A first glimpse of Dubrovnik

We’re driving along the winding cliff-encased roads of the Dubrovnik Riviera, hurtling from the airport towards the city itself with my face excitedly pressed up against the window, admiring the gorgeous coastline below and wondering when that famous walled city would come into view. Eventually, we rounded the last corner and there it was – those medieval walls in all their glory, glinting in the sunshine, beckoning us to get closer.

The anticipation of seeing a place you’ve admired from afar for so long can sometimes leave you wondering whether expectation will match up to reality. I needn’t have worried. I was immediately enthralled by this unique, historic place, feeling instantly envious of those lucky souls who have houses looking straight out onto the city and the Adriatic beyond, my neck craning through the terraces and balconies to get a better view.

I couldn’t wait to see what views were waiting for us at our hotel. Just south of the walls, a mere three minutes’ walk to the city itself, is the Hotel Excelsior. Nestled into the hillside at reception level, the hotel appears largely unassuming at first glance, but as soon as you walk into the lobby you know why you’re here.

Floor to ceiling windows boasting some of the best views of the Dubrovnik welcome you as you walk in, as do the ever-friendly reception staff and the porters ready to whisk your luggage away for you.

We check in and are personally taken to our room, and unusually, we head to a lower floor in the lift. Remember how I said the reception was nestled into the hillside? Well, the hotel itself is perched directly next to the sea, half the original villa and half the new Tower, with old and new blended together perfectly as the new floors snake upwards.

We opted for a room in the original villa as I’m a sucker for a bit of character. We walk in and are presented with a small but perfectly functional room, a colour palette of soft grey and blue the dominant force, with touches of marble and blush pink accents. The marble carried through into the bathroom, which comes complete with L’Occitane toiletries, robes and slippers.

The bed is huge and so so comfortable, complemented by equally as huge, sumptuous pillows. And the turndown service is even better (I’ve never had a proper turndown service before – I’m not ashamed to say how excited I was when I walked back into the room on the first evening to discover the little chocolates waiting for us!).

We were a little early to check in but luckily our room was ready, although we had a couple of knocks on the door afterwards as our welcome fruit plate and prosecco were brought to us. A very nice touch!

If I’m completely honest, the room is a lot smaller than we were expecting, particularly given the price – this part of the world isn’t exactly great value for money – but when we walked out onto the balcony, all was forgiven.

How’s that for a balcony view?!

We had planned to head out and explore the city as soon as we arrived, but after a pre-5am wake-up call to catch the flight, we thought we’d take it a bit easier and make the most of the hotel. So, after we’d enjoyed the prosecco on the balcony, listening to the gentle lap of the waves below, the bar was calling to us.

Abikus Piano Bar is the heart of the hotel, with plush sofas and fancy lighting, not to mention the piano and “wall of fame”, a wall chock full of photographs of all the famous guests the hotel had greeted. Everyone from royalty to Game of Thrones actors have at one stage rested their head at this hotel, so we were in good company.

I confess, however, that I didn’t hang around indoors long enough to get a proper photograph of the rest of the bar – the terrace was calling my name, and with uninterrupted views of the walled city of Dubrovnik, I headed straight for a table at the edge to admire it a bit more.

We basically set up shop here for the rest of the day. We ate fantastic bar food and drank cocktails as the sun set, then decamped to one of the outdoor sofas to enjoy some wine in the moonlight, the walls of the city illuminated in front of us. There was the faint sound of a wedding taking place at the hotel in the background – how great would it be to get married here?!

This wasn’t the last evening we spent enjoying the bar, nor the other restaurants at the hotel. As well as Abikus there’s Prora, the beach restaurant with tables as close as you can possibly be to the water, where we enjoyed our first anniversary meal the next night. There’s also Sensus, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, which we treated ourselves to on the last night of our stay. Then there’s Salin, the breakfast room, which has a beautiful spread of everything you could possibly wish for at breakfast – prosecco included – together with those must-have views once again. We really were spoilt.

Aside from the views and fabulous dining options, there’s something else that sets this hotel apart – the private beach. Ok, beach may be pushing it slightly – Dubrovnik isn’t exactly known for its beaches and this was more like a swimming/sunbathing platform next to the sea, but it was pretty amazing.

Sunbeds and parasols are set out from early morning, and it doesn’t take long for guests to start to meander outside. It never feels overcrowded, though, and the bar service means you can recline in the sunshine with a cocktail at your side (or food if you prefer). Bliss.

Oh, and did I mention that you can jump straight into the crystal-clear waters of the Adriatic? The water is deep enough to do just that, and there’s something kind of wonderful about being able to swim in the sea yet clamber back out to recline at a moment’s notice.

For me, there’s nothing quite as relaxing as the sound of the water. The gentle lapping of the waves against the platform and nearby rocks, occasionally intensified by a passing boat, is mesmerising. When combined with such beautiful scenery – Dubrovnik to your left, the lush greenery of Lokrum Island directly opposite and the cliffs rising to your right, private villas perched atop – it’s something else.

Even though we’re so close to the city, it feels incredibly peaceful. There’s the slight sound of the throng coming from nearby Banje Beach, one of the few actual beaches in Dubrovnik and therefore one that’s always packed. And I mean really packed. Unless you like that sort of thing, the beach at the Hotel Excelsior wins hands down.

The hotel also boasts a spa with an indoor pool, sauna/steam facilities, jacuzzis and treatment rooms, although I have to admit that I wasn’t blown away by this part of it. The service was lacking, the massages weren’t the best and the facilities could do with a bit of an update, so we didn’t spend a whole lot of time in here. But really, with the beach area just outside, why would you?

If my rambling experience/review hasn’t given you a hint yet – we kind of loved this hotel. The location simply can’t be beaten, the service was for the most part amazing, and the balconies/bar/restaurants/beach area were all stunning. Aside from some minor niggles (room size and spa being the two main ones) we couldn’t fault it, and if you’re prepared for the fact that you’re basically paying for the location, this has got to be one of the best luxury options in Dubrovnik. Hotel Excelsior, we’ll be back!

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