In the UK I’ve led – Northumberland (St Cuthbert’s wonderful Way, and Northumberland’s Heritage based at the amazing Battlesteads Hotel); and Europe was really inspiring and varied, but I love Dubrovnik. I’ve done this one three times, in three different seasons; September, New Year and May. All had their highlights.
In September the sea was still warm enough to swim and snorkel and the sun shone almost all week, though the cool “bora” wind came up on our return boat trip from the Elaphiti Islands. Some clients taught me a great new card game called yaniv, and we ate oysters in Ston where the city walls stretch up the mountain, and are apparently the second longest walls in the world after the Great Wall of China. I got hay fever in Cilipi and had to sleep off my antihistamine in a waterside wood in Cavtat, whilst the group explored that small but beautiful town. We all took photos of the strawberry trees.
For the New Year tour my partner Gary joined me – his first ever Ramblers Worldwide Holiday, and he can’t wait for another one in 2010. Most of the group went into the old town for New Year’s night on the free buses. Everywhere was lit up even before the fireworks, and it was great to be among the very few tourists. On New Year’s Day, in between exploring the town, we joined the locals dancing waltzes to an orchestra in the square. Again the sun shone, and in the evenings we often retired to the Belfast bar near the supermarket for a few cheap drinks with some friendly locals. We discovered a shrine to Mithras off the Cilipi-Cavtat walk.
Could the May tour be as good? Indeed it was. With a wonderful group again, several of whom enjoyed the outdoor pool at the Grand Hotel Park after days of walking and before the great buffet dinners. The wild flowers were stunning, especially the orchids.
Not to be missed in Dubrovnik itself? The city walls of course; the shell holes from the 1992 Homeland War and the museum of that war on top of Srd hill above the town; the second oldest synagogue in Europe; the Franciscan monastery; the nuns gardening at Dance convent below the Austrian Park; the Onofrio fountain, built in the fifteenth century along with aquaducts bringing water to the town from the source of Riyecka Dubrovnacka where it emerges from the limestone hills; and the views of that area from the path above it.
Then there’s Lokrum, the island cursed by the Benedictines when they were driven from there by Napoleon’s authorities, and whose owners suffered bad luck for centuries. The arboretum at Trsteno contains another aquaduct feeding Neptune’s grotto, and the seats where the local councillors used to meet – with their scribe turned away from them so that his notes of their discussions could be anonymous – not to mention the largest plane trees I’ve ever seen.
As well as its walls, Ston has extensive salt pans with varied birdlife and a lovely walk between them and the sea. Inspired by a day trip done by three of the January group, I hired a car for three days at the end of the tour and drove up to Sarajevo and Mostar. In November I led the Montenegro tour – so my exploration of the Balkans continues.