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Looking for feedback on itinerary for September

We are a retired couple in mid-sixties planning a trip to Croatia and Slovenia, with side trips to Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina in September 2019. I am planning for about 3 weeks and don’t have definite dates yet (will depend on flights). I’ve spent a lot of time reading incredibly helpful posts from Rick Steves’ Forum readers.

I want to rent a car and think I have come up with a possible itinerary to avoid switching cars or dropping it off in a different country. I still have lots of questions about the practicality of parking a car in many places. We are primarily interested in sightseeing and history – not beaches or night life. On this kind of road trip we would rather see more and not stay very long in one place (we spent 6 weeks driving around the UK and Ireland, and 3 weeks driving around New Zealand in the last two years). We stayed in Airbnb on both trips.

Here is a basic itinerary and I would really appreciate reactions and suggestions. I know this is a very ambitious pace, but we have done this type of pace before. Is it doable in 3+ weeks - I’m estimating up to 24 nights (# in parentheses)? What would you cut back on if we need to scale back?

(1) Starting in Zagreb (because it sounds like it is an easier airport to get flights to than Ljubljana and we could pick up a rental car in Croatia) - spending enough time to deal with jetlag before we drive to Ljubljana.

(2) A day in Ljubljana

(1) Drive to Bled and spend a day in the area
(1) Drive through Julian Alps and then head toward Istria, rather than back to Bled. Not sure where we would stay that night – could we make it through the Julian Alps and all the way to Rovinj in one day? Is it worth a stop in Trieste if we couldn’t spend much time there? Is there any problem driving over the Italian border?
(3) A couple of days in Istria (1 day in Rovinj and 1 day in hill towns). Not sure whether we’ll go to Pula – people don’t sound too impressed – I’ve seen a lot of Roman ruins other places, although I’d like to see the amphitheater.

(1) Drive to Plitvice – arrive to see some of it in the late afternoon, stay overnight and do more walking first thing in the morning before heading toward Split.

(1) A good place to stop on the way to Split? Sibenik, Krk NP, Zadar? None of those are must-dos on my list, but if we needed an overnight stop, any suggestions – or should one of those be a must-do?

(3) I don’t want to spend much time in Split (2 or 3 nights depending on what time of day we arrive) – a day to do the palace, and maybe a day boat trip to Trogir. Where would make the most sense to stay given that we’ll need to park a car?

(2) I think Korcula will be our only island – do you think we are missing a lot by just doing that one island? Does it make sense to take the car to Korcula? I’d like to see the Peljesac Peninsula. We could take the car ferry to Vela Luka from Split and then take the ferry over to Orebic and drive down the Peljesac, or drive down the coast and drive up the Peljesac Peninsula, visit Korcula via Orebic ferry and drive back down the peninsula. What would be the best way to visit Korcula since we’ll have a car? Will we be able to find a place to stay in Korcula for 2 nights in mid-September?

(1) Then head for Montenegro before Dubrovnik – I don’t know where we would stay for a night (Cavtat?). Do a day trip around Bay of Kotor and head back to Dubrovnik.

(3) Drop off rental car and stay in the old city for 2 or 3 nights. Primarily interested in seeing the Old City.

(1) Take a bus to Mostar – one night there if it works with transportation schedules.

(2) Take the train to Sarajevo and see the city.
(2) Fly to Zagreb. Spend a day in Zagreb before leaving.

Thanks for your help!

Posted by
4073 posts

I'll address Slovenia and Croatian Istria as that is the area I know best.

To explore the Julian Alps and expect to make it to Rovinj in the same day is just not going to be enjoyable. As Bled is very close to Ljubljana, why not just visit Bled as a day trip from Ljubljana? Cross the Julian Alps and consider staying in Kobarid. Lots of history there.

Once in Istria, it is absolutely not necessary to sleep in Rovinj and one of the hill towns. They are so close together! Waste of time to change accommodations.

Posted by
1915 posts

Looks like you've put a fair amount of thought into the itinerary. You are not 100% clear with exactly how many days. I don't feel like your itinerary is hugely rushed. I'd do the following: Do a very specific day-by-day itinerary.

Several notes:
1) Ljubljana is really good for 2 full days or a little more. We stayed in Hostel Celica, a converted prison, which was a hoot. You stay in a cell.
2) For Plitvice, I think 5-6 hours is enough. I'd arrive late afternoon, have a nice dinner, get up early and get to the park at opening time. In September, it probably won't be as mobbed as in the summer. If it is, go counter-traffic - instead of riding the bus to the high point and walking down, walk up and ride the bus down. We enjoyed it. We're 67 and 70, and were 62 and 66 when we did the park. It's all walking, but no more than 3-4 miles.
3) Zagreb is a 3 night destination, as is Sarajevo.
4) PL to Split is about 4 hours. You don't need an overnight. If you choose to do that, go to Zadar.
5) I count 10 stops in 24 days. That's a bunch. I'd cut down. Drop Sarajevo or Mostar. You can actually do Mostar in an afternoon. It's really small. It's basically one fancy bridge, 30 tourist shops, one little museum, and a bunch of restaurants. A full day is over-kill there.

Posted by
5019 posts

Starting in Zagreb (because it sounds like it is an easier airport to get flights to than Ljubljana

I'd have to disagree with at least that bit: Ljubljana is easy as pie to get to. Well connected to Frankfurt and other places. You can get to Ljubljana with a one-stop from many US gateway airports.

Not sure whether we’ll go to Pula – people don’t sound too impressed

Personally, I thought the amphitheater in Pula was better than the Colosseum in Rome. Yeah, not as large (large enough) but we had it essentially all to ourselves, rather than having to share it with 10,000 other visitors, and that made all the difference. I would not miss this.

Good plan for Plitvice.

A good place to stop on the way to Split? Sibenik, Krk NP, Zadar?

We enjoyed both Sibenik and Zadar, we only stopped for a few hours in each, did not overnight, but Sibenik looked like a place that would be nice overnight. Lots of vertical terrain.

We also enjoyed Trogir - in fact, we stayed there two nights, and enjoyed it more than Split. Best Italian food I've ever had was in Trogir.

Korcula was one of our favorite islands (tied for first place with Rab). If you have to pick just one, it's a good choice.

I'd leave the car in Split before you take the ferry to Korcula. From Korcula, you can get a "transfer" to Dubrovnik (via a tiny boat to Orebic then a van drops you off in Dubrovnik). Are you sure you can take a car from Korcula to Orebic? When I was there, the only boat between the two was a tiny one (seated about 15 people tightly packed). Things may have changed. Be sure to verify any boat you are planning on will be running in September on your dates - many ferry (and bus) lines only operate in "high season" (usually defined as July & August); outside high season schedules may be limited or not going at all - check this very carefully.

Kotor makes an easy and ideal day trip from Dubrovnik. We rented a car just for the day and it was a piece of cake.

Hope some of the above helps. Good luck!

Posted by
22 posts

Thanks for all the great suggestions. I will give them some serious thought and for sure will make some changes based on your experiences, and will also work on a more detailed day by day itinerary. I like the idea of dropping the car in Split and taking a catamaran to Korcula and then getting a transfer to Dubrovnik (I assume that is a bus or van, or do you mean hiring a driver?). Do you feel like we'll miss out on seeing the scenery by not driving the coast from Split to Ston, or do most people just take the inland highway anyway?

Posted by
5019 posts

We did the "transfer" from Korcula to Dubrovnik. It was easy, not expensive, and worked perfectly for us. We had picked up our rental car in Rovinj and after a week of meandering we returned it in Split, which was perfect for us. Got on the ferry in Split, stopped for a few hours in Hvar (a few hours there was enough), got off in Korcula for a few days. There's a local "travel agency" in Kocula that sets up the transfer (they're easy to find, the town is tiny). They assemble you at the dock in the morning (maybe 7:30 am?), put you on a small boat, run you across the water to Orebic, where a small mini-bus meets you (capacity of both was about 15-18 people IIRC), you pile in, they drive you to Dubrovnik, they let you off outside one of the old town gates around noon-ish as I recall. Easy peasey.

I can't comment on the scenery along the shoreline between Split and Ston since we didn't go that way. The scenery we did see (pretty much everywhere in coastal Croatia) was stunning. For me, the routing we took was a no-brainer, because it allowed us to go where we wanted, and other than the day trip we took to Kotor from Dubrovnik (east to arrange the one-day rental there), we were done with cars once we arrived in Split.

Ston and the area around it looked cool - they have a "great wall of Croatia" there, which we only glimpsed briefly from the minibus as we drove by (it looked similar to the ramparts up behind Kotor, which were awesome - do climb them, feels like something out of Game Of Thrones). Only downside I saw to doing the route we did was that the peninsula around Ston looked like it was worth a stop, but we couldn't. Of course, there are oodles of places in Croatia that are worth a stop that we didn't get to...gotta pick and choose and make trade-offs or you go crazy. So many places to explore, such a short life...

Have fun!

Posted by
22 posts

Thanks David - very helpful! This does sound like the way to go. I'm thinking about skipping Hvar. What kinds of things did you do while you were on Korcula? Originally when I was thinking we would have a car I thought it would be nice to drive around. I did hope to see Ston and the Peljesac Peninsula - I wonder if it be worth coming back as a day trip from Dubrovnik? Although if we have a car more than for the one day trip to Montenegro then you are back into the problem of parking it. Or, I wonder if we could arrange a private transfer to Dubrovnik so we could stop at a winery on the peninsula, stop for pictures, and stop in Ston.
Like you say, you can't do it all.

Posted by
1509 posts

I'd keep the car for the Peljesac peninsula unless you want to do wine tasting (in which case a driver would be better). Seems a shame to have a car all that time and then drop it before the part where you would really need it.
Note when you check ferry schedules, the port is just outside Korcula town: it will appear as Domince to Orebic on the Jadrolinija website.

Posted by
22 posts

Does anyone think it would make sense to drive back to Zagreb rather than fly from Sarajevo? That would mean keeping the car and driving to Mostar and Sarajevo, and dropping the car where we started. I am wondering if in the end it will be less complicated than arranging transfers, bus, train, flight... We are not particularly pressured on time, so that is not a big concern. Does anyone have any experience with driving in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Posted by
1509 posts

In Mostar, that should be no problem--it's not a huge place. For Sarajevo, I would do some googling and find a place with parking, but it's not something I'd be overly concerned about given you have the time.

Posted by
9 posts

I am of same aged traveler, will take 4th trip (September 2019) to Croatia/surrounding countries. Driven extensively, traveled by fast catamarans (no car) to Islands, rental cars in downtown Split, Split airport, outside the walls of Dubrovinik (day trip to Kotor, Montenegro), and very convenient day trip around Korcula. I arrive/depart exclusively by overnight ferry between Ancona Italy and Split. Rome is my international arrival and departure city for convenience, traveling by train to Ancona.
Trip #1:
Split (2 nights),
* Plivice National Park (walked short loop, (1) night, early morning loop not uphill!) drove/ferry to
*Rab Island (2) nights, ferry/drive vis Opatija to
*Rovinj (4) nights stayed right in Old Town , (car parked across the bay); day trip Tito’s Brunei Island and Pula (the 6th most complete Roman Amphitheater in world)
*Hill town Motovun (1) night and visited Groznjan an wonderful artist town (another trip stayed in Groznjan 4 nights, stone cottage)
*Opitaja (2)
** now this is the tricky part and really why this trip worked****
There was a big car ferry out of the port Rijeka... it is no longer running, but did run from Rijeka to Dubrovnik overnight (1) and part of the day to Dubrovnik stopping inZadar, Split, Kvar, Korcula, Dubrovnik. We took the ferry to Dubrovnik (4 nights)
The country is trying to get this route going again! Promises, announcements but watch for this possibility.
*Dubrovnik (4) nights, 1 day trip to Kotor, Montenegro.
Drove to Split and kept car to be dropped off after taking luggage storage across the street from the night ferry.
I have also dropped the car at the airport and taken taxi to the ferry with bags. I pay an extra day lodging just to have the convenience of the room until ferry check in back to Ancona, Italy.
Skipping trip #2

Trip #3 included Slovenia
*Split (3) nights - 7am overnight ferry Ancona, Italy to Split. ferry: deluxe room (double bed), outside, insuite WC. I book a room in Split beginning the night before arrival to go directly to my room, drop luggage, walk to Tac (formerly Black Cat for Rick Steve readers) for a good breakfast. Bring canvas bag since farmers market daily in vicinity and Tommy’s market: cheeses, Snacks, nuts, granola, dried/fresh fruit for travels. A walking tour in old town AND the Riva... promenade flowers, benches, view, entertainers, restaurants, ice cream...people watch - lovely!
*Drive Plitivice National Park (1) night; walk on arrival and another route the next morning (I like lower with upper the next morning - watch route - go down hill, good shoes, water, light rain jacket)
*Drive via Opitija or inland to Rovinj (4 nights) Stay in old town, good art museum - I have seen fine exhibitions, dance in the square at night, research great but not tourist driven restaurants, get in the water at a place appropriate for your personal skill and comfort)
*Drive to Groznjan (3) nights...tiny small artist town, a tiny stone house, two patios and gardens, Private, view of a lifetime
*North along the coast, Into Slovenia - Lippinizer Farm - caves to Ljubljana (3) nights in the old town, limited car parking, permit with accommodation - a lovely wonderful Capital of Slovenia with good restaurants along the river and history.
* Skofja Loka (1) night lovely little river town recommended - the area is known for lace making, has a school for lace making, ski resorts backing up into the Juluan Alps.
*Lake Bled (3) nights - famous, hiking, views
*Long drive south: Zadar (2) restaurants, sea organ, best Archetectural Museum in Croatia
Split (3) nights near Ivan Mestrovic home and studio - beautiful grounds (La Pieta at Notre Dame U, the Indians on each side of River bridge Chicago ... immigrated US 1954 Professor Emeritus ND.)
Returned car Split Airport, taxi to ferry to Italy.

Trip #1: 17 nights excluding overnight ferry
Trip #3: 23 nights, excluding overnight ferry

Posted by
9 posts

Hi Nancy - i Intentionally deleted trip #2 which extended the length somewhat beyond the 3 week plan that you had indicated. I stayed on Kvar 3 days and Korcula 3 days in addition to the longer route of Trip#3 above.
The upcominfg Trip#4 in September 2019 is short and follows a lower route of Croatia and countries.
*split (2);
*Bol on Brac (1) - could have stayed a couple;
* Korcula (over Hvar) (4) including day trip to Mljet National Park, car rental 2 days;

*Dubrovnik (4) including car rental for a day trip Montenegro, and departure by car (drop off at Split Airport, Hertz);
* Sajaravo (2) via Mostar, return to Split via alternative route;
*Split (2);
Total Trip#4: 15 days excluding overnight ferry.
The cost of parking a car right outside the walls of Dubrovnik was 40€ per night last time I did it in 2016; I stay inside walls in Old Town near upper gate for the atsmophere, restaurants, but lots of steps!

Although you have an excellent itinerary, my personal opinion is that you are moving on too often, not settling in a little - there is a sense of rushing. The roads a small, slow, except for the big toll “Y” roads : small towns, rolling hills, animals and children on the roads, beautiful vistas, farms and small lunch-rooms. Although scenic, along the coast there are long stretches of somewhat barren islands around each curve. Your itinerary, although leaving out certain things, seems like one that could more comfortably fit in a month! Like me, you may find out that you will come back: Croatia/Slovenia have been some of the most spectacular.
Specifically: I have not been in Zagreb, and do not fly into any airports, so I know nothing about connections, Airlines, schedules.

I enjoyed old part of Ljubljana more than an afternoon walkthrough would entail.
Bled is a well known tourist destination for 100’s of years - we stayed for a couple of days, it’s lovely, known for a speciality cake, take a drive into the mountains, stayed at a 1800 pension rather than large hotel, walking distance to a rated tiny restaurant (reservations, upstairs) it’s a very busy town on a beautiful lake.
I would suggest that you work your way back to Istria, via the stud/training Farm of all Lippinezzer horse or go into the famous caves...don’t drive Bled to Rovinj in a day!

Arrive Rovinj and make it a base - you can see hill towns one day, down to Tito’s and Pula another ... Rovinj old town is charmingly vibrant with winding streets, restaurants, beautiful water views , hike the steps of the main church tower and get a view of the lifetime, take a boat ride, maybe a day to an island.
Moving on, a big drive day: to Plitvice and spend (2) nights; spend next day hiking and dine at local restaurant - there good ones. Drive early to Krk and see waterfalls, head to Zadar for the night ... it has a lot of charm and sunset on the point with a glass of wine listening to the sea organ sounds; the Archetectural museum - it is #1 Croatia - small, well displayed, organized; closed 1 day of week.
Drive toward Split, stop in Trogir for lunch,, but I would return the car at airport or downtown ((Hertz) and stay overnight close to the early morning cat departure! Travel without car and stay a few days in Korcula ( remember the ethnic dance performance is on a Thursday night). You could rent a car or a driver to do side trips but settle in Korcula a few days so you can do things that interest you.

Fast cat to Dubrovnik - settle! Day trip to Kotor? Day trip to Mostar? Train to Sajaravo a day or two - or drive them all! The coast road including Ston etc is lovely - I’ve driven Dubrovnik to Split and had a driver - it takes most of a day. With stops...
Good and safe traveling! SUSAN