Seeing things with a fresh pair of eyes is always instructive. Almost a year ago, at the conclusion of the Dubrovnik Nomads-in-Residence programme, A Dutch digital nomad gave an initial presentation to the mayor, tourist board, media and public on his group’s findings after 4 weeks as guests of the city. Their brief was to look at Dubrovnik through the eyes of digital nomads and to work with Dubrovnik to create an effective strategy for future development. His presentation was simple, concise, in many ways obvious, and made the whole room pause to think.
His first slide showed the first 30 images on Google Images of Dubrovnik, and they all showed the same thing – the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the old town of Dubrovnik. One nomad commented that prior to coming to the city, he was not even sure if Dubrovnik had anything of interest or substance beyond the walls. The perception that Dubrovnik was a 2-3 day destination is one that changed during his stay of four weeks, and he announced that after almost a month, he was still not ready to go home.
The magic of Dubrovnik for all these nomads was not the gorgeous old town, stunning as it undoubtedly was, but what lay beyond the walls – the rest of living, breathing Dubrovnik and its surrounding area. In some ways it was an obvious point, but taking the focus away from the old town seems somehow innovative. And having thought about it, the perception of the reality of Dubrovnik as a destination can only change if we show Dubrovnik, the reality, rather than Dubrovnik, the Instagram poster child.
Welcome to Dubrovnik Beyond the Walls, a new TCN series showcasing the magic of this incredible city, but away from its photogenic famous old town. There you can take in centuries of history, culture and tradition, but if you take a bus, boat, or short walk, there are many other Dubrovnik experiences to be enjoyed which complement the famous main attraction.
Places like Kalamota, as locals call the island of Kolocep, the closest of the three Elaphite islands. I discovered the three jewels of Kalamota, Lopud and Sipan quite late in life, having heard so many wax lyrical about them over the years. My first introduction was to Kalamota 3 years ago, and it was that stay which introduced me to the diversity on offer in and around Dubrovnik.
Kalamota is perfection for those wanting to escape the crowds and commune with nature. A car-free island (as is Lopud), time has stood still on the island, and the 120 locals still living there like it that way. A relaxed island lifestyle, but just 30 minutes by regular ferry to the Dubrovnik port of Gruz. It means that you can easily base your holiday in the chilled island atmosphere, while enjoying the charms of the old town as you wish. Two holidays in one.
And if you like sandy beaches…
There may be no cars, but the narrow island roads are not completely devoid of traffic, as golf carts and similar motors are used to move across Kalamota. One of the highlights of the trip was taking a hotel tour of the island in the back of a golf cart – it really was the best place to see the island. And there was certainly a lot to see.
As I have come to realise after 20 years, each Croatian island has its own unique qualities, and Kalamota was full of surprises and rewards for taking a look further than the beach. The churches, for example, were incredible.
There are no less than 15 churches on the small island – that is one per 8 inhabitants these days – and they are some of the most interesting in all Croatia. I particularly liked the Church of St. Nikola dating back to the 10th century – just how are people expected to squeeze through a main door like that?
Tourism is about people, and there were plenty of personalities to behold, including these two lovely ladies who gave us an impressive tour of the fields where they are growing ingredients to produce this magnificent array of natural (and very healthy) Kalamota products for tourists.
Talking of people, it was great to meet the teacher at the school on the island a couple of years ago. For an island with such a small population so close to the city, I was beyond impressed at the infrastructure and community. The full-time community of around 120 people has a school (with just two pupils), a resident doctor with his own surgery, and a fire station.
And weddings. Although a little off the beaten track perhaps, Kalamota is a great secret venue for weddings, with Villa Ruza the preferred destination. And with sunset views like that, are you surprised? In 2019, Villa Ruza hosted no less than 57 foreign weddings.
It is also a very popular restaurant for day-trippers, as well as Dubrovnik locals looking for a quality lunch away from the crowds. Dubrovnik, a 2-day destination which just has the old town?!? A perfect change of pace.
Timeless. The only sound coming from the sea and the trees, the main activity watching the Jadrolinija ferry glide gracefully back and forth between the Elaphite islands and Dubrovnik. Always on time, the ferry has become a timekeeping point of reference for locals.
The food was excellent, and don’t miss this culinary piece of art if you like your fish with a little salt (order in advance). A sea-bream of 2 kilos, wrapped and baked in no less than THREE kilos of salt and egg white, then baked before being set on fire for show.
Some dining options from the Total Croatia Elaphite Islands in a Page guide:
Even though Kolocep Island is quite small, there are a few nice restaurants in both Gornje Celo and Donje Celo villages. In fact, Vila Ruza (Rose) in Donje Celo is hailed as one of the nicest restaurants in the Dubrovnik area. Its setting and beautiful terrace are reasons enough to visit. When you add to that great food and service you quickly understand why Villa Ruza is one place attracting guests from Dubrovnik year after year. In Gronje Celo, restaurant G Chelo belonging to Kalamota Beach House Hotel is a recent addition to the island’s dining scene. It features a lovely seating area and an imaginative menu. On the other side of the bay, Konoba Skerac is the local’s favourite.
There is even a cat hotel…
Most visitors to Kalamota come for one thing only, stay for less than an hour, and then move on. For Kalamota’s most famous for its Blue Cave, perhaps not as well known as its namesake on Bisevo, close to the island of Vis, but very much a must-do on the various island tours sold in Dubrovnik.
The Kolocep version is a small cave on the southwestern part of the island accessible by boat. Its name comes from the blue shade of the waters inside. You enter the cave by swimming or diving. It is wide enough to enter without difficulty, but the opening of it is only barely showing from the outside. It is an extremely popular stop for chartered boats and worth visiting for the ride to it as well.
Dubrovnik beyond the walls, a new way to look at the Pearl of the Adriatic. And with so many different options available, tailor your Dubrovnik experience to your specific needs.
To learn more about the Beyond the Dubrovnik Walls series, follow the dedicated section.