Hashtag Life Magazine sent writer Maria Ciubotaru on a tale of Dubrovnik City, where she visited the Valamar hotels whilst exploring one of Croatia’s most charming destinations.
When you travel to Dubrovnik, Croatia, you’ll want to book a flight that will bring you in at dusk. You will want to arrange your trip in such a way to drive by the outskirts of the city and ask your driver to stop up there, on the road above the Old City, just in time to catch the sun going down to sleep in the Adriatic Sea. Stay there until the night shadows engulf the setting and watch the lights of the stunning walled city on the Dalmatian coast come to life. As far as your eyes can stretch, this enchanted corner breaths legends and mermaid tales. Take your time, take in the view and prepare for your descent in fairy land.
Being of Eastern European origins I expected Dubrovnik to be a square-ish, communist-style city, with sharp angled buildings and impersonal “dorm-city” flats sprawling along a wide boulevard, as is commonly the case in this part of the continent. My expectation was furthest from the truth and I admit to a constant amazement and enchantment during my three-day stay here. Dubrovnik is a city with a conspicuous Mediterranean vibe amalgamated with an exotic Balkan touch. If someone asked me to define Dubrovnik through music, I would say the Croatian singer Goran Karan would be a good bet – his songs are an amalgam of Dalmatian folk music and modern sounds. His powerful and refined tenor voice speaks of love, passion and sometimes tears.
While Croatia has been listed by many of my friends as THE tourist destination of the twenty-first century, I was glad to see it surpassing any description. To me it is the perfect romantic destination, with a bit of everything from the whiff of legends impregnated in the city walls, to the pristine secluded beaches on the mainland and the neighbouring islands, from the superb cuisine to the exquisite wines and so much more.
During its Golden Age in the 16th century, it had one of the largest merchant maritime fleets in the world, with consulates in more than 50 foreign ports. Once a city of sailors, merchants and skilled diplomats, Dubrovnik lavishly displays the traits of a rich civilisation of people leading sophisticated lifestyles where arts and culture were highly valued. The main thing that draws tourists to the city is the charming old town, packed with aristocratic palazzi and elegant Baroque churches, confined within solid medieval walls.
The Host: Valamar Hotels
Built in 1976, Valamar Lacroma Dubrovnik Hotel, my home for the three days I spend in the city, is designed in such a way that each room has a sea-view and terrace. Located on the Babin Kuk peninsula in a green Mediterranean oasis overlooking beautiful beaches, the hotel is within easy reach of the historic centre and its ancient city walls. A proud recipient of the prestigious World Travel Award as Croatia’s Leading Hotel and the World Travel Award as Croatia’s Leading Business Hotel for the past three years in a row, the hotel relishes in the quietness of the pine tree forests and comforting white pebble beaches. The hotel’s modern rooms and suites, the gourmet restaurant, the wine bar terrace with the panoramic views of the neighbouring Elaphiti Islands, the indoor and outdoor pools and the massive conference space that can host up to 1500 guests, make it an ideal choice for those who want the best of all worlds – a stay combining sightseeing, amazing service and beach time. The hotel has a full-service spa, scrumptious free buffet breakfast and free WiFi available including in the public areas. Reopened in 2009 after complete renovation and a new wing add-on, the hotel has 401 units comprising of rooms, junior suites and a presidential suite, all bathed in plenty of natural light. Your stay at the hotel will be gilded by stunning sunsets and the bay illuminated by underwater lighting at night.
My junior suite, a cosy space spread on two floors, welcomes me in semi-darkness. On the coffee table, a beautifully wrapped fruits platter that our thoughtful host prepared, awaits me. The semi-open sliding doors to the balcony unravel a breath-taking, purple sunset. The room is pristine and spacious and the spiral staircase leading to the bedroom and glass-walled bathroom looking into the living room area, reminds me of the era of Roger Moor and his James Bond.
The following day, while tootling around the premises, I discover with delight the pebble cove beach that in the summer comes equipped with sun beds, parasols, baldachins and palm trees.
Two minutes away, the sister Valamar Dubrovnik President Hotel with a VIP entrance, is an impressive modern five-star residence with a widespread beach and stunning sunsets. Boasting 292 auburn-rich rooms with balconies and magnificent sea views, the hotel comes equipped with a wellness centre, indoor and outdoor pools, water sports, a kid’s club and spaces for conferences and events. The presidential suite comes with a separate kitchenette and a reception area that looks more like an elegant study rather than a hotel space. Guests can enjoy dinner downstairs where chefs prepare their meals in the open space gourmet restaurant.
Decorated in a Mediterrnean style, Valamar Dubrovnik President Hotel was completely renovated in 2014 and provides guests with the ultimate experience of Dubrovnik. The à la carte Elafiti Restaurant serves high-quality wines and dishes of Dalmatian and international cuisine on the terrace with a magnificent view of the sea.
Ok, I admit it…I must be among the less than 1% of the world’s population who hasn’t watched Game of Thrones yet…the irony is not lost on me…nevertheless, all my senses get heightened when I cross the bridge into the old town. Here, an adventure of the senses begins. Look beyond the vail of this reality, pull it aside as if you were pulling a curtain and with your mind’s eyes see the stories of this enchanted place. Images of the Dubrovnik through ages come floating before my eyes and linked together by the silvery thread of Time itself. While walking the shiny dolomite cobbled streets, I hear horse shoes clunking, I see elegant courtesans, strong sailors anchoring their ships in the port and smell the lavishness and the refinery of this corner of paradise. They all come to life from the cobwebs of time, surrounded in purple smoke. Our amazing tour guide Timea fills in the gaps with dates and stories about Ragusa, the rivalry with Venice and tales of the Franciscan monastery, the island of Lokrum that spreads majestically across the water, where the legend says Richard Lionheart shipwrecked after the 3rd crusade.
I mostly walk in silence on the city walls, in awe with the views of the terracotta roofs and the rocky islands across the sea. I wish I could take in all the knowledge that Timea shares with us. I am mesmerised by what I see and what I hear about the burgeoning civilisation and the exquisite tastes of the faded ages. While up there, Timea shows us a small opening in Dubrovnik’s south wall bearing the sign Cold Drinks. Buza 2 (literally hole 2), one of the world’s most risky bars is set on several levels among the rocks that lead down from the base of the walls to the sea. There tourists come and enjoy the kaleidoscopic sunset. I lightly touch the stones to feel the city’s vibration. All these merchants and politicians, the princes and nuns, the children in schools and the laypersons going about their day. I am there, in the glory days of Dubrovnik, getting drunk on the city murmur, the market buzz and the salty air.
There are 17 gorgeous churches within the bleached white walls of the fortress. Standing proud and dignified is the Franciscan monastery built in 1317 by monks whose mission was to heal the sick. They also set up an apothecary and planted a medicinal garden with healing herbs. The apothecary is still opened and works as a chemist as part of the Old Pharmacy Museum. While waiting for your prescription to be delivered, you can review the scary-looking medical instruments from the Ragusan days. The centre of the old town boasts quaint boutiques and cute jewellery stores. I buy a beautiful anchor broach to remind me of the city port. There, within the city walls, pottering between the markets and café-lined piazzas, I find my happy place.
At the top of the Zlataric street, Timea shows us a Latin inscription, found above the door of a modest house: COCHALVIT. COR. MEV. ITRA. ME. ET. DITATOE. MEA. EXARDESCET. IGNI. ‘My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned’. Psalm 39 from the Book of David watches over the doors to a dwelling that was once an orphanage, founded in 1432. Ospitalle della misericordia,as it was called in Dubrovnik at the time, was shelter for many unwanted children.
People walked with heads bowed in this street, a tradition that would ensure nobody knocking at the orphanage doors would be recognized and shamed. Many girls and women dropped the small bundle on the wheel in the window that the nuns would turn in order to take the child in to their care. After their 6th birthday, boys were often sent to merchant ships, and girls were taken into houses as maids. The city comes alive at night – with the winter festival in full swing, art galleries and cosy bars and restaurants and the famous Revelin Culture Club inside the fortress.
Famished after wandering the streets, I take the cable car up to the top of the famous hill of Srđ and lunch at the Panorama Restaurant & Bar restaurant. There, on the highest point above Dubrovnik, I experience an a-ha moment, the perfection of the sun rays pricking the blanket of light grey clouds and caressing the sea. It’s as if I am floating between the sky and sea.
Right next to the cable car station, I dine while having a breathtaking spectacular view of the Adriatic Riviera – including the island of Lokrum, the bay of Lapad and the Elaphiti Islands. Spoilt for choice, I delight my taste buds with delicious cold meats, cheese and sea food platters followed by one of the best beef filet with cooked vegetables I have ever had.
The evening ends with wine tasting and nibbles at the Wine Bar Dingač Skaramuča, where the wonderful host and owner Fani Skaramuča talks passionately about the exquisite wines on the tasting menu: Plavac, Dingač, Postup and Dingač Reserva.
For top quality, yet unpretentious food, a symphony of tastes and colours, definitely lunch at Pantarul.
The menu is seasonal and all dishes are prepared using local produce, which is sourced by farmers from Dubrovnik’s surroundings, especially from Župa and Konavle. The fresh fish is delivered daily and the meat they use comes from the most reliable sources and is of highest quality. I was served with good wine, homemade bread, a mozzarella salad, a creamy fish fillet on a bed of vegetables and an amazing gluten-free dessert drizzled with plenty of caramel.
I took my last dinner in the Valamar Lacroma Hotel’s gourmet restaurant, a glorious culinary experience: mozzarella di bufala with basil mayonnaise, tomato and orange tartar as a starter, monkfish with tomato and anise confit, pea and mint puree, sautéed new potatoes and crème brulee with homemade almond ice cream and blueberry sauce for dessert.
There would be so many other things to tell about Dubrovnik but here’s a last thought – don’t leave Valamar Lacroma hotel before you get a chance to use the Wellness Centre facilities – sauna, steam room and gym – and try one of the signature massages that is guaranteed to close the circle of your bliss.
Add to this a boat ride to the island of Lopud and a walk in the Marina and you’ve got yourself THE holiday.
Photography by: Valamar Hotels and Sam Dibley. Website: www.spdibley.com Instagram: @spdibley
Words by: Maria Ciubutaro. Instagram: @everyu_everyme