The pretty Croatian coastal town of Cavtat (pronounced tsav-tat) lies 20 kilometres southeast of its more famous neighbour Dubrovnik. Situated just 6 kilometres from the international Ćilipi airport and 22 kilometres from the border with Montenegro, Cavtat is an ideal location to explore the beautiful Konvale region of southern Croatia. For those wishing to visit this stunning part of the Adriatic coastline without the crowds and inflated prices of Dubrovnik, then Cavtat is the perfect choice.
We stayed in Cavtat by luck; we wanted to stay in Dubrovnik but travelling in high season (and leaving it late to book) we were unable to find accommodation within our budget. We were very fortunate with our default choice; we loved Cavtat as soon as we saw it.
A short taxi ride from the airport brings you to this charming, unpretentious town. The close proximity of the airport did not bother us; some aircraft noise can be heard but it is sporadic, not consistent or frequent. Our son loved plane spotting and I think his holiday -maybe even his year – was made when he spotted ANAs’ special liveried R2D2 airplane passing overhead.
Cavtat starts shortly after the turn off from the main highway and slopes steeply down to the sea front. Walking down the hill into Cavtat affords a stunning first glimpse of the town; shuttered houses of creamy stone with vividly contrasting terracotta roofs jostle for space creating a visual assortment of buildings, all against the pure blue backdrop of the sparkling Adriatic. Holiday accommodations within the town are sensitively built to blend in with older buildings; there are a few less sympathetically built large hotels but thankfully they are on the edge of town.
There are two small, pretty harbours, both a perfect semi circle shape, with two peninsulas stretching out like green fingers into the Adriatic. The main body of the town hugs the harbour on the left side. Palm trees line the harbour front where people promenade after sunset, ogling the super yachts, ambling amongst the bars, few shops and restaurants which all have balconies or decks affording picture perfect sunset views.
Cavtat is made for wandering. Leave the main promenade and the millionaires’ boats, head onto any upwardly sloping lane and you quickly leave the bustle behind. The small, compact old town is a maze of cobbled, stepped lanes with ornate wooden doors hinting at hidden, beautiful houses beyond. Vivid pink bougainvillea and huge budded Magnolias grow impossibly amongst the stone. A short walk from leads to Cavtat cemetery with sweeping views over the town from the imposing 1921 Racic Mausoleum.
Nestled below the Mausoleum on the harbour front, is the small Church of Our Lady of the Snow Monastery. The tiny atmospheric church welcomes visitors and it is possible to attend a service on Sunday, though the times vary depending on the heat! At the other end of the promenade is the stunning Church of St Nicholas, whose lone bell tolls rhythmically throughout the day. The 15th Century church is worth visiting to view the paintings by the locally born, 19th century artist Vlaho Bukovac, whose nearby home is a museum housing some of his paintings. For further historical and cultural information, visit The Rectors Palace, a Renaissance mansion hosting the private collection of the Cavtat born 19th century lawyer Balthazar Bogisic.
Both harbours in Cavtat offer the chance to enviously goggle the enormous yachts and speedboats of the super rich. The ostentatious and pristine boats glide into Cavtat and heart stoppingly moor up in impossibly narrow spaces.
The centre and left side of the main harbour is where local people go to swim; the water is shallow to enter and unbelievably clear. As it deepens, the water hues change from clear to turquoise to a rich blue. A short distance from the white sail roofed Spinnaker restaurant is a popular, zoned swimming area attached to a small, rocky beach. Space is at a premium in the summer months!
The two peninsulas are very pleasant to walk around, offering lots of shade from the closely knitted pine trees as well as providing expansive views of the Adriatic. You can swim and snorkel from just about any spot on the peninsulas though carefully gauge the water depth and be aware of submerged rocks. The left arm of the two peninsulas has an easy hiking trail devoid of tourists which may be why the nudist beach is located near the end. The stony trail winds through aromatic pines accompanied by birdsong on a blissfully cooling breeze; it is a very pretty, peaceful spot. There are some long distance walks starting or ending in Cavtat, notably the Ronald Brown way, which make it possible to walk to and from neighbouring Ćilipi. Unfortunately due to the extreme heat, we decided this would have to wait for another trip.
If people watching and millionaire spotting is too relaxing, several locations in Cavtat hire bikes, paddle boards, kayaks and jet skis. We spent a fun afternoon watching local youth teams competing in a water polo tournament; the ‘pitch’ is in open sea, in a corner of the harbour behind the colourful farmers market. Most entertaining of all was the enthusiastic and passionate team coach!
Small kiosks at the harbour tout for business for snorkelling and fishing trips and transfers to surrounding islands. The most popular trip offered is the scenic, 45 minute trip across the Adriatic inlet to Dubrovnik. The boat docks right outside the walls of the Old Town making exploring Dubrovnik an easy day trip from Cavtat. Boat timetables start early and run late.
We spent one day in Dubrovnik and though we liked it and hope to return one day to fully explore it, we were pleased we hadn’t stayed there; it was expensive, busy and hectic. By staying in Cavtat, we enjoyed a slower pace in small town Croatia, shopped and ate local, cheered local sport, and swam from isolated, scenic spots during quiet hikes. A perfect and lucky choice!
Top Tips For Visiting Cavtat
Visit the helpful tourist information office at the small bus station for maps, timetables and information about the local area.
The one public toilet is located at the bus station, costing 7 kuna (nearly £1!) and the windowless cubicles are like a furnace in high summer. There is a toilet in the large Spinnaker complex on the other side of the bay near the zoned swimming area, which you are allowed to use for free.
Visit the small, friendly farmers market at the harbour to pick up delicious fresh fruit, vegetables and sweet treats.
For self caterers, there is a small but well stocked supermarket on the corner by the bus station. They also sell quick lunches such as pizza slices or ready made sandwiches.
A MUST DO is a visit to the ice cream shop Kuca Slaloleda ‘The House Of Ice Cream’ next to the ATM machine opposite the farmers market. The best ice cream you have ever tasted in a myriad of flavours with generous helpings for just 10 kuna. We visited every day!
Accommodation is cheaper the further away from the harbour you go. It is an easy 10 minute walk down the hill into town and if you cannot face the steep climb home you can catch the number 10 bus or a taxi (though you may choose to walk off the daily ice cream)!
The small bus station has frequent links to Dubrovnik (bus number 10) and to Cilipi for the traditional folk dancing show on Sundays.
To travel to Montenegro by bus, you have to go to Dubrovnik first, catch a bus at the city station to retrace your steps back past Cavtat and onto Montenegro. A private transfer arranged from Cavtat will be more expensive, even for a group, but will save considerable time and effort.
Visiting Dubrovnik by boat is three times the price of the bus but you will be rewarded by a cooler, very scenic route. boats drop you right at the entrance to the Old Town, the bus stops at the city centre station from where you will have to walk to the Old Town. You can book boat trips online but competition for clients at the harbour is high and we were offered discounts without asking for them. We got a discount for booking a day in advance and free places for two of our children.
Bring beach shoes. There are no beaches, just rocky shorelines or outcrops. There are also lots of sea urchins in the water.
Make sure you watch a sunset; they are breath taking.