Adriatic Odyssey: A day in Dubrovnik, the “Pearl of the Adriatic”

Adriatic Sea Map
Adriatic Sea Map

DUBROVNIK, Croatia – There is a mass of tourists here in late June. Surprisingly, however, few of them are Americans.
That may be because today — more than two decades after the last bomb dropped in the Croatian War of Independence — there are still no direct flights from the United States to Dubrovnik.

It’s hard to get here. (One of the first Americans we met today after boarding our sail cruiser was still looking for her luggage three days after flying out of Atlanta and dealing with four different airlines.)

It may be hard, but it’s well worth the trouble. If Dubrovnik is any example, this Adriatic coastline is spectacular. My husband and I can attest to that after only one day here.

Dubrovnik, often referred to as “the Pearl of the Adriatic,” was bombed from October 1991 until May 1992. Shells and mortars rained down on homes, churches, hotels and palaces for weeks on end, with the result – among others — that the tourism industry in the Dubrovnik region came to a halt.

But in 1979, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage City and since the shelling stopped, Dubrovnik has meticulously rebuilt its High Renaissance and Gothic buildings. The 16th Century was called the Golden Age of Dubrovnik.

Arriving here the day before our three-masted ship is due to depart, we’ve found a gem of an ancient town that we will continue to explore after our cruise finishes eight days from now.

As we embarked on the S/C Panorama this afternoon for our first night on board, we were greeted by passengers from Germany, the UK, Australia, Canada — and a handful of Americans.

The Panorama is a relatively small sail cruiser, with a mere 25 cabins. As Cruise Co-ordinator Ninna Durinec told us at our introductory gathering, “we have no casinos and no entertainment and we’re proud of it. We want our passengers to be peaceful and relaxed. This boat can stop in small ports where the larger cruise ships cannot dock.” This suits passenger Ursula Gerlach of Berlin, who joined the ship earlier in the week. “I like this much better than the big cruise ships, where the people don’t behave,” she said at dinner. “The Panorama is convenient to board and get off at the ports, and I took a direct flight from Berlin to Corfu to get to the ship.”

Many Americans are not as familiar with the Adriatic coastline as they are with the Mediterranean — and we’re two of them. To the east across the water from Italy, our cruise will take us south from Dubrovnik along the Croatian coast to Montenegro, Albania and Greece. The literature from AdventureSmith Exploration describes the upcoming coastline as having the flavor and feel of the French or Mediterranean Rivieras. It is dotted with small pine-tree and cypress-filled islands, calm inlets perfect for swimming from off the boat, and tiny towns where we can take excursions to ancient olive groves, Venetian fortresses, 13th Century monasteries, Byzantine icons, and quiet beaches. We’ll be able to SCUBA dive if we wish, or snorkel, or, as our co-passenger Gerlach likes to do, read on the deck and enjoy the peace of the harbors where we dock and the company of our fellow travelers.

Tonight we stay in Dubrovnik. Tomorrow at 6 a.m. we head for Korkula. Captain George Chatzidakis says the crew will wake us up at five if we want to watch the sun rise over the waters of Dubrovnik.

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