After 5 gorgeous (but expensive!) days in Rome, we boarded our friendly EasyJet flight bound for oceanside Dubrovnik in southern Croatia. Arriving at sunset gave us a spectacular vista over the hills, islands, and ocean that embrace this historical town with its walled old quarter. The handy Atlas airport shuttle bus ($7.50 each/one way) dropped us at the main bus terminal after giving us a glimpse of the romantic old town lit up at night.
Our accommodation at Guesthouse Dada was a mere 100m away from the bus station and we were delighted to discover how clean and well laid out our apartment was. We shared a bathroom and kitchen with one other double room, and had use of the courtyard and outdoor seating area. We discovered that private letting of accommodation is very common in Dubrovnik (and across Croatia apparently), and were greeted by many people at the bus station offering us accommodation or “sobe/apartman”. We were happy that we had pre-booked our accommodation via booking.com, but it would have been possible to secure accommodation in a more informal fashion.
The first day of our 3-night/2-day stay in Dubrovnik was quite typical for us – we put on our running shoes and headed out the door to explore our surroundings. We ran from the bus station past the port and around the peninsula to Babin Kuk and Lapad on an oceanfront path (part road, gravel and dirt). More details on our running adventures coming soon!
After our morning run we set out on foot to find a beach and visit the famous old town. Dubrvonik has a number of “beach” options, ranging from pebbly, sandy inlets to rocky outcroppings with slabs of concrete for sunbathing. Most beaches are within walking distance of the old town, but there are also regular buses that run to various parts of town and beaches (cost: 12 Kuna at newsstand or 15 Kuna on the bus). On this outing we found two swimming areas (not really beaches in the typical sense!): one near Lapad next to a large hotel/casino complex and one called Dance Beach near Gradac Park. Both have gorgeous views of the ocean and its lovely blue green water. Dance Beach is more tranquil and a great spot to catch a gorgeous sunset.
Wedged between our two beach experiences was our visit to Dubrovnik‘s walled old town which is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Dating to the 7th Century, this spectacular site was truly delightful to explore. We wandered down the marbled main avenue and wound up and away along stepped side streets into the maze of the locally inhabited parts of the town. We also made our way to the outside the of walls and walked alongside the ocean and marina. Dubrovnik is one of the filming locations for the popular TV show Game of Thrones, and we can see why the producers picked this spot! It’s captivating, alluring, and authentic.
On our second day we decided to try another beach closer to the old town. Banje Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Dubrovnik, with its clear water and beautiful views of the old town and islands across the bay. The beach itself is quite pebbly with sandy spots and lots of rocks for lounging on. We got a good dose of Vitamin D while drinking ice cold Croatian beer, followed by cooling dips in the Adriatic. A very successful beach outing indeed!
Our initial idea for our time on the southern Dalmatian coast was to spend a few days in Dubrovnik followed by a few hops around the larger islands in the region. Due to the end of the summer season, we discovered that the frequency and ease of ferry travel was limited. This turned out to be a very happy circumstance!
Instead of moving around from island to island, we chose to visit the small and less populated island of Mljet, featuring Mljet National Park with a much quieter pace than some of the larger islands in the region. We travelled from Dubrovnik to Mljet with the G&V Ferry Line on the foot passenger-only catamaran. Tickets are purchased a half hour before departure at a cost of 60 Kuna one way per person. Once we arrived on the island, we knew that we’d find peace and tranquility in the natural beauty of the surroundings. And so we decided to stay on Mljet for 11 days, splitting our time between the main port of Sobra and the village of Polace.
The village of Sobra is a quiet place with few services and a very basic grocery market. Contrary to guidebooks suggesting it’s the centre of the island, Sobra has limited facilities and no public transport. Despite this, we decided to stay for three nights and enjoy the quiet surroundings. We stayed at Guesthouse Sobra in a room with a lovely view of the bay from the sunny terrace. We enjoyed the close access to a swimming/sunning spot and the company of our new Australian friend, Dennis. We ventured out one day for a 32km run to one end of the island and back, breaking up the distance half way to enjoy a well-earned cold beer and a dip in the enchanting blue water at Saplunara.
We moved on from Sobra by ferry to Polace, situated closer to the entrance of the national park to give us greater access to running terrain as well as better food supplies with two well-stocked grocery stores. We took a chance and decided not to pre-book accommodation since online options were limited and far more expensive than we expected. This turned out to be a terrific decision. We stepped off the ferry and encountered a number of locals waiting to offer their accommodation for rent. We agreed to view one of the apartments close to the ferry dock, and we were thrilled with the location, space, and price. We happily completed the necessary administration and settled in. This included completing the mandatory tourist accommodation cards that are stamped by local authorities. Kudos to Richard for his gut instinct to select our friendly landlord!
Our eight days in Polace were terrific. Set against the ruins of an ancient Roman palace, the village is situated within the national park, which makes up almost a third of the island. There are amazing trails, two salt water lakes, a restored monastery on an island within a lake and historic villages to explore. We spent most days running in the morning to see different parts of the park, and then relaxing around one of the two lakes in the afternoons. Aside from one day of rain, the weather was sunny, warm and humid – still cool enough for running but hot enough for lazing on rocks and swimming in our birthday suits!
Park entrance is 90 Kuna per person and is valid for the duration of your stay in the region. There are regular shuttle buses that transport visitors to Pristaniste, the main entrance and one of the launch points for the boat across the lake to the monastery. All bus and boat transportation is included in the entrance fee. Bike and kayak rentals are available, but we preferred to explore on foot. This was a very easy way to get around even when we weren’t running, as many trails and roads connect short distances within the park.
Our apartment was incredibly comfortable and clean, and perfectly located with an ocean view patio and close to the park entrance and grocery store. We really enjoyed the setting and pace of the village, and for the first time on this crazy journey, felt that we had time to meditate, read and write, in addition to our usual running and exploration activities. It was also great to visit at the end of the summer season with fewer tourists and boat traffic. We’re going to miss our island oasis on Mljet but are looking forward to exploring what else Croatia has to offer, starting with Split, the capital city of the Dalmatia region.