What comes to your mind when you think of Croatia?

For the longest time, to me it had been one of those destinations that people talked about as being really pretty and certainly worth a trip. However, no one ever really described what it was actually like and unlike European holiday favorites such as Greece, Italy or Spain, Croatia simply is not quite as talked about in the media, which is why I had no real idea of how pretty it actually was.

When my friend Bea told me she was going to spend the month on a language course in Dubrovnik – Croatia’s seaside jewel – it took me a total of 15 minutes until my flight was booked and my excitement was churned.

Upon arrival, getting out of the plane was the first wow-experience.

The clear blue skies, the gorgeous sun and a stunning mountain setting let me know right away that I was in for a good time. My summer holiday had officially begun. I took the 5€ shuttle bus into town via a scenic drive along mountain roads. I cannot say I’m much of a fan of taking big buses along small cliff side roads, but the view was indeed pretty stunning.

After being dropped off at the central Pile Gate, my friend Bea came to greet me with open arms and a stern face: “Katja, this place is so touristy, we need to get out of here ASAP!” I looked at her in surprise but was convinced that we would be having a good time, we just needed to look for it.

After checking into Bea’s student accommodation, she took me around to show me some of the stuff she had already discovered in the two days prior to my arrival. Easily the highlight of that first walk around and just a stone-throw away from our hostel was an incredibly charming little bay surrounded by houses and rocks.

The adults lay in the sun tanning and reading the paper while kids played egg and spoon run, a few little boys jumped off cliffs and girls sat watching them and giggling. It was a scene cut out from a movie and I couldn’t shake the one thought that kept popping into my mind again and again: I had seen all this before. I felt like the exact replica of one of my favorite places in the world – Italy.

What I had seen so far from Croatia was in no way reminiscent of the image generally portrayed of Eastern Europe. In fact, life here had many more parallels to the Greek Islands, Bella Italia or even the South of France.

Exited about the upcoming days, we had a quick swim, I took a bunch of photos and before we knew it was time to head into the old town for dinner.

Along pretty cobbled streets we decided to escape the crowds on the main pedestrian zone and explore the little side alleys, all of them intensely charming with their outdoor pot plants everywhere, the laundry hung above our heads and and the neverending steps, always leading into a curve that may reveal the next awe-inspiring sight to see.

Unsure where the stairway would lead us, we kept going up and sure enough were rewarded with not only a fabulous view over the city, but also a great culinary find with a rather peculiar name – a restaurant named Lady Pi Pi. The gorgeous terrace overlooked the houses along the hills of Dubrovnik and had grape vines hanging all over it. The setting sun cast a glow on people’s content faces as they dined on Croatian delicacies such as Cevapcici (grilled ground meat) or barbecued seafood.

And although I fear that this might almost be too much information, check out Lady Pi Pi’s entrance fountain…

Lady Pi Pi is located at Vl. Dinko Miljkovic. Find it by taking the second left on the old town’s main road and go up the stairs as far as possible. The restaurant should be on your left. Make sure you come here early as by the time it’s 8, there will usually be a long queue waiting for one of the popular tables.

If Pi Pi is full, head down on the same street until you hit Konoba Pizzeria Peline. This place is one of the few with tasty white wine by the glass and the mussels here are out of this world.

Once happy and full, go for a stroll throughout the old town, watch people eat ice cream on the side walks, marvel at street musicians performing Croatian folklore songs or head over to the bay, where romantic moonlight mirrors in the gentle waves.

Everybody’s favorite place here is called Buza, a bar located right on the cliffs, where a small band is playing Jazz songs while the young crowd – a mix of locals and tourists – is sipping delicious cocktails. This is one of those places where once you sit, you don’t want to leave again.

We did leave nonetheless, after all we had a few more things on our itinerary to check out. Having asked a few locals, we knew that so called Art Bar, a place just off Branitelja Dubrovnika, the main street that also bypasses Pile Gate, was the place to see and be seen. In here, bath tubs have been made into couches and washing drums serve as tables. Drinks are strong and not quite as expensive as in many other places in Dubrovnik. Possibly the best part of Art Cafe – it’s full of locals.

If it’s not just drinks, but live music or dancing you’re after, walk a couple more minutes up the road until you arrive at an open gate. Inside, there are trees and a path leading you through a few more gates, along a stone wall and eventually up the stairs into a club called Orlando. The audience changes along with whatever show is on, but you’re likely to have a good time whenever you come here.

Finally, Club Lazareti on Frana Supila 8, is another favorite with local hipsters to catch good live music and do the dance. We were too tired, but check it out if you have a bit more time.

Nothing compliments a great night out in Dubrovnik better than the morning after with a good ol’ breakfast with some scrambled eggs and a croissant. For this, head over to Sesame, where they dish up the best cappuccino in town. Sesame also doubles as a Bed&Breakfast, so look into it if you haven’t got a hotel in mind.

I didn’t spend as much time in Dubrovnik as I would have liked to, since soon after my arrival we were headed to nearby Montenegro. I did have an incredible time here though and can warmly recommend this place to anyone who enjoys a charismatic harbour town with fairy tale charms, a romantic vibe and lots of uninterrupted sun.