibenik. I decided to stop off here for 3 nights for a number of reasons:

  1. It is much cheaper than Split, but close enough so that I could leave early and spend the whole day in the city.
  2. It’s close to the national park and cheap and easy to get to.
  3. It’s quieter than other cities because of the lack of interest.

What I didn’t expect was to completely fall in love with the city, the people and the area. I would go as far as saying it’s my favourite place I’ve visited in Croatia so far and I would 100% go back.

First impressions have a huge impact on my feelings towards a place, and this place impressed me straight away. I arrived at the bus station at about 7pm and within 5 minutes I was checked into my room. No joke! It’s a small place and the hostel I stayed at was visible from the bus station which is right in the centre. I then headed out for food and stumbled across a takeaway place and bought the best falafal wrap ever. The lady in there was lovely and I chatted to her for a while before going to eat on my balcony overlooking the harbour. Did I mention I had an 8 bed dorm to myself? It was very quiet on the first night, and it was a welcome relief. I then headed out for a walk and to catch the sunset and it was the most stunning sunset I’ve ever seen. I already loved the city after only 2 hours.

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The next morning I had some housekeeping to do and got my washing done. (It may have been my favourite moment on my trip when I had a whole bag of folded clean clothes that actually smelled fresh.) In the meantime I wondered over to the supermarket for supplies and came across a buzzing fruit and veg market. That’s one thing I love about Croatia – they do markets well!

sibenik market

For the rest of the day I took it easy wondering around the town and returning to the hostel for food and rests – as it was so central to everything. I spent hours milling around the streets of Šibenik and found myself excited at every turn by the tight alleyways, stepped streets and snippets of views across the islands. I also headed up to St Michael’s Fortress which had the most amazing 360 degree views and also a bar!

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I go out to explore the city and what do I find? Turtles.

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You’ll notice stairs are a recurring theme in Šibenik

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Many architectural styles and colours overlaid.

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Views over the old town from the fortress.

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A cat waiting patiently whilst people cooked sardines in the street.

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Rocks and stones blending together.

I only stumbled upon the fortress but decided to go in because it looked beautiful. As you can see, the views were stunning and the ticket also allowed you entrance into another fortress higher up over the city. All for less than £4. So later on in the day, after demolishing another massive falafal wrap, I wandered up to the fortress to catch the sunset. Luck was on my side because there happened to be a brass band playing a concert there after sunset so I stayed to watch and it was amazing. Never heard or seen anything liked it and it was great to enjoy surrounded by a few tourists and locals.

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Šibenik has been the biggest and best surprise of all of the places I’ve been to. The main reason I went was for the Krka National Park but ended up finding so much more. Don’t skip Šibenik on a Croatia trip! It’s well worth a visit and I hope this letter has shown that. My last full day in the city was spent at the National Park, which I will write about in the next letter – stay tuned!

Until next time,

From Lou

About Me

Zadar: hiking to an abandoned fortress

Letter 104

Zadar was the Croatian city I was most looking forward to visiting – and it didn’t disappoint. The fantastic hostel I stayed in, people I met and things I did made those 4 days some of the best of my trip. So allow me to tell you about Zadar!

The Old Town

Like the old towns of many cities in this country, it’s full of ancient Roman reminders mixed in with the classic Dalmatian stonework and more modern buildings with pops of colour around every corner. It felt like a very liveable city, not too over-run by tourists, plenty of green space and a good lifestyle surrounded by pretty beaches and sporting facilities. To me it was ideal. It’s great fun walking the streets of Zadar and it’s small enough you don’t even need a map. After relaxing in one of the gardens you can head to the bar area until sunset and then go and watch the sun descend into the Adriatic whilst listening to the unique sea organ. A moment that will be shared with hundreds of others, but still lovely nonetheless. At night, the city lights up and comes alive. You can’t miss the striking lights dancing on the water surrounding the old town and reflecting the modernity of the newer sprawling city.

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Ugljian Island

Although the weather wasn’t perfect, a small group of us from the hostel decided to catch a ferry over to the island that stretches out in front of Zadar. With few expectations for this day trip, I was pleasantly surprised. The town we arrived in was bustling with locals and tourists, with lots of shops, restaurants and cafes. There were also pretty cobbled streets and swimming spots dotted around the coastline. After advice from our hostel we decided to hike up the hill to an abandoned fortress and views of the islands and Zadar. The hike isn’t too challenging and took about an hour – and the views were well worth it. The fortress is amazing and we sat up there for ages admiring our surroundings. We then wanted to try and get down the other side to a secluded cove we were recommended, but after trying many trails that concluded at dead ends, we gave up and headed back to the town. The swimming here was lovely anyway and perfect to cool off.

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The beaches

My hostel was situated nearer the ferry port than the old town centre, which also meant I was minutes from the beach. There is a series of small beaches leading into the old town, some with ‘cliffs’ to jump into the water from. I say ‘cliffs’ because they really are more like ledges. The water is crystal clear and the views to the islands are stunning. They get very popular with locals at weekends!

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Overall I would say – visit Zadar. It’s a shame that so many people skip this city (and many others in my opinion but I’ll get to that in another post) and go straight down to split. In my opinion, Zadar has a lot to offer and I would 100% go back!

Sibenik is up next – which you probably haven’t heard of but was one of my favourite cities!

Happy travels!

From Lou

About Me

Romantic Rovinj

Letter 103

The majority of travellers in Croatia don’t go up north to Pula, let alone make the extra journey up to the small town of Rovinj. These two are part of Istria, an Italianate province with beautiful architecture, beaches and nature and should not be missed! Rovinj may be my favourite place I’ve visited so far so here’s a quick insight into this little gem.

Rovinj truly is picture perfect with it’s colourful buildings sweeping up the hill culminating in the tower observing the town and its port. Thousands of unique routes can be made with the winding cobbled streets and tight staircases. Around every corner is a new passageway and I spent hours enjoying the different colours and shapes I saw. As the town is not too touristy, you can even find spots where you can sit alone for a long time before someone passes. The whole place felt like a fairytale to me and I completely fell in love with it.

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I honestly couldn’t get over how beautiful this place is, and it really comes alive at sunset. I managed to find a deserted spot to watch the sun go down after having a walk around the town.

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Unfortunately, for me, the weather wasn’t great, with scattered showers for the whole time I was there. That just means that even having been there, Rovinj is still on my list of places to go. I really wanted to get out of town for a day and cycle to Lim ‘fjord’ – not really a fjord, but a ria. Next time I go I will get out and see more of Istria’s rich countryside.

Hope I’ve convinced you to visit!

Happy travels,

From Lou

About Me