DUBROVNIK, CROATIA — It’s easy to see why this enchanting city is called “The Pearl of the Adriatic.” It’s alluring views, temperate weather and fascinating culture certainly make it one of the jewels of Europe.
My first glimpse of Dubrovnik and its orange roof skyline was from the deck of a cruise ship — one of our best stops on a journey through Mediterranean ports.
After disembarking, we took a shuttle from the terminal straight to Pile Gate, the main entrance to Dubrovnik’s Old Town that was built in 1537. You instantly feel transported back in time — to the Medieval era — as you make your way across the stone bridge, which started out as a wooden drawbridge, and cross what used to be a moat. The closer you get to the gate, the more you feel the magical pull of the Old Town, which hypnotises you and makes you fall in love with all that there is to do and see here.
Pile Gate is where you want to start if you plan to walk the Old Town’s ancient city walls. And the walk turned out to be the highlight of our day.
Above: The best views of Dubrovnik's Old Town come while walking its ancient walls.
The walls, built in the 15th and 16th century, take about two hours to walk — depending on how many times you stop to admire the gorgeous views — and cover about 2 km.
Standing atop the walls, you get uninterrupted views of the city’s famous orange tile rooftops that spread out before dropping off into the azure sea. The sun bakes my back and dances on the surface of the Adriatic — blinding me temporarily when I dare look out on the sparkling water. The colour of the sea here is the perfect mix of green and blue, and it makes you want to dive in to cool off from the heat.
For the full two hours we walked on the walls, the captivating views never got tiresome. As we walked, we heard church bells ring in the distance and heard the soft laughter of children playing down below in the Old Town and its neighbourhoods.
It was difficult to leave Dubrovnik’s walls, but other wonders awaited, like Fort Lovrijenac. It’s one of six main fortresses you’ll find in Dubrovnik and the one that stood out for me.
Often called “Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar,” Fort Lovrijenac sits just outside the walls and rises 40m above sea level — a menacing white fort towering above all else.
Above: Dubrovnik's iconic harbour and its orange-tile roofs are what makes its the pearl of the Adriatic.
After we climbed down from the city walls, we headed straight to the top of the fort, which is just a bit of an uphill walk from Pile Gate. The view at the top truly takes your breath away, and it’s not just because of the climbing you have to do.
In the distance, I could see the walls and the Old Town clearly now. I felt like a Medieval princess standing in that fort, with its black cannons and dome-shaped windows — sheer grandeur!
We wrapped up our day with a sleepy stroll around the Old Town and let intuition guide us in and around the cobblestone paths.
It’s almost impossible to avoid ending up on Stradun, the main road that splits the Old Town in two. For close to 50 years now, the road has been closed to traffic and as a result, the two sides of the street are crammed with popular cafés, shops and restaurants.
We picked souvenirs up out of habit and peeked inside the windows of all the storefronts, wanting to extend our time in the city as long as we could.
Above: From the city's walls, you can peer into its bustling neighbourhoods and sees its many treasures.
What I love most about any European city are the street cafés and restaurants — the chalkboards advertising the special of the day, the dainty setup of tables and chairs outside, and in particular, the workers that stand outside with menus in hand, beckoning you to come in and have a bite of something, anything. They’re so friendly that we often find ourselves laughing as we try to convince them (and ourselves) that we’re not hungry.
Perhaps the main attraction of the Old Town is the large circular Onofrio’s Fountain, which was built in 1438 as part of a water-supply system. Its purpose was to bring water to Dubrovnik’s citizens from a spring 12km away. We meandered our way over there before saying goodbye to the city and leaving through the gate that we entered.
The beautiful fountain was heavily damaged in a 17th-century earthquake, and while it originally was adorned with many sculptures, now only 16 carved masks, which spout water, remain. Legend has it that it’s good luck to drink a glass of water from each of the 16 masks.
What do the locals say to that?
“Good luck finding a bathroom after drinking all that water,” they scoff.
There isn’t one attraction that gives Dubrovnik the title of “The Pearl of the Adriatic.” Rather, it’s a combination of everything; each fountain, each fortress, each façade intensifying its beauty and coming together to create this picture-perfect postcard of a city.