A Dalmatian Jewel: What makes Croatia a hidden gem for travellers from the Middle East

This part of the world has been unfairly overlooked when planning summer holidays



by

Abdul Karim

Published: Thu 13 Oct 2022, 10:02 PM

We have seen the Croatian football team excel during international tournaments and the country itself is equally as impressive if not more. Located on the north-western part of the Balkan peninsula, Croatia is one of the six republics that made up the federation of Yugoslavia. Its natural beauty and pristine beaches continue to be a magnet for travellers from Europe and the United States. For travellers from the Middle East, Croatia is a gem of a destination worth discovering.

This part of the world has been unfairly overlooked when planning summer holidays, where popular destinations such as London or Paris are more preferred by Middle Eastern holidaymakers.

Nestled along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast is the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ sea, known as Dubrovnik. This city has garnered attention from global film production companies thanks to the abundance of spectacular backdrops. Its status was further elevated by Game of Thrones (GOT), where its old town guarded by 25 metre-high walls, was portrayed as King’s Landing in the popular TV show.

Being featured in the HBO production extended Dubrovnik’s appeal beyond being just a stop for cruise liners and brings in thousands of GOT fans in the form of much younger tourists, much to the delight of its residents.

Away from its silver screen attention, Dubrovnik is one of the only few places across the world, where I would go back and discover more. It has rich history, stunning sunsets, pleasant weather, and is a safe city to explore, which makes it an attractive destination to visit.

In this article, we will learn more about this tourist hotspot and why travellers from the UAE and the wider region should add this city onto their bucket lists to explore. I will also share some useful tips and list some key places for you to make the most of your time in Dubrovnik.

Medieval past

If you’re a fan of medieval architecture, then this Dalmatian jewel is the place to be to experience what life was like during that period. Dubrovnik’s early days of formation date back to 614, when the city was founded as Rausa by Roman refugees. Throughout its early history, it was under the control of the Byzantine Empire and then Venice until the 14th Century. The municipality had established itself as a mercantile power and after the breakaway from Venice, it was called the Republic of Ragusa with Dubrovnik as its capital, which derives its name from the Croatian word Dubrava, meaning an oak grove.

Its history is certainly fascinating as the city-republic, which was run by some aristocratic families and governed by the Prince-Rector, had become a modern progressive state back then. By the 15th century, they had abolished the slave trade, offered asylum to refugees of all nations and mastered the art of diplomacy to protect their territory without a requirement of a proper army. The city’s old town is fortified by its 25-metre-high walls which were built by the 16th century and continue to be a source of pride for Dubrovnik.

Amongst the key diplomatic moves include the decision to sell off a small stretch of land to its north to the Ottoman Empire in 1669, to create a buffer between itself and advancing Venetian troops. Its effects are still felt today with the nine-kilometre-long Bosnia-Herzegovinia territory standing between Croatia’s Central and South Dalmatia. The republic was also among the first to recognise the independence of the United States by the 18th century.

How to get here

Dubrovnik in particular is a summer destination and luckily, we have direct flights from Dubai, courtesy of the low-cost carrier flydubai. My local guide Ivan Vukovic tells me that the best time to visit Dubrovnik is in September and October, or just at the beginning of the tourist season between April and May to avoid the busy period. You can still make your way over to the Croatian capital Zagreb and explore other natural wonders of the country, whilst adding Dubrovnik to your bucket list for the next season.

Useful tips

Make sure to carry Euros or US dollars with you as most exchange shops in town do not accept UAE dirhams. The local currency is Croatian Kuna and there are plenty of ATMs around for you to withdraw cash.

In January 2023, Croatia will join the Schengen and Euro zones, so it is best to hold a Schengen visa if you plan to travel there next year.

What to see

Whether it is views, hiking spots, water sports or even nightlife, Dubrovnik has it all to be a perfect all-rounder holiday destination. Here are some of the spots you should add to the list of things to see.

Mt Srd: With an elevation of 412 metres, Mount Srd is the perfect vantage point for getting an aerial view of the city, particularly the Old Town. The best way to reach up there is with a cable car, which costs 200 Kuna (Dh96) per adult for a round trip, which can be bought on the counter. In addition to the breathtaking views, there is Panorama Restaurant which provides a perfect setting to celebrate an occasion or even the trip itself. They have a great selection of culinary delights of the Mediterranean region. Though the food options here might be on the pricey end, the flavourful food will certainly be the highlight of the trip and is one of the top recommended places to dine.

City Walls

To discover the entire old town of Dubrovnik is to complete the full length of the city walls. The walls are 25 metres high and are 1,940 metres in length. This is a great spot to get the steps in and also to get your bearings right to navigate through the narrow alleys of the town. The walls were erected in the 16th Century and the route has numerous towers and fortresses along the way to give you the feel of King’s Landing from Game of Thrones. Make sure you take your cameras along with you as there are plenty of areas to capture a picture-perfect backdrop of the Adriatic sea as well as the whole town. The walls encircle the entire Old Town which is also a UNESCO Heritage site. The best time to go up would be an hour before sunset when it is not too crowded and isn’t warm either.

Game of Thrones tour

My local guide Ivan Vukovic who is also a location scout and fixer for film productions tells me that the 25 per cent tax rebate for hiring local crew is one of the most enticing factors for film production companies. Over the last 100 years, Dubrovnik has now featured in over 150 movies. Walking tours to the filming locations of Game of Thrones, particularly the steps where Cersei Lannis had to do the walk of shame is now a popular tourist attraction.

Island hopping

Numerous islands around Dubrovnik are located a short ferry ride away or can be accessed by hiring a private boat. The biggest and the most easily accessible one is Lokrum island, which was portrayed as the city of Qarth on Game of Thrones. It is a Unesco-protected Nature Reserve with a botanical garden that has over 400 species of plants. This is a great attraction for an afternoon stroll or a swim. Visitors also have a chance to pose whilst sitting on the Iron throne for a picture-perfect moment on social media.

Mali Ston Oysters

The bay of Mali Ston located on the Pelješac peninsula is the best place to enjoy the locally grown Oysters. The freshwater holds their most treasured Ostrea Edulis oysters or European Flat Oysters. They are only grown in Mali Ston Bay and are sensitive to grow. It is just under an hour-long drive away from Dubrovnik and is well worth a visit.

You can also have a drive over the Pelješac Bridge which is the final piece of the puzzle to complete Croatia’s desire to have border-free access to Dubrovnik, which also allows them to fulfill the Schengen requirement. Earlier, Croatians would have to queue at the border checkpoints of the Neum corridor to access Dalmatia.

Verdict

Overall, if someone were to ask me if I would ever revisit the country, it would be a resounding yes. It is a destination that is accessible for families, young couples, and even solo travellers thanks to its stunning natural beauty and historical significance. Thanks to the direct flights from Dubai, Dubrovnik is a perfect gateway to give one a glimpse of the wonderful attractions of the country, which would fuel the urge to spend more time in the country and explore further.

abdulkarim@khaleejtimes.com


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