The Game of Thrones getaway: 48 hours in Dubrovnik

A medieval walled city, award-winning wine, amazing Italian food and Game of Thrones settings - hello, real-life Red Keep...Dubrovnik is pure magic for a winter getaway weekend

Winter is coming…well, it’s already here, let’s face it. If you’re looking for an escape somewhere different and historic but quick and easy to get to, Dubrovnik and its medieval Old City – used as the setting for Game of Thrones - fits the bill perfectly. The gem in Croatia’s crown, it’s a fascinating melting pot due to its location.

A sea port looking out over the Adriatic, the region is part Mediterranean, but also part of the Balkans, and Catholic – yet surrounded by Islamic and Orthodox neighbours. Its rich history and tiny size make Dubrovnik the ideal weekend getaway. For foodies, it’s got the added draw of a fascinating cuisine that melds Italian with other influences, and a growing reputation on the international wine scene as producer of some award-winning varieties.

Dubrovnik

The main area to explore is the UNESCO-protected medieval walled Old City, with its gothic fortresses and vine-filled alleyways, lined with shops and restaurants. For the most spectacular sea views, do the walk around the fortified walls – it takes around an hour and a half. Another must-do is the cable car ride that takes you up to the top of Srd Mountain, giving spectacular views of the Adriatic and nearby islands including the famous Lokrum. The 3-minute ride leaves from just outside the eastern entrance of the city walls.

Dubrovnik

Enter the Old City through the Pile Gate, and lose an afternoon wandering the limestone streets and taking in the beautiful Baroque and Gothic architecture, like the Church of St Blaise (below) – Dubrovnik’s patron saint. In fact, St Blaise pops up everywhere you look, carved into the stonework of buildings and on signs and street corners.

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Game of Thrones locations
Have an Emilia Clarke Daenerys moment and marvel at the Game of Thrones locations used as the Red Keep, Qarth, Blackwater Bay and other areas of Kings Landing where famous scenes like the uprising and the walk of shame took place. As the Old City is small and enclosed, it’s easy enough to take your own tour with a map – GoT-themed souvenir and map shops are on every corner – or, for the true GoT obsessive, book a guided one (there are plenty of options to be found amongst the kiosks just outside Pile Gate).

History a-go-go
Even if you’re no history buff, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the eventful history of the city. Because of its position on the sea, it was the subject of a medieval power struggle between Byzantium and nearby Venice – it was ruled by both, until breaking free and becoming a republic in 1358. For centuries, Dubrovnik was a separate entity to the rest of Croatia, and carried on a rivalrous ‘frenemy’ relationship with Venice. The influence of the Venetian nobility who had ruled it earlier are everywhere in the baroque buildings and ornate churches of the Old City.

Dubrovnik

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It’s also been ruled by Austria, and has survived and risen again in the face of three huge disasters. An earthquake in the 17th century all but destroyed the city, followed by a fire that obliterated many landmarks. During the Serbian-Croat wars of the 1990s, Dubrovnik was attacked from all sides and was nearly devastated again – today, you can spot bullet holes in the walls of some of the historic buildings and walls. Amazingly, the damage has been repaired and you’d barely know its tumultuous past from strolling the cobbled streets. Key sights to check out include one of the oldest medieval pharmacies in Europe, entered through stunning cloisters (below). It’s now a museum, displaying ancient botanical recipe books and apothecary equipment, and there’s a modern-day pharmacy on the same site, offering cult bestselling creams made using local plants.

Dubrovnik

Barbara Vallance/Getty Images

Great food and wine
The food is a delicious melange of fresh local seafood, Italian dishes like pasta, risotto and gelato, and recipes that have their roots in Austrian cuisine. There’s plentiful use of local ingredients – olive oil and the local oranges that grow everywhere. Must-try dishes include black squid ink risotto, oysters from the nearby breeding ground of Ston, and seafood like stuffed calamari and octopus salad. Rosata – a crème caramel type pudding – is the dessert of dreams (below)

Dubrovnik

Photo credit: William Torillo

Croatia is also becoming increasingly famous for wine, with several award-winning varieties that use the native Malvasia grape, and Plavac, a famous red wine made using grapes grown along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia.

Dubrovnik

Photo credit: William Torillo

One of the highlights of our weekend was a Sights and Bites tour, an ideal combination of eating and then walking off each course. Strolling the city at dusk, we visited a variety of restaurants to try a course in each, each paired with lip-smacking local wines – and all while being regaled with a colourful local take on the area’s history from our fabulous guide.

Dubrovnik

Photo credit: William Torillo

One of my favourite take-homes from the tour: as Dubrovnik has never had its own army, in times past the city would offer gifts in exchange for protection. Malvasia wine was offered to the Ottomans, who were in theory teetotal. However, it was apparently too delicious for them to turn down and so they accepted and drank the Malvasia anyway – under the guise of ‘medicinal purposes’…

Fab souvenir shopping
There are lots of delightful small boutiques and shops offering a wide variety of gifts to take home. Pick up local olive oil, bath products and liquors made from local ingredients. Bags of ‘arancini’, a local sweet delicacy of candied orange and lemon peel, make ideal presents. The local filigree jewellery is also exquisite – I treated myself to a large, intricate gold sun-shaped ring and several silver filigree brooches and pendants. Oops…

Dubrovnik

Luxurious hotels
We stayed at the 5-star Valamar Collection Dubrovnik President Hotel, a few minutes’ drive from the Old City, located at the tip of the green Babin kuk peninsula, looking out over the sea.  Palatially large, it’s set into the hillside overlooking the sea with glass walls that allow spectacular views at every level.

Dubrovnik

Photo credit: Valamar Collection Dubrovnik President Hotel

There’s a beautiful beach accessible from the hotel (below), windswept and romantic in winter, where we enjoyed several wannabe Daenerys moments – glasses of local wine in hand – with the waves crashing against the rocks. The beach has its own diving centre, and the hotel also offers water sports if you’re feeling active.

Dubrovnik

Photo credit: Valamar Collection Dubrovnik President Hotel

There are outdoor and indoor swimming pools, a spa, gym, and several restaurants. There are buffet and bistro options for a casual lunch or dinner on the terrace (below) – the black cuttlefish risotto with mussels is to die for.

Dubrovnik

Photo credit: Valamar Collection Dubrovnik President Hotel

The more haute a la carte Miramare offers sumptuous takes on the local fresh fish – we had a splendid three course dinner of prawns, finely sliced sea bass, and mullet served with local greens. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, with bathrooms well-stocked with Rituals products.

Dubrovnik

Photo credit: Valamar Collection Dubrovnik President Hotel

Stay at the award-winning Valamar Collection Dubrovnik President Hotel from €64 per person in a double room with bed and breakfast. Visit www.valamar.com for guaranteed lowest online prices.

Book it now: Jet2holidays

Book package holidays to Valamar Collection Dubrovnik President Hotel from London Stansted with Indulgent Escapes from Jet2holidays from £899 per person based on 2 sharing.For more information visit https://www.jet2holidays.com/indulgent-escapes or call 0800 408 0778.

An ideal winter weekend getaway – I’m already planning my return….

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