Road to Dubrovnik 03/2014 / by natalja sundseth

The routes pictured vary slightly from the accidental detours we ended up on along the way.

The routes pictured vary slightly from the accidental detours we ended up on along the way.

In March 2014, my father took me on what will likely be the most epic road trip (or trip of any kind) as long as I live. We passed through 16 countries in 15 days, much of which was seen by car. On this particular leg of the trip, we landed around 9am in Belgrade, Serbia from Istanbul, Turkey. The GPS we purchased with our rental car was faulty, and my phone was completely unable to obtain any data, so I got to put my pre-internet skills to the test by navigating with an actual road map and compass. The drive from Belgrade to Dubrovnik was estimated to be about 8.5 hours, but due to a few mixups, and some bouts of heavy fog on twisty roads, it ended up being closer to 11. Most of the drive was through steep green mountainsides overlooking precious little farm towns. There were very little options to stop for food or restroom breaks. We passed through the small and slightly rundown town of Sarajevo and I was surprised to learn it was actually the host of the 1984 Olympic Winter Games. I suppose Bosnia & Herzegovina has been through quite a bit since then, though, so all judgment is withheld. I'll probably never revisit Bosnia & Herzegovina, so I enjoyed the scenery, and of course I enjoyed uninterrupted lengthy conversation with my dad. He is an avid reader of nonfiction, particularly history and geography, which made our ample time in the car even more interesting. 

Somewhere in the hills and valleys between Belgrade, Serbia and Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Somewhere in the hills and valleys between Belgrade, Serbia and Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Somewhere near Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Somewhere near Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

After driving what felt like an eternity through Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and the winding Dalmatian Coast, we came around yet another sharp switchback turn that revealed a glittering valley below us. Sparkles dancing off the reflection of the nearly still black water confirmed that we were getting close. It was a lot to take in, even in the dark. I completely understand why this stretch along the Croatian coast is known as one of the most beautiful highway drives in Europe. My awe came to a halt as we exited the highway and began our descent into the labyrinth that is Dubrovnik.

The geography of the country borders was really strange and often lateral. We ended up crossing in and out of Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Croatia several times on this drive.

The geography of the country borders was really strange and often lateral. We ended up crossing in and out of Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Croatia several times on this drive.

The layout of this town is by far the most confusing I have ever seen or heard of. The only pattern is inconsistency, as these ancient roads go in all directions, up and down the cliffside. A functioning GPS would have certainly come in handy, although I am certain it still would have taken a few tries to get there. Despite being able to see our hotel the entire time, it took us over an hour to find the nondescript road that lead to the Rixos resort. It would take nearly half that long to find it every other time we had to come back to it.

Our spectacular view from the balcony at the Rixos Libertas Hotel.

Our spectacular view from the balcony at the Rixos Libertas Hotel.

The Rixos resort was such a big place that it reminded me of a hotel on the Vegas strip, minus the wafting cigarette smoke and incessant clinking of slot machines. Positioned along the edge of the water, we were lucky enough to get a room with a view. Our spacious balcony patio overlooked the coast of the Adriatic Sea, in all of its vividly-hued glory. The sky was often overcast during our stay, yet still somehow appeared piercingly bright with a few fleeting wispy clouds. The ocean was a deep peacock blue that can only be seen around this part of the world, rippling with tiny waves towards the rocky shore’s evergreen trees. The typical white Mediterranean houses with their orange tiled roofs decorated the hillside, contrasting brilliantly with the surrounding nature. This view was nothing short of postcard material, and one of the most stunning landscapes I've seen in person.

A closer view of the previous photo, balcony view.

A closer view of the previous photo, balcony view.

A few miles away on the other side of town, opposite most of the resorts and hotels, is the main attraction of Old Town Dubrovnik. The rustic charm of lantern lit cobblestone corridors, Baroque style churches, and communal water fountains all contribute to an authentic old world ambience. Most of the fountains are still in service today, running through aqueducts that date back to the 15th century. You can take a stroll along the city walls, following the trail or taking your own route. While taking in the quaint historic architecture, you can choose from a number of cafes and restaurants around the town squares.

The Citadel in Old Town.

The Citadel in Old Town.

The center of the town square, one of several fountains of this style.

The center of the town square, one of several fountains of this style.

Narrow brick alleys.

Narrow brick alleys.

Dining al fresco in the town square.

Dining al fresco in the town square.

Most of this city was built around the 14th and 15th centuries. The styles of architecture are very indicative of the different influences this city has seen. Both the Moors and Byzantines have infiltrated Dubrovnik, due to it's location across the water from Italy, and it shows. There is some Roman flavor along with a lot of Venetian Gothic detail, combined with the Mediterranean style tiling. Unlike Venice, I also noticed there was almost no litter and the ancient crumbling buildings didn't seem to actually be crumbling. Dubrovnik is very well-kept, despite suffering repeated attack from Serbian military during the civil war for Croatia's independence from 1991 to 1995.

Details in the molding and archways.

Details in the molding and archways.

I'm a sucker for Venetian Gothic windows.

I'm a sucker for Venetian Gothic windows.

I liked the contrast of this multicolored lens flare against the drab weathered stone architecture.

I liked the contrast of this multicolored lens flare against the drab weathered stone architecture.

We didn't feel up to checking out a museum, and parking was too much of a nightmare to bother finding the cable car that takes you up the mountain to overlook the ocean. (It turns out that this is a must-do in Dubrovnik, so don't make the same mistake I did.) We did sit on a restaurant balcony overlooking the ocean to have a drink and take in the views, then took a walk around the harbor and fed some fish. There weren't lines to wait in or crowds of gawking tour groups to bump into, but I imagine it is a zoo in the summertime. I enjoyed the luxury of spending some relaxing time with my father in this peaceful environment.

Italy in the distance.

Italy in the distance.

Can't get enough of those Miami Dolphins colors; the deep turquoise water and the bright orange roofing.

Can't get enough of those Miami Dolphins colors; the deep turquoise water and the bright orange roofing.

We stopped into the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola to snap a few photos. While on the smaller side, this was still a wonderful sight to see. Between the colored marble pillars and the ornate Baroque style frescoes, all of the aesthetics kept your eyes moving around. It was perfect for an Art History nerd like myself.

Looking up in St. Ignatius of Loyola, a Jesuit church.

Looking up in St. Ignatius of Loyola, a Jesuit church.

The main altar in St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The main altar in St. Ignatius of Loyola.

One of many cute archways inside of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

One of many cute archways inside of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The Croatian people were nice, the food was good, and the scenery was impeccable. I have zero complaints about my 48 hours there. I would absolutely recommend it to fellow travelers, however, with so much of the world left to explore, I'm not sure that I will ever return to Dubrovnik. I'd like to visit Zagreb, and see some more of the remnants of Medieval Europe that Croatia has to offer. 

Just beyond the limits of Old Town, headed East.

Just beyond the limits of Old Town, headed East.

As with most of the stops on our trip, particularly those reached by car, our time in Dubrovnik was not enough. After a short two nights, and two incredible breakfast buffet spreads later, we were back on that beautiful motorway between the bluffs and the sea, making our winding way towards Montenegro.