Croatia Road trip. A Day trip from dubrovnik to beautiful Croatian Vineyards

After exploring Dubrovnik at length we decided we would take a day trip and check out a few vineyards we had been hearing so much about. Traveling with a family of wine drinkers, this was a welcomed suggestion. We hired a small coach to take the eleven of us to two vineyards and to visit the towns of Ston and Mali Ston.

First stop was the medieval town of Ston. Ston and Mali Ston are small towns that sit on the Peljesac peninsula about an hour and a half from Dubrovnik. The two towns are famous for their encompassing stone walls that were built to protect the cities. The walls are still very much intact and you are able to walk them. We, however, did not opt to stroll on top of the walls and just remained in the town centre. This might be part of the reason that Ston didn't leave a huge impression on me. It was nice, very nice, but after towns like Dubrovnik, Split, and Rovinj, this just wasn't quite the same. I think however that maybe a walk upon the walls might have increased my enthusiasm. However with 5 children in tow, we weighed the entrance price for the tickets, the high heat of the day, and the potential for child/parent meltdowns, and the team decision was to stay at ground level. Did we make a mistake?

Ston is also home to a large industry of salt production. It is said to be among the oldest salt producers in the Mediterranean. It is still harvested by the same method as nearly 4000 years ago. Seawater is left in pans to evaporate and then the remaining salt is shoveled into carts and brought to basins for production.

From Ston, we headed up to the vineyards. And when I say up, I mean up. If gaining altitude wasn't bad enough, we were doing it on the edge of a cliff that gave a crystal clear view of the Adriatic 100's of metres below. Before when I was discussing the driving in Dubrovnik and said it would get worse, this is exactly where things got worse. Sitting in the coach, you already feel very elevated but add to this the sheer drop off as you look down to the sea, combined with the absence of any guard rail protection what so ever, equals terrifying. The bus climbed up and up, on narrow often gravel roads,  switchback after switchback. The real kicker came when the driver, who knew we were all nervous, decided to take the "back way" home as it would get us down quicker. This was ten times worse than the original way! Even the coolest cucumber in our group was very uncomfortable. So you can imagine the family members who have severe height phobias were having mild heart attacks. No joke, the adults were very grumpy. The kids, however, had their devices and didn't look up once. I wish I could have been them. 

Croatia Road Trip. Crazy roads in Croatia.

Thankfully, the drive was not for nothing. The vineyards we visited were fabulous with super nice people giving the tours. We stopped at two different wineries, Matsuko and Vina Vukas. Both were great. A wine tasting tour doesn't sound like a child's preference for the day but we were pleasantly surprised how much the kids did enjoy themselves. At each tasting there were wine glasses set out for everyone, adults trying the wine and the kids could help themselves to a pitcher of apple juice. The wine was paired with nice selections of cheeses, biscuits, and sweets. At every stop in Croatia, we noticed how friendly and open the locals were to kids. The vineyards were no exception. While the adults sipped their wine the children were allowed to freely roam the cellars or go outside and play. There was no stress at all bringing young ones with us. As I am not a wine drinker, I can't personally comment on the degustation, but all the members of our group said the wine was superb. 

Even the kids enjoyed the Croatian cellars.

Once out of the cellar, we were allowed to walk through the rows of vines growing on the properties. Big bunches of hanging grapes were grown to perfection. Through our travels, I have come to realize that every wine country seems to have their own version of a hard liqueur derived from the grapes. In Croatia, it is called rakija. We saw big glass bottles of it fermenting on many balconies throughout our trip. I was told it is similar to a brandy, but I can't guarantee that. 

Croatia Road trip. Homeaide rakija in Croatia. Day trip to a Croatian vineyard.

We ended the day with a harrowing drive on the back roads, back down the mountain to Mali Ston. This is the little sister town to Ston. It is located on a pretty waterfront that is home to oyster and mussel farms.  Here we stopped at a fantastic restaurant, Kapetanova Kuca, where we all took a sigh of relief to back on level ground. We ate a big family lunch, overlooking the small harbour. The food was delicious. Since oysters were the main draw, my oldest son made it his mission to see if they were all they were cracked up to be. Verdict-yes! We also tried a dessert we had never had before. Stonska Torta is a sort of "pasta" cake. Quite literally, a cinnamon type cake filled with cooked tube pasta. I can't say it was good or bad. It tasted exactly like you would think- cake with pasta in it. Try serving Stonska Torta at your next dinner party and watch people's reaction ;-)

Croatia Road Trip. Exploring Croatian Vineyards with a stop in Mali Ston. Croatian dessert- pasta cake.

Our route through Croatia.

Driving route through Croatia. European Family vacation in Croatia.

Croatia road trip. Lokrum Island- A Perfect Day Trip From Dubrovnik

On our second day in Dubrovnik we discovered a real treasure, Lokrum island. It is about a 15 minute ferry ride from Dubrovnik and about a 30 minute ferry ride from Mlini. Lokrum is a nature reserve surrounded by crystal clear waters and home to many, many peacocks.

We spent our first morning in Dubrovnik and by midday were hot and tired from all the crowds. Wanting a break from the heat and all the tourists we decided to head for Lokrum. Best decision ever! The kids instantly fell in love with the island as there were rocks galore to climb, blue waters for swimming, and nature paths to walk. And not too many people!

After cooling off in the water and exploring the first series of rocks, we decided to head to the interior of the island. Paths lead you around, passing through beautiful gardens and a maze of olive trees. The boys were especially happy to stumble upon someone's property that just happened to have a basketball net. Score! Since they always travel with a ball close by, the next hour was all theirs to play. While the older boys played hoops, the younger kids ran like crazy amongst all the olive trees. Happy kids all around.

On one end of the island, set inland, there is a pool of water called "the dead sea." A small hike down the cliffs takes you to this phenomenon. The water has a much higher quantity of salt compared to the surrounding sea, claiming it is much easier to swim. We didn't really notice a difference in buoyancy but supposedly it exists. 

After all the swimming and climbing, everyone was getting hungry so we headed to one of the only restaurants on the island. En route we came across lots of wildlife (including more peacocks) and found the ruins of the Benedictine Monastery. 

By this point, we were all famished. There wasn't a big selection of restaurants to choose from so we pretty much just went for the first one we saw. Another victory- it was fabulous!!! The massive seafood platter was a hit with everyone. While the adults sat back and relaxed on the restaurant's terrace the kids ran around in the adjacent park.

We had time for one more stop on the rocks before it was time to head for the ferry to Mlini. This time we stopped at the opposite end of the island where the water was a bit rougher. The kids were not that interested in swimming but more in building forts. They dragged sticks, rocks, and long grass around trying to construct the perfect hide out. Upon completion, a game of hide and go seek got underway.

Traveling with our kids usually means finding a balance between their needs and ours. We have found that they can handle the sight seeing tourists attractions for a set amount of time and then things can start to fall apart. Usually, a break in a park and some food is all it takes to reset everyone's mood. Lokrum island and Dubrovnik were that perfect balance for us. So much so, that we returned two more times. What worked best for us was arriving on the island first thing in the morning and staying until after lunch. At that point, we took the ferry to Dubrovnik and enjoyed the late afternoon and sunset in the old town. This way we avoided many of the Dubrovnik tourists and also the daytime heat in the city. If you have kids (and maybe even if you don't) I think Lokrum is a great stop. 

For more information, including ferry schedule, check out this tourism website on Lokrum.

Croatia Road Trip. Lokrum Croatia. Short day trip from Dubrovnik. Great day trip with kids when visiting Dubrovnik.

Our route through Croatia.

Croatia road Trip. European family vacation in Croatia.