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Dubrovnik Riviera: Take a break in the jewel of Croatia

Spring is in the air and with it the year’s most exciting question: Where should you go on your next holiday?

Dubrovnik Riviera: Take a break in the jewel of Croatia
Photo: Dubrovnik

Stretching down the coastline of the bottommost tip of Croatia, the karst landscape of Dubrovnik's Riviera has been carved by thousands of years of history. Countless islands, century-old monuments, national parks, beaches lapped by crystal clear water, it’s a veritable treasure trove of traveller’s delights.

Fort of St. Lawrence. Photo: Siggy Novak

Dubrovnik

The most famous attraction of the region is, of course, Dubrovnik’s Old Town. Encircled by sixteenth-century stone walls, in recent years it’s provided a filming location for productions including Game of Thrones, Star Wars Episode VIII, and Robin Hood: Origins.

Photo: Jacek Abramowicz

The city holds myriad other surprises, such as international music and theatre festivals, cultural happenings and other unique events.

Notable on the annual schedule is Dubrovnik Summer Festival, Croatia’s leading cultural event and one of Europe’s most outstanding cultural festivals. Starting with a bang, it opens with an evening of fireworks and music, followed by displays of theatre, cinema, concerts, operas and dance.

Dubrovnik Old Town. Photo: Clariston

At the end of June, Dubrovnik hosts another theatrical treat: Midsummer Scene Festival. This two-week event sees British and Croatian actors perform Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in English on an open-air stage in the stunning Fort Lovrijenac.

And that’s just a snapshot of the many exciting events that are taking place in Dubrovnik this summer.

But don't be fooled into thinking Dubrovnik itself is all Dubrovnik Riviera has to offer.

From the natural beauty at Mljet island’s national park to the show-stopping gastronomical offerings and oenological pleasures of the Pelješac peninsula, there’s a cornucopia of cultural and natural wonders to be found.

Island of Korčula; a Venetian legacy

Venture out of the Old Town and discover the Venetian-influenced town of Korčula. Situated on a small island of the same name, the historic town fuses nature with cultural traditions and wonderful local restaurants.

Photo: A. Carli

With the same medieval charm as Dubrovnik, the narrow streets, old stairways, churches, palaces, mighty walls and fortress, all tell a unique story about the island’s history as a Venetian base in the Middle Ages. 

Nestled among the old buildings are a number of small, romantic restaurants to cosy up in; or why not stop for a coffee in one of the bars overlooking the old buildings that border the square?

Not many islands on the Adriatic can lay claim to sandy beaches, but Korčula is one of them. If you’re looking for somewhere to laze away with a book and a beer, or for a child-friendly beach, this is the arguably the best spot for you in the whole of Croatia.

Mljet: ‘Odysseus’s island’

The unspoiled nature and breathtaking scenery of Mljet is one of Croatia’s must-visit spots. Soak in the peaceful atmosphere; go for a dip, hop on a bike, hike one of the many trails in the National Park, or rent a canoe and see the island from a unique angle.

Photo: A. Carli

In the National Park itself are two saltwater lakes, Malo Jezero (Small Lake) and Veliko Jezero (Great Lake), connected to the sea by a narrow canal. At the southeast of the island, you’ll come across Saplunara Beach, one of the most picturesque sandy beaches in southern Dalmatia.

The island is also home to a cave which, according to legend, saved a shipwrecked Odysseus as he made his way home to Ithaca after the Trojan Wars. Take refuge in Odysseus’s cave, although keep an eye out for any wily goddesses — legend also has it that the beautiful goddess Calypso held Odysseus captive as her lover in the cave for seven long years. Must have been hell.

Pelješac: The ‘cradle of wine’

Pelješac. Photo: Ivan Ivanković

Since ancient times, there has been a long tradition of wine production on the Pelješac peninsula thanks to its many vineyards. Wine trails and wine tasting cellars are located alongside long and winding paths that connect this green peninsula.

Around the middle of the peninsula is the village of Žuljana, a tranquil oasis in a sandy bay facing the west. Known for its many beautiful sandy beaches, Pelješac’s sunsets aren’t to be missed while budding divers can choose from a number of trips organised by local diving centres.

Pelješac vineyard. Photo: Ivan Ivanković

Elaphites: Croatia’s hidden paradise

This small sun-kissed archipelago of 13 islands is a verdant and unspoilt example of idyllic southern Dalmatia. Spend a day island hopping and discover the untouched and perfectly preserved nature that still thrives on the islands.

The three largest and most populated of the Elaphiti islands are Koločep, Lopud and Šipan. For centuries, they represented a place of leisure, vacation and delight, due to the preserved surroundings, clean and clear sea, sandy beaches, beautiful pine forests, olive gardens, promenades, and footpaths.

Lastovo: A remote natural habitat

Considered one of the last paradises of the entire Mediterranean, Lastovo island is a rare example of untouched natural resources. The natural habitat on this remote island is rich in marine and plant life, which you can enjoy far away from the hubbub of other tourists.

Lastovo. Photo: Dubravko Leneret

The River Neretva Valley

The tour in a traditional boat — called a lađa — along the narrow canals and backwaters of the Neretva opens up a panorama of vast, verdant plains. The tour guide will familiarise you with life in the valley, showing you how the local people fish and harvest citrus fruits, figs, and grapes.

Don’t miss out on this authentic experience, revealing the closely-guarded secrets of the widely-known local delicacies, and make sure to toast with a glass of Neretva wine served from traditional wooden jugs.

Neretva River. Photo: Davorka Kitonic

Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it in the captivating and varied Dubrovnik Riviera. This is just a small glimpse of the many things there are to see and do. Whatever you choose, this is one holiday destination that won’t disappoint. 

Trip highlights include:

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  • Walk over the old Dubrovnik town walls
  • Take a break in one of the Stradun (Placa) coffee bars
  • Enjoy a biking tour through the Mljet island
  • Explore the secrets of Korčula town, a ‘Small Dubrovnik’
  • Take a kayak or canoeing tour around Dubrovnik and Mljet island
  • Explore local wine cellars tasting the red and white wines of the region
  • Indulge yourself in Ston oysters and seafood
  • Full-day Konavle Valley excursion
  • Island hopping on Elaphite islands

This article is produced by The Local Client Studio and sponsored by the Dubrovnik and Neretva County Tourist Board and  Croatian National Tourist Board.

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TOURISM

Denmark’s ‘freetown’ Christiania hangs onto soul, 50 years on

A refuge for anarchists, hippies and artists, Denmark's 'freetown' Christiania turns 50 on Sunday, and though it hasn't completely avoided the encroachment of modernity and capitalism, its free-wheeling soul remains intact.

Denmark's 'freetown' Christiania hangs onto soul, 50 years on
Christiania, one of Copenhagen's major tourist attractions, celebrates its 50th anniversary on Sunday. JENS NOERGAARD LARSEN / SCANPIX / AFP

Nestled in the heart of Copenhagen, Christiania is seen by some as a progressive social experiment, while others simply see it as a den of drugs.

On September 26th, 1971, a band of guitar-laden hippies transformed an abandoned army barracks in central Copenhagen into their home. They raised their “freedom flag” and named their new home “Christiania, Freetown” after the part of the city where it is located.

They wanted to establish an alternative society, guided by the principles of peace and love, where decisions were made collectively and laws were not enforced.

Soft drugs were freely available, and repurposing, salvaging and sharing was favoured over buying new.

It was a community “that belonged to everybody and to no one”, said Ole Lykke, who moved into the 34-hectare (84-acre) enclave in the 1970s.

These principles remain well-rooted today, but the area has changed in many ways: tourists weave through its cobblestone roads, and the once-reviled market economy is in full swing.

Perhaps most importantly, it is no longer a squat. Residents became legal landowners when they bought some of the land from the Danish state in 2012.

Now it is home to some 900 people, many artists and activists, along with restaurants, cafes and shops, popular among the half a million tourists that visit annually.

“The site is more ‘normal’,” says a smiling Lykke, a slender 75-year-old with ruffled silver hair, who passionately promotes Christiania, its independence and thriving cultural scene.

Legislation has been enforced since 2013 — though a tongue-in-cheek sign above the exit points out that those leaving the area will be entering the European Union.

‘Embrace change’
It is Christiania’s ability to adapt with the times that has allowed it to survive, says Helen Jarvis, a University of Newcastle professor of social geography engagement.

“Christiania is unique,” says Jarvis, who lived in Christiania in 2010.

“(It) endures because it continues to evolve and embrace change”.

Some of those changes would have been unthinkable at the start.

Residents secured a bank loan for several million euros to be able to buy the land, and now Christiania is run independently through a foundation.

They also now pay wages to the around 40 people employed by Christiania, including trash collectors and daycare workers.

“Money is now very important,” admits Lykke, who is an archivist and is currently exhibiting 100 posters chronicling Christiania’s history at a Copenhagen museum.

But it hasn’t forgotten its roots.

“Socially and culturally, Christiania hasn’t changed very much,” he says, noting that the community’s needs still come first.

‘Judged a little’
Christiania has remained a cultural hub — before the pandemic almost two dozen concerts were held every week and its theatres were packed.

But it is still beset by its reputations as a drugs hub.

Though parts of Christiania are tranquil, lush and green with few buildings, others are bustling, with a post office, mini-market, healthcare centre, and Pusher Street, the notorious drug market.

Lykke says it’s a side of Christiania most could do without.

“Most of us would like to get rid of it. But as long as (marijuana use) is prohibited, as long as Denmark doesn’t want to decriminalise or legalise, we will have this problem,” says Lykke.

While still officially illegal, soft drugs like marijuana and hash are tolerated — though not in excess.

Since early 2020, Copenhagen police have seized more than one tonne of cannabis and more than a million euros.

“Sometimes I don’t tell people that I live here because you get judged a little bit. Like, ‘Oh, you must be into marijuana and you must be a smoker’,” says Anemone, a 34-year-old photographer.

For others, Christiania’s relaxed nature is part of the appeal.

“It’s different from what I know, I really want to see it,” laughs Mirka, a Czech teacher who’s come to have a look around.

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