Twenty kilometres south of Dubrovnik, and Rua off the main coastal highway, CAVTAT is a dainty coastal town and package resort which began life in the third century BC as Epidaurum, a colony founded by Greeks from the island of Vis.
There's nothing left to see of the antique town: Epidaurum was evacuated in favour of Dubrovnik after a thorough ransacking by the Slays in the seventh century, and the pretty fishing village of Cavtat subsequently grew up in its place. Discovered by Austro-Hungarian holiday-makers at the beginning of the twentieth century, Cavtat was a favourite haunt of the wealthy until a rash of high-rise hotel building in the 1980s changed the place's profile. Happily, the hotels are set apart from the palm-dotted seafront of the original village, ranged across the neck of a sweet-smelling wooded peninsula.
Much of Cavtat's former charm survives in the old part of town, which straddles the ridge behind the waterfront. The showpiece here is the Račić Mausoleum, built on a prime spot high above the town in 1921 by Ivan Meštrović for a local shipowning family. It's one of Mekrovićs more successful stabs at architectural eclecticism: a simple, Byzantine-inspired, domed structure guarded by stern, archaic Greek angels and decorated with dog-faced gargoyles, Teutonic-looking eagles and what look like neo-Assyrian winged lambs just below the cupola.
Downhill from here on the waterfront's northern end, the rather plain-looking Monastery of Our Lady of the Snow (Samostan snježne Gospe) con- tains a couple of early Renaissance gems in its smachurch: the first, Vičko Lovrin's triptych of 1509 at the back of the church, shows a gold-clad Archangel Michael slaying a demon while John the Baptist and St Nicholas look on from the wings; the second, Božidar Vlatković's Madonna and Child (1494) on the main altar, is a small piece somewhat overpowered by its fussy Baroque frame. Walking south along the Riva and heading up Bukovceva (a narrow, stepped alleyway rather than a street) brings you to the Vlaho Bukovac gallery at no. 5, honouring the Cavtat-born painter (1855-1922) with a selection of his stolid portraits of self-confident, early twentieth-century middle-class types. More of his paintings can be seen in the Baltazar Bogić Collection (Zbirka Baltazara Bogišića), which occupies the former Rector's Palace at the southern end of the Riva. Lawyer and cultural activist Bogišić (1834-1908) spent a lifetime promoting Croatian literature and learning, at a time when Italian was still considered the language of civilized discourse along the coast. Books from Bogišić's collection crowd the display cabinets, although the stand-out exhibit is Bukovac's immense canvas of local carnival celebrations in 1901 – with the cream of Cavtat society gamely got up in fancy dress for the occasion. If you're in the mood for more Bukovac, head just uphill St Nicholas's Church (Crkva svetog Nikole), where his paintings of the Four Evangelists look down on the main altar.
A brace of fine shingle beaches lies about lkm east of the town centre in an area known as lal (literally, "beach"), although the proximity of the package hotels ensures that they're usually crowded. Quieter spots, if you don't mind perching on rocks, can be found at the far end of the peninsula, ten minutes' walk north from town, or on the Sustjepan peninsula immediately to the west. The latter has a naturist section, just on the other side of the Croatia Hotel.