Destination Dalmatian Riviera:
Dubrovnik or Bust
Story and photos by Tom Weber
an Edward Bulwer-Lytton kinda morning, not night dark and stormy
as the intrepid "band of merry media," 18 travel writers
and photographers invited by Insight
Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its Bosnia and Dalmatian
Riviera itinerary, batten down the hatches on our sleek motor coach
while the strong Bora wind blows and heavy rain pelts our ferry boat,
bobbing and weaving in the Adriatic, as it navigates away from the island
and heads to nearby Orebić on terra firma.
When I received my invite to board this
eight-day Insight journey it read: "Experience the sun-drenched
Dalmatian Riviera." Not this day, my friend. But, hey, nothing's
perfect and a bit of inclement weather won't dampen our spirits as we
cruise southward across the scenic Peljeac Peninsula via the historic
and reconstructed Napoleon Road.
Covered in evergreen vegetation
Mediterranean plant life, fruit trees, olive groves and vineyards
this route, built by Emperor Bonaparte two centuries ago, today is one
of Croatia's impressive wine roads as our business-class legroom coach
comes to a full stop alongside Vinarija Vukas, the Vukas
Winery, at the top of a hill in the village of Ponikve.
It's only 11:00 a.m., but we're up for
a wine tasting. After all, we are the "band of merry media."
Need I say more.
The plaque on the main winery wall tells
it all, Doktor Vina (Doctor of Wine), as Dubvrako "Doc"
Vukas, the co-owner of the 60+ year-old, family-run estate, wastes no
time and quickly introduces us to rakija, a brandy made in a
variety of flavors that's the national firewater all across the Balkans.
"We use it as an aperitif," our
host tells us, as we queue up and pick our fruit-flavored potent potable.
I select lemon. It goes down smoothly warming my insides, then suddenly
Cultivating only Plavac Mali
the "little blue" love child of Zinfandel and Dobričić
grapes the wines that emerge from the Vukas estate are robust,
to say the least.
Along with nibbles of local cheese and
homemade bread dipped in the estate's extra virgin olive oil, we sample
a trio: the white Rukatac (13.1%) and the reds Mato (15.1%) and Plerej
Grand Cru (16.2%).
Swirl. Smell. Sip.
Heads a bit cloudy, like the weather outside,
we bid farewell to our affable host, clamber back on board the motor
coach and head further south along the Adriatic Highway, stopping just
short of the Most dr. Franja Tuđmana (Franjo Tuđman Bridge) for
a quick photo op.
The bridge, named in honor of Croatia's
first president, is a 518 meters-long, cable-stayed expanse that crosses
the Rijeka Dubrovačka inlet at the Port of Gru, just outside Dubrovnik.
Across the bridge we go, passing by oversized
cruise ships and ferries until we come to a full stop just outside Pile
Gate, our entrance into Dubrovnik's Grad (Old City), a UNESCO World
Heritage Site AND the make-believe King's Landing for the hit television
fantasy-drama series Game of Thrones.
Met by Ida, Insight's expert local guide
sporting a bright, canary-yellow raincoat easy to follow in a
crowd we're taken on a quick, one-hour orientation of the Grad.
A remarkably well-preserved, late-medieval
walled city, Dubrovnik has a regular street layout on the flat
all paved in marble and narrow alleyways that climb, and climb
"There are 5,423 steps here in the
Grad," Ida tells us, "and if you stay here long enough you
can walk them all."
Showcasing Renaissance and Baroque architecture,
it's hard not to be in awe over the sheer beauty and atmosphere that
is uniquely Dubrovnik.
Magnificent fortifications, monumental
gates, the 11th century Rector's Palace, the 14th century Franciscan
Monastery, the rebuilt Cathedral of the Assumption, Onofrio Fountain
and the statue of 16th century playwright Marin Drić, the
so-called Croatian Shakespeare rub his nose and it just
might bring you good luck are just a few of the jewels tucked
inside the walls of this captivating city.
Our stroll around town ends at the entryway
of the ornate, 16th century Sponza Palace where we're greeted by members
of the Dubrovnik Tourist Board for an early-evening aperitif of sparkling
A rectangular building with an open-air
courtyard and a loggia, the palace, formerly the Customs House, today
serves as the city's archives.
If you'll grab a flute, let's have a look
Insight likes to spread the wealth around
whenever it blows into town. That's why sometime on every journey it
randomly divides its guests into small groups for a "dine around"
to a selection of local eateries.
My party of eight, plus an Insight "chaperone"
hits the shiny marble pavement and makes its way to Konobo
Dalmatino, an upscale, "slow food" tavern, where we
get to choose our three-course feast a la čarte.
Given Dubrovnik's location overlooking
the Adriatic Sea, I must order fish. And I do.
I select a starter of marinated anchovies,
smoked swordfish and shrimp. My main course is skewered squid and prawns.
For dessert, I savor local pears marinated in red wine topped with vanilla
ice cream. And, I cap my dinner with an espresso and an "on the
house" shot of rakija, a fig brandy popular along the Dalmatian
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Lord Byron, when he first laid eyes on
Dubrovnik, described her as the "Pearl of the Adriatic" and
the moniker stuck. I won't argue with the flamboyant Romantic poet,
but Dubrovnik could also be called the "Terracotta of the Adriatic."
We'll find out tomorrow when we climb the Old City's walls for some
bird's-eye views of those iconic baked-earth rooftops that look out
Laku noć (Good night).
Drink, Cycle: The Korcula Winery; The
Great Debate on Korčula; Mali
Ston, Croatia on the Half Shell; Split,
Croatia: Diocletian's Seaside Digs; The
Daredevil Divers of the Stari Most; Inside
Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope