An Independent Traveler’s Approach to “going local” in Dubrovnik, Croatia — The Pearl of the Adriatic

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The best way to actually “see” Dubrovnik is to take your time and spend a few days exploring this remarkable destination, at your own pace, as an independent traveler with an inspired itinerary.

Dubrovnik joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979 and is known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic” because of the white stone walls that surround the city. These walls run an uninterrupted course of approximately 1,940 meters (6,360 ft.) in length and were built in the 13th century as a defensive barrier for this maritime republic.

This small Adriatic city has a population of approximately 43,000 and has become a very popular destination for cruise ships, so much so that one of the city’s biggest challenges is to limit the number of cruise ships docking in its port. There are still over one million passengers visiting Dubrovnik per year so planning your independent traveler’s itinerary becomes a small challenge.

We arrived via a flight from London directly into the Dubrovnik airport which was uneventful until the Captain notified us that it will be getting a little “bumpy”. Our flight happened to coincide with very high winds and concluded with a very “interesting” cross wind landing which was applauded by all of the passengers…welcome to Croatia! We prearranged for a car pickup with the hotel and arrived at the Hotel Bellevue at just around 10:00 PM. We were very hungry and still a little rattled from the landing.  We were told that the dining room was closing soon so we dropped our luggage and headed straight for the restaurant. They were very accommodating and told us “don’t rush, take your time, enjoy!  We will leave the kitchen open!”  A great bottle of Croatian white wine appeared and a perfect meal followed. Welcome to Croatia…again!

Our first meal in Dubrovnik was excellent and set the tone for our entire visit.

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The Bellevue exceeded our expectations throughout our three night stay. Everyone was gracious, friendly and had a glad-to-see-us attitude.

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We found this welcoming attitude everywhere we went and it finally dawned on us that the local merchants recognize that the independent travelers are the ones who are more likely to patronize their hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. So you can get the best of both worlds…a beautiful destination and merchants that really cater to you as their primary source of revenue.

Do your planning well in advance and immerse yourself in what each destination can offer. Select the top five things that interest you, prioritize them and try to incorporate them into your day as a goal and not a must-do event. You are no longer the skipping-stone-tourist, you are becoming a slow traveler, and an independent traveler…enjoy the freedom.

One of our suggestions is to go online and find a ”private walking tour” in order to set your orientation and get to the best of what is available. We selected Carol Sosa, an American whose parents were born in Croatia. She is an expat and is married to a Croatian…you cannot get more local than that!  Carol proved to be a wealth of knowledge and gave us the “insider’s perspective” of the city.

As a side bar, Carol became our emissary to meeting other local people and that introduced us to yet another view of Dubrovnik….on a road less traveled. We went where the crowds don’t go and ate at her favorite restaurants that feature authentic food, Croatian beer and wine, and a warm as well as a welcoming ambiance. Check out the many side street restaurants for exceptional food and prices…follow your nose and review their posted menus before you make your decision.

A Typical Side Street Restaurant and a Grilled Seafood Platter

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A Favorite and “Local” Recommended Side Street Restaurant

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Overflowing, delicious, and very fresh Seafood Platters as well as Grilled Meat Platters are the “typical” fare of this beautiful seaport city.

Another aspect of Dubrovnik, besides the great food, is the music venues from street musicians to late night open air jazz clubs….very romantic under the stars.

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When your visit is measured in a few hours compared to a few days you really minimize your options. If that is the best that your travel schedule permits, well that is OK, but an independent traveler sets their own pace. While most tourists get exposed to the Wall and a walk between the two city gates along the Stradun before heading back to their ships, we preferred these views of the Stradun…when we had the city all to ourselves.

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One of our “favorite locals” introduced us to unique shops and they advised us on what sites to visit, how to avoid the large groups, and especially how to see their beloved Dubrovnik.

Check out the RONCHI Hat Factory which was established in 1858 by Euphilius Ronchi who came to Dubrovnik from Milan, Italy. RONCHI has been in business ever since and has survived three wars and five different governments. Today’s heiress, owner and designer Marina Grabovac Ronchi is a delightful person with a quick smile. She still uses the same old technology of handicraft while making the unique and extravagant hats. The shop was fascinating and the reasonably priced hats are great for travel, and make for an excellent souvenir as they are one of a kind.

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Also check out the wide array of museums that afford you the chance to learn about the history of this village which that goes back over 1400 years. Go online and select what you consider to be the most interesting sites or refer to the following:

Ethnographic Museum

Marin Drzic House

Maritime Museum

Cultural Historical Museum

The Dubrovnik Aquarium

Dominican monastery and museum

One of our recurring themes is to slow down, stay in places for longer visits and plan day trips to surrounding villages. That is the mantra of the independent traveler’s approach and affords you the chance immerse yourself into the culture as well as the country. Get a good map, a decent GPS (Garmin is excellent), rent a car (no less than a medium/standard sized), learn a few phrases and finish it off with a great sense of adventure and a touch of a positive attitude.

So what is the hurry?

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