Romance in Dubrovnik

Michelle Lewis discovers a gem of a place on a visit to Dubrovnik in Croatia

Michelle Lewis discovers a gem of a place on a visit to Dubrovnik in Croatia


Different destinations can titillate different senses. In Sorrento, Italy, I was delighted by the citrusy aroma of lemons – I never knew how a lemon could smell until I caught a whiff of that tangy scent. Marrakech’s main market square, Jamaa el Fna, stimulates the ears with the music of street musicians, shouts of Moroccan food vendors and the Muslim call to prayer. But Dubrovnik, on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, is truly a treat for the eyes.

The minute my husband and I stepped from the plane, we were struck by the dramatic juxtaposition of the mountains and the Adriatic Sea. We admired the coastal scenery during our half hour drive to our hotel, the Villa Orsula.

Built in 1939 and refurbished in 2011, this cliff-side boutique boasts a phenomenal view. It has 11 rooms and two suites decorated in tasteful cream shades with accents of dark wood, and all but one overlook the sea. The Villa Orsula is linked to its sister hotel, the Grand Villa Argentina, by a passageway and shares some of its amenities, including the terraced Victoria restaurant, which is great for a low-key lunch, and a terraced garden with plenty of viewing benches.

A la carte breakfast is served in the Victoria lounge bar – we sat side by side under the grape trellis, looking out over the peaceful water, as we enjoyed our poached eggs and bacon. After breakfast, we snoozed and read books on the “beach”, which is what the hotel staff calls the pool deck, and watched the kayakers paddle back and forth. There is a ladder off the deck into the sea – it’s a clear sapphire blue that I’ve not seen anywhere else, and the water is calm and refreshing.

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On the other side of Villa Orsula is the Hotel Excelsior, which is also in the family. The five-star Excelsior, which turns 100 next year, has hosted a long list of famous guests, from Elizabeth Taylor to Che Guevara to Francis Ford Coppola. The hotel serves a fantastic a la carte dinner on their romantic waterside terrace: the day’s fish catch is a winner, and the staff were warm and hospitable. We watched the city’s twinkling lights as we enjoyed white Croatian wine.

But as nice as these hotels are on the inside, it’s all about looking out. Directly in front of the Villa Orsula looms the tree-covered Lokrum Island, and the view to the right is of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a pleasant 10-minute amble from the hotel trio. Dubrovnik is known for its famous summer festival, and it’s also a major destination for cruise ships, so this little city can get pretty crowded with tourists in the summer. An off-season visit provides just as much sunshine but half the crowds, plus there is still plenty to do. We visited in October and swam and got suntans – and we also managed to catch the Croatian Festival of Jams and Marmalades (fig was our choice, and it was tasty).

Despite a severe earthquake in 1667 and the war in 1991, Dubrovnik has managed to preserve its stunning gothic, baroque and Renaissance churches, monasteries and palaces. But you have to dig a bit deeper to get past all the souvenir shops and gelaterias on the city’s main promenade known as the Stradun –  although I’m not complaining about the gelato; we ate it twice within a couple of hours. A good place to start is a looping walk on the 16th century, 1,940-meter city wall. In addition to the panoramic views of the city’s red tile roofs, fountains (which symbolise the city’s prosperity), and the sparkling sea, you also get glimpses of everyday life: garden allotments, mother cats with kittens, kids playing football, laundry flapping in the wind.

The walk gave us a bird’s eye view of the city’s layout, so we then explored alleyways and narrow residential streets after our descent, which host little cafes and artisans’ shops. There is a plethora of restaurants to choose from to suit all budgets. The seafood is fresh, and of course there is a strong Italian influence on the cuisine, as that country is just across the water. Just remember to choose an eatery with a view – because the view in Dubrovnik is the greatest feast of all.


The Villa Orsula, the Grand Villa Argentina and the Hotel Excelsior are part of the Adriatic Luxury Hotels group, at

The group offers a number of packages, which can be found here:

Phone: +385 20 430 830