Visiting Cavtat with your Small Dog – Dalmatian Coast – Croatia
When you look at a map of Croatia, Dear Reader, you will note that the southernmost town (follow the coastline down to the southeast) is a small place by the name of Cavtat. (The locals call it Zavtat.) If you follow the coastline any further, you end up in Montenegro. We had so hoped to go to Montenegro but, sadly, although getting into Montenegro was easy, returning to Croatia after a day trip was not. It turns out that I didn’t have the right titer test to re-enter Croatia—a requirement because Montenegro is considered a high-risk rabies country—and titer tests … well, those take a while to get. We dropped the ball on the planning it seems. *sigh* Oh well.
BUT! We did take the 40 minute taxi boat from Dubrovnik’s old town marina to Cavtat, and you know what? It was ABSOLUTELY worth it. Why?
- It was raining in Dubrovnik, but sunny in Cavtat. Go figure!
- It was a super easy way to flee the hordes of tourists in Dubrovnik for the day.
- Cavtat is loads of nature, a quiet rhythm, and a peaceful marina.
- And the prices are lower than in Dubrovnik.
Cavtat is part of what is known as the Dubrovnik Riviera. The Čilipi Airport (also known as the Dubrovnik Airport) is only three miles from Cavtat—much closer to Cavtat than to Dubrovnik!
Our first impression of Cavtat was a sense of … permanence. And that was surprising since the town seems small and lacks the massive fortified walls found in Dubrovnik, Trogir, and Hvar. So our response begged the question: Where did that feeling come from? The only explanation I have is that the town projected its history in some way.
You can see Dubrovnik from Cavtat’s banks, not too far off in the distance. You can feel Dubrovnik’s tug. It’s siren call. The way I see it, Dubrovnik is, in a way, Cavtat’s daughter.
With fertile lands, fresh water springs, and an agreeable climate, Cavtat has been inhabited since the ancient Greeks settled it (then known as Epidauros). But, sadly, a desirable location attracts enemies and plunderers. Cavtat was invaded by the Avars and the Slavs, so the people of Cavtat moved to a safer, more defensible location. They built high protective walls and added a draw bridge or two. The mighty fortress and powerhouse of Dubrovnik was born because … lesson learned.
But Cavtat remained. Not as flamboyant or as regal as her daughter, Dubrovnik. Never fully returning to her glory days. But Cavtat did recover. It grew into a quiet, wise, and beautiful town. One filled with secret passages, beautiful vistas, hills covered in fragrant herbs, unspoiled clean sea, and spectacular swimming spots. Yachts come in and out quietly without the gawking onlookers. Here, things seem to just happen quietly, shyly, without fuss.
Cavtat’s history is one of supplying Dubrovnik with food and supplies, working hard to shore up the mighty town that is always in sight. But Cavtat is worth her own praise. Nothing could destroy this town’s spirit.
Cavtat is small and proud. Unlike Dubrovnik, Cavtat doesn’t flirt with her guests but rather serves them a hearty meal of fresh fish and makes them feel right at home. You don’t have to work hard for Cavtat’s approval. She’s a mother hen with a clean and safe home, not a pretty girl to woo. It’s obvious the moment you step off the boat onto the promenade. Between moored fishing boats and cafés and bars, there are rows of neatly planted flowers under the shade of old palm trees. There are signs that say “No dogs in the flower beds,” but cats lounge lazily, peering out from under the foliage. It didn’t stop me from going in for a pee break, Dear Reader. And no one really seemed to care so long as I didn’t dig up any flowers.
The serenity of the place overcomes you. You take a deep breath and feel more relaxed. You’ll be tempted to just find a seat at a nearby bar or café and call it a day. After all, the prices are about half that of Dubrovnik. Only the planes coming in and out from the airport from time to time will disrupt the peace. Sadly, the flight path is right above Cavtat. Surprisingly, you get used to these infrequent disruptions. But before you settle down, order your drink, and lean back to people watch, I invite you to hold off a little and go on a small walking tour first.
I started my walking tour on the promenade heading west towards a little church that sits at the far end of the harbour. Our Lady of the Snow. It is hard to imagine snow in this town with palm trees dotting the promenade! Take a few moments to do a handoff (since dogs cannot enter the church). It’s an unassuming church to be certain. It has a delightful pulpit, but the real masterpiece is the “Lady of the Snow” painting on the lunette above the apse. It’s the painting that gave the Church its current name. The painting is much more recent than the church, but pretty.
From the church, we followed the signs to the Račić Mausoleum, designed by the famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović. We took the long way there and the short way back, creating a loop. The long way follows an amazing 7 kilometre promenade under a pine forest only a few meters from the sea. The fragrant air was intoxicating. Every now and then, we came across swimming spots. You could walk this promenade for a long time, I imagine, but we veered off on to a well-marked path that led us UP to the top of the hill where the mausoleum awaited.
Erected in 1921 (relatively new by Croatian standards), the mausoleum is now a museum of sorts. With an entry fee. The bipeds did a quick hand-off for this. One went in, while the other walked about with me and enjoyed the rather impressively scenic St. Rok graveyard that dates back to the 15th century. Why is the mausoleum so interesting? Well for one, it was built without using a single piece of wood. Not for its frame nor inside. No wood. There is a lot of bronze, including the bell with the inscription “Know the mystery of love and though shalt solve the mystery of death and believe that life is eternal.” The mausoleum also has the most impressive door.
After one last look at the sea and Dubrovnik in the distance, we walked back towards town using a more direct path. This led us to discover the lovely back streets of Cavtat. Lots of typical little homes, tiny streets, and an abundance of bougainvillea. I made a few dogs bark as I walked past and even invited myself into a person’s home when I smelled pizza! There was much laughing but … no pizza for me.
Of course this made all our tummies grumble, so we returned to the main square and found ourselves a place to eat: the restaurant Posjedon. The food was delicious and surprisingly cheap! Not to mention the absolutely lovely patio, right on the water. It was the perfect choice.
We did a quick retrace of our steps back towards the harbour to visit the baroque Church of St. Nicholas. We liked the cemetery here. The church is sort of a bookend on the harbour with the Lady of the Snow Church on one side and St. Nicholas on the other.
A handoff was needed—no dogs inside—so I sat on the steps with one biped while the other went inside. I got so much attention from locals and tourists that it was almost embarrassing. Almost.
St. Nicholas is nice. There is some artwork by Croatian artists that is worth your time if that is your thing. The bipeds mentioned that the Icons of St. Nicholas and an alabaster relief from the 15th century were particularly worth a look.
We then stopped to pay our respects to Bogišic. His statue is right there on the promenade. This man was insanely accomplished. What an impressive resume. Born in Cavtat (although he left at 22 and never returned), Bogišic studied and lived in Venice, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Giessen, Odessa, Kiev, and Paris, and was a member of several academic and scientific organizations. You have got to love another fellow traveller! He is most famous for writing civil laws (including those used by Montenegro), and Cavtat, proud of her son, has a museum with over 18,000 rare volumes of his work. Sadly it was closed the day we visited, so we had to give it a miss.
After this, we headed back towards where we had eaten, following the road along the coastline. We came across what was once the doge palace. It’s now the city hall and not really open to the public (its just offices), but it’s worth going up the steps and onto the gorgeous, if slightly run down, terrace for an exquisite view of Cavtat.
We kept going, and the road ended and turned into another promenade. While the promenade on the west side was paved all the way, this one turned to dirt after a fancy hotel lounge. (Note: The hotel is a great place for a bathroom break!). We followed the dirt path and the carpet of pine needles. We followed it and enjoyed feeling closer to nature. The path veered suddenly left and upwards, but we kept following. No regrets. The air smelled divine, and the sea below crashed into the stone, creating caves and odd echoes. Finally we made it to the Hotel Croatia at the top of the hill. The hotel has a children’s park and steps that led us all the way back to the fancy hotel lounge by the water.
Slowly we made our way back to the harbour where we sat down to enjoy a drink at a café while we waited for our taxi boat back to Dubrovnik. Had we had another day, we would have happily taken on the Ronald Brown pathway. It’s a day long hike all the way up, up, up to a cross high on a hill. The pathway is said to have wonderful nature—and poisonous snakes, so keep an eye on your dog—and views that will take your breath away. But the short walking tour was all we had time for, and it was absolutely delightful.
In review: Visiting Cavtat with your Small Dog; the charming small town, half asleep, neat and clean. Mega yachts coming and going but no one cares. If you are tired of crowded Dubrovnik, flirty Hvar, or any of the trendy ports along the Dalmatian coast, then come to Cavtat. You’ll find no dizzy atmosphere, no bustling crowds, no loud music. Instead you will find long walks (pets welcome off leash), fresh air, pristine water and beaches (many open to pets), and delicious food (patios are all pet friendly). Here, you and your canine companion can recharge. For more photos on Cavtat, visit the album on my FB page!