Peacocks and Bunnies: A Magical Day on Lokrum

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Lokrum Island, Croatia

It’s funny how there are some places which seem quite interesting, but you look on the internet for pictures to gauge just how interesting, and then decide that you can’t tell, and then go anyway.  As it turns out, the trip to the island of Lokrum, visible from Dubrovnik, is just the most delightful little place – not exciting, but simply magical.

The Journey

It takes about ten minutes for the boat to putter out of Dubrovnik harbour and wend its way towards Lokrum. The views back towards the city are just gorgeous.

On Lokrum

For such a small, innocuous looking island, Lokrum has a rich history.  It was home to the Benedictines by 1023, who, amongst other things, grew grapes that they turned into a popular wine.  Wealthy Ragusans were buried there.  They threw criminals into the sea from the rocky cliffs.  Life was good.  Except for when Venetians, Turks and local pirates raided it.

The Benedictines were actually very important on Lokrum, because they acted as an early warning system for the city of Dubrovnik, alerting citizens to dangers coming from the sea by frantically ringing their church bells or lighting fires on the hill.  But the community had dwindled in size by the 18th century and in 1798 the Ragusan Government made the fateful decision to sell Lokrum.  Not because they had anything against the Benedictines, but because the government had been put into an awkward position by the invading French forces who had forced them to take out a loan which they needed to repay.

The last Benedictines left the island on the 7th January 1799, but they did not go gracefully.  The night before their departure, they donned their hoods and walked around the island three times, carrying lit candles downwards so that the wax dripped on the ground and sealed the curse they were chanting as they went.  No happiness could come to those who bought the island of Lokrum.

Honestly, if I ever want a curse put on somewhere, I’d go to the Benedictines, because they did a darn good job of it.  The first owner, a vastly wealthy local fellow, became bankrupt.  He then sold it to Archduke Maximilian, who was the commander of the Austro-Hungarian navy and visited the island to honour those who had been killed aboard his empire’s ship Triton, which sank following an explosion.  Maximilian fell in love with the tranquility of Lokrum, and brought his wife, Charlotte, along to share his happiness.

And happiness they found.  They built a house in 1859, and Maximilian, who was keen on horticulture, set about creating pretty gardens that completed the idyllic paradise.  Charlotte wrote to her friends and family about their happiness, with Maximilian reading poetry while she embroidered, and playing the piano far into the night…
Sadly, the couple became victims of European power-politics, and were made the Emperor and Empress of Mexico in 1864.  The so-called empire was propped up mainly by French support, and Maximilan’s situation, which was precarious from the beginning, became more so with each passing year.  When the French armies were withdrawn from Mexico in 1866, Charlotte went back to Europe to try and convince their royal relatives to back her husband, but had no success.  A year later, in 1867, while Charlotte was still in Europe, Maximilian was captured by republicans and executed.

Charlotte refused to accept that he had been murdered, and it’s generally stated that she went mad – though what it looks like she suffered from was a hysterical, intense type of depression, which is totally understandable.  After all, she had tried to get help from both their families, with no success.  Talk about being abandoned.

This tragic outcome for the couple enhanced the myth of the curse.  But did that mean that Lokrum was abandoned?  No.  It was taken up by further owners who then became bankrupt or died, including Archduke Rudolf who topped himself at Mayerling.  Finally it was sold back to Yugoslavia in 1919, by the beautifully named Duchess of Windischgratz, and since then the curse appears to have lifted.

Or has it?

And you will notice that there are many peacocks on the island.  These are all the decendants of a group imported from the Canary Islands by Maximilian.  They’re quite friendly, for peacocks, and they seem perfectly at ease with all the people around them.


There is a little exhibition dealing with Game of Thrones, with an ugly but apparently significant throne from the programme that you can sit on.

There is also a small exhibition on Richard the Lionheart and the Benedictines, which basically involves some boards and not a lot else.  But it is nice to get to explore the building.

And what is all this about Richard?  In 1192, Richard I of England, the Lionheart, the friend of Robin Hood, was on his way back to England from the crusades, when the boat he was on got caught up in a terrible storm.  He prayed for deliverance and promised that he would build a great big church wherever he landed safely: and he landed safely on Lokrum.  True to his word, Richard offered to build a church on the island, but the Ragusans asked that the money be given to the cathedral instead.

The Complex of the Former Benedictine Monastery

The Benedictine monastery was originally founded in 1023, and renovated over the years – though, as with most of Dubrovnik, the 1667 earthquake badly damaged the church and the monastery.  There isn’t a great deal left, but there are some pleasantly cool cloisters to loiter around.

The Botanical Gardens

It was only in 1959 that a Botanical Garden was established on Lokrum by the National Academy of Science and Art.  The purpose was to introduce tropical and sub-tropical plants from Australia and South America to see how they adapted to the local climate.  Sadly, the Homeland War didn’t leave Lokrum unaffected – the gardens were struck by shells and the library went up in flames.  Restoration began in 1993, and it’s apparently a good place to visit in the right season.  We did not go during the right season.

The Dead Sea

So there you are, walking around in the cool of the woodland, wondering where to potter towards next, when you get a glimpse of somewhere through the tree…

A lake!  A secret, beautiful pool…

It’s ambitiously called the Dead Sea (Mrtvo More), though it’s just a small salt lake.

I also made a very interesting discovery: I am Dr Doolittle.  I took a selfie with a peacock. Coolest selfie ever.  I would share it, but then you’d see me, and none of us would want that.

Let me leave you with some other general images of the island and make you dream of your trip there…

So In Summary

We visited at the beginning of the tourist season, and I think this is where we got lucky.  There were enough people pottering about so that you didn’t feel abandoned, but not so many that it spoiled the feeling of solitary exploration.  And I think that’s the key of really enjoying Lokrum – you have to feel like it’s your own special island, and I imagine that with crowds of people, the experience would be charming but much less magical.

Further Information

The island has its own website, available in English, which gives you useful information:

There was much more to see of the island than I’ve shown; including old reservoirs, the Fort Royal (built during French occupation) and the cross commemorating the Triton disaster that brought Maximilian to Lokrum.  There are also many paths and trails around the island which offer very pleasant walks.

How To Get There

Lokrum is a Nature Reserve, and therefore you aren’t allowed to stay on the island overnight, and the boats only go there from April to November.  The best way to get to there is by popping to the harbour in the old town and looking out for the boats touting prices and times that suit you.




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