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Birthday in the Balkans

By J. MANUEL GONZALEZ Published Apr 25, 2024 5:00 am

DUBROVNIK — No one ever accused me of belonging to Philippine high society, but every now and then, someone makes a mistake and invites me to a high-class affair by accident. So it was that I wound up in Dubrovnik for someone’s birthday bash. (This is not a society or gossip column, and I want to get invited again, so I will mention only first names.)

I have known Bobby since whenever, so when he mentioned that he was mounting a three-day birthday celebration in Croatia and in effect had room for one more, I carefully considered his sort-of-invitation for two minutes, then called my travel agent.

The Dalmatian coast is speckled with lovely, barely inhabited islands.

Why Croatia? Why not? If it’s just “the usual suspects” (Singapore, Bali, or Paris, for example), people would go for the wrong reasons, then get distracted. Dubrovnik was more likely to appeal to Bobby’s circle of friends, and they would be there to bond and swap stories, not to shop or take selfies to impress others with.

Eventually almost 30 friends and one hanger-on (that was me) wound up in this idyllic corner of the Balkans. (It’s across the Adriatic Sea from Italy.) We had perfect springtime weather, perfumed with just-emerging orange blossoms. If you’ve never smelled orange blossoms, they are intoxicating, nothing like orange, and worth traveling for all by themselves.

Typical Dubrovnik vista

Jenny and Diego flew in from New York, as did several more of Bobby’s relatives. Gabriella and Maria (minus spouses) popped over from London, as did Jamie and Luci. From relatively nearby Rome, Monet and Mike. John and Esther came all the way from Florida. A largish group flew in from Chengdu, business associates, just for the bash. Veronica was from Hong Kong, Andy from Brussels. Ann and Rudy were the only attendees from Manila, and I came from Cebu (a harrowing journey on an airline with just-awful flight times and a villainous caterer).

The celebrant and the DJ prepare for a very creditable rendition of La Vie en Rose.

Dubrovnik is a medieval walled city on Croatia’s far-southern coast, as picturesque as they come. Most of it is 500 years old, and emerged relatively unscathed from the recent unpleasantness in Serbia following the dismemberment of Yugoslavia.

Over the course of three days, Bobby took us all to dinner at a marina, lunch beside a brook in the countryside, a yacht ride around the nearby islands, and lastly, a dinner-dance on a mountaintop overlooking the city.

Lunch by a brook: Some fairly well-known beautiful people here, but the author forgot their names

Unlike Ibiza in Spain, Dubrovnik isn’t a party city but a sort of “hang loose” city, with restaurants and bars on every corner, but no all-night discotheques or free-flowing weed. The Big Things to Do are sitting at a cafe contemplating the sea, and hiking the parapet walls (a perilous one-hour journey up and down many steps; bring a hat and knee-guards). It’s definitely a place to gather jaded jet-setters who’ve Been There, Done That.

Real recommendations include, for lodgings: Hilton Imperial and Dubrovnik Palace; food: Konoba Dubrava (lamb and veal, high up the mountain), Orhan (calamari fritti, seaside terrace), and Trattoria Carmen (pizza). Turkish Airlines flies direct from Istanbul.