You can’t drive beyond the original, medieval walls of the old town so after all our hairpin bends, we approached the end of the road - and the arrival at Dubrovnik’s old town was breathtaking. Gorgeous, pale stone, castellated walls hug the entire old hillside community, which is a sea of roofs, towers and steeples on a gentle slope to the sea. It is breathtakingly preserved and charming. A lovely older man was waiting to meet us at the 15th century portals of the PLOCA GATE with his luggage cart.
Sheira said to me, “My God! It looks like they should be lowering a drawbridge over the moat! This really is a medieval village!” She was genuinely shocked, as she had no real expectations. I do all the groundwork and research, and Sheira’s preconceptions of Croatia involved clichés of run-down muddy villages and headscarves. Instead we saw a beautifully tended, pristine place, with gorgeous boats on a magnificent small harbour. Leafy LOKRUM ISLAND, one of many tiny islands off the Dalmatian coastline, is right in front of the city, sheltering it from the damp southeasterly ‘jugo’ wind.
Our porter, Valdo - who has those classic, large-framed, Eastern European genes - led us through the gates after I bought a few bottles of water to change my airport ATM cash (this is always a top priority for me so I can tip properly in any new place). As we passed through, there was a sense of occasion, of ‘entering the town’ that today’s car culture and urban sprawl just don’t give you. As we followed the cart I was in ecstasy at the incredible palaces and churches that we were passing and the buzz of all the people out enjoying the evening air - I knew we were going to love the grand finale destination of our European trip.
We arrived at GUNDULIC SQUARE by twilight, where the Pucic Palace looked so welcoming - a prettily pale, 17th century four-story stone building that seems more like an old mansion than a hotel. It is the only luxury hotel accommodation within the old walls; no-one we know had visited Dubrovnik before so we did feel privileged to be trying things out for the first time.
The Pucic Palace is totally boutique and intimate (with 17 rooms and 2 suites). You wouldn’t even know that the front door was there and there is no lobby, just a small reception where NICOLINA KOVACIC welcomed us. The feel of the organic materials carries through to the interior, adding warmth and cosiness. The raw beams, olive wood parquet floors, and stonework everywhere - including staircases, walls, arches and columns - flows with the natural look of the town fountains, churches and buildings, so you never really leave the atmosphere. Each suite is named after a Croatian cultural icon, from painters to poets. Noah still got to mainline his wifi and Sheira loved the slick Bulgari products in the bathroom - so there is a nice mix of antique ambience with modern convenience.
I had selected what I thought was the best accommodation - No 17, the EXECUTIVE SUITE for Sheira and I, so that Zoe could sleep in our separate lounge area. And a DOUBLE DELUXE room for Noah who is old enough to need his own space. They were not interconnecting but side by side - which was acceptable in a small hotel environment with a few rooms per floor.
Great in theory, but it didn’t do it for me. Noah’s Double Deluxe was fine, even great size-wise, as the space is really designed to suit a couple. What more does a teenager in their own world really need? But our suite only had tiny skylight windows, which is way too confining for this balcony boy! Normally when I first arrive at a hotel I am all about the suite inspection: I want to nail the experience with the best room possible, within the confines of negotiation and what is available. I was so enchanted by the unspoilt texture of Dubvronik’s old town, and distracted by focusing on size first that it took a while for me to realise that it was the lack of windows that really bugged me about Suite 17.
Sheira also wasn’t crazy about the way the dimensions were at odds with the layout. The design team has crammed too much in to create a fancy, apartment style suite. Sure it has a dining room and all the bells and whistles. But what good is a high-end option (with matching price) if, once we put the bed out in the lounge for Zoe, there is no lounge! Or if our bedroom feels cramped and we bump into each other there (not in a good way!) Or have to move the desk against the wall.
As with our trip to Greece (see HYDRA), I realised an important lesson: just because you pre-book the best suite on paper does not mean it is the best for you. With the case of the Bratsera in the Greek islands, someone at reception had made the wrong call when recommending her interpretation of what I meant. In this case, the Executive Suite is ranked higher by hundreds of Euros a night. In reality, I would much rather have a nice simple suite than a faux supersuite squeezed into the same space.
I got waylaid by my love affair with the town just outside and our spontaneous overnight trip away (see KORCULA) - so we sucked it up because we got to stay in the old city. You spend money here, but you are really paying for location - and boy do you get a lot for it. You walk out the door and are surrounded by churches, concert halls, lively cafés, museums and art galleries. That is a convenience, and a privilege, that most visitors to Dubrovnik just don’t have.
I later discovered that there was a better room, which I recommend to you and is actually cheaper. The JUNIOR SUITE has a lovely, old-fashioned balustrade balcony overlooking the white cloth umbrellas and tables of Gundulić Square one floor below.
I feel the SERVICE was pretty special here - everyone I encountered went out of their way to please our family and be charming and helpful. When I was looking for a way to cut my hair after being out on the road for 17 days (I do it myself once a week religiously). I hadn’t found anywhere that sold electronics so I needed to find a salon. Here in Dubrovnik I put my head into a local barber 8am opening time; it was already packed. When I asked can I use your razor, you would think that I had insulted his mother, sister and daughter rolled into one! But the sweet Vlados, our luggage porter, came to my rescue with his little bit of English. He said, I finish work in 10 minutes so I am going home to fetch my electric razor at home, just like yours. I tried to give him taxi money but no, - he insisted on taking his usual bus. He returned with the clippers from home and left me with a lovely impression of Croatian hospitality and the Pucic Palace personal touch.
I paid 1020 Euros for both rooms (negotiated).
The official rates for the Summer season (August-September)
DOUBLE DELUXE 515
EXECUTIVE SUITE 1045
JUNIOR SUITE with balcony 775