Croatia Vacation SpotsDubrovnik - Croatian Friends with Benefits
Good For: Couples, groups, and solo travelers. Croatia is a gateway to expand your travel horizons beyond Western Europe.
The Highlights: Jumping into the Adriatic Sea at the drop of a dime at places like Buza, watching the scene of excess at Gil, and clubbing on the beach at East-West. The international glamour set sure know how to have a good time.
But it’s not just fun and frivolous games. Venture to the neighborhood of Lapad for a slower pace and take a day trip to Ston to experience local culture.
What to Know: High-end accommodation is perfectly nice but not over-the-top luxurious. Rooms can be on the smaller side but what makes the difference is the view and, if you can score it, a balcony.
It’s essential to explore the walled city, the top of which is best walked either in the early morning or early evening, when both the crowds and the heat are tempered. Of course, the fact that it’s essential also makes it très touristy.
Suggested Stay: 2 - 3 Days
Friends with Benefits
Where friends with benefits includes those with boats, Dubrovnik is this summer’s hotspot. Known as the Venice of the East for its architecture and waterside locale, this walled city has been almost completely rebuilt, and therefore perfectly restored, because of the war. A UNESCO Heritage site, Dubrovnik is reminiscent of a maritime Venetian city, but with wider streets and a wall almost formidable enough to protect it from the invasion of yachts every summer.
For those without a private yacht, don’t be intimidated by the cost of renting a boat to sail the Adriatic. Croatia Charter offers a range of reasonable options. Alternatively if you’re staying on dry land, you can arrange day-boat rental with your hotel. Davor, the concierge at the Bellevue, knows his stuff and will set you up, with little to no hotel markup. Or, you can go DIY and head down to the harbor to negotiate with individual boat owners who are lined up in season to cruise the waters.
Vertigo That’s Worth It
Hotel prices are gentler on the pocket by Western European standards, even for the top spots in Dubrovnik. The Hotel Bellevue earns its name. Rooms are perfectly comfortable, though overshadowed by the stunning views of the Adriatic and the sheer cliffs onto which the hotel is built. Request a room with a balcony, where you’ll find yourself pre-partying, post-partying, and finding any excuse to chill out. All that separates you from the Adriatic on your terrace guardrail is glass, giving you vertigo that’s so worth it. From the hotel, there’s an elevator drilled into the cliffside to take you down to the private beach for an Adriatic dip. The restaurant Vapor serves some of the better elegant international cuisine on this side of Europe, and beats 99 percent of the options in the center of town. It’s also much prettier, sharing that stunning sea view. Getting here is a snap: Hotel Bellevue is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the city walls, or three-minute cab ride.
Also within the Hotel Bellevue portfolio are the Hotel Excelsior and Hotel Dubrovnik Palace, each of which gives you a completely different experience. The Hotel Excelsior is right outside the city walls, and is traditionally where heads of state and old-school Hollywood royalty have stayed. The resort-style Hotel Dubrovnik Palace pulls in the beautiful crowd. Every single room has a balcony overlooking the Adriatic, and you can fill up at four restaurants, from trendy to fine dining. It’s also one of the few hotels with a VIP wing, where even those with big yachts choose to stay. Dubrovnik Palace is in the glitzy local neighborhood of Lapad, and while not practically walkable to the old city, it’s just a 10-minute drive.
Storming the City Walls
Dubrovnik may be touristy, but it sure is pretty. You’ll spend a good chunk of your first day within the city walls. The best fish in the old town is at Proto, where their menu is enormous and the premium seats are on the terrace upstairs away from all of the chaos below. Later, wander the gorgeous art galleries side streets on the opposite side of Proto, which is the way to go when you’re not hiking the walls that look over the Adriatic Sea.
When you’re hiking the city walls, the beauty of Dubrovnik is the water. The old city is a maze of small alleyways with few street signs, so as in Venice, let yourself get manageably lost. These same small alleyways will eventually lead you to Buza, a makeshift café right outside the walls where you can jump in for an impromptu swim, or to the Bard, with views of the sunset over the Adriatic.
Tier-Two Models and Caviar Sandwiches
Like a well-rounded destination, Dubrovnik provides a dichotomy of experiences. On the glamorous side, you’ll be living out your champagne-fueled dreams at Gil’s, where every tier-two model looks like she’s in dire need of a sandwich. A caviar sandwich perhaps?
After-dinner debauchery, and there’s lots of it, is at East-West at the height of the season, and Revellin, which buzzes year-round. East-West is directly on the beach, and Revellin is set in an old, cavernous castle that brings new meaning to medieval partying.
The Real Croatia
But don’t think it’s all glitz. You’ll find a more intimate, local experience in the neighborhood of Lapad, a quick ride from the old city. The Dubrovnik Palace can be your base for cocktails and lounging at their waterfront pool, and then lunch at the Lapad restaurants, which are much more civilized than the old town. Nearby, there’s a beautiful walk you can take in Uvala, which will lead you around the entire peninsula.
The locals gorge themselves on seafood, like copious bowls of steamed mussels and fresh fish, at the Yatch Club Orsan tucked away in a small marina off the beaten path. It’s not at all fancy, which is a big part of its appeal. If you don’t have a car, you can arrange with your hotel for a taxi to and from the restaurant. The similarly named Restaurant Orsan in Zator, though completely unrelated to the Yacht Club, is the best restaurant in Dubrovnik. You won’t see the fanny-pack crowd here, but rather in-the-know visitors and well-dressed locals feasting on gorgeous seafood.
And even further beyond the city walls is the quiet village of Ston, about 45 minutes away. Can you say road trip? This is the real Croatia, where the fishermen pluck oysters and mussels better than those from Brussels right out of the water for a simple feast. You know, just like you make at home. An old fortress wall connects the towns of Ston and Mali Ston, where it really feels like time travel. But don’t get too lost in time, for without a last night in Dubrovnik. Those friends with benefits? It doesn’t just extend to boats.