Walking through the sky-scraping trees, rainbow coloured flowers beds and manicured shrubs your thoughts drift away in the Mediterranean sunshine. You would be forgiven for wondering where you are in the world as you pass by Japanese banana trees, Italian-style gardens and curious fountains. The Trsteno Arboretum, the oldest in this region of Europe, rolls down the rocky terrain to the turquoise Adriatic Sea, magnificent gardens that have been preserved with loving care over the centuries.
Located around 12 kilometres from Dubrovnik the village of Trsteno is a small picturesque place, a typical Dalmatian village overlooking the Adriatic. Finding the Arboretum is plain sailing (yes, it’s a pun) as the entrance is marked by a huge Oriental plane tree which reaches 50 metres into the blue sky. It has stood in the same position for over 500 years and according to legend was probably planted at the same time the Arboretum was established, yes, we told you it was old! Follow the road down to ample parking in the shade in front of the actual Arboretum, get your tickets at the door and the adventure begins.
Now there is more than one way to explore the gardens, you can follow one of two things – your nose or a map. The maps are picked up at the ticket office (bring your own nose). Stretching over around 6 acres there is plenty to explore, and with over 300 different species plenty to see.
An explosion of colour
Dubrovnik has always had a strong connection to the sea, and it was thanks to sailors and captains that the gardens we see today were formed. The noble family Gozze started the gardens when in the 15th century they asked the city’s sailing community to bring back seeds and plants from their travels around the globe. Little by little the gardens grew, now the problem of water (or lack of water) had to be solved.
Neptune looks out over the Adriatic
An aqueduct was constructed which brought down fresh water from the springs in the village, fourteen arches of this can still be seen today and in fact is even still in use. Rain water was also collected and stored in reservoirs. And water has brought one of the highlights of the Arboretum, a stunning 18th century fountain dominated by a statue of Neptune flanked by two nymphs. The pond that the fountain empties into is full of gold fish and in the summer heat is a pleasant place to take in the beauty of your surroundings. And from his perch in the centre of the fountain the God of the Sea can just about spot the Adriatic in the distance.
Ancient viaduct brings fresh water
Making your way down through the lined foliage, most of which have signs explaining more details, you come to the Renaissance style summer residence of the Gucetic-Gozze family. Shade is provided by fragrant plants hanging from the stone columns that line the gravel paths around the villa. And incorporated in the villa complex is a glorious pergola that apart from offering more shade has some of the finest views along the Dalmatian coastline. This very same pergola was used as a location in the third and fourth seasons of the HBO series Game of Thrones where it played the Red Keep palace gardens. Soak up the view (and maybe a selfie or two).
Although the “gardens of peace” look...well peaceful, they haven’t been without their own conflicts. Firstly in the Homeland War the gardens were attacked from the sea and air by the Yugoslav Army, this senseless act not only severely damaged the gardens but also the ancient villa was partly destroyed. And then again in 2000, after a long hot summer, a forest fire gripped the Arboretum burning down a large section. However the gardens survived, not only survived after these two attacks but they flourished.
Even if you are only in Dubrovnik for a few days a day-trip to the Arboretum is a must. Whether you go as part of an organised travel group or under your own steam doesn’t really matter, the gardens and the magnificent displays just speak for themselves.
Day tripping in the Trsteno Arboretum
9.00am – You are off for a day in the country so take our advice and pack your bags with some essentials – water, sun cream, mosquito spray (picnic optional). The Trsteno Arboretum is about a 30-minute drive from Dubrovnik and you will wind along the stunning coastal views on the main road. Look out for the plane trees.
10.00am – Park up in front of the gardens in the shade, get your tickets and map and follow your way around. You can easily lose yourself for three hours in the Arboretum and the relaxation and fresh air will invigorate you and have you primed for lunch.
3.00pm – Head back to the village of Zaton, around ten minutes from the gardens and there you will find many shore side restaurants.
5.00pm – Now time to cool off with a swim (yes, we know you shouldn’t swim directly after eating) and time to head back to Trsteno. Follow the same road (yes, the one by the big tree) but this time don’t park just keep heading down to the sea. It is a little bendy so be careful. At the bottom you will find a hidden bay with great swimming spots and ladders to get in and out of the Adriatic. Soak up the sun and the beauty and the end of your day in the countryside is complete.
Bay of Trsteno is an ideal place to dip in the Adriatic
Distance - from Dubrovnik 28 kilometres (192 from Split)
Adult ticket – 50 Kuna
Child (and students) ticket – 30 Kuna
Opening times – May to October 7.00am to 7.00pm – November to April 8.00am to 6.00pm
Dogs not allowed in Arboretum
Telephone - +385 (0)20 751 019 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sponsored by the Dubrovnik and Neretva County Tourist Board