Dubrovnik… paradise lost

Dubrovnik was on my bucket list.  It was the whole reason we came to Croatia and I have to say I feel a little let down.  The Old Town is truly beautiful and the walls give a stunning view.  Why am I disappointed?  The city is so overwhelmed by tourists (Split was busy but this is next level)  that I think they have got greedy.  It is much more expensive than any other place in Croatia we have been and we have had rude and or indifferent service at restaurants in town.  Our tour guide told us to do everything we want to do this year as next year it will be even more expensive (prices for entry have increased significantly this year).

We spent 5 nights (four days) in Dubrovnik doing the following:

Old Town

There are lots of buildings to look at, the usual walking tours, restaurants and souvenir shops.  We visited a Dali Exhibition,  which had a number of his smaller more minor pieces on display.  We also visited the War Photo exhibition which was very good.  It had photographs from all sides of the Yugoslavian war period.  Many very powerful images and well worth the entry price of 50 Kuna each.

We took two city walking tours, one of which was a historical tour which focussed on the war.  We have taken walking tours from each of the other countries in the conflict that we visited so thought it was good to have a more complete picture.  The tour guide was very balanced and explained some of the areas that were not clear from other tours.  We also took a Game of Thrones tour because … well you have to don’t you!  A decent amount of season 2-6 was filmed here.  Our guide (who was hilarious although not trying to be) explained with photographic examples where things were filmed and how the area was prepared. It was a really good tour and if you are  a GoT fan, one of these tours is really worth doing.

City Walls

Dubrovnik has one of the most beautiful (and restored) city walls we have seen.  The area was bombed in the war but the community has restored the area using the same design and materials.  Apparently the price increased 50% this year so if you are going to Croatia, get here quick!  The view from the walls is truly stunning and was a highlight.  We managed to get up there for sunset which was picturesque.  It is really hot and crowded so get there either in the morning or in the evening.  The latest you can go up is 7pm and they like everyone to come down by 7.30.  The day we went the sun set at about 7.35 and there was no one rushing you down and the bars still served drinks at key viewing points.  You do need at least an hour to get around as it is 2km.

Cable car

The cable car is another opportunity to see the view from above.  It is about 20 Euros to go up.  You can also walk up the hill or get an Uber for much cheaper!  We took the cable car and the views are stunning.  You can grab a drink at the cafe at the top so that you can enjoy the views for a bit longer.

3 Islands Day Cruise

This seems to be a standard tour that lots of boats offer.  It was a nice day out however don’t get too excited by the food offered.  Ours was inedible (the chicken was so hard we could have knocked someone out with it) and the drinks were some very strange tasting fizzy that we tipped out and wine that was like a bad home brew.  The three islands we visited were in the Elafiti archipeligo and included Lopud, Kolocep and Sipan.  Kolocep and  Sipan are cute little islands where you have time to grab a drink or have a swim.  We spent time jumping off piers as it was hot!  You spend quite a bit more time on Lopud as it is famous for its sandy beach.  Our boat docked on the rocky side of the island and you then walk through town, up a hill and grab a golf cart (like a taxi) which takes you to the other side of the island where the sand is.  So… we got there, surveyed the scene, decided it was too crowded, the water didn’t seem as clear and that we preferred the rocky side!  We promptly got back in another golf cart to return us to our rocky beach where we spent the afternoon.  I think we have to hand in our passports… we now prefer the no mess, no sand version of the sea!

Belje Beach Club

We had a spare afternoon so spent time at this beach club which is right at the back of the Old Town.  You do have to pay for loungers and umbrellas and you will need your trusty rock shoes!

Lokrum Island

This was recommended to us by a number of locals and travellers we met on the day tours.  It was one of the highlights!  You pick up a boat to the island at the back of the  Old Town.  The boat goes every half and hour so you can get over or back whenever it suits.  The island has a park like feel with shady trees, great rocks to jump off into the sea, restaurants if you haven’t bought a picnic and even massages if you can afford them.  The picnic area under the trees wasn’t too crowded and had large rabbits and peacocks walking around between people.  There is also a little lake called a Dead Sea which you can swim in.  Overall a nice day out with a picnic.

So my summary about Dubrovnik… I think it is probably not what it was and it has got too big for it’s boots.  Yes it is still visually stunning but I would limit my time there.  The Old Town is picturesque but the crowds, cost and poor service take the shine off this Adriatic jewel.

Maribor in 48 hours

Maribor is the second largest Slovenian city.  It has a population of about 100,000 so is still a small city.  It has an interesting old town and a great surrounding region to explore.  We spent 3 nights here, which meant that we had two full days to explore.  You could definitely do it in less, depending on what you are interested in but you could also spend more time  here.  So what did we do…

Old town

The old town is good for a look around.  Be aware it is almost empty during the day.  It is busiest early in the morning and the bars and cafes come alive at night.  A little tourist train leaves from the tourist centre and drives around the main sites if you can’t be bothered walking.  It is about 3 Euros.  Unfotunately there is no commentary so you are guessing a bit at what you are seeing.

IMG_9120.JPG

Hiking

You can drive to Pohorje, where you can go up on the cable car to the top, hike around a bit and have lunch at the hotel and come down the cable car again. You could hike down… it was a heat wave – we didn’t!  There is also a thermal swimming pool at the top which would be great in the winter.  It is 10 Euro’s entry.  At the bottom of the cable car there is another hotel which has a day pass for swimming.  It is 18 Euros for the day (no half day passes).  As it is outdoors it is probably a better option for the summer.

Wine

Maribor and the surrounding areas are wine country.  You can visit the oldest vine in the world (450 years old) and there is an interesting museum located at the site.

We had planned to do a winery tour.  If this is something that is of interest to you, you really do need a car and some guidance from the Wine Museum who will help you plot out the visit.  They helped us choose 4 wineries to visit and called ahead to make appointments for us.  In New Zealand this would be something that is likely to be hosted by an employee and you would taste a set flight, it would be all over in half an hour and you would move on to the next winery. Not so in Slovenia!  We only got to two of the four wineries as a wine tasting in Slovenia is a very personal experience.   We visited Kuster and Doppler and this took us all day!

First up, we went to Doppler which is a very contemporary winery.  We met the winemaker and she was fantastic at explaining the 10 ( yes 10!!!) wines she wanted us to try.  The servings are huge and there wasn’t anywhere to spit or tip so it all had to be enjoyed! She also showed us around the processing area and explained how her wine was made.  She is a third generation winemaker and the land and vines were set up by her grandfather.  Physically,  this is a particularly interesting winery because it is very contemporary in design.  This is evidenced by everything from the marketing to the buildings.  I found the marketing and artistic aspects very clever and inspired.

After Doppler, we drove down the road to Kuster.  This winemaker is a 5th generation winemaker.   As soon as we arrived, he invited us into his car and drove us around his “farm” showing us the different grapes and vines.  He drove us through to Austria (his winery is close to the border) to the “heart of winemaking” which is a heart shaped road and a very beautiful area.  We enjoyed a glass of wine at the top of this ridge and then he took us back to his house for tastings and a beautiful meat and cheese platter.  The whole experience took about 5 hours!  The family was very keen to share their wines with us and despite feeling like we were holding them up for the day they weren’t keen for us to leave until we had tried all the wines ( we suggested 5, he had 8 or 10 on his list). Apparently they had taken the day off to host us!  The wines were lovely and it was a truly memorable experience.  If you are a wine buff, I highly recommend this experience but take a sober driver; there are lots of wines and the servings are huge!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.