Dubrovnik is famous for its great wine, its majestic Old Town – which has also served as a set for Game of Thrones – and the lovely port that surrounds it. Yet around this coastal paradise there are many more beautiful villages and unspoiled nature that anyone visiting Croatia should explore. From cycling amid mills and canals to drinking wine while staring at green hills, here’s how to best experience the wild side of Dubrovnik.
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Cycle through the Konavle Valley
Often dubbed the “Tuscany of Croatia”, the Konavle Valley is known for its abundant nature, marked by waterfalls, old mills, canals, orchards and vineyards. This lush region is relatively small, extending from Cavtat (a few minutes southeast of Dubrovnik by car or bus) to the Montenegro border in the south, and bordering Bosnia and Herzegovina in the north. Still, it is sure to reward you with its amazing scenery. It’s worth taking a cycling tour around Dubrovnik’s “golden valley” and biking your way through fragrant pine and cypress trees, old villages and farms, and past the serene Ljuta and Konavocica rivers – with a few stops to taste a fresh fig or mandarin along the way.
Learn how to cook a traditional Croatian meal
Brimming with flora, the Konavle Valley is also the place to go to for homegrown vegetables and all kinds of fresh produce, which serve as the perfect ingredients for a delicious meal. Take a cooking class organised by one of the families in the area to get a real taste of the authentic Croatian cuisine.
The Mujo family hold such mouthwatering sessions in their traditional villa, Kameni Dvori, that also offers accommodation to those wishing to stay a bit longer. Take a sip of their strong brandy before moving on to the kitchen. Soon enough, you’ll be making bread and pasta from scratch, as well as a type of traditional stew and chicken. Everything comes straight from their garden, while they produce their own wine which you can taste and take home if you like. Ivo will also show you the Mujo family tree that goes all the way back to the 16th century, and tell you all about his family’s fascinating story.
Hike along the Walls of Ston
Hop on a bus to the laid-back town of Ston on the Pelješac peninsula (a little over an hour’s drive from Dubrovnik) and venture a hike along its imposing walls. Ston used to be an important military fort, its walls still being the second largest in the world after the Great Wall of China. Connecting Ston with its neighbouring village, Mali Ston, the walls date back to the 14th century when they were around seven kilometres long; today, five kilometres of them remain intact. Just like many more sights and places in Dubrovnik, the Walls of Ston featured in Game of Thrones, serving as King’s Landing’s fortification.
Wander around the picturesque town for a while, amid churches and olive groves, and grab a cup of coffee at Caffe Bar Kantun, before following the wall path all the way up to the Pozvizd Fortress – there are three fortresses and 20 towers in total, which makes for a scenic hike.
And if you’re not too tired from all the walking, pop by the Ston saltworks, the oldest and largest preserved salt mines in the history of the Mediterranean. These date back to the 13th century, but salt harvesting is still a thing here. Solana Ston, the company that has undertaken the extraction of the salt, even has a summer camp allowing visitors to take part in the entire process.
Sample oysters in Mali Ston Bay
Mali Ston is the place to try some of Croatia’s finest oysters. The country takes pride in its shellfish, and Mali Ston Bay is, in fact, where you will find some of the rarest in the world. To live the entire oyster experience, book one of the available oyster tasting boat tours – the Bota Šare one is an excellent choice. Let the knowledgeable sea farmer show you how he harvests oysters and mussels straight from the sea, along with tips on which ones are actually worth harvesting. He will then cook up a selection of succulent mussels and European flat oysters just for you, before serving them with a glass of white wine on deck.
Visit a viticulture museum and sample wine in Putniković village
The village of Putniković along the Pelješac peninsula boasts a centuries-old tradition in viticulture, so it was only natural that the first Croatian Museum of Viticulture and Enology would be based here. Its owners are the founders of the agricultural cooperative Putniković; essentially families that have already been living off wine production, constantly investing in new facilities and now wishing to give the world a little taste of their craft. The museum covers an area of 800sqm and consists of three collections recounting the history of wine tradition in the area – including the role that wine played in rural and civic communities, the tools used for cultivation and the various customs related to wine. After your visit, you can sample their wines (the red Plavac Mali is a must), served alongside a cheese platter.
Enjoy dinner and wine at Saints Hills Winery
Head to the peninsula’s Oskorušno village for more superb views and endless wine. This stone property that overlooks lush vineyards and the shimmering coast will invite you to taste an exquisite five-course meal, paired with flavourful wines – a different one for each course. Fish and seafood are great here, so make sure to taste the cuttlefish and mango salad and the prawns risotto before moving on to the luscious lava cake with ice cream. Following dinner, spend some time on the outdoor terrace, marvelling at the surreal vistas.
Where to Stay
If you’re looking for a lavishly peaceful experience a stone’s throw from the Old Town, look no further than Adriatic Luxury Hotels’ flagship property. Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik was built as a royal villa back in 1913, having hosted a number of distinguished guests ever since – including Queen Elizabeth II, Elizabeth Taylor and most of the Game of Thrones cast. Today, it more than lives up to its imperial reputation.
A chic, minimalist kind of splendour characterises every room of both the original 1913 villa and the newer, slick wing; from the spacious lobby to the sumptuous suites. Think dark wood furnishings blending with golden details, and a stylish bathroom that comes fully equipped with deluxe toiletries. The best part, though, has to be the views. Imagine opening your window to deep blue, infinite waters, with the grand fortifications of the Old Town on your right, seemingly floating in the vast ocean.
And if you’re tired of the glorious vistas – as impossible as that may be – explore the hotel’s lower floors to discover a world of utter relaxation. Treat yourself to a full-body massage at the Energy Clinic spa or a swim session in the pool and the soothing hot tub. Alternatively, step outside through the stone arches for a swim in the warm sea waters. Gaze at the Dalmatian horizon for hours on end while enjoying lunch at Prora Restaurant or indulging in fine dining at Sensus Restaurant. The fish is sublime here, as are the lamb chops and the overflowing chocolate soufflé.
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