Dubrovnik has to be one of the most exceptional places that we have had the opportunity to see. It’s a place which holds on to its medieval past closely – a place still encased by its 16th-century city wall and marked by its limestone walkways and terracotta-topped houses. Dubrovnik’s Old Town is so remarkable that it is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, since 2011, has also been the township used to bring the fictionalised King’s Landing setting to life for the TV series, Game of Thrones.
But, before you ask, we did not do a Game of Thrones location tour in Dubrovnik, instead opting for more time in the azure waters of the gorgeous Adriatic. After a hectic month of city-hopping through Italy, we were ready for some oceanside relaxation. And, really, can you think of a better place to do so than in Dubrovnik, where the average August temperature is 30°C? For us, the location was a no-brainer.
One of our most memorable experiences in Dubrovnik was undertaking a three-hour sea kayak tour. As we paddled away from the alcove where we had met and geared-up, new, unseen panoramas manifested. In front of us, endless, rippling water rolled in a calm, regular motion, while, to our left, the oatmeal wall of the city loomed nobly at the foreground of the cityscape. The tour took us partially around this wall, out past the “cursed” Lokrum Island and, eventually, saw us arrive at a small beach cave on the mainland.
Upon our arrival at the cave, we were quick to fish our packed lunches from our watertight barrel. No kidding, two hours of kayaking is hard work. We were hungry. Though, as tired as we were, we were also eager to squeeze in some snorkelling at the cave before we departed on the half hour paddle back to our starting point. Our fleeting dip with the fish was so calm; gliding alongside pockets of tiny fish, we felt like we’d discovered a tiny bit of paradise. Croatia will do that to you.
Ocean excursions aside, a trip to Dubrovnik really would not be complete if one did not climb the aforementioned city wall and stroll the 1.9km around the old fortification system. It’s simply impossible to describe the breathtaking views that this vantage point presents, let alone attempt to understand the history of this structure from the Middle Ages. As one of Europe’s best kept, and largest, fortification structures, the Walls of Dubrovnik are a wonder worth walking.
We chose to explore the wall at midday – which was probably not very wise. Drenched with 33°C sunlight, it’s safe to say that we got a good baking. Though, we survived the heat by stopping regularly to drink, swim and explore the shaded streets below the wall. This is all possible because a ticket entry to the wall allows you to exit and re-enter the structure as much as you like, within the parameters of your designated time. Our lazy pace made our adventure fun and carefree – an affair safely locked in the memory bank.
While ocean-dwelling and wall-wandering had us feeling pretty satisfied, we were starting to crave some more adventure. So, jumping online – on a bit of a whim might I add – we booked a group day trip from Dubrovnik to Mostar in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Haven’t heard of the place? Don’t worry – neither had we!
Several days later, we found ourselves packed into a minivan with a bunch of Aussies, Brits and a speckling of other international tourists, as we headed for the border (or, borders, to be more exact). Not so long ago, Croatia gave a section of their coastline to Bosnia and Hercegovina, literally dividing their nation in two. So, strangely, travelling to Mostar meant leaving Croatia, and arriving in Bosnia and Hercegovina, twice.
It’s crazy, Mostar is only a two and a half hour’s drive away from Dubrovnik but it feels worlds away. Whereas Dubrovnik still feels very European in nature, Mostar feels like a kind of gateway to the Middle East. I guess that’s not surprising considering the Ottoman Empire ruled the lands of Bosnia and Hercegovina (then, the Banate of Bosnia) from the mid-15th to 19th century.
As we learnt on our guided tour of Mostar, since the rule of the Turks, the country’s political fortune has not improved. To this day, buildings still stand bullet-hole ridden from decades of war and disharmonic government leaders swim in a murky pool of Christian and Islamic values. The search for unity in this complex nation may well seem impossible to a people of intergenerational unrest.
Yet, despite the nation’s unstable political situation, the country still has a lot going for it. The town of Mostar was a very attractive place with its pristine, green river and the famed Stari Most bridge above. Hilariously, one of the key tourist attractions in Mostar is paying to watch a local, speedo-clad man dive from the bridge and plunge into the apparently icy water below. The 24-metre jump can also be braved by tourists…though we opted for a safer Bosnian experience, eating ćevapi – a regional speciality which is reminiscent of a köfte kebab.
Visiting Bosnia and Hercegovina proved to be an eye-opening experience. We’ll certainly never forget the bullet-bitten buildings, nor the Serbs in speedos for that matter – eek! Yet, in spite of how intriguing Mostar was, it was Dubrovnik that captured our affections. Her golden sunsets soothed our souls and her crystalline waters left us in a state of blissful tranquillity. Furthermore, the city’s preservation was astonishing and its landscapes unforgettable. If one thing’s for certain, Dubrovnik should be on your Europe bucket list!