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Travel & Holidays in later life


Fortified walls guard the harbour at DubrovnikAt the southern end of the Dalmatian coast are the holiday islands and resorts of the Dubrovnik region, which ranks next in popularity after the resorts of Istria in the north. Reg Butler investigated prices and attractions during a short visit.

Package tour prices are higher than in the northern resorts of Croatia. But the big bonus is Dubrovnik itself, which rates among Europe's top ten sightseeing cities, perfectly preserved within its two-mile circuit of fortified walls. 

I wanted to see how this Croatian city museum-piece had weathered the break-up of former Yugoslavia. It gave a chance of checking how tourism had survived compared with my previous visits when Tito still reigned. 

If you're hazy about the map's current shape, Croatia sprawls across much of northern former Yugoslavia, and reaches the Hungarian border.

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Tour operators offer wide choice of one-week and two-week packages and twin-centre deals to resorts all along the Dalmatian coast. 

No visa needed for UK passports. The local currency is kunas easily changed on arrival at a better rate. Don't buy kunas in Britain. 

Food prices are about the same or slightly less than the European average.  Drink prices for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are slightly higher than average. 

Croatia's main tourist season runs from April till October. In July-August, Dubrovnik is famed for a Summer Festival of classical concerts, opera and ballet. 

More information: Croatian National Tourist Office, Lanchesters 162-164 Fulham Palace Road, London W6 9ER. Tel: 020-8563 7979. E-mail:     

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But Croatia is also that narrow 600-mile strip of Adriatic coastline, sprinkled with over 1,000 islands. That's all the way down to 25 miles south of Dubrovnik, where Montenegro begins.

The Croatian coastline hosted 5 million holidaymakers in 1990, followed by a plunge to zero when bullets started flying. Finally, after several years of gunfire, in 1995 Britain's Foreign Office declared the entire Adriatic region was completely safe. Istria, in the north, had been cleared in 1992. But it can take a long time before the all-clear message works through to holidaymakers.

Nowadays the Croatian coast is calm and relaxed and holidaymaker numbers are well beyond the 1990 level, at around 11 million.

Croatia is a completelyFolk dancing is in full swing again  independent and separate country, with its own government and a firm currency. There's no problem in converting sterling. Local prices for food and drinlk are on a par with European prices, although local produce is cheaper than imports. Local wines and spirits are cheaper than airport prices.

The airport is only a 20-minute drive from Dubrovnik, along a beautiful coastal road past the resort of Cavtat. Frequent bus and boat services link the two resorts. The road is lined with cypress and pine trees, oleanders, and wild shrub up the limestone hillsides.

Guided tours on foot start at the Pile Gate, main entrance to the ancient fortified city. Rated as a World Heritage Site, Dubrovnik is one of Europe's most perfect medieval walled cities. The dramatic ring of massive city walls was built between the 12th and 17th centuries. 

As a fiercely independent trading republic, the city - called Ragusa until 1918 - rivalled the wealth of Venice. Rich merchants built housing that would stand forever.

Today the walls keep out all traffic, except for service vehicles. A walk around the ramparts takes an hour, with great views the whole way.

Inside the fortifications, the ancient streets are laid out on a herringbone pattern. The main street, called Placa or Stradun, is a wide backbone of polished limestone pavement, lined with stately 17th-century shops and housing. Left and right, narrow alleys climb steeply to the city battlements or reach down to the sea walls.

The fortified Pile Gate at the city entranceThe tail end of the backbone is Pile Gate, reached over a former moat by a bridge with a fortress each end. In former times, the Gate was locked at 6 p.m., and the keys given to the Rector - the elected Mayor - of the Republic of Ragusa for safe keeping until 6 next morning. During that time, nobody could enter or leave the city.

Straight up Placa leads along the backbone to the headquarters of power and authority, where the big decisions were made, based around Luza Square. On one side is the 16th-century Sponza Palace, which has functioned as customs-house, mint, treasury and elite social centre. 

Adjacent is the Belfry - the eyes of the city - looking over the city and out to sea. Next door is the Town Hall, with a spacious cafe-restaurant on the ground floor, offering regular music programmes. 

Most stately of all is the Rector's Palace alongside, built in 15th century when an earlier castle-palace blew itself up when the gunpowder magazine caught fire. 

Behind these buildings is the port itself, where fishing-boats and cruise-boats are anchored beneath the fortress walls.

After morning sightseeing and lunch, even on a short day-trip from other resorts there's still ample scope for exploring the city and relaxing in outdoor cafes. There's no trace of damage done to the city in the early 90s. Recovery and redecoration is long since complete.

Most hotels have been refitted. The luxury Hotel Excelsior, just outside the city walls, reopened in 1998 after a 10m renovation.

The waterfront at Cavtat Cavtat - a 12-mile bus or boat trip from Dubrovnik - is a charming fishing village. Palms decorate the seafront, and orange and lemon trees flourish in house gardens up the side streets. Like most of the Dalmatian coast, sea bathing is from pebble beaches, and from rocks and concrete ledges.

Cavtat offers another shining example of reconstruction. The resort's leading Hotel Croatia was occupied by Serb troops and then abandoned. A refit costing 15m restored the hotel to de luxe status, complete with a rooftop swimming pool. 


Consider these alternative Balkan destinations

ISTRIA makes a come-back

MACEDONIA Mini Switzerland of the Balkans

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Visible Cities: Dubrovnik - An excellent pocket guide for anyone staying a week in the region, and wanting to explore the city riches in greater depth. Five walking itineraries open up treasures which would otherwise be unseen by the casual visitor. 

Croatia (Bradt Travel Guides S.) by Piewrs Letcher - an extremely well-written book which captures the author's enthusiasm for the dramatic coast. Best of the bunch!

Insight Guide: Croatia - Surveys the whole of Croatia, including inland sites, mountains, the coast and the islands. Buy this one if you are planning to return to Croatia to visit the points of sightseeing interest which you couldn't manage the first time. Read it before you travel, to capture a full understanding of the pleasures to come.

Croatia (Rough Guide Map) - Ideal for the individual traveller, whether by car or public transport, showing all details of the intricate coastline and inland.

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