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I Agree With Lord Byron: Dubrovnik is a Gem

Dubrovnik is beloved by Byron and 2014 tourists too
Dubrovnik is beloved by Byron and 2014 tourists too
Timothy Leland

DUBROVNIK, Croatia -- Lord Byron called Dubrovnik the "Pearl of the Adriatic.'

Walking the City Walls of Dubrovnik's Old Town
Timothy Leland

Now that I've spent some quality time in this town, I have to agree.Perched over the Adriatic Sea like a diamond necklace on the chest of a princess, this town loves to show off its views, its climate, its provenance and its people.

We got off our Adriatic Odyssey cruise ship after thanking Variety Cruises and their go-between, AdventureSmith Explorations, to spend more time on land in Dubrovnik, and the first thing we did was the first thing that most visitors do here: we walked around the walls of the Old City. Called the "world's second most attractive museum in the open air" by the guidebooks, the UNESCO World Heritage walls are about a mile around and encompass five forts and 16 towers and bastions along the way. It takes about 45 minutes to walk the mile, although age and a desire to photograph the scene from above the city every few feet can take it up to more than an hour.

Every time you turn a corner there's a more spectacular view, of the sea, the islands around the town, the red tile roofs of the Old City, private gardens and patios inside the walls, lazing cats, flower boxes and ancient stone architecture.

Dubrovnik is a vertical city. It climbs up the side of a mountain from the ocean, and except for the main street, all the side streets are basically stone stairways. Dubrovnians are climbers; they have to be in order to live in this town. To get to your hotel or bed and breakfast, you must be prepared to walk up or down, depending on where you started. The same holds true of the City Walls. They're not one level. There are so many up and down staircases along the walls that walking them feels like hiking a mini Cinque Terre, so prepare yourself with stretches and climbs before you get to town, if you want to really enjoy the place. And I wouldn't advise a trip to Dubrovnik if you have trouble climbing stairs or ever had plantar faciatis.

I take that last comment back; I had plantar faciatis after walking the Cinque Terre, but I wouldn't have missed either it or Dubrovnik, regardless.

If you do not like heat I give you another warning: temperatures have been in the high 80 degrees during our entire stay in Dubrovnik here in early June. Locals warn that August is even hotter. People on the street are stripped down to minimalist clothing. Some just throw a T-shirt over their bathing suits. Dress is very casual and geared to keeping cool. Hats and sunglasses are necessities. For the first time in my life, I have put up an umbrella -- all day every day -- as protection from sun, not rain.

The heat, and the perfect temperature of the Adriatic, are probably reasons why Dubrovnians all seem to be good swimmers. At any time of day or night, you can look out at the sea and find swimmers happily paddling across a calm bay or heading out to an island half a mile away doing a slow, relaxed crawl.

We took the cable car up yet another mountainside just outside the city walls to the 1,354-foot-high Mount Srd for an even more stunning view of the city from above, many of the surrounding islands, and even the next country, Montenegro.

Also up top is Fort Imperial, which played a major part in the 1991 Croatian War of Independence. Inside the fort is a museum containing pictures, movies and articles from that war, which caused major destruction to the town. (Dubrovnik has been carefully and sensitvely restored since).

Most of the museums and churches and palaces of Dubrovnik are within the old walls, which means you can walk easily to all of them. We wandered just a few steps from our hotel to reach the Franciscan Monastery, with the world's third oldest pharmacy, begun in 1317 and the only one in continuous existence, still providing unguents and medications 697 years later. Tomorrow we'll walk about the same number of steps the other way to the Dominican Monastery, which holds among its treasures an original Titian painting.

If pictures of Dubrovnik are suddenly looking familiar to you, it may be because HBO used the city and surroundings as the location for the filming of the hit series "Game of Thrones." For fans, Dubrovnik has become the "King's Landing," and tours now lead visitors around to all of the spots that were used in the award-winning series. Maybe that's why there are more and more Americans here. The streets are already packed with tourists, and locals tell us that there will be even more visitors in August.

They'll have a wonderful time at the table if they enjoy the Mediterranean Diet. Local olive oils abound; so does fish caught just outside the Old Port. We had a delicious dinner at Porto, a restaurant specializing in local seafood. The meal included Porto's third-generation family recipe for Adriatic salad, consisting of chilled shrimp, avocado, melon and wild rice in a lemony cream sauce -- excellent. I must try to beg the recipe from them when we return for another dinner tomorrow.

Last night we took a local bus to Hotel More, yet another structure perched seemingly precariously on a cliff over the sea, with a bar snuggled into a real cave on the bottom level, and had the best sea bass and wok-cooked vegetables we've ever tasted as we looked out over a couple swimming below with their German Shepherd: the Dubrovnik version of Cocktail Hour.

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