Ok, this is my very 1st post to Rick Steves' forums; I just registered today. I am also planning a 1st time visit to Croatia. My itinerary is still quite fluid, but my wife and I plan to spend 3 weeks beginning around the 2nd week of September. I've done preliminary research and found that Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bosnia, also offer interesting destinations. I have the Rick Steves' Croatia and Slovinia book, and have reviewed the related videos on the website.
We would like to do this trip as a DIY and rent a car for most of the trip. At this point, I am considering flying into Zagreb (starting from California), and returning from Dubrovnik. My tentative plan would be to visit Zagreb for a day or so, and then drive to Ljubljana in Slovenia. After visiting there, we would continue to Lake Bled for one night, then drive through the Julian Alps, a visit to Skocjan Cave, ending in Piran.
From there, we would continue on back into Croatia and Isteria to visit Motovun, Rovinj and Pula.
The next destination would be Plitvice Lakes. I would try to arrive in the evening and get get an early start exploring the next day.
After that, we would work our way down to Zadar and Split, eventually making our way to DuBrovnik.
Along the way, we would like to visit 1 or 2 of the many islands, and are considering Korcula. Other islands (like Vis) also look interesting.
If we have time, we would consider visits to Mostar and Kotar.
Here are some additional parameters for our trip:
What we like most about European destinations is cultural experiences, visiting ancient ruins, cities a lot older than California (not hard to do), exploring pedestrian streets in old cites, outdoor cafes and people watching, and natural sites (alps, ocean, etc.).
We would like to stay in Sobe when possible.
We would like to be as flexible as possible in our itinerary, i.e. moving at our own pace faster or slower depending on how much we like the place we are visiting, weather, and crowded tourist conditions.
I am an amateur photographer, and going at a pace that allows for good photo ops is important.
Here are my questions (so far):
1) In September, can sobe accommodations be found on short notice, i.e. same day, or 1 to 2 days in advance while traveling?
2) Are there specific cities where accommodations must be reserved well in advance?
3) Should we consider turning in the car rental when we reach Split, or would it be more of a benefit to keep it until reaching Dubrovnik?
Any other advice is more than welcome.
Thanks in advance for you help.