Southern Dalmatia - holiday apartments and houses

South Dalmatia is with 1.782 sq km and 123.000 residents the smallest region of Croatia. Nevertheless, the area attracts many tourists, because South Dalmatia has unique towns, villages and islands, mild climate, Mediterranean vegetation and beautiful scenery to offer. The most beautiful jewel of Croatia’s cultural heritage, the old city of Dubrovnik, is located in the southern- most part of the sunniest Croatian tourist region. It comprises one county, the County of Dubrovnik-Neretva, which extends almost entirely along the shore. Here is Dubrovnik the most beautiful and the most important, but by no means the only, cultural gem.

Also in this part of Croatia is the island of Korcula - the home of Marco Polo - the green islands of Mljet, Lastovo and the Elafiti with their picturesque settlements; the Peljesac peninsula, with its vineyards and the especially fine houses built by sea captains; the magical Konavle valley; the fertile River Neretva delta. The area of south Dalmatia underwent a quite distinct historical development, for it was here, in the period between the 13th and 18th centuries, that Croatian culture and art flourished, while the remainder of Dalmatia was under foreign rule. It reached its zenith in the 16th century, when the power of the famous Dubrovnik Republic was at its mightiest.

The vista of the old city of Dubrovnik, approached from the route way above the sea, from the direction of Dubrovnik airport, is one of the best known panoramas of Croatia and of the whole of the Mediterranean area. Indeed, the first sentence of the description of Dubrovnik in the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage begins with words: “Pearl of the Adriatic on the Dalmatian coast...”, for few are the cities which enjoy such a wonderful position on a rocky shoreline above the sea, and few are the places where Medieval stone walls and fortresses are so well preserved.

The surroundings of Dubrovnik do not abound in monumental buildings, but those that are there have been superbly blended into the greenery of the environment, particularly in the southernmost corner of Croatia, the fertile valley of Konavle.

The geographical position of this area, bordered by high mountains, has ensured that the Croatian national identity within it has remained particularly strong. This is demonstrated by, among other things, the preservation of folk costumes and the traditional architectural heritage, such as the Konavoski dvori (Konavle House) at the source of the small River Ljuta.

The ethnographic treasures of Konavle are kept in the Ethnographic Museum in Cilipi. The most southern part of Konavle, and of the entire Croatian mainland, is the tiny peninsula of Prevlaka, whose significance lies in its strategic position of control over the entrance into Boka kotorska Bay in neighbouring Montenegro, which is why Prevlaka is still dominated by a monumental fortress.

The central settlement in Konavle is the picturesque town of Cavtat, birth place of the great Croatia painter Vlaho Bukovac. His parental home has been transformed into a gallery of his paintings. The second treasured adornment of Cavtat is the Racic Family Mausoleum dating from 1921, the work of the Croatian sculptor, Ivan Mestrovic.

Extending west of the city is the Dubrovnik littoral, famous for the summer houses of its most illustrious citizens. On one such estate, in the lovely village of Trsteno, the most beautiful arboretum in Croatia has been cultivated. Growing in a relatively small area is a wide variety of subtropical plants, flowers and trees. The entire arboretum has been conceived as a landscaped park with sculptures, the best-known among them being a statue of the Greek god Poseidon, standing in front of a lovely fountain. Throughout the arboretum rest places have been arranged from whence one can enjoy views of the open sea.

Still further west is, nature-wise, the most special part of the Dubrovnik region: The River Neretva Delta, with preserved wetland landscapes and picturesque places like the old town of Opuzen. Where once stood ancient Narona, today is the village of Vid, adorned by a statue of Prince Domagoj’s Archers, defenders of Croatian independence in the early middle Ages.

Setting sail from the Dubrovnik littoral towards the island of Korcula the route takes us past the wine-growing Peljesac peninsula. The old centre of the peninsula is the small and lovely town of Ston sitting on the isthmus joining the peninsula to the mainland. Stretching between Ston and neighbouring Mali Ston (Little Ston), renowned for its cultivation of oysters, are the impressive defensive walls, with partially preserved remnants of old fortresses.

In the western part of Peljesac is Orebic, its largest settlement, famous for being a centre of sea captains. The strong maritime tradition of Orebic is demonstrated by two collections: one in the Maritime Museum, and the other as part of the holdings of the Franciscan monastery on the hill above the town. From this vantage point, next to the church of Our Lady of Angels, one can enjoy unforgettable views of the Peljesac channel, Korcula and other islands.

Korcula, the largest island in south Dalmatia, also offers a wealth of grand and wonderful buildings, particularly in the island’s homonymous capital. Its present-day appearance dates mostly from the period between the 14th and 16th centuries when, in contrast to the rest of the Dubrovnik area, it belonged to Venice. Korcula is almost unique for the fish-bone pattern arrangement of its streets, and for its preserved Gothic-Renaissance buildings.

The most striking among these buildings is the Cathedral of St Mark with a richly decorated exterior and interior, in which hangs a painting by the great Venetian painter, Tintoretto. The second most important sacral building is the Franciscan monastery on the small island of Badija, located close to the city, whose exterior is also richly decorated. The Museum of the City of Korcula contains exhibits ranging from the oldest of times down to the 20th century. 

But most intriguing for visitors to Korcula is the house of the Polo family, for it is from here that its most famous son came: that great world adventurer, Marco Polo. The people of Korcula lovingly maintain their heritage, as can be seen by the organization of church festivities, and even more so by the medieval play of chivalry, the Moreska, which is traditionally enacted once each year through the streets of the city.

Two towns located in the west of the island, Vela Luka and Blato; also boast a valuable cultural heritage. Situated above Vela Luka, praised in a lovely song, is Vela Spila (Great Cave), the most important prehistoric locality in Dalmatia. Findings from the cave have included numerous items of pottery; objects made of stone and bone dating from the Neolithic period, and decorated graves. The enchanting town of Blato, located in the interior of the island and which once contained the largest settlement of all the Adriatic islands, is today well known for its high quality standards of agriculture and its preserved ambient architecture. 

The two most remote islands of south Dalmatia, Mljet and Lastovo, are better known for their natural heritage (Mljet National Park and Lastovo Nature Park) than for their cultural heritage. That however, does not mean there are no interesting cultural monuments on those islands. The most important of these is the 12th-century Benedictine monastery situated on a tiny islet in the middle of the Great Lake, within Mljet National Park.

On Lastovo it is the homonymous settlement that catches the attention: it is spread in the fashion of an amphitheatre on the slopes of the mount overlooking a fertile field It is also known for the imagination shown in the shape of house chimneys, preserved folk costumes, and a carnival with a quaintness all of its own. And rising on the most far-flung isles in the waters of Lastovo, Susac and Glavat are very special architectural pearls: old, 19th-century lighthouses.

And now, at the very end of our journey through Dalmatia, and Croatia as a whole, it would be remiss of us not to make mention of the Elafiti islands which spread out before Dubrovnik, with their enchanting summer houses and castles dating from the most glorious period of the famous Republic of Dubrovnik. Most of them are located on the island of Sipan, the most beautiful among them being the 16th-century Renaissance castle of the Stjepovic-Skocibuha family.

The following places in Central Dalmatia, which are not mentioned in text above, are also worth a visit: Drace, Lumbarda.

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