Sunny coastal charm

DUBROVNIK By Victoria Huntley Faced with the prospect of another grey, dreary August in London, sunny southern European climes beckoned my Australian friend who was reluctant to cope with her second rain-soaked summer without a boost of u


By Victoria Huntley

Faced with the prospect of another grey, dreary August in London, sunny southern European climes beckoned my Australian friend who was reluctant to cope with her second rain-soaked summer without a boost of unadulterated sunshine.

As the "Pearl of the Adriatic", the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik lives up to its name, perched on the rocky shores of Croatia's Dalmatian coast and drawing tourists from every corner of Europe, as well as the US and Australia, and the pair of us.

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Our hotel room looked out over Gruz Harbour where every morning a different cruise liner, the scourge of Dubrovnik, was docked, dispatching its sandal-clad passengers onto the quayside.

Hundreds of day-trippers wander bewildered around the beautiful stone Old Town, with its terracotta pan tiled roofs, and have just enough time to scoff an ice cream before being herded back onto the coach to the harbour, the boat and another city.

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But ignoring the baseball-capped cruisers, the city and its surrounding islands and coastline are a beautiful place to spend a week.

A 20-minute boat ride from the Old Town took us to the breathtaking island of Lokrum where the cicadas are audible as soon as the boat leaves the harbour, peacocks roam the cypress tree forest and tourists jump off the rocky shore into the sea below.

Back on the mainland, a 40-minute white knuckle bus journey along the perilous mountain roads, serenaded by Croatian covers of Hewie Lewis and the News songs, took us to the pretty seaside resort town of Cavtat, pine forest-lined shores and a cocktail bar playing calypso versions of indie songs.

While there is great seafood on offer in Dubrovnik, Croatian cuisine becomes tiresome after a few days. The Old Town's main drag and stone alleyways are peppered with samey restaurants and pizzerias serving standard fare across the board, and prices are not cheap.

But there are a few hidden gems jostling for attention; Rozarij's rattan tables are arranged on the steps around the tiny restaurant in the walled Old Town. The restaurant serves traditional Dalmatian dishes, including local speciality seafood bouzzara, prawns, mussels and squid cooked in a garlic, tomato and caper sauce, as well as platters of mixed grilled fish.

Dalmatian wine is cheap, drinkable and comes in litre bottles, although half-litre pitchers are normally available, and locally-brewed beers are refreshing in the heat and cheaper than soft drinks.

Don't expect snappy service; it doesn't seem to be a priority. But while things do tend to take a long time (an hour and a half for food in one place, but whose barbecued fish and seafood platter and beautiful night time view across Gruz Harbour made up for the delay), restaurant staff are friendly more often than not, although one particularly surly waitress actually threw a pizza at us on day two.

Weather in the high season is hot, even for a Queenslander and especially for a fair-skinned, freckly Londoner, and the sun is strong. But, unusually, three colossal thunder storms struck southern Croatian during our stay, causing hordes of tourists to shelter in the Old Town's monastery, cathedral, churches and museums and soaking one Italian gentleman's white hareem pants right through, not leaving much to the imagination.

How to get there:

Easy Jet from Gatwick to Dubrovnik and then a bus from the airport to the Old Town or to the main bus station at Gruz Harbour

What to do:

Snorkel in the sea off the Island of Lokrum

Catch the boat from the Old Town Harbour on the hour every hour on weekdays and every half-hour on weekends

Visit Cavtat on the bus

Catch the Number 10 from the central bus station to the end of the line. Buses run every hour until late

Sunbathe on the beach at Lapad

Short bus ride from the Old Town

Walk the City Walls

Buy a ticket from the kiosk behind the Onofrio's Fountain

Where to eat:

Rozarij, Old Town

Dalmatian seafood specialities served on candle-lit rattan tables outside on the steps of the old town

Taverna Nostromo, Gruz

A favourite with the locals of Gruz, Nostromo serves Dalmatian and Italian food to customers on an outdoor terrace looking out over the harbour

Blidinje, Lapad

Diners can sit on the roof-terrace surrounded by olive trees, looking across the natural harbour to Gruz. Try the barbecued fish and seafood platter

Where to Stay:

Hotel Berkeley, Gruz

Rooms from �66 a night

Karmen Apartments, Old Town

++385 (0)20 323 433

Youth Hostel Dubrovnik, Lapad


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