If you’re traveling from north to south in Croatia, your last stop might be Dubrovnik. Mine was. And after two weeks of crystalline Adriatic seawater and minimal cruise crowds, Dubrovnik shocked me. Yes, the walls are beautifully preserved. Yes, it has a historic and aesthetic Old Town. But the place is crammed with tourists. If you’re looking for clean beaches, reasonable accommodation, or even elbow room while walking around, Dubrovnik might disappoint you.
However, I am not writing this to tell you not to go. I am here to tell you where to go when you’re there. Because it is hard to not go, even people who don’t plan to go back would find it difficult discouraging you to visit at least once. And when you run, sweaty and panicky, away from the Old Town crowds there are some amazing day trips to take. Here are the two I recommend, one to a gorgeous and haunting beach and one to a wonder-filled arboretum.
Dubrovnik Day Trip #1: Kupari Beach
Formerly the resort area for the Yugoslav People’s Army, this stunning beach (some guide books list it as one of Croatia’s most beautiful) has clear, uncrowded waters and a shocking backdrop. A bombed out high-rise resort cluster encircles Kupari Beach. Inside the destroyed luxury hotels, ventilation ducts twist out of the ceilings and stairways crumble dangerously. Glass no longer fills window frames, balconies sag ominously, and graffiti artists have helped themselves to free wall space. Along with Dubrovnik, the breakup of Yugoslavia scarred Kupari. But unlike Dubrovnik, Kupari did not recover.
In 1991, war decimated this picturesque stretch of coastline, turning it from vacation to vacant spot. More than twenty years later, it is hard to distinguish between the initial destruction and subsequent looting and trashing. There was one functioning beach bar when I visited in August 2013. The bartender told me that she didn’t want to talk about the beach’s history.
“People around here don’t like to talk about it,” she said. “And I don’t want to talk about it.”
I saw one memorial stone for a 23-year-old soldier who died, presumably at Kupari, on October 21, 1991. There are charred tree trunks, disintegrating walking paths, and gaping elevator shafts. No one came back to restore or knock down the ruins.
If you’re going to explore, wear thick soles and be very careful. My day at Kupari Beach reminded me of the recency of Croatia’s independence and the violence with which it was won. As I mentioned, the beach itself is of outstanding quality and most visitors were there for the sea, not the ruins.
To view an excellent photo tour of Kupari, for which two photographers ventured much further into the hotels than I trusted my flip flops to safely take me, check out this link. And here’s a quick and dirty history of the Kupari’s decimation on another blog.
Whatever your motivation, to relax on the beach, walk through a living museum, or view ecological change brought about by war (side interest of mine), you won’t be disappointed by carving out an afternoon to visit Kupari.
- Where: Kupari Beach, six miles south of Dubrovnik along the coastline
- How to get there: I took a public bus, it was cheap and fairly frequent. You could easily drive there if you have a car.
- Cost: There is no entry fee.
Dubrovnik Day Trip #2: Trsteno Arboretum
Have you ever picked a bay leaf fresh from the tree, ripped it in half and held it to your nose to inhale savory aromatic bliss? If not, the opportunity to do so is one of several reasons you should visit Trsteno Arboretum.
Planted in the 15th century by a noble Croatian family, now maintained by the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Trsteno Arboretum is part English-style garden, part botanical catalog, and part meandering sea-facing property. The map I received when I paid my entry fee was great for exploring the structured garden part. The other bit I found on my own, after leaving the arboretum and walking down to the beach, which is another place you MUST visit when you go to Trsteno.
- Tranquillity. It is quiet, green, soft, and peaceful at Trsteno. Even the security guard is silent.
- Beauty. The sculpted front garden, the glowing bamboo grove, the mossy palm oasis (pictured above), are treasures. And you get to discover them one by one as you wander the arboretum paths.
- Horticulture. With a wide range of labeled plants, a curious observer will have plenty to devour.
- Vendors with homemade products. I bought a jar of tea from a woman who had grown all of the herbs and fruits in the tea mix in her garden less than a mile away. She had oils, teas, fruit preserves, perfect for sharing a taste of Croatia with people back home. Everything was hand labeled.
This is the other reason to visit Trsteno:
The coast is rocky and breathtaking. See that flat gray patch in the photo’s bottom right? Those patches dot the length of Trsteno’s coast, giving sunbathers, picnickers, and swimmers a dreamy little landing pad. You can walk down to the sea from the arboretum. I found a back entrance to the arboretum once I was down there and walked up to public bus stop that way.
- Where: Trsteno, 12 beautiful miles north of Dubrovnik along the coastline
- How to get there: I took a public bus, it was cheap and easy. You could easily drive there from Dubrovnik if you have a car.
- Cost: Check here for arboretum hours and cost.