Few travelers to Croatia leave without visiting Dubrovnik, a medieval walled city of white stone and red roofs, jutting picturesquely into the Adriatic. Because of its well-preserved beauty, Dubrovnik’s main industry is now tourism, but the city was once the capital of the Republic of Ragusa. Wealthy Ragusa managed to retain its independence, despite its precarious position between Venice and the Ottoman Empire, only losing it, like Venice, when Napoleon invaded. And, like Venice, Dubrovnik currently suffers from invaders of a different sort: large cruise ships. In the summer high season, they make the walled center insufferable. More than one local related how, when multiple ships docked on the same day last year, such was the crush of tourists that the Stradun, Dubrovnik’s pedestrian-only main street, became impassable. Visiting Dubrovnik — smaller than Venice and less capable of handling crowds — requires some strategy.
If possible, avoid the months of June, July and August entirely. May and September are ideal times to go, because the weather will likely be pleasant and the crowds will not be at their peak. April and October are also good choices, as long as outdoor swimming isn’t a priority. During my recent April visit, spring wildflowers splashed the surrounding countryside with yellow and purple, and the crowds were manageable. I circumnavigated the top of the extraordinary city walls with ease and had little trouble securing restaurant reservations.
The best hotel in the city has few competitors. The glamorous 56-room Villa Dubrovnik opened in 1961 as a private retreat for the Yugoslav government, but it underwent major renovations from 2006 to 2010. Facing the forested island of Lokrum and the walled Old City, this hotel has some of the finest views of any property in Dubrovnik, combined with a fashionable Riviera sensibility. At the entrance, essentially just an elevator and a porte-cochère, stood a young doorman in a smart navy linen blazer and crisp white pants. He led me down to an airy reception room overlooking the sea, where I received a warm greeting from the front desk. (You might read in guidebooks that Croatians tend to be cool and even standoffish at first, but I found good cheer and friendliness to be far more common.)