HOW would the architecture of a mediaeval town look in a sci-fi movie like Star Wars: The Last Jedi?
That question was at the top of my mind when I visited Dubrovnik in Croatia, the week before the latest Star Wars movie was released.
The 1,300-year-old city is well known as a filming location for Game Of Thrones, a mediaeval fantasy television series, and Star Wars has joined the growing list of movies filmed there, including Robin Hood: Origins, which will be released later this year.
After checking into Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik at 9pm on a December night, my two travel mates and I went in search of dinner.
We strolled from our seafront hotel towards some flickering lights, crossing a drawbridge and entering, unknowingly, into the Old City. Walking on the deserted marble-paved paths sandwiched by ancient walls, we felt like spies creeping into a sleeping village.
At the end of the meandering lanes, we were relieved to find people and bustling bistros in a promenade surrounded by 17th-century Baroque-styled shophouses, monuments and churches.
The shops there have arched entrances, which I immediately recognised from the Star Wars movie.
The doorways are icons in Dubrovnik Old City’s main street, called Placa or Stradun.
In the movie, the street was the setting for Canto Bight, the luxury casino planet that featured stables with space horses. Futuristic access-control panels and glowing lights were installed around the shop entrances, transforming them into doorways to a distant world.
With a touch of movie magic plus some aliens and machines on a high-speed chase at night, the ancient town instantly turned into a mysterious place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”.
Along the city walls
While roaming around the well-preserved Old City the next day, I stumbled upon several locations where Game Of Thrones was filmed, such as the Jesuit Staircase and Ploce Gate, where the drama’s Walk of Shame scenes were shot.
There are many cafés and souvenir shops along the Stradun and its side streets, as well as museums, old churches and art galleries.
After lunch, we headed to the famous city walls, which have been featured in many Game Of Thrones scenes.
Dubrovnik (formerly called Ragusa) was founded in the seventh century by refugees from Greece, who built walls around the settlement to prevent invasions from enemies and potential conquerors.
To reinforce the defence, towers, bastions and fortresses were added through the centuries. The bulk of the existing stone walls was built from the 14th to 17th century.
Visitors can go for a walk on the 1.9km-long city walls, which are up to 6m thick and 25m high.
After climbing up a steep flight of stairs at the western entrance of the walls, we paused to soak in the view of the Old City, peering over the picturesque orange terracotta rooftops.
We saw streets and back alleys, as well as five fortresses, the most spectacular of which was Fort Lovrijenac (or St Lawrence’s Fort), perched on a rugged cliff across the bay. Game Of Thrones fans will recognise it as the Red Keep castle in King’s Landing.
Thanks — or no thanks — to Game Of Thrones, the number of tourists has soared in recent years. Dubrovnik’s mayor plans to limit the number of visitors in the Old City, a Unesco World Heritage Site, to 4,000 a day to prevent overcrowding and damage.
Try to avoid the summer crowd. Go between October and April, which is also when filming usually takes place.
You might be lucky enough to stumble across a film set.
The writer’s trip was organised by Turkish Airlines and the Croatian National Tourist Board.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
■ Stroll in the Old City: The best way to explore the Old City is on foot.
Grab a tourist map and do it yourself, or join a guided walking tour (www.dubrovnik-walking-tours.com) such as the one for the Game Of Thrones, which covers the filming sites.
■ Walk the city walls: This top attraction offers views over rooftops and backyards, and awesome sights across the bay. Admission fees are 150 kuna ($33) for adults and 50 kuna for children.
It is worth buying a Dubrovnik Card (www.dubrovnikcard.com) that includes free public transport and admission (for cardholder and a child) to nine attractions, including the city walls.
■ Take the cable car: Ascend to Mount Srd in a cable car (www.dubrovnikcablecar.com) to enjoy panoramic views of the Old City, coastlines, deep blue sea and islands. There is a restaurant and a museum at the peak.
■ Cruise to Lokrum Island: If you want to see the city from the sea, take a 15-minute ferry ride to Lokrum Island (www.lokrum.hr), which has a botanical garden, many peacocks and the ruins of an 11th-century Benedictine monastery.
WHAT & WHERE TO EAT
■ Dalmatino: Located in a private courtyard in the Old City, this restaurant offers traditional cuisine with a twist, such as John Dory fillet served with stir-fried vegetables and rosemary garlic sauce.
■ Café Royal at The Pucic Palace hotel: This restaurant beside Gundulic Square offers Parisian boulevard-style seating and a cosy interior with classic decorations. It serves local cuisine and fresh fish.
■ Gradska Kavana Arsenal (City Café): People-watch and enjoy views of the Old City’s historic district while you savour this café’s famous coffee and cake, or tuck into its fresh seafood meal, such as the cod fillet with pea mash and mozzarella.
■ I flew from Singapore to Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. From Zagreb, we took a 600km drive to Dubrovnik as we wanted to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park along the way.
■ Turkish Airlines flies from Singapore to two Croatian cities(Zagreb and Dubrovnik) via Istanbul. Special airfares to Zagreb starting at $1,318 for Economy Class are available till April 26 for travel till Dec 12.
Visit www.turkishairlines.com for details.
■ Croatia’s currency is the kuna. Take euros there to change at any of the banks, money exchange offices or hotel receptions.
■ If you take a road trip from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, a small stretch of the road will pass through the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, so ensure your passport is on hand for border checks.
■ Visit Dubrovnik Tourist Board’s website (www.tzdubrovnik.hr) for tourist information.
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