Saturday, March 28, 2009

Real Estate Agents in Dubrovnik

The last decade's exponential growth in real estate prices in Dubrovnik has led to a similar growth in the number of real estate agents. Easy sales and little or no licensing requirements have created few barriers to entering the market. However, with the new worldwide economic reality setting in and the advent of stricter licensing standards, many real estate agents in Dubrovnik have been forced to close. Among those that have shut their Dubrovnik offices this year are Croatian Sun and Winkworth, two former prominent players in the market.

Despite economic woes and poor sales, this may be a good time to buy property in Dubrovnik. Prices have dropped and there are some bargains to be found. One agency, Savills Croatia, has just opened a new office in the luxury Hotel Bellevue and is determined to continue selling properties during these tough economic times. With their connection to the large UK agency of the same name and their excellent staff, it is no wonder that Savills Croatia is the go-to agency for buying and selling property in Dubrovnik.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New Parking Rules in Dubrovnik

Visitors to the Old Town that come by car are in for a surprise this week: parking is no longer permitted in most former "pay & display" areas around the walled city. The new regulations prohibit parking for all but local residents along Petra Kresimira IV and Frana Supila, streets that formerly offered a mix of free and paid parking spots. The only parking options now available to visitors are in the parking lot and street just behind the Buza Gate. These spots operate on the "pay & display" system and limit drivers to just two hours.

The new regulations have not been received well in the community and many locals are angry. Some people have suggested that the new rules are an attempt to force motorists to use the new parking garage in Ilina Glavica. The new garage was completed in late 2008 and it is said that it has been mostly empty since its opening. In response to the new parking regulations, some locals have vowed not to visit the Old Town rather then be forced into the new garage, which is 10 - 15 minutes away by foot from the walled city. The city does offer a free shuttle bus for drivers between the Old Town and the new garage.

On the other side of the issue, the new regulations should improve the parking situation for residents of the Old Town, Ploce, and Pile. Dubrovnik is infamous for its lack of parking, especially during the summer months when thousands of foreign cars descend upon the small city. Forcing many of these visitors to park in the new garage should allow traffic to flow more freely around the Old Town and allow locals to find parking close to their homes.

It is unclear if these changes are here to stay or if the local government will reconsider their effect on visitors to the Old Town. Many seem to think that the new rules are merely a precursor to the upcoming elections and that things will return to normal thereafter. Whatever the outcome, motorists should familiarize themselves with the new rules to avoid getting ticketed or towed away.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Shakedown at the Slovenian Border

Drivers passing through Slovenia on their way to Croatia beware! In 2008 the Slovenian government introduced a road tax of 35 Euro for all vehicles using the country's motorways. The catch is that you have to know about this tax and buy a vignette before entering Slovenia. If you cross the border without the sticker on your windshield you can be fined up to 300 Euro. Slovenian police have set up checkpoints just over the borders to stop cars with foreign registrations and to fine drivers who do not have the vignette. Fines must be paid on the spot in either cash or by credit card.

The European Commission has said that the system discriminates against foreigners and has sent a formal warning notice to the Slovenian government ("Commission warns Slovenia over 'unfair' road tax"). This notice, which was sent in October 2008, was the first step in a procedure that could result in referring Slovenia to the European Court of Justice. As of March 2009 there have been no changes to the system. Drivers planning to travel to Croatia this summer: be sure to buy your Slovenian road tax vignette before crossing the border.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dubrovnik Restaurant Guide - Part 3

Some of the best dining in Dubrovnik can be found outside of the Old Town, away from the crowds and package-holiday tourists. The following is a short list of exceptional restaurants that are worth traveling to:

Konoba Atlantico, Kardinala Stepinca (Lapad) This small, family-run Italian restaurant serves excellent homemade pastas and sauces. They also have perfectly-crispy, thin-crust pizza and good house wine.

Gallija, Vulicevica 1 (Cavtat) The best of all the waterfront restaurants in Cavtat, Gallija serves meat and seafood from the grill as well as other typical Dalmatian specialties such as pastas and risotto. The real draw here is the stunning candle-lit setting overlooking the harbor.

Konoba Konavle, (Vojski Do) Prices are low, portions are huge, and the service is impeccable at this out-of-the-way family restaurant which occupies the space of the former railway station on top of the mountain behind the airport. We recommend ordering lamb, veal, or octopus slow-roasted under the iron bell (you must call to order at least 4 hours in advance - 020 780 7914 or 098 674 363). The homemade cheeses, pršut (smoked ham), and brandies are also excellent.

Bistro Zupcica, (Soline) At first glance this appears to be just another road-side café/pizzeria, but further inspection reveals it to be one of the best restaurants in the area. They specialize in grilled meats and traditional meat "under the iron bell", which must be ordered one day in advance. The pizza is also excellent and is available to-go for those staying nearby. This restaurant is popular with locals on the weekends, so be sure to book in advance.

Coming soon...a guide to Dubrovnik's best nightlife!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dubrovnik Restaurant Guide - Part 2

Because of the large numbers of tourists and restaurants geared toward them, choosing where to dine in the Old Town can be particularly challenging. The following is a list of some of our favorites:

Proto, Siroka Ulica 1 Upscale seafood restaurant with a beautiful 2nd floor outdoor terrace seating area. It is slightly more expensive than most other Old Town options, but the unique menu, high-quality food, and outstanding service are definitely worth it.

Nishta, Prijeko 30 A gem among the sea of tourist-trap restaurants that line this street, this is Dubrovnik's only vegetarian restaurant. The small menu has an international flair with dishes ranging from red Thai curry to tempeh burritos. Note to meat-eaters: do not be deterred by the 'vegetarian' label as this restaurant receives rave reviews from everyone!

Lokanda Peskarija, Ribarnica Dubrovnik's best grilled squid, shrimp, & mussels served in large cast iron pots. The menu is pretty much limited to the 3 items we just mentioned, but it's inexpensive, authentic-Dubrovnik cuisine served in a great location right on the Old Port.

Kamenice, Gunduliceva Poljana 8 The name means "oysters", so you can guess what their specialty is, but the fried calamari & steamed mussels are also extremely good. This inexpensive restaurant is a favorite among locals.

Taj Mahal, Nikole Gucetica 2 Homemade Bosnian food; inexpensive and very good. Try the Cevapcici (which is like a kabob sandwich), but if meat isn't your thing they also have an excellent grilled vegetable plate and greek salad. Portions are huge and prices are low.

Lanterna, Nikole Gucetica 2 Right next door to Taj Mahal, this restaurant serves excellent homemade Croatian food and is very inexpensive. For those who want to indulge (and who are not concerned about their waistlines), we strongly suggest trying the mixed grill, a decadent entree which includes pretty much everything on the menu.

Spaghetteria Toni, N. Bozidarevica 14 A cute little Italian restaurant that serves excellent baked pasta dishes (try the lasagna), a wide variety of traditional Italian pastas and huge salads at good prices.

Dubrovacki Kantun, Boskoviceva 5 Another cute, inexpensive, restaurant which serves traditional Dubrovnik & Mediterranean cuisine. We've tried the fresh seafood, the traditional meat dishes (Pasticada), and the cheese in oil, all of which are excellent.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dubrovnik Restaurant Guide - Part 1

There are so many restaurants in Dubrovnik that choosing one can be a risky undertaking. Living in Dubrovnik, we have had the opportunity to try just about every one and to come up with a list of our favorites. I plan to share this list here over the next several entries and to give some helpful advice on dining out. Dobar Tek!

First, a few rules: The overall quality of food in Dubrovnik is good and you may even have some great dining experiences, but there are also some pitfalls to avoid. In order to choose good restaurants and to avoid being overcharged, follow these simple guidelines:

1. At the risk of stating the obvious, avoid the restaurant hawkers that stand on the Stradun accosting tourists all day. Not only are they annoying, but they will also lead you to overpriced tourist-trap restaurants serving poor quality food.

2. Tap water is safe to drink, and is even quite good. But if you prefer to order bottled water, make sure you know what the price is in advance. Bottled water is one of those hidden costs that can easily run up the bill in Dubrovnik.

3. Always check the bill at the end of the meal. Make sure that the prices of the items you ordered match what is written on the menu, especially if you have ordered a bottle of wine (make sure you received the correct vintage).

4. Take care when ordering fresh fish that is priced by the kilo. This menu item is one of the best things to enjoy in Dubrovnik, but also one that is prone to abuse by opportunistic restaurateurs. When you select your fish, ask the waiter/kitchen to weigh it and tell you the approximate weight. You will then have an idea of what it will cost. Likewise, if the special seafood dish recited by the waiter sounds too good to pass up, make sure you ask the price.

Up next: Where to dine in the Old Town without paying tourist prices for poor quality food!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Weddings in Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is fast becoming a popular location for destination weddings. Its reliable weather, unique culture, and charming architecture make it the perfect backdrop for your special day. Unfortunately, the increased popularity of weddings in Dubrovnik has also brought about increased prices. That said, a wedding can still be hosted in Dubrovnik at only a fraction of the cost of a typical American or Western European wedding.

The first step in planning a wedding in Dubrovnik is to hire a wedding planner. Unless you live in Croatia and speak the language, it will not be possible to file all the necessary paperwork to make the marriage legal. There are some very specific requirements and meeting deadlines is critical. A wedding planner will also have the connections needed to plan your ceremony & reception, hire your photographer, order your flowers, and arrange transportation if necessary. There are several wedding planners in Dubrovnik; I would recommend contacting one of the following:

Dubrovnik Riviera Weddings - Nina Bos: +385 (0)20 33 21 69,

Weddings in Dubrovnik - Steve & Sanela Enstone: +385 (0)20 417 589,

Whether you plan to have a religious ceremony or a civil wedding, there are lots of great venues for nuptials in Dubrovnik. Saint Blaise church on the Stradun is a favorite among locals and Sponza Palace just across the street (pictured above) is a beautiful setting for civil ceremonies. Receptions can be held at most hotels in Dubrovnik; I particularly like the Palm Terrace at the Hotel Excelsior and the Dubrovnik Palace in Lapad. Finally, don't forget about your guests. It can be difficult to plan a trip to Dubrovnik and couples should make it as easy as possible for people to attend their wedding. This includes researching flight routes, providing a list of accommodations (or asking an agency such as Dubrovnik Apartment Source to work directly with your guests), and planning group activities in the days leading up to and after the wedding. If you give your guests a great holiday in addition to a great wedding day, they will thank you for it.