Dubrovnik Sun Burns Off Cold War Past

Tear down Dubrovnik's walls and you'd lose sleek hotels, picturesque eateries and hidden pubs.
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Dubrovnik's elaborate walled facade has survived Arab raids in the 8th century, the Russian siege of 1806, the Serbian shelling of 1991-92 and Communist rule. Now the only risk is being overrun by tourists. Daily runs by Easyjet and Air Berlin have helped make Dubrovnik, a functioning walled city on the Adriatic, one of the most affordable and accessible Riviera holidays for mainland Europe.

Dubrovnik was one of the first resort towns to emerge as a post-Communist jet-setter hot spot, and it is still seeing a building boom of hotel renovations and developments. Developing its flashiest hotel to date,

Rezidor Hotel Group

will debut the Regent Dubrovnik (http://www.regenthotels.com) in early 2012 in the town of Orasac, 20 minutes north of Dubrovnik. The five-star luxury property will occupy a prime piece of waterfront with private beach, branded spa and gourmet eatery by a yet unnamed star chef. Rezidor already operates

Radisson Blu Residence Dubrovnik Sun Gardens

in the same town. The renovated Communist-era resort has apartment-style accommodations with kitchenettes, three pools and the Ginja Lounge nightclub.

Visitors can also stay inside the walls of Dubrovnik or along the sea just outside its gates. Those booking into Dubrovnik hotels should be prepared for laminate hardwood floors, congested air conditioning and remnant Communist-era architecture.

Hotel Villa Dubrovnik

is a welcome exception, sitting on a secluded waterfront cove among a towering forest of pine trees and mature citrus groves that give the feel of a private Adriatic estate. Once a mainstay of summertime Communist vacationers, the hotel took three years to exorcize its architectural demons, a task done with tumbled stone and a sleek white facelift for its former rambling facade.

The Hotel Villa Dubrovnik allows guests to go from striped sun lounger to Adriatic swan dive with a single step.

The lobby balances uber-modern decor of glass and raw stone with views of the old town and outlying Lokrum Island. Nearby is Restaurant Pjerin, which boasts a formal interior dining room and terrace (and, of course, a Mediterranean menu and al fresco bar). The main draw of summer, however, is the beach built atop a rocky ledge so guests can go from striped sun lounger to Adriatic swan dive with a single step. Rooms are airy and bright. Glass doors open onto seafront balconies, and interiors have walnut hardwood floors and open-style bathrooms with double-bowl sinks.

Travelers will want to be awake as the streets of the city come to life with incredibly tanned residents flocking to the stalls of local food vendors and their elaborate presentations of meats, fish and organic produce. A chicer set hits the town's hottest beach club,

East West Club

, with its waterfront tanning scene (baptized by such Hollywood party celebs as Tara Reid who come to mingle with the visitors gliding into surrounding inlets in yachts). Come nightfall, the beach club morphs slowly into a restaurant, then a nightclub.

For more serious cuisine, consider

Lokanda Peskarija

, the most picturesque of four popular sites run by a single top Dubrovnik restaurateur. Along the main fishing harbor (which likely transports most of what you'll be eating from hook to fork), Lokanda Peskarija presides over a picturesque section of portside waterfront. It has an elaborate two-story dining room cocooned within the historic city walls, including a chunky beam ceiling and intricate woodwork worthy of a museum. Sadly, most summer visitors never see the restaurant's interiors; instead they sit under oversize white umbrellas along the waterfront terrace dining room to devour their platters of calamari, grilled octopus and homemade pasta topped with fresh-caught whole fish.

As night falls, the city is engulfed in birds that lend a mystical presence to the chime of clocktowers and singing street performers in folkloric garb. Touristy shops lure budget shoppers hunting for T-shirts and kitschy booty, while others go in search of the pubs and clubs hidden in the city's nooks and crannies.

Gil's Dubrovnik

is a chic supper club. The restaurant, recently crowned with 17 points by Gault Millau, and "Pop Lounge" are nestled within a two-story space with summertime terrace -- actually atop the city wall. The outdoor lounge features stunning nighttime views of the city and sea as DJs play sets to the clink of champagne glasses from reserved tables. It's the best lounge scene in Dubrovnik.

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Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.