We had the most fabulous time on our 12-day trip to Croatia. From the minute we got our bags at the airport, everything went smoothly. We were met by wonderful drivers (in very comfortable vehicles!) and taken to excellent hotels and given tours by super knowledegable (and nice and friendly) guides. We felt very pampered and well-cared for.
We loved almost everything about the trip. Our favorite place was probably Split, but we also had a very special visit to Motovun and Pula with our guide, whom we adored.
Our trip started in Zagreb where we stayed at a hotel which we liked very much. We had the afternoon and evening on our own and were able to explore the city for a few hours. The next day, after a lovely breakfast at our hotel, our guide met us and took us on a 2-hour walking tour of the city. She knew the history and gave us a great overview. We took the funicular up the hill (we had taken it down the hill the previous day), visited the Dolac Market, went to the Cathedral, saw the Church of St. Mark, and visited both Kaptol and Gradec.
A driver then picked us up at the hotel that afternoon and drove us to Rovinj, where we stayed at the Adriatic on the waterfront, with a fantastic view of the harbor. We wandered around Rovinj up to the Church of St. Euphemia and down through the narrow, winding, smooth-cobblestone streets.
The next day, we had an excellent breakfast outside our hotel and met our guide who accompanied us to Motovun. Our guide gave us some history lessons during the trip and some pronunciation tips. We walked the fortress walls and devoured the view of the Istrian countryside and the 15th and 16th century homes. We then went on a truffle-search with our host and his dogs. We had fun and learned a bit about truffles, although we didn't find any. We then had a pasta with truffles in the town of Livada before heading to Pula with our guide. We marveled at how well-preserved the 1st century Roman amphitheater was. Our guide then walked with us to the Twin Gate, the Arch of Sergii, the Gate of Hercules, and the Temple of Romae and Augustus. We said our good-byes and our driver drove us back to Rovinj, where we were able to wander around the town again on our own.
The following day, we had breakfast again outside our hotel in Rovinj. A driver picked us up at 9 and drove us through many long tunnels; on winding, hilly roads; and through scenic small towns. We arrived at our "cabin" at Plitvice in early afternoon and had lunch at our hotel while we waited for our room to be ready. The room was comfortable but it was our least favorite place to stay on our trip. At about 2:30, we headed to the entrance of the national park and waited in a very long line to get across the lake. The crowds were pretty bad there - lots of large tour groups. Once we got across the lake, we were much happier and able to enjoy a long walk and a lot of beautiful scenery - many waterfalls and crystalline turquoise-jade water. We went to both the upper and lower sections of the park. We got back to the "cabin" just before dark and had dinner at the hotel. The food in Plitvice was probably our least-favorite as well, but I don't think there were a lot of options in the area, and overall we agreed that Plitvice was worth going to. The next morning, after breakfast, we went back to the park thinking we'd have more time, but it was even more crowded than it had been the previous day, so we were not very sorry to leave.
Our driver picked us up in the afternoon drove us to Split, about a 3-hour drive. He was great and knew a lot about the area. In Split we stayed at what was probably our favorite hotel of the trip, even though it didn't have a view of the ocean. The location was perfect, about a 5-minute walk to the old city. We walked down to the riva; we then walked up and up and up through an enormous green park, Marjan, to an amazing lookout. At the top of the lookout was an old Jewish cemetery and a delightful restaurant where we had a nice dinner and drinks overlooking the City. We walked back down the hill at dusk, along the promenade, and through the south gate to the old city, where we got lost among the narrow cobbled lanes.
The following morning we had breakfast at the Divota "breakfast house" a couple blocks away and met our guide for a 2 1/2 hour walking tour of Split and Trogir. In Split, we saw a lot of Roman buildings, a still-functioning synagogue, and Diocletian's Palace, the center of the old city. Our driver then met us and Leo and drove us to the much smaller town of Trogir, an island about a 45-minute drive away. In Trogir, our guide talked to us about the Greek influence. On a break, we climbed our first bell-tower of the day, St. Michael's, for panoramic views of the city and harbor. We left our guide and were driven to the town of Kastela, which connects Trogir and Split. We went to a winery, where we met the father-and-son owners/hosts. They piled us in a van and drove us way, way up in the hills to the vineyard. There, they opened 3 bottles of their (excellent) wine and made us a delicious 3-course lunch, which we ate at a charming table overlooking the sea and towns below. At the end of our feast, we were taken back down the hill where wemet our driver, who delivered us safe and sound to Split. There we walked the old city and climbed an even taller bell tower, St. Domnius, for more breathtaking views of Split.
The next morning, after a great breakfast at the Divota Breakfast House, we met our driver who drove us to the catamaran ferry. We had a comfortable hour-long trip to Hvar and were met at the boat and accompanied by hotel staff to the hotel, a 5-minute walk away and up a bunch of cobbled steps. To pass time before our room was ready, we walked along the waterfront and then up, up, up to the 16th century fortress looming over the town. The walk was very hot but the views were spectacular. Our hotel suite was wonderful, with 2 rooms (and 2 balconies!) overlooking the old town and harbor. We ate in a restaurant on the less-crowded side of the harbor, where the views were great and the food was very fine. We sat out on our balcony that evening and listened to music from below.
The following day, we had a lovely breakfast on the patio and walked around town and visited the cemetery. At 2, our driver and guide picked us up. He let one of us ride in the front seat while he drove us around the island on the back roads. He gave us a history of grape- and olive-growing and showed us the terraced vineyards separated by hand-built stone walls (a miniature version of Machu Picchu, he said). We drove past the town of Stari Grad to the town of Jelsa, where we had another wine-tasting experience. We tasted 6 wines (really good!) and had cheese and bread dipped in herbed olive oil. Our driver then drove us to an amazingly scenic restaurant in Vrisnik, where we dined outdoors. We were among a small group of diners and the food was delicious. We felt we were having a very authentic Croatian meal, which included spreads, olives, and bread, as well as a variety of grilled meats for the one of us who is not a vegetarian and a great vegetarian offering for the one who was. The afternoon was a wonderful alternative to the touristy ambience of Hvar Town, although, as I said, our accommodations there could not be beat.
The next day we had breakfast outside at our hotel, slipped our keys under the management's door, carried our bags down about 6 flights of stairs, and took the ferry back to Split. We were pleased upon returning to find that our driver was the same Nicola who had driven us to Split. We went on the highway toward Dubrovnik and got to experience two border crossings within the 12-mile stretch of Croatia (the Neum corridor) ceded to Bosnia by the city-state of Dubrovnik in the 17th century in exchange for protection from Venice. We drove past the fortified city of Ston and were taken to a pier, where we met an oyster and mussel farmer. He took us to his family's island about 5 minutes away by boat. There we were treated to a private feast consisting of fresh oysters and mussels (for the meat-eater) and zucchini and cheese (for the vegetarian), along with bread and homemade wine. We ate in a spot nestled in the pine trees while we looked at the sea. Our driver then drove us for about another hour of gorgeous scenery to our hotel in Dubrovnik, clearly the swankiest place we stayed. We relaxed and lounged by the infinity pool (the only pool on this trip) and ate at a restaurant on the nearby promenade.
The next morning, after a lovely breakfast outside at our hotel, a driver and our guide met and took us to the old city. She gave us a tour for 2 hours, introduced us to St. Blaise (everywhere), and showed us the Spanish steps. At the end of the tour, because the old city was very crowded with large tour groups, we left and took the cable car to Mt. Srd for spectacular views. We had a lovely meal at the top of the mountain and came back down. We spent the next couple of hours in the old city walking the walls on the perimeter, which is a must-do in terms of scenery. I think it was the most spectacular of all of the panoramas we experienced in Croatia, although there were not a lot of opportunities for shade. We took the city bus back to our hotel and had a nice evening lounging by the pool and having a relaxing dinner.
The next day we had all to ourselves. We had a leisurely breakfast on the patio and took the #6 bus to the old city, where we mostly took to the less-crowded back streets. After a couple of hours, we took the bus back. One of us swam in the Adriatic, and then both of us went to the pool. We had a surprisingly good pasta meal on the promenade.
Our driver met us the next morning at 4:15 am and took us to the airport in Dubrovnik.
The trip could not have been better. We would not have changed what we consider, relatively speaking, the low points, because they were not that low (I'm speaking of the crazy crowds at Plitvice, the not-so-great-food at the hotel in Plitvice, and the crowds in the old city in Dubrovnik). No matter where we were, people were very nice and very accommodating. Overall, the trip was a dream come true.
I'm not sure I'd do anything differently. I might consider moving the trip to a a little later in the season to avoid some of the crowds. We went in mid September and it was still really busy, although I understand that our crowds were nothing like the crowds from July and August. I'd also look to see if there was a different hotel available in the Plitvice area, although everyone at the hotel was very nice.
Those are the only things I'd change.
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