4 minute read

Less than half a mile off of the Croatian coast and bustling city of Dubrovnik is Lokrum Island. A virtual paradise, Lokrum Island boasts a lush botanical garden, natural pools in which to splash around, a thousand-year old monastery and an unusual and intriguing history that's sure to spark your imagination.

Lokrum is an island in the Adriatic Sea and although it covers a mere .31 square miles, less than 2 miles long and only a third of a mile wide, it’s huge in terms of what the island has to offer. You can reach the island and her riches via a short 15 minute ferry ride from the old city port of Dubrovnik. Conveniently the ferries run on a pretty regular schedule, between 10 am and 5 pm all week long.

A Fascinating History for Such A Small Island

When you ferry up to the island you’ll surely be impressed by the crystalline blue-green water as it dazzles along the craggy shore. It’s not at all difficult to understand why Austrian archduke Maximillian made his vacation home here given the natural beauty that abounds. Prior to the archduke’s time on Lokrum Napoleon occupied Croatia. He also found Lokrum enchanting and  he and his troops built the Fort Royal Castle on Lokrum’s highest point. No doubt to see who might approach.

The earliest mention of Lokrum Island was more than one thousand years ago when the Benedictine Monastery and Abbey were built there. The Benedictines gave the island its name. Lokrum comes from the latin word acumen which means sour fruit. The monks cultivated and harvested oranges and lemons which grew in abundance on the island and still do today. The Benedictines left the island in the early 1800s.

In 1192, while on his return from the Crusades, Richard the Lionheart was shipwrecked on Lokrum. He was safely kept alive, possibly in part due to those lemons and oranges, and in gratitude offered to build a church on Lokrum but the citizens of Dubrovnik persuaded him to build his architectural homage on the mainland instead of the island. It’s assumed the present-day Dubrovnik Cathedral of the Assumption stands on the site where Richard the Lionheart funded the building of a church.

Revisit History, Stroll With Some Peacocks and Treat Yourself to Amazing Views

Once you disembark the ferry on Lokrum Island you can’t help but notice the vast difference between the hustle and bustle of the old town of Dubrovnik and the quiet beauty of lush vegetation, ages-old buildings, no shops, no hotels and less than a handful of restaurants. The gentle absence of crowds and noise encourages a leisurely and peaceful pace. Don’t worry you can see it all even as you amble the island's paths, flanked by cypress and pine trees.

As you make your way north you’ll see the partially finished Lazaret quarantine hospital. The building of this hospital was abandoned in 1557, after 23 years of construction. Plans were scrapped due to strategic reasons but what remains today is definitely worthy of a look.

The Fort Royal, as mentioned, was constructed by the French on Napoleon’s request in 1806. The Austrians completed construction of the palatial estate in 1833 and changed the name of the structure to Maximillian Tower (although most people still refer to the palace as Fort Royal). The views are simply breathtaking. From 310 feet above sea level you can take in some outstanding views of the island, the sparkling Adriatic Sea, the old town of Dubrovnik and the Croatian coastline. The Fort Royal castle provides some of the best photo ops around, however, Lokrum truly has no bad vantage points for taking in a beautiful view.

Venture down a wooded path to the remains of the Benedictine Monastery and nearby olive grove. Some of the olive trees are several centuries old. The Benedictines founded an abbey in 1023 and erected a complex that served them for centuries. In 1667 an earthquake wreaked havoc on the buildings leaving much of the complex in disrepair. The monks began fleeing their beloved abbey a century later and the last remaining monks abandoned the island in 1808, thrown out by the French. Perhaps thats why local lore claims that on their last night there the resentful monks put a curse on the island and anyone who would seek to inhabit it in the future.

Archduke Maximillian enjoyed his time on Lokrum very much. In his travels he visited the Canary Islands and returned to Lokrum with his beloved peahens and peacocks. Descendants of these early birds roam freely about the island calling out and the male displaying their plumage with pride. Don’t be surprised if you find some of these friendly fowl tagging along as you hike between sites.

Beaches, A Salt Lake, And A Legendary Throne

The coastline is a jagged and rocky one that showcases limestone and dolomite formations. The beaches are usually empty although in warm weather you may catch a sun bather or two. Be aware some of the beaches are for “naturalists” for whom swimsuits are optional. Further inland is a salt lake locals refer to as The Dead Sea. Visitors love to take a dip in the warm salt water and enjoy floating along with ease.

A definite “can't miss” while you’re on the island is the small but fascinating botanical garden. The garden was founded in 1959 in order to study the effects of this perfect climate paradise on different exotic plants. In spite of the damage from artillery fire and bombardment during the collapse of Yugoslavia the garden still thrives. About 800 plants native to the island and imported from as far away as South America and Australia live in Lokrum’s botanical garden.

For anyone who is a fan of the hugely popular HBO series Game of Thrones Lokrum may appear eerily familiar. That’s because much of the epic series was filmed around the island, as well as Dubrovnik. The coveted Iron Throne was given to Lokrum Island by HBO and is part of an exhibit honoring Game of Thrones at the Visitors Center. Though not as breathtakingly lovely as the photo ops from Fort Royal, you should take a seat on the throne for a selfie that will be the envy of your Instagram friends. Even if you aren’t familiar with the series you’ll find the exhibit-and the throne-interesting.

Lokrum is an ideal day trip and the perfect way to escape the busy city of Dubrovnik. For a tiny island there is so much to see and do and it’s all just a stone's throw away.

lokrum island from Dbv