Visiting Dubrovnik with a Dog, Part 1 – Dalmatia – Croatia
I am going to start my review of Croatia with a crowning glory—a gem, a jewel, a masterpiece, the pearl of the Adriatic Sea: the old city of Dubrovnik. I will not lie to you, Dear Reader: Even with its large—nay, huge—numbers of tourists crowding its narrow streets, and even if it is the one place every tour bus, cruise ship, or checklist-traveler will visit, we absolutely LOVED Dubrovnik. Visiting Dubrovnik with a Dog is also possible because it is very pet friendly!
I think the fact that we were staying inside the old walls (more on our fabulous apartment rental in a later post) was the key to our love affair with Dubrovnik. Why? Simply put, when the hoards of tourists who arrived in the morning by tour buses began to leave the city at the end of the afternoon, we had the town to ourselves. Early in the morning (before the tourists arrived, as we discovered on our photo shoot) and later in the evening, the town was ours. All of it. With its white marble streets and high white stone walls, the city would sigh with a slower pace. Its quaint restaurants, cafés, and bars all took on a more relaxed vibe. So too did the excellent people and fishermen who we watched at the marina, while enjoying a scoop of delicious gelato. (Italy is, after all, only across the way.)
The first thing you and your canine companion need to do once you’ve settled in is walk the top of the Dubrovnik walls. Be prepared though: there are, literally, thousands of steps. Really. The wall alone has 1080 steps and not all of them evenly spaced either. I was allowed off leash for most of the walk but was scooped up when, at times, instead of a sturdy wall, a railing would be in its place. I was small enough to just keep going under the bottom railing so … YIKES! Glad the bipeds keep an eye on these things.
The wall is a fantastic way to get a good sense of Dubrovnik. With a bird’s eye view, we got a perfect map in our heads. We knew, then, where what was. In addition, walking along the city walls allows you to get a peek into areas that are not open to the public, such as private gardens. Best views ever! Our bird’s eye view also showed us that we were going to have lots and lots of fun getting lost in the small, winding, stair-filled streets! And a sunset from up on the wall is … well, stellar.
When walking the walls, do not forget to go to Fort Lovrijenac, just outside the city walls, outside Pile gate. The fort is included in your city wall ticket … as we learned when we failed to keep our ticket stub and had to re-pay for the entry (you can use the same ticket a day later). Grrr. And the fort is where you will get your money shot of Dubrovnik. It is also where the Game of Thrones footage involving the Lannisters court was predominantly filmed, should you be into that TV series. (Mom is!)
When you walk the walls, you’ll see that the old town is bowl shaped. Do you know what that means, Dear Reader? Steps. Lots and lots of steps. In addition to the steps in the wall itself, the old town has a whopping 5433 steps. This is not a friendly location for people or dogs with physical limitations. If your dog is a senior or has some mobility issues, please keep this in mind. With all those stairs, Dubrovnik is not really stroller-friendly either. You can visit the main “Stradun” (or Placa) in the center of town, and many of the notable sites are on the Stradun. But if you want to see ALL of Dubrovnik and not just its highlights, then the only real option for your challenged canine companion would be a bag, backpack, or sling bag of some sort. I just want you to be warned.
But me? I LOVE STAIRS! And I know the bipeds were laughing and saying that they were going to have buns of steel after our four-day stay. And no wonder, with 645 steps to and from our front door. Do that a few times a day in addition to climbing stairs for sightseeing and, yeah, the bipeds were right! I think I lost a full half pound during those few days. And I loved every moment of it. I was off-leash, picked up only if crowds got crazy, and free as a bird. I popped my head in and out of several restaurants and no one cared. Shopkeepers loved me as well. (Well, there were a few exceptions, and they simply did not get our business.) The pharmacist had no issue with me walking in; I even went behind the desk to say hello. I was not allowed inside any of the museums, but one of them gave us a quick wink and waved us in anyway. It seemed that on the whole, I was most welcome.
After walking the wall, I recommend walking up and down both sides of the Stradun, the main open area of town. It’s the main business street of the old city and the place for festivals and parades. This smooth limestone path was originally a canal separating Old Ragusa (the old town) from the mainland. The shallow channel was filled with earth at the end of the 11th century, joining the two settlements. We overheard a tour guide or two tell the story. What fun!
The Stradun connects the two gates to the town: the Pile and the Ploče. There is a concentration of important sites on and just off the Stradun, and lots of narrow side streets radiate up and out of the Stradun. The side streets intersect with cobbled streets that are packed with religious sites, historic architecture, shops, restaurants, a few courtyards, and even some residences. This is a great walking tour and I invite you to join me as I do a quick recap.
I shall start our tour just outside the wall with Brsalje Square. (This is also where you will find the tourist office.) There’s a lot to see, so I’ll take you on the first part of the tour this week, leave you relaxing in a lovely garden, and meet you back there next week to finish the tour.
1. Brsalje Square
The square is just outside of the old town. This is where the buses and cars will drop you off. It is also a great place to rendezvous or get tickets for any tours (kayak, themed walking tours, etc.) and other activities. In the square, walk away from the street, past the pretty fountain, toward the low balustrade. On the left, you’ll see the 16th-century Bokar fortress. To the right, you’ll have an unobstructed view of the sea and Fort Lovrijenac. (This is the fort I told you is included in your city wall tour ticket.)
Lovrijenac is built on a high, rocky peninsula that juts into the sea. It’s Dubrovnik’s oldest defensive structure. These days, during the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, the fort is used as a theater for Shakespearean productions and other performances.
You can either go up to the fort or just turn back and go toward the main gate.
2. Pile Gate
This is the busiest of the old city entrances. It’s actually two gates, not one, and includes a modest wooden drawbridge that once was pulled up each night to protect the city. Above the opening of the 16th-century outer gate, carved directly into the stone, is a statue of St. Blaise, Dubrovnik’s spiritual protector. There is another statue of the city’s patron (by Ivan Meštrović) inside the even older 15th-century inner gate.
(You may want to pick-up your pup as you navigate through here. It’s a bit of a bottleneck for tourists and, thus, crowded. Also note that the marble floors are a little slippery for leather-soled sandals.)
During the summer, young men dressed in period costume pose as guards in front of the gate. They conjur up the atmosphere as it would have been during the centuries when Dubrovnik was an independent republic. For a donation, the guards will happily pose with you for a photo or selfie. It’s cheesy but hey, it’s also fun!
Once you step through the second gate, I encourage you to step to the side and take a moment to absorb it all. It’s pretty awe-inspiring. Oh, and the place to get your tickets to walk the walls is on the right. You’re welcome!
3. Onofrio’s Large Fountain and the Wall Walk Entrance
Once through the Pile gate, immediately on your left, you’ll see a steep stairway that leads up to the Minčeta Tower at the top of the wall. This is one of three access points to the second of four forts on the city walls. The Minčeta Tower faces toward the land.
On your right as you come through the gates is Onofrio’s Large Fountain. The fountain contains a tall concrete dome that was built in the Middle Ages to collect water flowing into the city along an aqueduct from the Dubrovnik River twelve kilometers (seven-and-a-half miles) away. The fountain was more ornate when it was completed in 1444, but the iron embellishments were destroyed in an earthquake in 1667. The fountain also supplied Dubrovnik with fresh water during the 1991-92 siege of the Balkan Wars.
4. Church of Our Saviour
Across from Onofrio’s Fountain is a tiny church built as a memorial to the victims of a 1520 earthquake. The church survived the 1667 quake that destroyed most of the city, so it became a symbol for perseverance, strength, and longevity. The bipeds did a quick handoff in order to visit the church’s interior. It’s very small church and only takes a moment to look around. Mass is not held there anymore; it is used today for concerts and exhibits.
5. The Franciscan Monastery and Museum
Next (on your left, next door to the Church of Our Saviour) is the ancient pharmacy. This was the building that had a “no dog” sign, but when we asked if I might go in if I stayed in my bag, the nice man at the ticket booth winked and let us in so long as I stayed out of site. Nice! And that’s how I got to see the old monastery. It’s a beautiful space. Peaceful too.
The monastery’s history really revolves around the pharmacy. It is said that the village gossips would hang out here, just to see if the pharmacist would “climb the ladder.” You see, the poisons were kept on the highest shelves, so if the pharmacist was climbing the ladder, he was going up to get a poison. When that happened, tongues would wag and the gossips would speculate who was going to “get it.” Apparently there would even be bets! Seems like a crazy time.
The old pharmacy itself is still there and still functioning as a pharmacy – the oldest one in Europe in fact. There was some beautiful art and a huge collection of relics. Also, although the entire place was rebuilt after the war, one mortar shell was left in a wall to show visitors the destruction the town suffered.
My favourite spot was the beautiful garden. I think that was the nicest area of the monastery. It was harmonious and peaceful. I wish I could have gotten out of my bag to enjoy it. Instead, I’ll leave you there to imagine it, contemplate the peace, and smell the blooms while we catch a bit of a rest. I’ll pick you up here next week to finish our tour.
In the meantime if you want to see … oh, about 160 photos (I know, right? CRAZY!) you can head over to my Facebook Album for Dubrovnik. Enjoy!