The walled city of Dubrovnik is steeped in history, retaining much of its original look and feel. And for any Game of Thrones fan, the chance to walk where some of our most loved and equally hated characters have walked is a once-in-a lifetime experience.
One of the last stops on my European excursion, the Croatian city was a place that I knew little about and had never imagined visiting.
But after two days’ swimming in the azure waters and strolling through the historic yet troubled place, I’d return in a heartbeat.
Our accommodation was a 10-minute bus ride from the main attraction – the 2km-long walls, rising to 25m in some places, that surround the old town. It’s slightly surreal to leave a modern hotel and travel on public transport to a castle-like entrance, stone bridge, moat and all.
The ancient streets inside the wall are lined with a surprising mix of new shops and restaurants. It’s easy to lose yourself in the labyrinth of polished stone streets and narrow passageways that lead to hole-in-the-wall pizza joints, coffee shops or souvenir stops.
But the best way to see the city is looking down from the great walls themselves. The steep stairs heading up are a bit of an effort in the searing heat, but it is worth making the climb.
Thousands of terracotta-coloured roofs are separated from the bustling modern world outside.
From your bird’s-eye view along the whitewashed walls, you can peer into the lives of modern Croatians who live within the ancient architecture or gaze out over the Adriatic Sea. Beneath the cliff, the waters are deep midnight blue and clear as glass, with every rock visible.
A narrow, single-lane set of stairs at the end takes you up into the highest turret, giving you a 360º panorama of Dubrovnik’s unique beauty.
It’s well known that Dubrovnik is the setting for the fantasy world of King’s Landing in the hit TV show Game of Thrones.
Fans can walk through the street where evil King Joffrey was attacked by Landing-ites, or ascend the stairs like a Lannister royal. You can do your own research and find the set spots to suit you or pay to have a three-hour guided tour with comprehensive behind-the-scenes information.
After all that exercise, a hearty lunch was in order. Restaurants do anything they can to entice you into their business and haggling is permitted to get the right price; we managed to get a 15% discount. Croatian cuisine is heavily influenced by Italian. The pasta or pizza may not be the healthiest option, but it’s delicious, and the creamy carbonara hits the spot.
Dubrovnik has a bustling marina, where numerous water taxis and shuttles are for hire. You can hire a boat with a small group or take a free, regular water shuttle on a 15-minute trip to Lokrum Island, only 600m off the city’s coast.
The small island is a haven for swimmers and a nudist beach caters to those who want to work on their all-over tan. Numerous swimming holes are within walking distance of the ferry, but the Croatian terrain is rocky and it can be difficult to find sunbathing spots. However, I guarantee once you dive beneath the warm waters, you’ll forget all about it and will even find creative ways to make the rocks more comfortable.
History lovers will enjoy a walk through the botanical gardens of Mediterranean flora, or exploring the former Benedictine monastery, whichis now home to a gorgeous upmarket restaurant.
As the afternoon comes to a close, the best view of the sunset across the ocean is reportedly from the cliffside bars, but finding them proved elusive. Eventually, we found small, handwritten signs that took us on a circuitous search through back alleys, where kids played soccer in the streets.
At last we found a narrow door that led us to the most beautiful bar on earth, like something straight out of a television ad: white umbrellas shaded little tables as patrons sipped their drinks, gazing out towards Lokrum and beyond.
After a while we went down the hill a little and found a rocky outcrop to sit on. Below us, brave tourists took the plunge off the cliff, never fearing for their lives – the clear waters made it plain there was no danger beneath the surface.
Rich in history and heritage, but offering a one-of-a-kind doorway to the natural world, Dubrovnik really does feel like a fantasy realm.