19 July 2013

Island in the Sun

Lovely as Dubrovnik is, after two sweltering days in the city, we were craving a sea breeze. Luckily, there are numerous islands just off the coast, many of which are accessible by ferry, kayak or even pirate ship. Although you can join an organised tour of one or more islands, it's often cheaper — and more flexible — to take the passenger ferry. We decided to visit the island of Lopud and just about made the 10 am ferry from Dubrovnik's main port, Gru┼ż. The boat was packed to the rafters, so it's worth getting there early if you would like a seat. I was more relieved to discover the bar served a relatively decent macchiato.

In under an hour, we were docking on Lopud. The island is pretty small, consisting mainly of hilly forest, dotted with enough houses to home its 200 residents. Near the dock, there are plenty of restaurants and shops, but we stocked up with a picnic of sorts at Exquisite (but of course!), a bakery and pastry shop at the western end of the harbour.

We ate our pastries and yoghurt halfway up the steep climb to the beach on the opposite side of the island. The beach is only about a 15-20 minute walk, but it felt like longer in the 30-degree, noon heat. If you really wuss out, there are plenty of taxi buggies ready to ferry you over to the beach.

The beach itself is lovely, if a little over-developed. Unlike most of the rocky Croatian beaches, Sunj is sandy, and the water is warm and remains between knee- and waist-height almost as far out as the mega-yacht parking area. After too many overpriced summers in Cannes, it felt like a bargain to get a sunbed for 30 kuna (about £4); an umbrella is only another 30 kuna. We spent most of the afternoon soaking up the sun, occasionally cooling off with a quick dip. In my case, because I am a wuss, it took me longer to get in the sea than I spent swimming.

We walked back to the harbour the long way, via several tiny chapels and with some amazing views of the Adriatic. The last ferry back to Dubrovnik left just before 7 pm, which meant we arrived home just as the sun was setting.

By the time we got back to the Old Town, it was after 8.30, and it was another hour before we could get a table at Gil's — what surely must be Dubrovnik's coolest restaurant. Tucked in one of the side streets of the Stradun, Gil's Little Bistro has Russian owners, a French chef and Italian-influenced cuisine with a local flair.

The food was excellent. We started with some cocktails (a caipirinha and an old fashioned) and some wonderfully fresh local prawns, and then I went for the beef tagliata, served on a bed of rocket and four-year-aged parmesan. I was too full for a pudding, although the tirami su looked great. But the meal wasn't over yet, because we were presented with a leaving gift: a little box containing two sweet bready cakes — perfect for breakfast the following morning. If you're looking for a restaurant for a special meal in Dubrovnik and you want to prioritise food over a view, you should definitely consider Gil's.

Exquisite. Obala Iva Kuljevana 51, Lopud. Website.
Gil's Little Bistro. Petilovrijenci 4, Dubrovnik. Website. NB: Google Maps thinks it is still sited in its old location, overlooking the old port, but it's really here.

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