After watching Game of Thrones for a few years, I decided to visit King’s Landing, also known as the Old Town of Dubrovnik. Yes, I know that King’s Landing was a fictional city, but I still wanted to see the place where a television show that I loved was filmed. I discovered Dubrovnik during a season 6 behind the scenes interview with the actress who played the evil queen Cersei Lannister. This particular episode showed the various filming locations, it was then I got excited about Croatia and knew that if I ever had the chance to go, I would visit The Old Town of Dubrovnik. Before going to Croatia, I knew very little, other than the fact that the Dalmatian dogs originated from there. Once I started doing my research, I found that it is a multifaceted country with many islands, beaches, historical cities, and warm summery weather.
Where I Stayed
Valamar Collection Dubrovnik President Hotel (view from room 2040)
I stayed at the Valamar Collection Dubrovnik President Hotel, the rates for this hotel can range from $200 to $400 per night depending on the season. I know this is a bit high, but I decided to splurge and take a chance. Upon checking in, we were greeted with a refreshing glass of Elderflower champagne. Before that, I had never had Elderflower before, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised. It was hard to describe the taste as it was a curious mixture of citrus and an indescribably refreshing flavor. I recall that I stayed in room 4020, which had a balcony and a view of the Adriatic Sea. Each balcony came with a small garden with wildflowers, lavender, rosemary, sage, and other plants. The hotel provided fast internet, buffet-style breakfast and dinner, and a view to die for. Overall the staff was friendly, and things seem to run like clockwork. While this hotel was a reasonable distance away from the Old Town, there was a shuttle that ran every few minutes taking guests down into the main areas of Dubrovnik. Visitors could also get to the Old Town by walking, taxi, or renting a car. I would highly recommend this hotel for a bit of luxury, romance, and relaxation.
I Sea Food Everywhere
The Old Town of Dubrovnik is littered with local restaurants; some are casual while others are upscale. The first thing I noticed was the amount of ice cream vendors around. I didn’t quite recognize their importance until I spent an entire day walking around the Old Town in the June heat. It was only then I appreciated the gelatos and ice cream.
Since this city is located next to the sea, you can imagine the joy I got from all the seafood dishes. In the town, there are many small cafes, pizzerias, and many eateries serving a medley of Croatian and Mediterranean style dishes. While I wish I took note of all the charming little restaurants I ate at, I was too busy enjoying the food to think about blogging. All I can say is that all the food tasted fresh, healthy, and unmistakably Mediterranean; and there wasn’t a single fast-food restaurant in sight. Now let’s thank the food gods for that!
Our lunch at the Panorama Restaurant & Bar (prawns, steak, garlic/rosemary potatoes)
The one place I remember eating at was the Panorama Restaurant & Bar. This place sat above Old Town and required visitors to take a cable car, drive or walk uphill to get to it. I ended up at this restaurant because we were told that tourists who visit Dubrovnik had to check out the panoramic view of the city, especially at sunset. At this restaurant, I enjoyed a lovely lunch watching the hustle and bustle of the town from above.
People of Dubrovnik
One thing I noticed about the Old Town was that in June it was super busy. Some mornings we would set out early, then retire at a café and slowly watch a hoard of Asian group tour buses offloading hundreds. Before landing in Croatia, I learned that sometimes over 10,000 people visited this historic place per day. Depending on the time of the day or location, you can easily find over 1,000 people gathering in various areas of the city. At the end of my first day, I wondered how the locals handled it, how did they manage to have a normal life and not go raving mad. The streets were congested at particular times in the mornings and afternoons, there were traffic jams and overcrowding on the local buses. I spent a good couple of days trying to figure out how the locals kept their composure. They were always pleasant, eager to help, and seemed to be able to dodge the chaos in style. I later learned that the city survived on tourism between late May to October. This means that the population increased three folds during this period, which was both good and bad for the residents. Tourism was good for their economy and putting money in the pockets of the locals. The bad side of all of this was the slow degradation of such a beautiful historic place. The crowds, parties, and nightlife were slowly forcing many of the locals who resided there for years to relocate. Many would sell or rent their homes only returning during the winter months, so even they couldn’t enjoy the spring or summer in their own home the way they wanted to.
The first exciting person we met was a taxi driver who took us from the airport to the hotel. He was talkative and very informative, making sure that we were aware of any information that could be helpful. He gave us our first view of Dubrovnik but also said that during the time the filming of Game of Thrones was taking place, he was the driver from one of the producers and crew.
Captain Stjepko Mamic
During my first few hours inside the Old Town, we found ourselves wandering around an alley in search of the main road shortly after dinner. We ended up in a small alleyway close to Celestina Medovica street when our attention was grabbed by a cluster of bright paintings sitting in a studio window. We decided to go inside, and there is where we met Capt. Stjepko Mamic, a famous Croatian artist and retired sea captain. We spoke to him for a while, and I could tell that he had a lifetime of experience and adventure under his belt. He was sharp and observant with a hint of a comical cheekiness about him. I remembered he entertained us with stories of his time as a sea captain, regaling on a time when he assisted the American government and military members ferrying them and their equipment back to California. While we bantered, we looked at his work as he described one of his most eye-catching paintings called the Long Net. We were drawn to his studio because of his brilliant works of art that reminded us of the Caribbean. He then told me that some of his painting had gold layered into them to catch and reflect light, which inturned increased the value of his paintings.
Talking to Stjepko that day I learned that he attended Académie de Port-Royal – Painting and Drawing School in France and was a member of Foundation Taylor and Societe des Artistes Independants or Salon des Indépendants. He didn’t seem to reflect any braggadociousness about his awards, but little did he know that I was utterly star-struck. I did not know him before, but his life and accomplishments were something to rejoice about.
At the end of our meeting, I silently started to think that this was a sign from the universe. Stjepko was living a life that I wanted at the tender age of 12 but was forced to forgo for the idea that a job with a guaranteed income had more value. His story of being a mercantile captain to becoming an award-winning artist was inspiring and seemed like a way for the universe to show me that I should follow my creative passions. At the end of that day, I went to research his work and found his website, and it was there I locked on to a quote he posted by Henri Matisse which said, “creativity takes courage,” and it was in that moment I wish I had courage.
For more information about Capt. Stjepko Mamic visit his website https://www.stjepkomamic.com/about
I am a very simple girl, so I spent a lot of time walking around the Old Town taking pictures of all the places that reminded me of various scenes from Game of Thrones. I paid for access to the city wall and spent hours walking around the entire city and stopping at multiple spots to gaze at the splendid views.
Since I was only there for a few days, I took a guided Atlas tour to Ston and Korčula Island. In between that, I got to visit an oyster and mussel farm in Ston.
What I learned from visiting Ston was that it had the second longest wall compared to the Great Wall of China. Ston is a quiet little town with a big historical past, the city thrived on salt during the days when salt was traded like gold. The Great Wall of Ston was erected to protect the city and is one of the longest defense walls in Europe. Ston also has beautiful beaches, fertile land, and is rich in culture.
Art Studio in Ston
During my brief 2 hours in Ston, I ventured into an art studio and ran into a charming couple. They were a husband and wife team who were both welcoming and amazing all at once.
I recall the wife’s name was Marija Papar and was very adorable. I remember they had a huge beautiful painting of olives in brilliant shades of green. Then there were many small and large water paintings, but the standout to me was the paintings of the local dancers performing in traditional wear.
I visited Matuško Winery which is known for its highly-priced red wine; this winery produces Matuško Dingač Royal which according to our tour guide is one of the pricey red wines and is produced on a very limited basis. I got to sample the Matuško Dingač Royal along with grappa. It was a pleasure to sample one of the most expensive red wines in the world.
Ston’s Oyster Farms and Mussel Tasting
The reasons why I took this tour was to see the Oyster and Mussel Farms and sample the goods. As a lover of fresh seafood, I couldn’t give up this opportunity. While we didn’t take the boat tour of the oyster farm, we ended up only driving by the farms as our tour guide explained the process. Then we went to a restaurant overlooking the bay to sample both mussels and oysters, which was delicious. Other than stuffing my belly, I learned that the oyster farms techniques haven’t changed for over 300 years and this region produces the largest amount of oysters in the Adriatic.
My last stop on the tour was Korčula Island which is a small island off the coast of Dalmatian in the Adriatic Sea. The population is tiny standing at about 15,000 but increases in the summer months. The island was also said to be the home of Marco (Marko) Polo, as a highlight of the tour was a visit to him home.
While on that island I ate lunch at one of the local restaurants and had a wonderful seafood salad, then met a waiter who worked in Croatia during the high season from Bosnia. He was a very nice guy and took us to his restaurant for a drink of soda and polite conversation.
I visited this island on my last full day in Dubrovnik. It was very close to Old Town and was only a short ferry ride away. Lokrum Island reminded me of a small park; there were walking trails, a botanical garden, tiny cafes, restaurants, peacocks, and a small beach area. This island was used as a Benedictine monastery in 1023 then when the monks were made to leave, it was said that a curse was laid on the island. Another reason to visit it is the fact that an Iron Throne was placed inside one of the monastery.
I enjoyed my vacation in Croatia even if it took the Game of Thrones to get me to visit. I must admit I would love to visit this country again, but next time I want to visit the world heritage sites and a few other cities. My experience in Dubrovnik was very positive; the people whether they were Croatians or from neighboring countries are very nice and made this country worth seeing again. Of course, I will never forget meeting Captain Stjepko Mamic, my humble taxi driver, the lovely couple in the art studio in Ston, my first taste of Elderflower, walking the wall of Old Town, and the young Bosnian man who converse with us on Korčula Island.
More people should visit Croatia!
For More information about Dubrovnik visit https://www.croatiatraveller.com/southern_dalmatia/Dubrovnik/dubrovnik_index.htm
Hotel: Valdemar Collection Dubrovnik President Hotel https://www.valamar.com/en/hotels-dubrovnik/valamar-dubrovnik-president-hotel