WHY GO NOW?
WHY GO NOW?
Croatia's most beautiful city is back on the map - direct flights from Gatwick to Dubrovnik started this week. Following the siege of 1991-2 that damaged two out of three buildings in the medieval Old Town, Dubrovnik has been restored to its former glory. Spring is a lovely time to visit - the climate is pleasantly warm and it's not too busy.
British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) flies from Gatwick on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays until 30 October. Return flights start at £99 return for online bookings. Croatia Airlines (020-8563 0022; www.croatiaairlines.hr) has flights from Gatwick for £251 return on Tuesdays and Thursdays (and also on Sundays from the end of April). Flights continue until 21 October. Holiday Options (0870 4208372; www.holidayoptions.co.uk) has seat-only deals on charter flights out of Gatwick, Norwich, Birmingham and Manchester between early May and mid-October from £209. Croatia Airlines operates a shuttle bus from the airport to Dubrovnik's main bus station, just outside the Old Town walls, costing 30 Kuna (£2.70).
A taxi costs about 225 Kuna (£20), and takes half an hour.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Encased in 15th-century walls, Dubrovnik's Old Town is small, closed to traffic and easy to navigate. You enter by one of three gates: Pile Gate to the west, by the bus station; Ploce Gate to the east; or Ponta Gate at the entrance to the harbour. Whichever entrance you choose will lead you directly to the Stradun (also known as Placa), the gracious arcade of lovely pale limestone buildings that bisects the Old Town. Narrow streets and alleyways run off Stradun like fishbones, leading to two parallel roads: Od Puca to the south and Prijecko to the north. The tourist office (00 385 20 427 591; www.tzdubrovnik.hr) is just outside Pile Gate, opposite the bus station at Dr Ante Starcevica 7. At present it opens 9am-4pm on weekdays and 9am-1pm on Saturdays, and is closed on Sundays. In peak season it opens daily from 8am-8pm.
There are only two hotels within the city walls. The Pucic Palace (00 385 20 324 111; www.thepucicpalace.com), housed in a former nobleman's house on Gundulic Square is Dubrovnik's most stylish boutique hotel. To compensate for its lack of swimming pool, guests have use of a private yacht. Double rooms start at €200 (£134) including breakfast. Traditionally-furnished double rooms in the Stari Grad (00 385 20 321 373) on Od Sigurate are more modest €134 (£90), including breakfast. The Ploce area, a 10- or 20-minute walk east of the Old Town, is quieter than the Old Town. All rooms at the pretty Villa Dubrovnik at Vlaha Bukovca 6 (00 385 20 422 933; www.villa-dubrovnik.hr) have sea views. Doubles with breakfast cost €180 (£120).
TAKE A HIKE
The 2km walk along Dubrovnik's ancient city walls (Gradske Zidine) gives breathtaking views of the Old Town; the walls climb to 25m high in some places. Access to the city walls is near the Pile Gate. Entrance costs 15 Kuna (£1.35) and the walk takes about an hour and a half. Afterwards, stroll down Stradun from the Pile Gate and you'll see everything from Romanesque monasteries to Renaissance churches and Gothic palaces. The Pile Gate entrance opens directly onto one of the best-known monuments in the city - the circular Onofrio's Large Fountain, built in 1438. To your left is the Franciscan monastery and to your right is the Convent of St Clare.
Even more glories await at the far end of the street, as you emerge into Luza Square, with Orlando's Column, built in 1418 as a monument to freedom, standing in the centre. This is flanked by St Blaise's Church (which celebrates Dubrovnik's patron saint), the extravagant Sponza Palace and a 15th-century clock tower.
In peak season, shops open daily from 8am-10pm. At present shops still close on Sundays and opening hours are 8am-8pm on weekdays and 9am-1pm on Saturdays. Most of the main designer outlets are on Stradun. Od Puca houses mostly smaller boutiques and leads eastwards into Gundulic Square, which hosts a lively fruit and flower market every morning, except Sundays.
Dubrovacka Kuca (00 385 20 322 092), on Svetog Dominica near the Dominican monastery, is an art gallery/gift shop that stocks a wide selection of wines from the nearby Peljesac peninsula. And don't miss the old pharmacy in the Franciscan monastery, in business since 1317. It has a fascinating range of ancient jars, and also sells home-produced cosmetics.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
For a snack lunch, there are heaps of good sandwich bars in the alleys leading uphill from the Stradun, where you can pick up wonderful fresh rolls of prsut (Dalmatian smoked ham), or local sir cheese. For a more leisurely meal, try the Jadran restaurant (00 385 20 323 403), set in the open-air courtyard of the Convent of St Clare. Simple grills and tasty raznjici (kebabs) for two will cost around £25.
South of Luza Square is the Rector's Palace, now the Museum of Dubrovnik (00 385 20 426 590). This gives an overview of the city's history through collections of furniture and coins, plus fascinating exhibits of Dubrovnik's illustrious forebears. It opens from 10am-7pm daily (except Monday) and admission is 15 Kuna (£1.35).
Early evening in Dubrovnik's Old Town is sublime: the stone turns golden in the twilight, and swifts and swallows cartwheel around the clock towers.
Join the locals for a travarica in Luza Square - the place is bursting with tables. Gradska Kavana (00 385 20 321 414), overlooking the square, is a grand café in the old style and a Dubrovnik institution. The buzzy Jazz Cafe Trubadour (00 385 20 323 476) on Buniceva Poljana, behind the cathedral, is a jazz venue in summer.
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
Atlas Club Nautika (00 385 20 442 526), just outside the Pile Gate, is the most expensive restaurant in town and has fine views over the sea and the Bokar fortress. Dinner for two will set you back £80 - £100 with wine - but it's worth it.
If you're on a tighter budget, try to avoid the run of tourist traps on Prijecko - a gamut of identical meals for identical prices. Dundo Maroje (00 385 20 321 445), in a narrow alleyway opposite St Blaise's Church, offers excellent brodet (fish stew). Dinner for two with wine will come to about £35. Alternatively, try Kamenica (00 385 20 323 689) on Gundulic Square, which is cheap, cheerful and popular with locals. Dinner for two costs around £20.
SUNDAY MORNING: TAKE A RIDE
Bus 10 runs every hour from Dubrovnik's main bus station to the pretty harbour town of Cavtat, 15 miles south. The one-way fare is 10 Kuna (90p) for the 30-minute ride. Cavtat's colourful waterfront is lined with palm trees, and there are shady paths around the town's wooded peninsula. Return to Dubrovnik's harbour by boat for 30 Kuna (£2.70).
OUT TO BRUNCH
For the Parisian boulevard experience, head for the Café Royal on Gundulic Square, a part of the Pucic Palace. Otherwise, join the locals reading their Sunday newspapers at Maestoso (00 385 20 420 986), a friendly restaurant overlooking the harbour near the Ploce Gate. It opens at 10am every day and takes daily deliveries from the same fishermen who eat here. The popular seafood risotto costs 60 Kuna (£5.40).
GO TO CHURCH
Of the 17 churches in the Old Town, the cathedral is the obvious choice - stately, domed and boasting Titian's polyptych The Assumption behind its main altar. To the left of the altar, the treasury (00 385 20 323 459) contains a leg, arm and the skull of St Blaise. It opens 3-7pm on Sundays, and 8am-12pm Mondays-Saturdays, and admission is 5 Kuna (45p).
A WALK IN THE PARK
From Easter onwards, boats leave half-hourly from the harbour for the 15-minute voyage to the wooded island of Lokrum. The return journey costs 25 Kuna (£2.25). The island is a peaceful nature reserve, with a ruined monastery a salt-water lake and rather wild botanical gardens.
WRITE A POSTCARD
Just five minutes' walk outside the Ploce Gate is the beach. Watch the local Adonises over an ice-cream.
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
Try bungee jumping from the elegant Franco Tudman suspension bridge, opened in 2002. It's near the modern port of Dubrovnik - west of the Old Town in the suburb of Gruz. Between 1 May and 1 October, jumps can be arranged 10am-6pm; 200 Kuna (£18) with an extra 100 Kuna (£9) for a video. No need to book; just turn up. For details, call Luci Bilic (00 385 20 418516) - he speaks good English.