From Dubrovnik, Croatia with love…

Apr 11, 2011 Avatar Florence Brethome Florence Brethome

Croatia is perhaps the Mediterranean country with the greatest potential for tourism growth. It has over 1,100 islands, and only 66 are inhabited. Croatia boasts some of the cleanest beaches of the Mediterranean, eight national parks, numerous UNESCO sites, and an amazing history & gastronomy.

I visited Dubrovnik and its surroundings. With more than 1000 years of history (and what an eventful one!), Dubrovnik is primarily a cultural destination, but surrounded by the most amazing beaches and clear water which makes it a fantastic vacation spot. What struck me first was how clean and safe the streets were, in comparison to other Mediterranean countries such as Spain, France, Italy or Greece. So one shouldn’t hesitate to visit.

The airport is about.5 hour from the old walled town of Dubrovnik. Taxis are very expensive, so arranging a transfer ahead of time is advisable. Once at your hotel, you can easily and safely use public transportation (buses run all day, 8 kunas per ride, approx. $1.20). During the high season (July/August), rental cars are not recommended as parking space is very limited and expensive. If arriving by cruise ship, (Dubrovnik is a popular port of call), you’ll come in either by tender or from the new port of Dubrovnik, located 10-minutes from the old town, easily accessible with public transportation or taxis.

The old town of Dubrovnik is encompassed by medieval walls 1,940 meters long (about 1.2 miles). Walking these walls is the #1 activity in Dubrovnik! But it’s very physical as lots of uneven steps are involved. Thankfully, you can decide to walk just part of it, although circumventing the old town is very rewarding, especially for avid photographers. Within the walls there are lots of steps, and streets are paved with cobblestones.

What else is there to do? One can visit the museums, cathedrals, churches, and numerous art galleries of the city; try the local gastronomy (very healthy, lots of seafood, great chocolates) while enjoying the local folklore; take an excursion to the nearby little towns of Cavtat, Mlini and Konavle; visit the nearby islands of Lokrum (where legend has it that Richard the Lionheart found shelter on the way back from the Crusades in Palestine), or Korcula (birthplace of Marco Polo); and finally, just snorkel, fish, dive, or soak up the rays!!

I visited about 15 hotels on this trip. There are no true 5-star hotels here, but there are a handful of very good 4-star properties. All of them offer spas, and they are always busy so make reservations in advance. (Spas here can be co-ed, and rules are more flexible concerning nudity.)

1) The two best hotels are the Hilton Imperial**** and Villa Argentina****. Both are located within walking distance from Old Town.

The Hilton Imperial is located two minutes outside the city walls. It is the most American clientele oriented property. Room categories vary in size, and the view makes the whole difference. The property has an indoor pool and spa, and preferred access to a private beach (20 euro per day).

The Villa Argentina was my personal favorite — a 10-minute walk from old town, but right on the sea (okay to swim) and with an outdoor (sea water) pool. Villa Argentina has two historical buildings and one that is more modern. Rooms in the historical buildings have high-ceilings. Not all rooms have balconies. Make sure of the room category you are getting. The property also offers beautiful gardens and views over Dubrovnik.

2) In the new port Dubrovnik area, about 10 – 15 minutes drive from old town, two properties really caught my attention: Kazbek Hotel**** and Lapad Hotel****. To access any beaches from these two properties, a walk or a drive is required.

The Kazbek Hotel, called the Kazbek Villa, has just 12 bedrooms. It’s a wonderful boutique hotel with a history that’s rich and complex. It was originally built in 1573! The owners of Kazbek also offer apartments in the old town, and a private villa in the outskirts of the city. Kazbek felt like the most exclusive and special property.

Right next to it was the Lapad Hotel. This is a beautiful property, large with comfortable bedrooms, a good pool (not as private as at Kazbek), and also facing the marina.

The PUCIC PALACE**** offers 19 bedrooms, and on the very small size because it is the only “deluxe” property located within the city walls! Booking a suite is recommended, almost necessary. It is a very intimate property though located in the middle of the busy old town. Apparently Brad and Angelina tried to stay here a few months ago, but didn’t get the privacy they were hoping for. The property has it’s own chapel (10 to 20 guests no more).

I statyed at the Valamar Lacroma Resort & Spa****, one of the larger vacation resorts starting to dot the Dubrovnik surroundings. These resorts are usually located by the coast, and largely attractive to the European clientele looking for a relaxing experience. Distance to town was.5 hour by bus. Rooms are very modern and comfortable. The indoor/outdoor pools were fabulous, and the spa quite nice as well. It shares a great “”blue flagged”” beach with its sister property, the Valamar Dubrovnik Hotel***.

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