Dubrovnik can seem impersonal at times, particularly in summer when thousands of cruise passengers descend on the Adriatic port each day. It's tempting to evade the crowds thronging the shiny marble streets of the Old Town and head to the large beach resorts instead ... or you can dive into the beating heart of the walled city at a laid-back B&B where you'll be welcomed like an old friend.
At first it's not easy to spot the blue door to Fresh Sheets, as it's obscured by the tables sprawling from the Jazz Caffe Troubadour and overshadowed by the imposing cathedral. Formerly the home of a noble family, the 17th-century building became a convent and is still owned by the Vatican. Feel free to play the piano in the entrance hall before climbing the venerable stone staircase up to the B&B's five airy rooms. Your hosts will be there to welcome you with a glass of wine and an array of cured meats and cheeses.
In contrast to their baroque surroundings, the high-ceilinged rooms are pleasingly contemporary. They're tastefully minimalist, with soft neutral tones, plush headboards, and comfortable beds. Light pours in from large windows on to the whitewashed wooden floors. The simple decor extends to the uncluttered bathrooms, all of which have good-sized showers. Two of the rooms share a bathroom and can be used together as a family suite, while one room, Dubrava, has a fridge and kitchenette for basic cooking.
Views are either of the Rector's Palace and the cathedral, or Gundulic square with its lively daily food market. Luckily, effective soundproofing and external shutters cut out much of the noise.
Down a winding corridor is the little kitchen, which is the only communal area and where guests can help themselves to coffee and tea whenever they like. More often than not, you'll be offered food and drink before you need to start hunting for it.
Save plenty of room for the lavish spreads of pastries, meats, cheeses, olives, fresh bread, ajvar (a spicy red pepper and aubergine relish), chilli peppers stuffed with cream cheese, tomato salads, filo spinach pies and fruit. Then you'll be asked if you want a hot breakfast. If you can, try the homemade palacinke (crêpes) with mascarpone and blueberries.
Jon and Sanja Kawaguchi (from Vancouver and Croatia's Slavonia region, respectively) pitched up in Dubrovnik in 2006. After running a little bar, they opened a hostel in the Old Town and a retro-style laundry near the Ploce Gate before setting up Fresh Sheets B&B in 2013. They're helped by a Canadian friend, Alex, who also runs excursions to hidden beaches in the Konavle region, south of Dubrovnik, and can arrange gourmet picnics.
As Gundulic market is right on the doorstep, you'll want to check out the fresh produce early, before the cruise hordes arrive. Stroll through the narrow lanes to the main thoroughfare, Stradun, before reaching the impressive Rector's Palace. Behind it is the Old Port, where boats make the 15-minute trip to the enchanting island of Lokrum (lokrum.hr; 40 kuna/£3.70 return icluding park fee). Take one of Alex's picnics and spend the day walking the forested trails or swimming in the lagoon or off the rocky beaches.
Once the crowds have left in the late afternoon, that's the time to meander along the city walls (100 kuna/£9.32 from the ticket office at Pile Gate). These medieval fortifications give some of the best views of the Old Town's baroque and Renaissance architecture, Fort Lovrijenac (included in the ticket) and the Adriatic.
The pit stop
Fill up on fresh seafood and Mediterranean meat dishes at Dalmatino (00 385 20 327404; dalmatino-dubrovnik.com), a cosy restaurant in Miha Pracata street. The shared seafood platter at 318 kuna (£30) is excellent value.
Asian flavours mingle with Dalmatian ingredients at Azur (00 385 20 324806; azurvision.com), a relaxed little place on Pobijana near the Aquarium. Start with the seafood tempura with garlic chilli mayo (78 kuna/£7.30) or go straight to the seared tuna with crushed cashews (135 kuna/£12.60).
Crisp Dalmatian wines are served by the glass at Dionysus Wine Pub (00 385 99 649 9244) in Za Rokum, where you can order tapas or more substantial seafood dishes. La Bodega (00 385 95 234 2334) in the square opposite St Blaise's church also champions local wines.
Fresh Sheets, Buniceva Poljana 6, Dubrovnik, Croatia (00 385 91 896 7509; freshsheetskathedral.com). Doubles start at €188, including breakfast. Mary Novakovich flew with British Airways 0844 493 0787; ba.com) from Gatwick.