Our unexpected exit from Montenegro left us feeling deflated. For all of ten minutes.
The gorgeous village harbour of Molunat, washed by blue aqueous waters and scented by jasmine and tamarisks lulled us over the two days we spent camped at the waters’ edge. Welcoming locals in the busy village wine bar were interested in our adventure in Montenegro and keen to know more.
Their reticence to stray over the nearby border was borne out of the memory of the Balkan Wars and the fact that Croatia, unlike its immediate neighbours, Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro was safely tucked inside the EU and decidedly Brussels-looking.
This remains the case in 2020, although all three have applied for membership and are negotiating terms.
The view from our camp pitch was sublime and we sat outside swotting mosquitos until well after midnight, after cooking up giant sweet scampi (smuggled across the border), washed down with Jeruzalem Ormoz wine.
We stayed for just two nights at Molunat and probably should have stayed for a lot longer. In 2011, we were young and keen to explore. Now, with 12 years’ experience on the road, we’ve learnt to embrace and pause in the best places and not dash off.
Travelling north along the coast it was immediately obvious how Croatia has benefited from its EU membership. A smoothly tarmacked highway took us quickly and efficiently the 45 minutes’ drive to Dubrovnik.
We passed the modern harbour where gigantic cruisers were berthed up and disgorging thousands of tourists into luxury tour coaches.
Our campsite was in the smart manicured suburbs and boasted a fabulous swimming pool, sauna and spa. Bemused, we pitched up quietly in a corner and set off to find the local bus stop.
The walls of Dubrovnik have stood unbreeched since the Middle Ages and are considered one of Europe’s greatest fortifications. In both bright morning sunlight and late-night golden lamplight, they are impressive, protective and secretive. Running an uninterrupted course of nearly 2,000 meters they encircle the old city and reach a towering height above the sea of 25 meters.
Their purpose was to protect the freedom and safety of the sophisticated Republic of Ragusa that flourished in peace and prosperity for five hundred years.
The walls were reinforced by 17 towers, three of them circular, five bulwarks and the large St John’s Fortress. On the landward side the walls were defended by Fort Okar, the oldest preserved fort of its kind in Europe.
A moat ran alongside the land walls armed with more than 100 canons. Above one of the gateways into the protected city, the motto “Non Bene Pro Toto Libertas Venditur Auro” was inscribed – “Freedom is not to be sold for all the treasures in the world.”
Dubrovnik was intended to be, and indeed proved, utterly impregnable to potential invaders.
We spent two days wandering the walls and exploring the flagstoned streets of the Stadrun, the Old Town. It was busy with international tourists, newly arrived from gigantic cruisers berthed in the modern harbour.
We were struck by the numbers of elderly Asian tourists. Toting paper parasols the elderly women wore layers of linen clothing and the men traditional tunics over trousers. They were simply thrilled with delight at being in the city.
We wondered how long they had wanted to visit, if they could have imagined as younger people ever being able to do so? Their delight seemed so spontaneous and was often in contrast to the sulky expressions of younger family members who seemed keen to embrace the wilder side of Western clothing and pop culture.
The Jesuit Stairs are one of the most representative examples of Baroque architecture in Dubrovnik.
On our early evening stroll, they were empty of visitors and we wandered up to the impressive Jesuit church of St Ignatius. Well known around the world since 2015 as the scene of the ‘walk of shame’ by a naked Cercei through King’s Landing in season five of Game of Thrones.
Dubrovnik would prove, in time, to be the first of many locations of the enormously popular series which we happened upon.
We’ve since encountered the settings of massacres in bullrings, murders in Andalusian water gardens, seaside caves of dragons, and the impressive Prague Orchestra recording incomprehensible sounding vocals in a medieval wooden theatre. We remain, as far as we know, amongst the very few never to have seen a single episode.
A little-known fact about Bosnia, and one which irks Bosnians greatly about other people’s perception of their country, is that it has a coastline and you can swim in the sea.
Familiar to us from the nightly news reports of the atrocities perpetrated upon the Muslim population during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, Bosnia was a place we were cautious of.
We were travelling without insurance to cross the country, along the 12 short miles of its coast which was settled in a treaty involving the Ottomans and Venetians in 1699.
To our left the sparkling Adriatic was dotted with sailboats, fishing boats and… swimmers. To our right the roadside was dotted with tall posts topped with yellow caps. We found out later that these marked areas of likely land mines, still active and buried beneath the sandy earth.
We stopped at Neum, the only town along the coastal stretch and the country’s only access to the sea. It had a small-town Mediterranean feel to it, and we tucked into a tasty pizza lunch at a busy beach bar.
Now in 2020, Neum has boomed into a smart coastal hotspot with luxury hotels trading on TripAdvisor and welcoming people from around the world. The landmines have been cleared and yes, together with the locals, international visitors can freely swim in the sparkling waters of the Bosnian coast.