Why Croatia's Cavtat is a pearl in its own right

Dubrovnik is one of the most beautifuul cities in the world, but Linda Cookson prefers the calmer pace and more human scale of Cavtat, along the Adriatic coast

Truman Capote famously said of Venice that visiting the city was like eating a whole box of chocolate liqueurs all in one go. I feel a bit like that about Dubrovnik. Beyond doubt, Croatia's "pearl of the Adriatic" is breathtakingly beautiful - a jewel encased by city walls and, beyond them, by the unbroken blue of the sea. But its opulence can be overwhelming. There are no fewer than 17 sumptuous churches crammed within barely a square kilometre of Old Town. And, in the summer, the heat within the city's medieval walls can become fiercely oppressive, as hordes of visitors and cruise-ship parties push and shove within the crowded confines of narrow streets and alleyways.

How to avoid the hassle? Happily, there's a simple answer. Base yourself 17km down the coast in the small harbour town of Cavtat (pronounced "tsavtat"), less than 45 minutes by boat or bus from central Dubrovnik. Here you will have the best of both worlds. You can enjoy the relaxed rhythm of life in a colourful waterfront community, while knowing that you can sample the attractions of Dubrovnik whenever you like (connecting services run every half hour or so).

Cavtat is a fascinating and cultured destination in itself. I first stumbled upon it by accident on a day-trip from Dubrovnik - though smarter travellers than I have been going there for years. Throughout the last century it was an exclusive retreat for wealthy Croatians (many of whom built mansions there), as well as a thriving hub for working artists. But it is only relatively recently - following the end of the disastrous siege of Dubrovnik in the early 1990s - that the town has begun to develop as a resort for foreign tourists.

Cavtat perches on the saddle of a wooded peninsula set between two bays, so you're never more than moments from the water. The sea is as still as a mirror, a deep and brilliant blue with pools of green reflected from the pine forests beyond. A wide promenade, fringed with palm trees, runs along the harbour front.

This is the cosmopolitan centre of the town, where fishing and tourist boats jostle with gleaming jet-set yachts the size of battleships. In the same way, simple bars where locals crowd to watch football matches stand alongside restaurants gleaming with silverware and white linen. Ordinary pharmacies and hardware shops are likewise interspersed with hastily improvised souvenir outlets selling cheap shot-glasses and ashtrays sporting the Croatian flag.

If Dubrovnik is a chocolate box, then Cavtat is a paintbox. Cobbled streets with traditional red-roofed brownstone houses climb back from the blue of the waterfront. The narrow stairways between the opposite sides of each street are smothered in clouds of white, mauve and pink blossoms. In the fruit and vegetable market, by the bus station, crates of green and red peppers, purple aubergines and green figs are piled high beside trestle-tables laden with a golden blaze of fruits: bananas, papayas, enormous melons and the gorgeous knobbly lemons that also drip from the surrounding trees like blobs of yellow candlewax.

But most of all, Cavtat is about light. In the daytime, the town shimmers. In the evening, clouds in the night sky are outlined in a glow of copper and silver, looking for all the world like strange new countries on a mysterious old map. It's no wonder that the place has attracted so many artists.

The celebrated Croatian painter Vlaho Bukovac (1855-1922) remains Cavtat's most famous son. His former home at 5 Bukovceva (tucked behind a 15th-century Franciscan monastery at the northern end of the promenade) is slowly being transformed into a gallery. It displays portraits by the artist of his family and provides space for visiting exhibitions. In addition, the quirky little building has recently been revealed as something of a work of art in itself. Workmen accidentally uncovered wall after wall of fabulous pastel-colour-washed friezes depicting birds, animals and rural scenes by Bukovac, all hidden for years by plasterwork and now being lovingly restored.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bukovac is everywhere in Cavtat. The gracious waterfront Church of St Nicholas has his painting of the four evangelists over its main altar, with more of his works on display in the Pinakoteka - the art gallery - next door. But, Bukovac apart, there is a host of other treasures in the town, testament to an impressively long and distinguished cultural history: Cavtat was originally the site of the town of Epidaurum, founded in the 4th century BC.

Next to St Nicholas's Church, the 16th-century Rector's Palace houses an eclectic collection of paintings, books and furniture donated by another notable former resident, the 19th-century lawyer and cultural activist, Baltazar Bogisic, whose statue dominates the southern part of the harbourfront. Even more impressive - though not, it has to be said, to all tastes - is the Racic Mausoleum. This octagonal white dome with huge bronze doors decorated with gargoyles of dogs, eagles and winged lambs, was built high above Cavtat in the early 1920s by the Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic for a wealthy local ship-owning family. Even if you prefer not visit this marble folly, the walk to it is definitely worthwhile. At the hub of its quayside activity, Cavtat feels full of light and air. But venture back from the harbourfront, following the signs for the mausoleum, and you discover another world altogether - a spacious rural idyll.

The Mausoleum is on top of a steep, wooded hill at the very tip of the peninsula on which the town rests. Unexpectedly - especially for people arriving from the comparative bustle of the quayside - the whole of this end of the peninsula is given over to semi-wild parkland, heavily scented with herbs and flowers. In just minutes you've stepped from an artificial forest of yacht masts into a living Arcadia.

The peninsula is the perfect place to come for a swim and a picnic. After a respectful nod at the no-nonsense stone angels guarding the doors to the ship-owning dead, you can clamber down from the mausoleum through the woodland to a waterfront fringed by rocky outcrops.

Cavtat has its share of sandy beaches - but these are mostly in an area known as Zal, a kilometre east of the town centre, which houses a rather unprepossessing string of modern hotels. More attractive are the occasional bathing platforms and shack-like cafés that are dotted round the water's edge of the peninsula itself. Right by the shoreline, though easily missed amid the greenery, the Rokatin café is a little gem - look for an ancient rowing boat draped with fishing nets and suspended between pine trees, and a wooden sign offering sun-beds for hire. Once settled with some local ham and cheese (both from Pag island) and a carafe of Dingac wine, you'll find it difficult to tear yourself away.

As evening falls over Cavtat, the lights go out on the peninsula. Seemingly the whole of the town heads down to the harbour - either for a stroll along the promenade or for a gossip and a travarica (powerful local herb-brandy) in one of Cavtat's many bars and restaurants.

Everyone finds a favourite bar. Mine was the Café Posejdon - in pole position at the southern end of the harbour, shaded by pine trees heavy with cones and overlooking the whole of the waterfront. From there I watched many a glorious sunset. I also watched the local water-polo team practising in their floodlit pitch. I watched the aproned waiters of the exclusive Restaurant Leut. I watched the crews of the tour boats hosing down the decks. And I watched, with awe but no envy, the fairy-tale city of Dubrovnik twinkling in the distance.

Traveller'S Guide

Getting There

Cavtat is only 10 minutes by bus or taxi from Dubrovnik airport (a mixed blessing, given the noise of jets overhead). You can fly from Gatwick on BA (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) or Croatia Airlines (020-8563 0022; www.croatiaairlines.hr); from Birmingham on FlyBe (0871 700 0123; www.flybe.com); from Luton and Manchester on Thomsonfly (0870 190 0737; www.thomsonfly.com). Boats (80HRK/£7.40 return) and bus 10 (25HRK/£2.35) run between Dubrovnik and Cavtat.

Packages/Accommodation

Thomson (0870 165 0079; www.thomson.co.uk) has deals at the five-star Hotel Croatia for as little as £457 for a week half-board in early May. Holiday Options (0870 420 8386; www.holidayoptions.co.uk) offers the widest range of holidays in Cavtat. A weekl at the Hotel Villa Pattiera costs from £465 per person including flights, B&B and transfers.

Private rooms can be arranged through the Adriatica agency by the bus station (00 385 20 478 713).

More Information

Cavtat tourist office: 00 385 20 479 025; www.tzcavtat-konavle.hr.

Croatian National Tourist Board: 020-8563 7979; www.croatia.hr.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'
tv
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit