Tuesday, September 20, 2011
I was nervous to return to Dubrovnik. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the city. It was just that I hadn’t been there in over eight years, and I was afraid that everything had changed. Back when I first visited, most Americans had never heard of the place, let alone been there. But shortly after my Dubrovnik travels in 2003, the city became a hot destination.
As such, I wasn’t sure if the place I had fallen in love with all those years ago would be as lovable today. But when I booked my Balkans trip, it only made sense to stay a night in Dubrovnik on my way from Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina to Kotor in Montenegro.
I arrived in Dubrovnik after a 3-hour-and-40-minute bus ride from Mostar. When I alighted, I was glad to see that there were still local people with signs offering rooms to everyone that arrived in the city. That was how my friends and I found our accommodation on our last trip, and it was something I hadn’t seen anywhere else in the world.
This time my accommodation was different, but in a good way. I was staying at the Hotel Bellevue in Dubrovnik. It was a gorgeous luxury hotel right on the sea, complete with 91 guest rooms, a spa, a restaurant, and a beach.
The hotel had offered me a complimentary room for the night, and I was happy to learn that it would be an executive suite with sweeping sea views. The decor was all natural in both the bedroom and the living room, and there was an abundance of L’Occitane products in the two bathrooms. I was tempted to stay in the room during my entire trip to Dubrovnik.
But I wanted to see the historic old town and the other areas that make Dubrovnik the famous place that it is. I walked the quick 10 minutes into the walled city, and before I knew it, I was strolling along the marble streets and taking in the beautiful architecture around me. From the clock towers to the churches, from the Renaissance buildings to the Baroque, Dubrovnik was just as beautiful as it had been on my last visit.
It was, however, a bit more crowded. On my last Dubrovnik travels, my friends and I felt like we had the entire city to ourselves. This time there were multiple cruise ships in the harbors and lots of tour buses around. But as soon as I stepped off the main arteries in the walled city, the crowds virtually disappeared and I had the place to myself again. It was great.
In the late afternoon I went back to the hotel and met Zeljana, the Bellevue’s Event and PR Manager. She and I had drinks on the balcony of the Vapor Restaurant before heading off to view the hotel’s sister properties. The first stop was the famous Hotel Dubrovnik Palace.
Located on the Lapad peninsula, its rooms and suites had great views of the sea. Down on the water, I walked over a bridge that spanned a swimming pool and saw the hotel’s private pool and beach area for VIP guests, events, and weddings.
The second property I saw was the Hotel Excelsior in Dubrovnik. It was on the other side of the old town. The hotel was first opened in 1913, and half of it was still housed in the restored original building.
The rooms had stunning views of the Dubrovnik old town and right beside the new half of the hotel was the private Villa Agave that guests could rent out.
Back at the Hotel Bellevue, I enjoyed dinner at Vapor restaurant. I started with scampi and avocado, then moved on to a sea bass main with mashed potatoes. For dessert I ordered a chocolate souffle, which was divine. My server recommended two great Croatian white wines to go with my meal, as well as a dessert wine to pair with the souffle.
My indulgence continued in the morning when I went to the hotel spa for a massage. The treatment was incredibly relaxing, and it was great to have the tension from carrying my bags around on my shoulders worked out.
Rejuvenated, I walked back into the old town, stopping on the way to explore some of the side streets. One of the areas I wandered into was a churchyard with a beautiful cemetery. I walked around it for a few minutes, enjoying the peace and quiet.
Like many of the cemeteries I had seen in the other cities on my Balkans trip, this one too had many areas where all of the graves shared the same year of death in the early 1990′s. It was a sobering reminder of the region’s tragic recent past.
But sometimes good things are born out of hard times. One such thing was a dining establisment called Restaurant Nautika. Located just outside the entrance of Dubrovnik’s old town, its terrace offered stunning views of the sea, the city walls, and the fortress on the opposite hill.
Nautika was founded during the war in the 1990′s, and is now one of the city’s most celebrated restaurants (it even won an award from Conde Nast Traveller for being one of the most romantic restaurants in the world). I enjoyed a three-course there lunch overlooking the sea.
Starting with a great cold seafood appetizer of lobster, mussels, cuttlefish, and scampi, I moved onto fresh lobster ravioli and finished with a chocolate souffle with olives.
More local Croatian wine from the nearby island of Korcula rounded out what was a lovely meal. Nautika had a sister restaurant, Proto, in the old town, and another called Konavoski Dvori in the nearby city of Gruda, and I was sad that I didn’t have more time in the area so that I could try them as well.
My final activity in Dubrovnik was another reminder of how the city had changed since I was there previously. On my last visit, my friends and I spent half a day hiking up switchbacks to the top of the mountain behind the old town. At the top were the ruins of a fortress and a bombed-out structure for which we didn’t know the original purpose.
Turns out it was for a cable car. Said method of transport had been restored since my last Dubrovnik travels, and I spent an hour riding up, visiting the sparkling new tower and its photographic museum, and walking around the grounds. It was beautiful, and offered stunning views of the city walls and the islands in the distance.
The rest of my trip to Dubrovnik was spent wandering through the small streets, up to lookout points, and along wide roads lined with cafes and restaurants. On the evening of my second day in the city, a driver from my hotel drove me down to the bus station and I boarded my bus to Kotor, Montenegro.
The second round of my Dubrovnik travels had been different from my first, but I was happy to have made the discovery that the city hadn’t changed in the way that I had feared. It was still just as beautiful, and the new additions were positive ones. I hope it doesn’t take another eight years for me to visit again, but if it does, I won’t be nervous next time.