“Hotel Excelsior, best in the city,” said my driver as we wound along the Adriatic. I’m convinced all drivers are required to say that. “Oh you’re at Motel Rust Pit? Best in the city. Only place you can get a good tetanus around here.”
“Ten-minute walk from Old Town. On the sea. Best view. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ll enjoy,” he continued, “You know the Queen stayed here? As did Elizabeth Taylor!”
The drive from Dubrovnik Airport to Hotel Excelsior is not only conveniently researched, especially for someone writing about the hotel, but also conveniently beautiful. Toeing the Dinaric Alps and Adriatic Sea, the car passes island after island, each seemingly greener than the last. We pass the ancient city Cavtat 20 minutes outside of the airport. In 228 B.C. it was a Roman port. Today, it’s where rich yachters party. Ten minutes later, we descend into Dubrovnik, zigzagging along tight, one-way streets, overlooking the city’s famous red roofs until we arrive at the only non-red-roofed building on the street, Hotel Excelsior.
Hotel Excelsior doesn’t immediately exude the glamour of a hotel that once housed Queen Elizabeth. Architecturally, its tiered, concrete block design looks stereotypically socialist and reminiscent of a Bond villain’s lair.
Walking in, reception gets more inviting. Its marble floors and spiral staircase contradict the sleek exterior, and the Dalmatian-inspired paintings give a hospitable touch to an area that’s, otherwise, surprisingly petite for a hotel with 158 rooms. (Also, in the corner of the room, dozens of suitcases were waiting in very Southern European, we’ll-get-to-it-after-our-four-course-lunch way. And I didn’t blame them).
Heading down the spiral stairs for a quick glance at the hotel, you come to two quick realizations. The first, “How far down does this go?” And, second, “How did I get lost already?” Because the hotel comprises the original construction from 1913, plus Villa Odak, plus some socialist renovations, plus some socialist-removing renovations, what’s left is something of a labyrinth.
The staircase ends at what’s essentially the “great hall,” fit with gift shops, a tourism center and some business that sells novelty wooden ships—not a joke. Its greenish and cream-colored carpet, wicker-like furniture and bare, white walls make the area look like it could be out of a vintage 1970s basement—some, like me, seek comfort and red wine in such environments.
Adjacent to the hall is a balcony, teaming with couples canoodling in white linen pants or silk dresses sipping Aperol Spritzes. Stepping onto the balcony, though, reveals the majesty of Excelsior. It’s the view, seemingly hovering atop the Adriatic, staring into Lokrum island to the south and Dubrovnik’s Old Town to the west. Calling the scene “stunning” or “breathtaking” or any other synonym would be an understatement. It’s the view that attracted the Taylor’s and the Coppola’s and royalty, and it’s the view that’ll continue luring people to this hotel.
Much like the rest of the property, the highlight here is the view, with most rooms overlooking the sea or the Old Town or both, and, if your room is one of the 17 suites equipped with a balcony, you’ll quickly find: You have arguably the best view of Dubrovnik; there’s no reason to leave the balcony, ever; and watching amateur kayakers topple is an acceptable way to spend an afternoon.
The rooms itself are rather plain, which, in a way, intensifies the colors of the vista—the red roofs of the old town, the blueness of the Adriatic, the greenness of Lokrum. And, more than likely, that’s the intention. Decor is relaxed and unobtrusive, consisting of shades of browns, creams and grays.
My double bed was actually just two twin-size mattresses pushed together—reminiscent of childhood sleepovers at Jimmy O’Connor’s house.
Rooms also have flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi, which bring an essential bit of modernity to an otherwise old fashioned experience. It should be noted that later this year the hotel will undergo some “luxurious” renovations, so you’re version of this hotel could be very different.
That said, the same simplicity in the rooms did not appear in the bathrooms. The bathrooms—holy sh*t—are spectacular. I’m talking dark, marble floors—the same marble in the hotel’s reception area. I’m talking about a bathtub-Jacuzzi overlooking the Adriatic. I’m talking bathrobes and slippers and L’Occitane toiletries—which is a hell of a lot nicer than my quick-dry towel and Dove all-in-one soap. An entire day could be spent bathing, tossing on the bathrobe, lounging fully robed on the beachfront, and then taking yet another bath before dinner. Actually, a lot of people do that.
In the words of our favorite airport shuttler, “On the sea. Best view.” The entire Excelsior experience, from the fresh fish served at their beachfront restaurant, Prora, to the innumerable balconies overlooking the Adriatic, focuses on the sea. Though dozens of seaside hotels in and around Dubrovnik will argue they have the best view and best sunsets, none are landmarks quite like Excelsior. This is the hotel where Queen Elizabeth II dined along the sea with her husband and daughter. It’s where Elizabeth Taylor caught rays on the hotel’s private beachfront. It’s where Sir Roger Moore probably flirted with a callipygous Croatian woman named Ivana Spank. Take this for instance: When you’re at the tip of the city’s Old Town, at Porporela, the old, Dubrovnik lighthouse, your view East, over the water, embedded in the Dinarides, isn’t an ancient vestige. It’s Hotel Excelsior.
You could easily spend a week on the hotel property, dining on fresh urchin and tanning (cough, burning) on the limestone waterfront, and many do. Those interested in exploring the UNESCO-awarded Old Town will be happy to know it only takes five to 15 minutes, depending on how many times you stop to take pictures, to walk there from the hotel. Also—and you’d never know it from the near-silence on the property—Excelsior’s neighbor is renowned beach and party spot Banje Beach. There, you’ll find your general thong-wearing bathers and your assortment of sunburned Germans. Across the street is the city’s modern art museum, Umjetnicka Galerija Dubrovnik—pro tip: their roof has one of the best views of the city (OK, now I sound like my driver). And just down the street is the city’s main alternative club, Lazareti, the type of place to catch a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band on a Thursday night. Simply put: It won’t take more than a 20-minute walk to get almost anywhere downtown.
Address: Ul. Frana Supila 12, 20000, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Website: Hotel Excelsior
Room Rates: $148 – $615
Tom is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen San Diego but with more sunscreen and jorts.