Our chosen locale was not Dubrovnik itself but rather a small village called Mlini, on the ‘Dubrovnik Riviera’ — ten minutes by bus from Old Town.
Mlini has the ignoble feature of having its ‘Welcome To’ town sign appear after its bus stop when approaching from the north, making it a difficult stop for first-time visitors to get right, and probably causing more than a few variants of “dammit that was our stop” to be uttered on the number 10 bus each summer. Were it not for the very kindly , very ancient man seated behind us who communicated with us via sign language, we would have gone far out of our way and then had to wait (an hour?) for another bus back. Meg blowing kisses in thanks to him probably made his day, at least I hope so, because he certainly made ours. That minor drawback aside, Mlini is a superb little Dr Seuss town of a place and, once settled in, we very quickly grew fond of it. Picturesque it certainly is, but it also has a wholesome small-town feel to it — neighbours who actually know each other (take heed, New York); family-run accommodations; a local mini-market and adjacent bakery that more or less comprise the retail makeup of the place; and, opposite those, across the coastal road, down a few steps carved into the hillside, beaches.
Dubrovnik’s Old Town
Old Town — the old walled city of Dubrovnik — drew us into its confines on the evening of the longest day of the year. We watched the summer solstice sun set over the Adriatic from Cafe Buza, a well-worth-it bar etched into the side of the cliffs overlooking the sea.
Relaxing here with a cold beer in hand we could see the island of Lokrum off the coast, home since the 11th Century to a monastery that was destroyed (and not rebuilt) by a severe earthquake that rocked Dubrovnik some three and a half centuries ago. That same quake in 1667 crumbled much of what had been built in the walled city, and the conflict in the 1990s did its bit to damage it too, but thanks to restoration programs of late, the city is whole again, and has a charm now that it probably hasn’t seen in a long, long time.
It was an unusually bright evening; a ‘super moon’ hung in the sky, imparting its iridescence to the smooth stone streets. At a popular restaurant in a plaza in the middle of Old Town, we dined, at one of the greatest settings ever, on mussels so crap we were daring each other to eat the next one and the next one.
All around us people were holidaying, enjoying the cool-down of the day, enjoying being where they were. While there are many walled cities in this part of the world, Dubrovnik’s Old Town must be the finest. Spectacularly thick and high outer walls, surrounded by a mote on one side and the sea on the other, on a promontory of land jutting out beneath the mountains — it’s a pleasure to visit now; in its heyday in the 15th and 16th Centuries it must have felt like the safest, most defensible, comfortable place in all the known world.
And Back to Mlini
With the better part of a day and an evening spent in Dubrovnik (primarily Old Town), we felt we’d seen it. Without staying in Dubrovnik itself we might have missed out on some of the simply-must-visits, but if those entail being shuffled onto a glass bottomed boat or taken on a sweltering instructive walk to be shown which architecture is Baroque and which is Rennaisance, then I think we’re OK. Whatever we missed in our experience of Dubrovnik itself — the daytime in town, the markets, the nightlife, the beating heart of this part of the coast — we more than made up for by holidaying where ‘locals’ holidayed. Once again, we found, just like we had in Brela on the Makarska Riviera, to our mild delight, no English being spoken on Mlini’s pristine stretches of beach. As for the rest of our time in Mlini/Dubrovnik, we spent it walking the stretch of shoreline between Mlini and Srebreno, cowering from the brutal sun in any shaded beach cove we could find, and, sometimes, and somewhat shamefully, passing the time in the cool of our air-conditioned apartment during the very hottest snap of the day. (It was hot.)
Our hosts deserve a special mention, not only for helping us with directions, schedules and information on the area, but especially for giving us a ride to the airport on the day we left. As we drove along the cliff-side roads towards Cavtat and the airport, Vlaho pointed down the hill at the hotel he’d worked at for the twenty-two years, throughout the war, one of the hotels that made it through. Astute viewers of the last two pictures above will have noticed that the buildings along the beach are all completely derelict — shelled during the war and never revived.
I was fortunate enough to visit such a hotel before we left, but that’s a story for next time. Right now there’s a pint of Guinness in a village pub in Ireland that needs seeing to.