HERZEGOVINA & CROATIAN ISLANDS - 12 DAY GUIDED TOUR ITINERARY
DAY 11 - Croatia - Arboretum Trsteno and Lokrum Island
Today we will visit Arboretum Trsteno near Dubrovnik. Nestled along the stunning Adriatic Coast in Croatia, Trsteno Arboretum is a true hidden gem. Two giant plane trees at the entrance to Trsteno village – each is more than 500 years old and around 50m high. They're among the largest of their kind in Europe.
Trsteno has a good claim to have the oldest arboretum in Europe. It is certainly the only one on the Croatian Adriatic coast. It belongs now to the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences, but its history as an arboretum dates back to the 15th century, when it was the summer home of the Gučetić-Gozze family, members of the noble class of citizens of the Dubrovnik Republic.
The captains of this family’s great ships were requested to bring home plants and seeds from their vogages to populate the arboretum. The eucalyptus, Aleppo pines, holm oak, palms and laurels and many exotic trees and shrubs that they collected have been preserved and augmented over the centuries. It is the pre-eminent and most beautiful example of landscape architecture of Dubrovnik summer villas.
Located in the seaside village of Trsteno, just a short ride from Dubrovnik, the arboretum is a place of natural beauty, where the cool greens of antique Renaissance gardens meet the deep blue of the Adriatic Sea. We will explore its lovely views and quiet corners, and you’ll be sure to leave with a restored sense of peace and tranquillity.
The Baroque fountain, built in 1736, features a carved statue of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea and of all water, who stands proudly with his trident, flanked by two graceful nymphs. Colourful fish swim in the spacious pool at his feet, and birds flutter and chirp overhead. According to legend, it is Neptune himself who has protected this unique natural environment from fire and other disasters over many centuries.
Set on a cliff overlooking the Adriatic, the arboretum covers more than 25 hectares. It includes a Renaissance villa, walking promenade, a chapel, a Baroque fountain and the graceful arches of a stone aqueduct.
The garden has a Renaissance layout, with a set of geometric shapes formed with plants such as lavender, rosemary, fuchsia and bougainvillea, while citrus trees perfume the air.
It's set around a stone villa (built around 1500), with a cliff-edge pavilion in front and a chapel behind. There’s also a small hedge maze, a fine palm collection (including Chinese windmill palms) and a gorgeous pond overlooked by a statue of Neptune and filled with white waterlilies and dozens of bullfrogs and goldfish. It’s only partially landscaped, though – quite a bit of it is wonderfully wild.
Trsteno Arboretum is a haven for nature lovers and history enthusiasts alike.
The Arboretum is the oldest renaissance garden in Dalmatia. It’s dated back as far as 1492 when a irrigation aqueduct was built there. The 70-metre long aqueduct with 14 arches fed water to the fountain in the garden.
The abondoned, overtaken-by-nature feel of this place is really magical - the management have just let entropy do its thing here to very romantic effect.
Find tranquility in centuries old olive grove.
The stunning bougainvillea at Renaissance garden and villa.
Renaissance garden and villa.
The famous philosopher and writer Nikola Vitov Guchetich also lived here for some time. The last owner, Vito Guchetich Bosiljevich, collected many old stone sculptures and fragments, some of which he built into an artificially constructed ruin, and others he placed around the villa.
Pine tree by crystal clear sea.
Small bridge on the way to Trsteno port.
From towering cypress trees to vibrant flowers and exotic shrubs, the arboretum is a feast for the senses.
Be that as it may, a walk through Arboretum, through this gorgeous, fairytale-like place, is like a walk through a museum of the ancient times of romance that are no more but in the memory and longing of our hearts…
The gardens are extremely tranquil and the assortment of trees offers plenty of shade for the wandering guest.
The vibrant colors and fragrant scents create a truly enchanting atmosphere.
Our next visit is Lokrum Island. Just 15 minutes boat ride from Dubrovnik harbour.
Lokrum is a tiny island located around 600 metres off the coast of Dubrovnik.
The first mention of Lokrum in writing came in 1023, in connection with the founding of the Benedictine abbey and monastery. According to legend Richard the Lion-Heart was cast ashore here after being shipwrecked in 1192 while returning from the Crusades. The vow he made to build a church on the spot where he came ashore should he be saved was kept at least in part. Although he came ashore in Lokrum, at the request of the people of Dubrovnik, he agreed to have the church built in the city itself.
The views when you arrive.
It’s lush with greenery and surrounded by the greeny-blue Adriatic Sea on all sides.
The rocks which are actually placed on the very seaside, had been fairly far from the sea only 10 – 15 thousand years ago. Namely, during the glacial periods, the last of which had then been at its culmination, due to the coupling of a large quantity of water in the vast ice covers, the sea level had been sometimes more than one hundred meters below the actual.
At that time, Lokrum was in fact not even an island: it was only a small hill. The final flooding of the earlier land by the sea had taken place approximately 6 – 10 thousand years previously, during the time of the origin of the most ancient civilisations.
There are many peacocks roaming free around Lokrum which reflects the regal air. You might hear them before you see them, though. They’re most beautiful when they’re stalking around the ruins, shimmying their feathers until they’re fully fanned out.
The monastery complex was first mentioned in 1023 as the first of many Benedictine monasteries on the territory of the Dubrovnik Republic. The entire island was owned by the monastery, while the abbey served also as a hospital and an almshouse until the mid-15th century.
The Roman Curia granted the mitre in 1149 to the Lokrum Abbot and ever since then the monastery’s abbots, after the archbishop, are considered the first prelates of the Dubrovnik Church.
The night before the monks left, they gathered in their hoods, lit their candles, turned them upside down, and with their heads bowed, whispering prayers and murmuring songs, slowly walked around their ancient holding, mourning their loss and saying goodbye to their beautiful home.
The legend, of course, adds drama to such a goodbye.
The dark and mysterious line of monks in the end cursed the future owners of the island under the flickering light of candles. The legend, to which certain deaths and accidents that happened to local sellers and owners were associated, would have faded away if not for the tragedies which befell the family of the Austrian emperor and the Croatian king Francis Joseph I, whose family members owned Lokrum.
The execution of the emperor’s brother, Archduke Maximilian, in Mexico, the assassination of his wife Elisabeth at Lake Geneva and the suicide of his son and heir Rudolph in Mayerling violently and forever impressed the legend in collective memory and enshrouded the island in dark shadows.
The ruins of the monastery complex are divided into three parts. The most ancient are the remains of the three-nave and triconch Romanesque-Gothic basilica (12th and 13th century), the east and west monastery wing with its tower and a destroyed cloister.
In the 15th and 16th century, a new monastery in the Gothic-Renaissance style was constructed to the south of the old Romanesque one. The west and north wings of that monastery collapsed during the devastating earthquake of 1667, and only two wings with the cloister were preserved.
Over the cloister door a timeless and ever meaningful message is inscribed:
("Harmony makes small things grow, lack of it makes great things decay.")
At the beginning of the 1860s, in the south-east corner of the new monastery’s courtyard the summer villa of Maximilian I, the Emperor of Mexico, was constructed.
Built according to the owner’s wishes, where the south section of the east wing of the Romanesque-Gothic monastery used to stand, with a guardhouse, the summer villa is a blend of neo-Romanesque, neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance elements which reflect the historic architecture of Maximilian’s time.
Maximilian’s summer house.
Lokrum is well known for its lovely botanical garden in which grew numerous species of plants including a large collection of eucalyptuses, palm trees and cacti (agave, aloe vera...). The trees and plants were mostly planted in the 19th century by Maximilian, at the time the owner of the Island. Nowadays, the area established as a botanical garden (in 1959) has about 800 species of exotic plants.
The Path of Paradise is the central part of the unique landscape and architectural system of three avenues, planted during the time of Archduke Maximilian, which stretches from the lower part of the island towards Fort Royal. It was originally bordered on both sides by a row of Mediterranean cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) and stone curbs. One edge was bounded by a gutter for collecting rainwater, which drained the water into a tank, and the water was then used for the palace complex.
Cloisters in the Benedictine Monastery.
Cloisters in the Benedictine Monastery.
A cloister garden is a specifically arranged garden space within the monastery complex. In the cloister of the Benedictine monastery, ornamental plants for altars were grown, but the cloister was primarily a special space intended for relaxation and for the fulfilment of spiritual needs.
The spatial arrangement of the central garden area of the cloister is divided by two paths that intersect in its very centre, therefore, mostly low-growing plants were planted, along with some shrubs and trees.
The oval well was built in Maximilian’s time and used to collect water for watering the exotic plants in Maximilian’s gardens. A system of rainwater collection channels was constructed over the entire island, which flowed into Charlotte’s well and two other reservoirs in the northern part of Lokrum. It is assumed that the owners and their guests also bathed in it.
The Olive Grove. It is preserved from the period of the Benedictine administration of the island; some of the olive trees are more than 300 years old.
Benedictine monastery complex at Lokrum with the Maximillian tower.
The sea has defined the island's edge. During the more vioent storms, gusts of wind send waves crashing with great impact on the cliffs of the eastern and southern parts of Lokrum.
An enchanting rock formation which creates a natural window looking out into the Adriatic Sea.
Erosion has also led to Lokrum's little natural wonder - the Dead Sea - a pond formed by centuries of storms and the specific formation of the island's rocky shoreline. The sea waves surge along the beach and pour into a deep, rocky cave that is connected by underground channels to the lake.
A small lake on the Island of Lokrum has its gloomy name because of the salt water - in fact it is a picturesque place with clean seawater, fish schools and trees hanging over the lake.
Fort Royal. The Fort is beautiful. The curved ceilings are lovely and then you step outside and are greeted with these amazing views of Dubrovnik and the surrounding area.
Having conquered the area of Dubrovnik in 1806, the French noticed the strategic importance of Lokrum, and in the same year began the construction of a fortress on the highest peak of the island of Lokrum – Glavica (96 m above sea level), which controlled access to the city from the sea.
In 1815, the French occupation was replaced by the Austrian, and in 1835 Austria expanded and strengthened the French fortress and gave it its final shape. The fortress has a circular layout, and consists of a bulwark with bastions and the main circular fort, later called "Maximilian’s Tower", although Maximilian I didn’t have anything to do with the construction.
By the decision of the Dubrovnik Senate in 1534, the construction of a lazaretto, i.e., a quarantine hospital, began on Lokrum Island. The Great Plague Pandemic, of the so-called Black Death, spread to the city of Dubrovnik in the 14th century, after the first case was recorded on the island of Šipan. The Dubrovnik authorities were not allowed to stop trading by closing the port and severing contacts with the outside world. As the people of Dubrovnik tried to continue trading, a decision was made to keep people, cattle, ships and goods in temporary isolation before they arrived in the City. In 1377, the Grand Council decided to establish quarantine at several sites in the area of Dubrovnik and its surroundings.
The Lokrum lazaretto was never completed, and its remains are still visible today. The double walls in the shape of a square fortress, one hundred meters long and about four meters high, had small rooms inside for people to stay, with a separate fireplace in each. In the central courtyard was a well with drinking water. Above the north entrance door was an inscription: "With the money raised from the wills of pious people, erected by Dubrovnik senators in 1557. May Almighty God help make this work not perish." The door was walled up at the time of the construction of Fort Royal, and a new one was built in the east wall. Over time, the people of Dubrovnik realized that the lazaretto, if conquered, could serve as a strong stronghold for the enemy, from which the city and port could be endangered. In the meantime, lazarettos were built in Ploče in 1590, and were proved to be the most practical with time. In 1647, the Dubrovnik Senate made the decision to use the stone of the Lokrum lazaretto for the construction of city walls. In the area of the unfinished lazaretto, the Benedictines laid out an olive grove, and a new door was constructed in the east wall, next to which a house was built for the guard who lived in the olive grove.
The cross of "TRITON" above Skalica Bay was erected in memory of the sailors of the Austrian warship "Triton" that was anchored in front of Lokrum, who died on May 9, 1859 due to a powerful explosion in the channel between the mainland and Lokrum. Of the crew, only ten survived. This brought Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg (brother of Emperor Francis Joseph I) to Dubrovnik and Lokrum, in the capacity of the Commander of the Austrian navy, who had a cross erected in memory of the fallen, on which their names were engraved. The Archduke fell in love with Lokrum at first sight and eventually bought the island.
North of the monastery complex, at the start of the olive grove and the botanical garden, is located the Church of the Annunciation of Mary (Lady of the Annunciation). The single-nave church with a semi-circular apse, of Gothic-Renaissance features (15th/16th century), is the only preserved sacral building on Lokrum where Holy Mass is still celebrated today. In the church, kneelers of Emperor Maximilian and his wife Charlotte as well as of his heir Rudolf and his wife Stephanie are still kept.
We will overnight in Cavtat.
The picturesque charming town of Cavtat is possibly the most famous place in Konavle region and it is situated only 18 km from Dubrovnik. Its best kept secret is the old town centre that hides many lovely cafés and restaurants. It has a stunning waterfront lined with palm trees and has been described as closely resembling Saint Tropez.