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Destination Dalmatian Riviera:
Dubrovnik or Bust
(Dispatch #13)

Story and photos by Tom Weber

ferry boat headed for Orebic

t's an Edward Bulwer-Lytton kinda morning, not night – dark and stormy – as the intrepid "band of merry media," 18 travel writers and photographers invited by Insight Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its Bosnia and Dalmatian Riviera itinerary, batten down the hatches on our sleek motor coach while the strong Bora wind blows and heavy rain pelts our ferry boat, bobbing and weaving in the Adriatic, as it navigates away from the island of Korčula and heads to nearby Orebić on terra firma.

Orebic, Croatia

When I received my invite to board this eight-day Insight journey it read: "Experience the sun-drenched Dalmatian Riviera." Not this day, my friend. But, hey, nothing's perfect and a bit of inclement weather won't dampen our spirits as we cruise southward across the scenic Pelješac Peninsula via the historic and reconstructed Napoleon Road.

the Vukas Winery (Vinarija Vukas) in Ponikve

Covered in evergreen vegetation – Mediterranean plant life, fruit trees, olive groves and vineyards – this route, built by Emperor Bonaparte two centuries ago, today is one of Croatia's impressive wine roads as our business-class legroom coach comes to a full stop alongside Vinarija Vukas, the Vukas Winery, at the top of a hill in the village of Ponikve.

It's only 11:00 a.m., but we're up for a wine tasting. After all, we are the "band of merry media." Need I say more.

plaque on the main winery wall of the Vukas Winery

The plaque on the main winery wall tells it all, Doktor Vina (Doctor of Wine), as Dubvrako "Doc" Vukas, the co-owner of the 60+ year-old, family-run estate, wastes no time and quickly introduces us to rakija, a brandy made in a variety of flavors that's the national firewater all across the Balkans.

Dubvrako 'Doc' Vukas introduces guests to the rakija brandy

"We use it as an aperitif," our host tells us, as we queue up and pick our fruit-flavored potent potable. I select lemon. It goes down smoothly warming my insides, then suddenly explodes. Whoa!

wines from the Vukas Winery: white Rukatac and reds Mato and Plerej Grand Cru

Cultivating only Plavac Mali – the "little blue" love child of Zinfandel and Dobričić grapes – the wines that emerge from the Vukas estate are robust, to say the least.

Along with nibbles of local cheese and homemade bread dipped in the estate's extra virgin olive oil, we sample a trio: the white Rukatac (13.1%) and the reds Mato (15.1%) and Plerej Grand Cru (16.2%).

Swirl. Smell. Sip.

the Franjo Tudman Bridge

Heads a bit cloudy, like the weather outside, we bid farewell to our affable host, clamber back on board the motor coach and head further south along the Adriatic Highway, stopping just short of the Most dr. Franja Tuđmana (Franjo Tuđman Bridge) for a quick photo op.

The bridge, named in honor of Croatia's first president, is a 518 meters-long, cable-stayed expanse that crosses the Rijeka Dubrovačka inlet at the Port of Gruž, just outside Dubrovnik.

visitors crossing the Franjo Tudman Bridge into Dubrovnik's Grad (Old City)

Across the bridge we go, passing by oversized cruise ships and ferries until we come to a full stop just outside Pile Gate, our entrance into Dubrovnik's Grad (Old City), a UNESCO World Heritage Site AND the make-believe King's Landing for the hit television fantasy-drama series Game of Thrones.

by Ida, Insight's expert Dubrovnik guide

Met by Ida, Insight's expert local guide sporting a bright, canary-yellow raincoat – easy to follow in a crowd – we're taken on a quick, one-hour orientation of the Grad.

buildings showcasing Renaissance and Baroque architecture in Dubrovnik's Grad (Old City)

A remarkably well-preserved, late-medieval walled city, Dubrovnik has a regular street layout on the flat – all paved in marble – and narrow alleyways that climb, and climb and climb.

one of the narrow marble alleyways in Dubrovnik's Old City

"There are 5,423 steps here in the Grad," Ida tells us, "and if you stay here long enough you can walk them all."

Showcasing Renaissance and Baroque architecture, it's hard not to be in awe over the sheer beauty and atmosphere that is uniquely Dubrovnik.

statue of 16th century playwright Marin Drzic

Magnificent fortifications, monumental gates, the 11th century Rector's Palace, the 14th century Franciscan Monastery, the rebuilt Cathedral of the Assumption, Onofrio Fountain and the statue of 16th century playwright Marin Držić, the so-called Croatian Shakespeare – rub his nose and it just might bring you good luck – are just a few of the jewels tucked inside the walls of this captivating city.

16th century Sponza Palace

Our stroll around town ends at the entryway of the ornate, 16th century Sponza Palace where we're greeted by members of the Dubrovnik Tourist Board for an early-evening aperitif of sparkling Prosecco.

more scenes at the Sponza Palace

A rectangular building with an open-air courtyard and a loggia, the palace, formerly the Customs House, today serves as the city's archives.

If you'll grab a flute, let's have a look around.

Insight likes to spread the wealth around whenever it blows into town. That's why sometime on every journey it randomly divides its guests into small groups for a "dine around" to a selection of local eateries.

travel writers at a marble alleyway to Konobo Dalmatino, Dubrovnik

My party of eight, plus an Insight "chaperone" hits the shiny marble pavement and makes its way to Konobo Dalmatino, an upscale, "slow food" tavern, where we get to choose our three-course feast a la čarte.

a dish at the Konobo Dalmatino

Given Dubrovnik's location overlooking the Adriatic Sea, I must order fish. And I do.

more dishes at the Konobo Dalmatino: skewered squid and prawns, local pears marinated in red wine topped with vanilla ice cream and shots of rakija fig brandy

I select a starter of marinated anchovies, smoked swordfish and shrimp. My main course is skewered squid and prawns. For dessert, I savor local pears marinated in red wine topped with vanilla ice cream. And, I cap my dinner with an espresso and an "on the house" shot of rakija, a fig brandy popular along the Dalmatian Coast.

Živjeli! (Cheers!)

Insight Vacatoions' Sarajevo and Dalmatian Riviera brochure

For complete information on Insight's 112 premium and luxury-escorted itineraries around Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.

view from Dubrovnik's Old City walls of baked-earth rooftops and the Adriatic Sea

Lord Byron, when he first laid eyes on Dubrovnik, described her as the "Pearl of the Adriatic" and the moniker stuck. I won't argue with the flamboyant Romantic poet, but Dubrovnik could also be called the "Terracotta of the Adriatic." We'll find out tomorrow when we climb the Old City's walls for some bird's-eye views of those iconic baked-earth rooftops that look out to sea.

Laku noć (Good night).

Related Articles:
Eat, Drink, Cycle: The Korcula Winery; The Great Debate on Korčula; Mali Ston, Croatia on the Half Shell; Split, Croatia: Diocletian's Seaside Digs; The Daredevil Divers of the Stari Most; Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: Thanks for stopping by and commenting..


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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal

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