We only had a day’s notice before heading to Croatia for a much-needed five-day break from the gloomy weather that comprised spring in London. Sick of wearing winter coats in June, we decided last-minute (as in a day ahead) to take the kids out of school (shhh… don’t tell. They can both be sick with a strange virus at the same time, right?). We boarded a six am flight to Dubrovnik on a Wednesday, the kids revelling in the fact that when we landed their friends were about to start class.

We arrived to a sun so bright that it caused our unaccustomed eyes to squint and tear. It beat down on our vitamin D-deprived skin, causing it to swell and perspire in ways we had forgotten were possible. The first item on our agenda: a swim at our hotel, the Royal Princess in Lapad.

Freshly filled from the ocean each evening, the water was cold enough to make my heart jump before relaxing in the respite from the heat.

Marley, my seven-year-old daughter, deemed it too cold to swim in, opting instead to climb the rocks nearby, rescuing sea snails while her dad, Austin, and six-year-old brother, Pierce, leapt into the clear blue ocean from rocky outcroppings.

After a quick taxi ride that evening, we arrived at the well-preserved walled Old Town – it’s survived both an earthquake in 1667 and a war with Serbia in the early 90s. Dubrovnik, also known as the Pearl of the Adriatic, lies on the Dalmatian coast and was an important Mediterranean port from the 13th Century. The Old City is flanked by historic buildings including two monasteries (a Franciscan and a Dominican), a cathedral and numerous Baroque churches. We spent the evening climbing stone staircases, wandering down alleyways and ducking under hanging laundry while the kids salivated over freshly-made gelato. At dinner we settled on the outdoor patio of a restaurant called Bistro Teatar. The over-friendly waiter loved the kids, joking with them and promising to show them the lobster tank if they finished their meals. Marley and Pierce devoured their pasta while Austin and I enjoyed overflowing bowls of mussels and frites along with some Parma ham and olives.

The next morning we walked through the main square of the Old Town, stopping to refill our water bottles with spring water spouting from statues at the Onofrio Fountain. Then we made our way to the old port to catch a ferry to nearby Lokrum island.  Within 15 minutes we arrived on this nature preserve, greeted by trees of all shapes and sizes. Laurels, oaks and olive trees combine to form a vibrant yet prickly army rising high above the incessant boatloads of onlookers. Lokrum’s winding paths are easy to get lost in (we spent half an hour walking in circles through the forest), but the lush pine trees are wonderful at protecting you from the elements. Finally, we made our way to the Dead Sea Lake which Marley hoped would allow her to float endlessly like Jordan’s Sea of the same name. It didn’t. But the lime green water was cool and refreshing and the surrounding rock cliffs provided an element of adventure. Pierce was fearless as he scaled the rock face (with Austin’s help) to a height of about four meters. When he looked a bit nervous before jumping off, a group of tourists urged him on, cheering and applauding as his tiny feet hit the water. Austin climbed even higher, amusing the tourists once more as he jumped from seven meters, splitting open the backside of his swim suit as he landed.

For lunch, we dined in the restaurant at the Benedictine monastery (circa 1023). Yelping peacocks serenaded us as we munched on the surprisingly tasty food. None of us expected our palates to be pleased by food served at a restaurant in the middle of a nature preserve, but the pizzas and my tuna salad (with fresh chunks of tuna) were beyond appetizing.

At two, we travelled back to Dubrovnik and met friends at the beach of the Bellevue hotel. The downside: to get to it, we had to descend hundreds of unshaded steps – no easy feat with my exhausted children plus our friends’ toddler and her stroller in tow. Once there, the rocky terrain was almost impossible to walk on without shoes, not only because of the pain-inducing uneasiness of their shapes, but also because they’d been turned into burning mounds of torture by the sun. The calm water of the sheltered bay made the trek worthwhile (as long as we didn’t think about the imminent hike back up). We dined that night overlooking the sea at Hotel Kompas’s Sedna Pizzeria restaurant in Lapad. Marley, Pierce and Clara (their two-year-old pal) performed for us, dancing in front of the stage to the live band’s cheesy covers of The Beach Boys.   

Our third day was spent on a cruise of the Elaphite islands. While the boat was comfortable and provided a good amount of shade, let’s just say that the food poisoning I came down with the night before (perhaps the tuna salad at the Monastery wasn’t so good after all) and a day spent in the heat and open sea don’t mix well. That said, the views of Croatia’s coastline made my suffering worthwhile.

The sun sparkled off the crests of waves the exact colour of the bright, cloudless sky. The backdrop of prickly forested mountains in varying shades of green were breathtaking enough to render the kids speechless (a tough thing to do, trust me). As we pulled into Koločep, our first stop, Marley was so excited to disembark that she jumped off the boat before anyone could grab her. “I’m leader for this island,” she proclaimed. “We’re going up this path.” We followed her tie-dyed skirt through narrow dirt pathways lined with stone walls, stopping to smell the vibrant flowers bursting through cracks and over fences along the way.

An hour later, we’d visited a few churches, explored paths that led us into private gardens and had time for an ice cream before getting back on the boat. Šipan, the largest of the islands, was just as beautiful, colourful houses peeking out from below towering coniferous trees. Pierce took the lead here, stopping to listen to sea shells being sold by local children in the port and along pathways that led to an old tower and run down stone churches. We dipped our tired feet in the cool sea water before boarding the boat for lunch – freshly-grilled fish. The kids ate quickly, laughing hysterically as eager fish and gulls gobbled up their extra bread as we began our journey to Lopud. Not feeling at my best, we took it a bit easy on this island, taking a golf cart tram to save us a 20-minute walk to the most sought-after sandy beach. Once there, we spent two and a half hours swimming and building sand-castles before catching the boat back to town.

After a buffet breakfast at the hotel the following day, we took a taxi to the Dubrovnik Cable Car, which had recently been rebuilt after incurring major damages in the war with Serbia. Marley, who’s afraid of heights, gasped in fear as we climbed higher and higher to the top of Srd Hill. She refused to examine the unrivalled view of the Old City from our mountain-top vantage point. The walls below resembled one of Pierce’s Playmobile sets while Lokrum looked as if it had been modelled out of evergreen-coloured Play-Doh and placed in a sea painted with blue pastels. As the car descended, a wave of relief passed over Marley’s oval face, her cheeks dotted pink from the heat. As the Old Town came closer and regained its magnificent stature, she breathed a sigh of relief, ready to enjoy our last afternoon of touring and more importantly, a large scoop of mint chocolate gelato.

That night, we walked to the beach at the Valamar Dubrovnik President hotel, relaxing on the sand as we awaited the sunset. As I crouched to take photos of the children against the impressive pink and orange sky, a large, round elderly woman smiled at us, enjoying the sunset herself from her perch on a low wall nearby. As I heard the camera’s shutter open, I noticed a flash of skin from the corner of my eye. The woman had removed her swim suit and was now sitting naked, a hand towel covering her front while her backside enjoyed its newfound freedom. The kids giggled uncontrollably as we passed, linking hands and skipping up the hill towards our hotel. The sweet sound of their laughter highlighted the remarkable view, making the sun’s beautiful descent between the Croatian mountains seem even more spectacular.