Dispatches from Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic

dubrovnik travel croatia travelby Patrick Darcey

I traced her scars with the tips of my fingers, wiping cement powder on my dark pant legs and pausing in quiet reflection. I found more as I walked along the street, hidden in the obscure alleys and untrodden sections. I searched for the healed wounds on every brick and stone that lined the city. It was a game to me.

While some bullet holes remain, most are gone. Some of the shopkeepers and restaurateurs still talk about what happened here, but most do not. The bright orange tiles which once were such a direct reminder of the war and it’s postbellum construction, well, they are starting to fade too. There is now an entire generation in Dubrovnik who only knows peace. Theirs is a world with pristine beaches and an underground nightclub scene which rivals some of the best in Las Vegas. Milosevic who?

Still, it’s a hard concept to grasp. Connotations and imagery of a bruised and battered Croatia seem to creep into the conversation about any vacation plans to this part of the world. Even in the centuries before the war, Dubrovnik’s formidable walls isolated its beauty from potential invasion. Now, it’s just the opposite: invaders are welcome.

Found inside the stone walls are places like Culture Club Revelin, a dance club built inside the fabled Revelin fortress. The entrance of the nightclub (after a reasonable cover charge) thrusts its patrons into a scene of high ceilings, mini-skirts, strobes, and a transcendent DJ, controlling the entire pulsating experience. Through the international language, the swollen daily population of the Old City moves and mixes to Top 40 and European dance, from Lil Jon to Gangnam Style.

Elsewhere, wine bars such as D’Vino and La Bodega offer a quieter setting to sample Mediterranean wines, olives, and cheeses. The intimate location allows patrons to even take their appetizers and drinks outside to the city steps where they can sit, talk, and people-watch the thousands of global visitors.

The can’t miss attraction of a visit to Dubrovnik is of course a casual jaunt along the city’s perimeter. High above the bustling streets along the top of the impenetrable wall provides panoramic views of the entire red-roofed city. It’s why Instagram was invented.

As its popularity grows, the influx of cultures and cuisines are melting and changing the landscape. Besides traditional Croatian; Mediterranean, American, Mexican and even Asian fusion restaurants have blended and tucked themselves into the walls and created a multitude of gustatory choices. The recently opened Shizuku in Lapad offers some of the best sushi this side of the Sea of Japan.

Two decades after Croatia’s War of Independence, Dubrovnik has fully opened the doors of its Old City to the world. Every day there is a steady stream of cruise ships pulling into its legendary harbor. As more and more travelers make Dubrovnik a mandatory destination, the city is growing into a contemporary cultural and international hot spot. The “Pearl of the Adriatic” is quickly becoming the world’s oyster.

Patrick Darcey is currently serving on active-duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. His work has been featured in the Marine Corps Gazette, Proceedings Magazine, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He is working on his first novel.

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  1. I’ve only ever traveled to Zagreb, and while it was pretty, it wasn’t nearly as interested as some of the other spots I visited in Eastern Europe. I loved Ljubljana. After reading this, I’ll have to plan a trip to explore Croatia more!