There are ‘Peter Pan Happy Places’ that you go to in your head when the world is a little dimmer than it should be. Maui used to be that location for me. It’s now got some fierce competition from this spot in Dubrovnik….

‘Romance forever’. 

This is what’s promised by the promotional materials of Villa Dubrovnik. That’s a steep level of commitment for a hotel; even one with a 12pm check out and the offer of vaporetto speedboat transfers to the centre of town.

As a destination Dubrovnik may be recognisable as the setting for Game of Thrones. To some it’s a city that affords a visit to one of the supposedly ‘most romantic restaurants in the world’ – trust me, it’s not that great. To others, Dubrovnik’s intrigue lies in its 1000-year history and status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. But to me, this town was largely chosen as a source of sun. Summer arrives enthusiastically, the way a season should in this part of Croatia. By the end of June the air is muggishly warm, occasionally tickled by a cheeky breeze that skims the harbour. The sky is often blue; the water a shocking shade of turquoise.

Villa Dubrovnik is a modern marvel of a hotel, perched on the cliffs of the St Jacob Precinct, an easy 15-minute walk east of Ploče Gate. From street level it first appears as a subdued concrete cube. The elevator entrance is staffed by men sporting perfect English, mahogany loafers and white linen shirts and trousers to offset their Adriatic tans.

It’s down in the lobby that you realise this is an understated place, in the best sort of way. It’s the sort of destination that reminds you more of a mansion belonging to an exceptionally rich friend than a hotel. That, or a holiday home of Christian Grey/James Bond/George Clooney/insert your wealthy object of fancy here. The interiors are calming and cool; coming over all dark woods, slate grey, sandstone and ghostly tiles. Set over four levels, stairs and glass elevators link the lobby and facilities to the fifty rooms and six suites. At the crest of the building is the sky bar, with unparalleled views over to the Old City and Lokrum island. It’s hard to find a better place to nurse a Campari and watch the light fade over the super yachts that grind in and out of the harbour. Nestled in the belly of the hotel are the spa, gym and yoga and pilates retreat. On the lower deck you’ll find another bar, library, indoor swimming pool, with its four poster day beds, and the restaurant Pjerin. At the very bottom there’s the garden bistro, boutique and the ‘beach’.

If you can drag yourself from your suite with its king size bed, Bvlgari amenities and jacuzzi, or from the lavender and rosemary-scented massages in the spa, the beach is the best place to search for bliss. For an Australian, a beach without sand is borderline heresy. That’s one good reason why we mock Brighton. Pebbles do not suffice. But as it turns out deck chairs set out on rocky outcrops, under the shade of umbrellas with unlimited baby blue towels, as soft as brand new fleece, are as good a substitute for Bondi as any.

Particularly when there are steps considerately carved into the rocks and ladders allowing you to descend into the blue with a modicum of grace. At Villa Dubrovnik the swimming area is protected by a floating ring of buoys. The water is lightly salted, as clear as contacts and striped with warmth. To the left are views of pine and orange trees and a craggy coast pocked with bougainvillea draped villas. To the right is the wake of your vaparetto speedboat, whisking other guests both to and from the Old Town on the hour. Occasionally in front are enormous cruise liners, ferrying patrons on Tonka Truck yellow passenger boats into town so they can buy a souvenir, have an ice-cream and make it back to their ship in time for an afternoon of shuffleboard and the buffet. It’s very hard not to feel smug in these environments swimming freely, safe in the knowledge that in these waters there are no lurking predators (beyond self-inflicted cramps from overindulging in langoustines and club sandwiches at the garden bistro at lunch).

It seems seduction can be swift in the right environment. The gentle smiles of the staff were the first thing to pull me in. Lubricated by local pink wines sipped on the balcony late into the night and a meal of elegant restraint at Pjerin, I fell even further. And when the next morning I was made breakfast that involved a print out of my chosen global newspaper, a strawberry smoothie, warm pastries and a goat cheese and spinach omelette, then I’m smitten.

You could spend your days here exploring Dubrovnik city, clamouring over the fortress walls, finding bars nestled into the rocks on the other side, or sunning and dancing at the East/West beach club, located exactly half way between the hotel and the centre of town.

Or, you could follow my lead and spend the lion’s share of your time tucked onto a deck chair by the beach, sipping sparkling water while taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi. Here’s a lesson quickly learned: tweeting photos of your languid toes dangling over aquamarine will achieve nothing more than making your friends and family mad with jealousy.

This is a spectacular hotel, in a jaw droppingly beautiful city.

Essentially, Villa Dubrovnik had me at hello.

And while romance may be forever, breaking up is very hard to do. So when the time came to leave I wasn’t quite sure if what was clinging to the top of my cheek was the salty residue of the harbour, or a little piece of my heart.

Villa Dubrovnik, Vlaha Bukovca 6, Dubrovnik, Croatia. Tel: +385 20 500 300.
Website
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First published and written for  www.arubuturian.com