Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Dubrovnik: The Pearl of the Adriatic

For me, the best thing about summer is the annual summer holiday. After a very monotonous and stressful few months, occupied by A Level exams, I was more than ready for some relaxation, some culture, and some sun. This year's destination: Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Located on the Adriatic Sea in Southeast Europe, it's not a part of Europe I'd ever visited before. We were greeted by a rocky, undulating terrain; 30°c Mediterranean heat, and a culture incontestably different from that in Central and Western Europe. Whilst Dubrovnik is becoming one of the Mediterranean's most prominent tourist destinations, its fairly recent rise to recognition is obvious in the type of tourists it attracts and the relative lack of commercialisation. This was one of my favourite things about the city: we were able to walk down the cobbled streets leisurely; and, somehow, it's much easier to appreciate a culture when free of Starbucks, McDonald's and day-to-day invariability. 

I was lucky enough to stay in the Dubrovnik Palace Hotel: a 15 minute bus ride from the Old Town. The hotel itself was built into the side of the cliff, encapsulated by pine woodland on one side, whilst the sea unfolded along the front affording spectacular views. It was equipped with every facility and luxury imaginable: large indoor and outdoor pools; several bars and restaurants; tennis courts; a gym; a spa...the list goes on! For my family, holidays are usually spent sight-seeing as we don't ever seem to have time to lounge around. However, as Dubrovnik is such a small city, we were treated with time to enjoy our beautiful hotel: relaxing afternoons spent in the spa, or around the pool - cocktail in hand! 

Never having been to Croatia before, we were keen to see exactly what the city had to offer - and spent our first day simply wandering: discovering which treasures we wanted to explore further. Whilst home to a multiplicity of museums, walking around Dubrovnik Old Town is like being in a museum itself. A curious blend of Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque architecture - and evident Italian inspiration - made it a beautiful city to be part of; alleviated by the Dubrovnik Tourist Board's effort to rediscover traditional Croatian culture, with evidence of historic costume and music scattered around the city. 

Of all the interesting and unusual sights I saw in Croatia, I have three eminently memorable experiences: walking the walls of Dubrovnik; riding the Dubrovnik Cable Car, and the War Photography Exhibition (post to follow). 

The medieval stone walls surrounding the city are the most distinctive feature of Dubrovnik; originally constructed in the 8th century, the walls have been damaged (by siege and earthquake!), and rebuilt to form the impressive structure they are today. Walking the walls felt like taking a step back in time. The walls were enhanced by canons and armoury, adding an element of reality to the experience. It was then that Dubrovnik became a destination of huge historical importance and fascination to me, over and above a sunny holiday location. 

The Cable Car ride was extraordinary simply because of the views it offered. In 4 minutes, we were transported 778 metres up the Srd Hill overlooking the city. I couldn't have anticipated the incredible views from the top: we were able to see approximately 40 miles in all directions - looking out over the Dubrovnik and the Adriatic, and the mountain range marking the border between Croatia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. At the top of the hill, we, unexpectedly, approached an amphitheatre and an elegant war memorial honouring the Croatian War of Independence. From the serenity of the Srd Hill, it was hard to believe the shocking conflict Croatia was living in only 10 years ago. We sat the top of the hill, aside the memorial and watched the sun set over Dubrovnik. It was beautiful, almost to the point of appearing mythical - and poignant to be enveloped in such a diverse, historically-sinister and unrefined setting. 

For me, the measure of an exciting holiday is leaving having learnt about a new culture, and experienced some memorable sights. The measure of a relaxing holiday is having read lots of books. Whilst in Dubrovnik, I was captivated by numerous scenes and exhibits, and read 7 books in just as many days. I enjoyed delicious seafood; built up a very healthy tan, and had a parrot sit on my head. Dubrovnik has certainly earned its title: The Pearl of the Adriatic. 

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