Dubrovnik a game of travel
Sashaying around the Adriatic coastline to Dubrovnik, The Pearl of the Adriatic, Vanessa discovers how ”different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.”
A bus ride from Mostar to Dubrovnik, the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ will only take three to four hours. While aboard, the lush mountainous countryside of Bosnia/ Herzegovina gradually tempers into the natural beauty of the Dalmatian Coast. For those lucky to snare a seat on the right hand side you will inevitably find yourself ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ as you sashay around a coast filled with hidden bays and craggy bluffs. Dubrovnik or Kings Landing? It’s bound to cause a disagreement between many tourists as this century-old city has awakened to a cult following of the television series Game of Thrones. I admit I am naïve to this phenomenon: I have never watched even a single episode. But, for my travelling companion, it’s an obsession. As we stumble across sacred filming locations he uncovers past and future locations and his excitement mounts. Capitalising on its new-found fame, the tourist industry is booming so expect plenty of tour options that allow you to pay homage to the REAL Kings Landing. Abandon your script and create your own fantasy as you twist your way around the staircase Gundulic Square, walk the steep city steps of the old walls or just lounge around basking in the sun at one of the many themed Italian restaurants. I am here in the peak of summer and Europeans love to holiday in coastal locations. The streets are crowded and the heat is beaming off the cobblestone pavements. The glistening waters of the Adriatic Ocean are more than inviting. It’s time to cool off and escape the Game of Thrones throng by hiring a kayak and paddling out around the old city walls to the nearby Lokrum Island. The half- day tour starts beneath Fort Lovrjenac in the small port of Pile. Situated a mere 600 metres from Dubrovnik and spanning an area of just two hectares, this island has a surprisingly rich history that was first written about in 1023 when the Benedictine abbey and monastery were founded. In 1808 the last Benedictines left the island and (we are told all-too-happily by our tour guide) the legend is that on the Benedictine’s last night, the monks put a curse on anyone that should try to own the land in the future. We are also surprised to encounter a fully-fledged peacock engaged in a mating dance. These peacocks are a major feature of the island and are a legacy of the short-lived (possibly due to the curse) Emperor Maximilian who once had a holiday home on the island. For keen botanists, on the eastern side of the island, and away from the open sea, there is a Botanical Garden that was founded by the National Academy of Science and Art in 1959. Although my horticultural skills are limited I was surprised to see so many Australian natives. Our tour guide tells us that most of the vegetation within these gardens was actually sourced from Australia and South America in order to investigate the adaptation of tropical and sub tropical plants in this particular climate. It’s time to explore the ruins of Benedictine Abbey and Monastery or, for those with a keen eye and an obsession with Game of Thrones, the ancient port -city Quarth. My travelling companion is up for a re-enactment or two but I don’t indulge him. For me, it’s a couple of photos and it’s time to move on. In what is practically the middle of nowhere, we discover a beach bar. People are lounging around, reading books and enjoying cool drinks by the edge of a large waterhole. Shaded by trees, unfortunately the water is rather chilly. After a refreshing dip, it’s back in the kayak for further exploration of the Adriatic waters – imagine our surprise when we encounter a nudist beach on a cliff of the south-eastern side of the island. The tour boats and kayaks clearly aren’t a concern for these summer frolickers. We paddle our kayaks into the cliff’s open mouth. A natural beauty; Purple Cave – its name derives from the purple seaweed that covers that caves rocks. On the way out of the cave we catch one more glimpse of the nudist beach as we head back towards the mainland, admiring the beauty of this ancient land. Following a relaxing morning on the water we decide to scale upwards. There are two options to get to the top of Mount Srd (pronounced ‘surge’); walk or the lazy alternative of gliding up in a cable car. In than less than four minutes, ours ears pop and we step out at 412 metres above sea level. Walking on top of the mountain and looking to the south I am instantly mesmerised by the 360 degree panoramic view that looks beyond the mass of terracotta roofs, towards the old medieval wall and beyond to the vast turquoise waters. In complete contrast, looking down the north side of the mountain there is small bay with eight small Croatian villages. This site is of historical importance. It’s the home of Fort Imperial. The French built it in 1808 during the Napoleonic Wars to hold back any attacks by the Austrians. Fascinatingly, it was never used in combat until 1991 when it played a major role in the city’s defence of Serbian attacks during the Croatian War of Independence. A small museum inside the Fort will give you a glimpse of the destruction the city suffered. It also gives you an insight to the reconstruction that has brought the city back to its former state. A cross that overlooks the town on the south side of the mountain was erected in 1935 was destroyed during the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991, has since been reconstructed. After a lesson in historical wartime destruction, we manage to escape the summer rush by relaxing at the basic but lovely Restaurant Terrace and enjoying those amazing panoramic views. We sip on a cocktail and watch as the sunset beams off the Riviera. Whatever you decide to do in Dubrovnik make sure you leave enough time to explore and get lost in the back streets of one of the World’s best medieval towns.