Dalmatia Part II

Dubrovnik, Croatia (Old Town)

In Part II of our adventure in Dalmatia we explore Dubrovnik, the island of Hvar and Split, Croatia. Part I of our trip can be read about here.

croatia

dubrovnik

Lets count all the eggs!

After settling into our beautiful apartment on the water and getting a feel for the area our first day, we woke up to a warm, sunny day and decided to hit the walls of the old city. But first we had a little mini egg hunt courtesy of the Easter Bunny! We have missed proper Easter celebrations for two years in a row, so we wanted to incorporate it into our trip the best way we could this year. Last year we were moving to Europe ON Easter, so I suppose that gave the “rebirth” theme a whole new meaning!

After fueling up with bakery delights and a few chocolates, we were ready to take on the city! Anyone with working legs who visits Dubrovnik simply must make walking the walls a priority. It’s the best way to see the city! It also doesn’t hurt that you get a fantastic view of many familiar Game of Thrones filming locations along the way. Instead of purchasing pricey guided tours, it was pretty easy to find places independently, especially if you do a little research ahead of time. I love this blog showing comparison photos of each place you can find in and around Dubrovnik!

It was fairly easy to walk to any one of the entrances to the walls, but know that once you’re up on the walls, you only have one chance to see the whole thing, so don’t exit unless you really need to! There are places for pit stops along the way if you need a snack, but be sure to use the bathroom before you begin as there aren’t any on the walls. The best tip is to get there EARLY, when it opens (any time between 8-9) so you get in ahead of the crowds. We did, and had the walls to ourselves for 75% of the walk!

A view of the city from atop the walls.
Beau is such a trooper. He LOVES to explore!
Mom and Dad in Dubrovnik heaven!
Willow made it pretty far before asking for a shoulder ride…
Dad was quite proud he made it all the way around. “That’s about enough walking for today!” Although he and mom continued on for most of the afternoon, shopping and exploring! Way to go, pops!
Mom, standing on “Littlefinger’s brothel” steps from GoT
The orange roofs of Dubrovnik
Hi Didi and Nannie!
Peek-a-boo, mom! See the court down below? Actors are filming a sportswear commercial!
Looking out the window mom’s head was poking out of above…
A close-up of the filming in action…
What a view!
It’s steep in some places!
Got you where we want you, Dianna and Willow!
An area where there was lots of construction. I see you Willow, on daddy’s shoulders!
A view of the fortress from the walled city – Derek and I will check that out tomorrow.
We got up to the walls early, of course, just before these big tour groups stormed the walls!
Breath taking!
A view up the side of the cliff walls of the city.
Looking back at the harbor from the westernmost tip of the city.
We can’t believe it! So beautiful.
You can see how tall the walls are, although they’re much taller in some places than this!
Dubrovnik Cathedral
Sponza Palace
Church of St. Blaise
Onorfijeva Fontana – Jewish Fountain
Palača Ranjina – Rector’s Palace

After our walk we were pretty hungry, so we found a yummy place to sit and eat outside. Amoret had lovely outdoor seating and a reasonable menu with a terrific location and very friendly staff. We all had yummy, satisfying meals so we highly recommend it!

After lunch we split up for beach time for the kids, a trip up the gondola for me, and a bit more walking and shopping for Nannie and Pappi. It was a day to savor!

I learned a lot walking solo up to the gondola that takes you to the top of Fort Imperial. First of all, it’s a popular attraction so expect to wait in queue. I was glad to be alone, as none of the kids could’ve handled that wait when the beach was calling! The pricetag was hefty too, for just one trip up and back ($20), and although the views are stunning, I can’t say it’s worth it with the crowds. The area at the top is fairly small and it gets congested easily. Also, even on a beautiful day, it’s windy! And, unless you plan to spend at least an hour up there relaxing, eating at the restaurant and shopping for souvenirs, it’s probably not worth the trip. Just my experience though!

After that little excursion I met back up with Derek and the kids at the beach. This time daddy had jumped in the water and the waves were pretty big! We got lots of sunshine and salt water and soaked in the remaining sunlight hours of the day.

A view of Ploča Gate as I walked up to the gondola.
One of my favorite views of the city, just past Ploča Gate
Views from the top of Imperial Hill were beautiful!
The city of Dubrovnik from above.
Coming down the gondola from the top Fort Imperial hill
The rocks of Banje Beach
Way to go, daddy!
Banje Beach baby!

We relaxed the rest of the day playing games and relaxing. And we had our new favorite dinner – the charcuterie platter! We also discovered an absolutely fabulous bakery right outside the city walls and within walking distance from our apartment, called Babić Bakery. They got to know us because we went so often! Burek, chocolate croissants, and ohhhh those fresh baguettes!

On our last full day in Dubrovnik, Derek and I took a walk through the town bright and early to Fort Lovrijenac. As our wall passes included this fort and we didn’t get to it the previous day, they let us in as the pass is good for 24 hours and we made within that window of time! Which was good, because the weather had turned and we ended up seeing ominous skies for a while in the morning.

A map depicting areas that were damaged in the 1991 attacks.

We gained a new appreciation of the city after learning that it was besieged by Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers of the Yugoslav People’s Army in 1991 and massive portions of the city suffered damage in the bombings. Amazingly, in only ten years, the city was restored enough to re-emerge among the top tourist destinations in the Mediterranean. The love, work, and care put into the restoration of the city is evident around every turn, as small plaques and signs commemorate areas that were damaged or destroyed.

The Fort Lovrijenac area is gorgeous – and probably the most notable area for Game of Thrones enthusiasts as MANY filming locations are right in this little bay area and in and around the fortress. We had the place almost to ourselves so it really felt like a magical morning! After we walked around inside the walls and made our way to the fotress, we decided to scope out the “cave bar” we’d heard so much about. It’s a little situated on the cliffs of Dubrovnik just outside the walls and in order to get there you have to walk through the walls! It was, admittedly, a great little novelty, but Buza Bar itself was kind of run down. You can tell it is a popular place! Again we had it to ourselves and were able to explore all around the cliffs – but the waves were so ferocious we had to be careful!

Later on we met up with Nannie, Pappi and the kiddos for one last stint on the beach. It was definitely chillier but that didn’t stop the kids one bit! Then, after another relaxed evening of games (Game of Thrones Monopoly, anyone?) and charcuterie and we were ready for the next leg of the trip!

Looking down the famous steps of Saint Ignatius Catholic Church
“Shame” Steps from Game of Thrones.
Derek taking the walk of shame 😉
Entrance to the famous Pile Gate
Pile Gate exterior

This is Dubrovnik’s West Harbor, a place used in many Game of Thrones scenes!

It was a pretty wild day!
More West Harbor, looking up at Lovrijenac Fortress
Look familiar?
This is the way up to the fotress – you had to be careful not to get drenched today!
SUCH a cool series of cliffs, steps, caves and castles!
Another angle, looking down from the steps of Fort Lovrijenac
Inside the fort (another filming location)
Echo! Echo!
The top of the fortress, overlooking the walled city.
The chilly temperature didn’t stop these kiddos!

Hvar Island

Saying goodbye to Dubrovnik…

We woke up to another gorgeous day in Dubrovnik, packed up our things and made quick work of getting to the tiny town of Drvenik to take the small ferry to the island of Hvar! Hvar is one of our favorite places in Croatia that we would return to again and again. We always come off-season when there are no crowds, as the locals have told us the tourists can “take over” the place and not have respect for the area. We don’t want any part of that!

The drive to Drvenik was beautiful! There is a region between Split and Dubrovnik to take note of – a valley that is packed full of orchards and vineyards. This area has loads of roadside stands with fresh bottled wine, olive oil, fruit, jams, and goodies from the fields. It is worth having some extra Croatian kuna (money) on hand to pick up these local delights! We got the most delicious clementines ever and a bottle of wine for later. It didn’t even have a label – but it didn’t matter!

Happy to be on the Ferry!

We ended up just making it on time to get on the ferry – we were the last 3 cars allowed on! The best tip for making it onto the boat from this location is make sure you’re in line well before the take off time, and if you’re parked “before the roundabout” (this makes sense when you’re there) then they can fit you on the boat! There are only two sailings per day in the off season, so making it on time was essential. Its much cheaper than driving all the way to Split for the ferry from this part of Croatia, and also allowed for a lovely 1 hour scenic drive along the entire island of Hvar!

Hvar is well known for three things: lavender, olives (olive oil) and WINE! Of course we made sure to snag quality souvenirs of all three things, including a wonderful wine tasting and olive oil tasting! We took the winding, narrow, leisurely drive all the way up the island until we reached Hvar Town, where our apartment was.

Before checking in, a meal was in order! And we knew just the place to go. KOGO Pizza is the best in town (we knew that from last visit) so we went straight there and enjoyed a delicious meal of amazing pizza and beer! Of note: when ordering pizza in (most of) Europe, remember that “pepperoni” is a type of hot pepper and “salami” is what we would expect pepperoni to be on a pizza. You’ve been warned! After pizza we snagged a gelato and mom and dad got their first glimpses of the waterfront. Usually the harbor is full of giant luxury yachts, but this day it was very, very quiet. Only a couple of lucky fishermen were tied up along the promenade.

What’s a vacation without gelato!?

After lunch and our little walk it was time to check into our apartment. It turned out this was the only apartment we had any complaints about – and not because of the location, spaciousness, comfort, view or amenities – because of the host! I’ll spare you the details, but it took us a while to check in. We were glad to finally be settling in for the next 3 nights.

beach day

We awoke to a windy but beautiful, sunny day and we decided to make it a beach discovery day! Our very favorite beach ever was inaccessible as the road was under repair and it was tricky to get there otherwise, so we decided to make an adventure of the day, finding a new beach to call our own! (You can read all about this amazing beach on Bay Lučišća in our previous Croatia trip, here.) Considering it was late April, beach privacy wasn’t an issue, but the most important factor for the day was wind.

We checked out beaches on the Adriatic side of the island only to note that waves and surf were too rough to make it work. Beach Malo Zaraće was stunning on both sides of the “hammerhead” peninsula, and Mala Milna Beach was also beautiful but more “inhabited.” There were two main beaches at Mala Milna, beach bars and restaurants and even places to stay right near the beach. On another day we may try to hike to Mekićevica Beach from Hvar Beach. But all of those were facing the wind, so instead we went to the mainland side of the island in a little cove, to see if the hills and coves protected us. Sure enough it was totally peaceful and absolutely magical! I’m not sure I would recommend this beach during peak season as there’s not really space to park and there are 3 private apartment rentals nearby that might give you a hard time about parking, but for our purposes it was terrific and a close second to Sveta Nedjelja Beach!

malo zaraće

The way the rock is sloped is almost unbelievable!
The color of the water is incomparable!
A little hike down along the shoreline.
All the way to the end of the beach!

mala milna

Mala Milna is a beautiful beach, but a we were looking for protection from the wind!
Maybe a fun beach to check out in the future!

beach sviračina

This beach was amazing. You can see it’s nestled in a little cove at the bottom hills on each side. The shoreline was classic rocky and the sides of the cove were awesome for climbing! The kids were amazed at all the sea urchins in the water, which tells me this area doesn’t get much traffic. For a 70º-ish day, it felt warmer without the wind. We all managed to swim and soak in a ton of Croatian sunshine!

Beach Sviračina, all to ourselves
My favorite picture of this beach!
Brave daddy, dipping in the chilly Adriatic!
What a great day!

After our time at the beach, we did a quick market stop for goodies and headed back to the apartment to check in with Nannie and Pappi who had been out for a nice walk, shopping and relaxing at cafes. We shared some wine and took in the views from our balcony as they told us about an awesome place they had lunch and we decided to have dinner there as well! Fameja is a really terrific little eatery right on the water in Hvar Town that was one of our favorite places the entire trip! (You can’t always trust google reviews.) They had delicious fresh pasta and beautiful salads, and everything we had tasted like ten more! Again Willow was thrilled by her shrimp tortellini, Beau had fresh spaghetti and Didi devoured her mushroom gnocchi! What a delight!

After dinner it was approaching sunset so we decided to go up to the Napoleon Fortress on top of the highest hill in the city. It turns out the roads up the hill are very winding and treacherous but its well worth it to take in that view! Pappi and Nannie were pretty scared looking out over the cliffs – but once we reached the top it was just incredible. Willow, as always, made friends with a little boy. It was super cute!

The Three Amigos!
Only one boat in the harbor, but two little kindred spirits are out to explore!
An amazing meal at Fameja!
The sun is setting…lets head up the hill!
Ok, ok, I know its a romantic sunset, but that’s close enough little man…
LOVE traveling with this crazy crew! The town of Hvar below and all the islands (we have yet to explore!) in the distance!

križni rat

The next day wasn’t quite a beach day, so we decided to make it a “walk and explore” day. We started at Hvar Beach, which we could access right near our apartment down a little path (that was, notably, “too much” for dad, but he did it anyway! haha) and walked all the way around the Križni Rat peninsula. There at Hvar Beach, Beau stacked rocks and Didi watched a trio of people cleaning squid! The walk around the peninsula was lovely. Every few hundred yards there was another set of steps down to the water that people could (on a nice day) conceivably use for a little dip! The entire area is loaded with apartments to stay in, and it would be a great spot for sure! By the time we made it all the way back around to the soccer field cove the sun had come out and we were ready for another great meal at KOGO pizza! We felt like we had been walking for hours but really, at a leisurely stroll it was only about 3.5 miles.

The rocky path down to Hvar Beach
Hvar Beach
Beau’s masterpiece
Rock climbing and huge splashes! THE BEST!
The rocky coastline reminded us of Maine!
Like a path from a fairtytale!
Coming back around to the town of Hvar

After a DELICIOUS lunch, we felt like a relaxing drive – to hunt down a winery! All 3 kids passed out in the van as we drove along the winding roads of Hvar in search for a good local place to try some famous Croatian wine. Our drive took us through Brusje, past thousands of rock formations, walls and huts that totally boggled our minds. We learned that all the hills on Hvar have these rock formations and they were supposedly built by Ionian Greek slaves as early as the 4th century BC and today are preserved as an UNESCO World Heritage site!

One of the Plančić family vineyards on Hvar,
photo Paul Bradbury

Eventually we drove past Stari Grad to Vrbanj, where we scoped out a winery called Plančić. Of course we were there in the off-season, so we drove into a winery that was in full bottle-operation mode and NOT in wine tasting mode. It turned out to be better all around because Mario Plančić was extremely gracious and happy to have us and he sat right down with us to share and describe all of his best wines. We learned that Plančić Winery was established in 1919 and is one of the most profitable on the island. Later we found out that there was some financial/business trouble in recent history, but it seemed as though they had sorted all of that out by the time we arrived! Of course we left there with one of each bottle! Truly delicious.

Rock formations EVERYWHERE!
Miles and miles of rock walls!
Overlooking the Stari Grad bay on Hvar Island
The whole place to ourselves…again!
Thanks for the wonderful tasting, Mario!
Check out the “legs” on that glass! HAHAHA

After the wine tasting we just had to go find a place to try olive oil. HA! Its Hvar Island, after all! Nearby we spotted a beautiful place closer to Stari Grad called Hora Farm & Restaurant and we went straight in to taste their fresh olive oil. They also had wines there but we were all wined out from Plančić! It was the trifecta – they also grew lavender for oil products! Such a great place, and if we had known we were going to visit there ahead of time we would’ve probably made reservations, as their most famous dish needs a whole day to cook! We marked it on our list for next time!

Our last night was spent relaxing and enjoying our apartment and laughing about all the funny stories from the visit. We would be saying goodbye to Nannie and Pappi in a few short days and we were all starting to feel it. But we were determined to savor every moment until then! And besides…mom wasn’t done shopping yet! 😉

hvar to split

We woke early on our final day in Hvar to take a quick trip down to Stari Grad, where we found the most unbelievable chocolate pastries we have ever had (sorry, France) and played around on the playground “workout” equipment until it was time to board the big ferry to Split! (The bakery, for future reference, is right in the little main square on the corner of Trg Stjepana Radića and Trg Ploča.) It was there mom and dad found the most beautiful piece of artwork for my birthday, made out of driftwood and resembling the buildings of the island – I was nearly moved to tears by it! What a treasure!

We walked around Split, scoping out places to eat (we loved Olive Tree Cafe and Lounge) and did a bunch of shopping in Diocletian’s Palace. Saint Dominus Cathedral bell tower was under construction so we didn’t get to ascend that (one of my favorite things in Split!) but we did find a creperie when our favorite place (Principessa) was closed, too! That’s one of the bummers of the off-season, I suppose! It was extremely busy in Split – the busiest of all the places we visited all month – likely due to the huge military display along the Riva promenade. We had a wonderful day and it ended in an especially wonderful apartment! Again only $100 for three bedrooms, a wraparound balcony, huge kitchen and living area and two bathrooms. Can’t beat it (off season, thank you)!

Another Game of Thrones filming location…underneath Diocletian’s Palace! Lots of shops. So fun!
The main courtyard in Diocletian’s Palace
The great belltower of St. Dominus.
The walls of the palace, with streets covered in shops just through the entryway…
These streets are something else!
Dinner at Olive Tree

It was an especially memorable last day, filled with so much good food, great company, and splendid sights! Where to next, Nannie and Pappi? Come again soon!

One last sunset in Croatia

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