Cruising the Dubrovnik Riviera
The lure of the city of Dubrovnik is obvious to anyone traveling along the Croatian coast.
The shelling of the city in 1990s shocked the world, but it has bounced back vigorously from those dark and dangerous days. Replacing the honey-colored terracotta roofs with matching tiles was problematic, and today's visitor notices a patchwork of colors while walking around the city walls.. Shells struck almost 70 percent of the buildings in the old town -- all in all, there were over 300 direct hits -- and with the restoration completed, architects have turned their talents to fortifying the city's handsome structures.
Dubrovnik has regained most of its original grandeur, and the M/Y Monet allows its passengers enough time to explore the city with English speaking guides.
Comparisons with Venice are inevitable. In the Middle Ages, Dubrovnik's sophisticated diplomacy created a fully independent city-state that rivaled Venice's wealth and its vibrant maritime trade.
Today, tourists dine on lobster, freshly caught, attend symphony concerts under a brilliant blue sky or simply sip strong coffee at the local Starbucks, a sidewalk cafe, observing the non-stop colorful passing parade. The local public relations machine boasts that the sun shines over 2,500 hours a year (whatever that suggests), but Dubrovnik is an eye-opener even in inclement weather.
A few hotels are being constructed creating what is dubbed a "Dubrovnik Riviera." Fortunately, there are no mega-resorts of the Miami variety or sprawling tourist settlements, as there are on other parts of the Croatian coastline.
Thus, mass tourism has been discouraged for the moment and individual travel is so much more rewarding.
However, in the summer months, large cruise ships drop thousands of passengers into the city, and there is always a chance that in the years ahead, Dubrovnik may just take on the role of an Adriatic theme park. During this winter, the city fathers are paying attention to fortifying its structures to withstand the numerous earthquakes that have ripped through the area for centuries.
Just 10 years ago, a milder quake destroyed a number of homes, reminding the inhabitants of the precariousness of this fragile town of immense charm.
Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes, and a host of poets have been inspired by the Dalmatian coast, which lures visitors by the dozen each summer. One lyrical local axiom proclaims, "I know paradise now -- I know Hvar." Not unlike Dubrovnik, Hvar is a city devastated by the war.
Here, the entire area takes time out for its afternoon siesta. Hvar is a screen behind which the creatively poor and the wealthy can escape and be given their modicum of privacy.
There are no paparazzi, fans or autograph seekers. Film stars and tycoons arriving on their splendid yachts are given a wide berth and left to their own devices. It is the Dalmatian coast at its best and certainly more worthwhile during the off shoulder season.
For more information on Croatia, please visit www.croatia.hr