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One Month in Croatia

Hello, we are headed to Croatia for a month long trip mid-April to mid-May this year. We will be renting a vehicle and most likely flying into Dubrovik and out Zagreb. We realize the areas we want to visit are spread out throughout Croatia and Slovenia and not conducive to a home base with day trips but really hate to overnight for 1-2 nights. We would rather stay put for awhile and hike, walk, kayak and day trip as weather allows. We like museums, music and just enjoying people watching. We enjoy beach walking but don’t care about swimming.

Our priorities are Dubrovnik, Split, 1 or 2 islands, Plitvice, Istria, Llubljana, Lake Bled, the Julian Alps. I think Istria is a must do for a week. The exception to short stay would probably be 1 night at Plitvice.

We would love to visit Mostar, Sarajevo, Kotor, but think that will spread us thinly even further.

Any suggestions for 3 bases that would match our ideal? We have also traveled enough to know you can’t see it all!

Thank you.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
3328 posts

Overall plan sounds fine, but as you hinted at, I don't think you will find 3 bases that work for all of this. You can find reasonable bases for some of this, but you will either need more than 3 of them, or you will need to do some of these places on their own (not from a base) - probably a combination of both.

In particular, I think you will find that islands do not work well as day trips. You end up with just a few hours on the island (with all the other day-trippers, which means you see the islands at their worst), and spend too much of your day ferrying around.

You should be aware that ferry schedules are highly impacted by high-season/low-season variability - and your travel time definitely puts you out outside of their definition of "high season" (generally early June through end of August). That'll help with crowds, but it will greatly impact your ability to efficiently connect via some ferry routes (in low season, some routes go less frequently, some routes simply don't go at all).

Ljubljana is the obvious base for Slovenia, although if your focus is Julian Alps you might pick Bled or another location outside Ljubljana. Lake Bled is lovely (we did an overnight there), but I don't think we would have been happy staying there (in the town) for days. We liked Ljubljana a lot, though.

For Istria, Rovinj is the obvious pick, or maybe one of the hill towns (eg Motovun). Those Istrian hill towns are small though (less going on there than Italian hill towns, for example) so if you want quiet, they might be perfect, but if you want to stroll the streets at night taking in the scene, you might feel like they're a bit small and limited for your tastes.

Once you get down into Croatia though, it becomes more challenging to find a good base. You might want to fine-tune your list for non-Istria Croatia and take a hard look at a map and travel times...I think you may find that there's no single "base" that works efficiently for "everything else"...from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, that's a lot of territory and getting between your destinations won't be super-efficient.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10367 posts

I wish I could be helpful, but I think David has nailed it. You are just going to need a lot more hotels than you prefer on this trip. I dislike changing hotels, too, but at least you're planning a car trip and will not be constantly trekking to and from train stations with luggage in tow.

If you are totally unwilling to stay in more than three places plus Plitvice, you must sharply reduce the territory you're trying to cover or drop a lot of the places you want to see (don't do that--they're all great). You could do Dubrovnik, Istria, Ljubljana and one night at Plitvice, but that would leave a lot of holes in your itinerary--starting with probably no islands, no Zagreb (way too much to see to be a day-trip from Ljubljana unless you want to do the 4-hour RT at least twice), no Sarajevo, and no Split.

One of the problems you have is that with the exception of Istria and some of the rural places you'll want to see in Slovenia, all your identified targets are full-day destinations or more. They aren't places where you'd be likely to be satisfied with just two or three hours, even if you were willing to drive four hours to get to them.

I think even in Slovenia you may benefit from spending one night away from Ljubljana. I know that suggestion has been made in some earlier threads about driving through the Julian Alps. I haven't made that trip myself. I agree with David on not wanting to spend a lot of nights in Bled. If you want to do a lot of active things, it may work to spend a few nights in a rural area, but Ljubljana is a much more interesting place after dark and has a lot of sights itself.

You may not need a full week in Istria, since the towns are mostly quite small and don't take long to see. But it's a very pretty area and I'd think 5 nights would be a reasonable minimum, assuming you want to include Pula as well as Rovinj, Porec, Vrsar, Motovun and Groznjan.

Posted by Paul-of-the-Frozen-North
Sioux Falls, SD, USA
1067 posts

I don't see Zagreb on your list, which is a shame for a month in Croatia. It's a great capital, and deserves 2 full days, minimum.

Posted by valadelphia
627 posts

Since April is a bit early for islands, you could do day trips from Dubrovnik and Split. Start off the trip with a quicker pace than what you prefer, but slow down as you move north.

Posted by Cindy OP
Langley, Wa, Usa
24 posts

I have been digesting all of your suggestions and thank you for them as they have helped me further drill down on this trip.

I have for the most part abandoned my “base” plan but still have a few longer stays to satisfy our travel style:

Fly into Dubrovnik from London April 18
5 nights Dubrovnik

Rental car to Mostar and Sarejvo
1 night Mostar
3 nights Sarejvo

Drive to Split
3 nights Split

Ferry to Korcula
2 Nights Korcula

Drive to Plitvice
1 night Plitvice

Drive to Rovnji
5 nights Rovnji

Drive to Soca Valley with stops in Karst region
1 night in that area (suggestions?)

Drive to Lake Bled through the Julian Alps
1 night Lake Bled

Drive Ljubljana
3 nights Ljubljana

Drive to Zagreb and return rental.
1 night Zagreb before flight out next day

I am still puzzling over best sequence of Split/Korcula re transportation: W do not wish to take a car to Korcula which means we would have to park it for that time: If not for the Mostar/Sarejvo section, we would not start a rental until after we leave Split. One possibility would be to rent a car in Dubrovnik for the M/S segment return car to Dubrovnik, ferry to Korcula, ferry to Split and pick up another vehicle for the rest of the trip. Of course planning the ferry this far in advance is iffy. We do have 1 unplanned day in the plan at this point so perhaps could “wing it”.

We are trying to see the places that interest us the most with the understanding that “you can’t see it all” and that at our age and our still lengthy bucket list, we will most likely not return.
Thanks for any advice you may give.

Posted by Paul-of-the-Frozen-North
Sioux Falls, SD, USA
1067 posts

I would map it out. Some backtracking in my view of the order of locations. Mostly I think you are wise to consider staying several days.

When in Dubrovnik, you could do a day in Kotor, and see the fabulous Bay of Kotor.

I think you are slighting yourself by not spending 2 days in Zagreb. It's a very pleasant place. Lots of great museums, a cathedral, history, a great square. We've been many times, and return again next summer.

Take 1 day away from Rovinj, and put it on Zagreb.

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
3217 posts

I wouldn't worry about taking the car to Korcula from Mostar - that's how I would do it. Drive from Mostar to Ploče and take the ferry to Trpanj...or detour to the south and back up the Pelješac peninsula to Orebić, then take the short ferry at Orebić to Korcula. Check it out on a Google Map.

Then park the car in Korcula town for two days. Given the one-way rental price, sometimes it won't cost much more to rent the car a few extra days.

Then drive from Korcula Town over to Vela Luka and take the car ferry from there to Split. This is probably going to be more convenient and save you time on a limited schedule. Remember, the Korcula Town catamaran (no cars) may leave at 6am (mine did). Check the schedules.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10367 posts

Although I really like Istria, I'm also fond of Zagreb. I'd say if you enjoy art, you need the extra day in Zagreb. It will be one of your few opportunities on this trip to get to art museums, I think. (Ljubljana has some, but I don't think there's much comparison--though I'm no expert.) Zagreb also has a large bi-level historic district and an active café culture.

Posted by valadelphia
627 posts

Yes take the car to Korcula, either before or after Mostar makes the most sense. It's just a short hop over from Orebic.

Posted by Cindy OP
Langley, Wa, Usa
24 posts

Such helpful information. Thank you.

We are willing to shave off a day in Slovenia or a day in Rovinj in order to get an extra day in Zagreb as suggested and to make the Sarajevo/Korcula trip happen. Because Google Maps tells me it is a 5 hour drive from Sarajevo to Orebic, I am thinking we should leave Dubrovnik early and drive straight through to Sarajevo for 3 nights and on the return make the drive to Mostar for a one night stay before driving the 3 hours to Orebic. That might give us a little more time in Korcula if the ferries work out.

My worry is the ferry schedule at that time of year. We would be leaving Mostar on Saturday 27 to catch a ferry from Orebic to Korcula and leaving Vela Luka for Split on Monday April 29. We would be taking the car as suggested. Do you think the ferry schedule would accomodate that plan? Living on an island myself, I know there can be some uncertainities around ferry schedules!

The other alternative would be to skip Korcula and add days elsewhere. Though my husband is pretty attached to the Korkula trip........

Posted by Cindy OP
Langley, Wa, Usa
24 posts

Argghhh

From what I can tell, the ferry from Oriek to Korcula is foot traffic only.

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
3217 posts

The ferry from Orebić to Korcula takes cars - and buses. Our bus took it.

Posted by donnajmcl12
2 posts

Just returned from fifteen days in Croatia. Definitely need two to two and a half days in Zagreb. Rovinj was lovely but five days seems a lot unless you plan to just chill. Also liked Split and beautiful Hvar. Croatia is unbelievably beautiful...you will love it.

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
3217 posts

Rovinj itself needs about four hours. It's tiny. But it's a great base for Istria. I assumed five days in Rovinj means day trips to hill towns, Porec, Pula, etc. And Rovinj is charming and beautiful - a great base to return to at night.

Posted by Cindy OP
Langley, Wa, Usa
24 posts

Still investigating ferry connections but we are now wondering if it might be better to skip Korcula due to the amount of time it may take for such a short visit especiall considering we will be off season.

We have added a day to Zagreb and are thinking of an extra night in Mostar for day trips to Blagj, Kravice and Pocitelj. From there we would make our way to Split.

Andrew, we wanted a stopover in a small, walkable town with potential day trips. We are also trying to
pick a few spots where my husband might be able to do some kayaking (not a tour). It seemed like Rovinj might be such a place.

Posted by Andrew H.
Portland, Oregon
3217 posts

Mostar is small. I would think one night there would be sufficient, unless you arrive late the first day and leave early the last. The old town doesn't take a lot of time to explore (or rather the two sides, the Croat and the Muslim sides). Blagj doesn't take much time and neither does Kravice, which could be a stop on the way to Split (didn't visit Pocitelj). In May you can drive all the way to the falls at Kravice - I did. You get there, spend a few minute admiring the falls, and move on.

Up to you whether you skip Korcula or not, but I completely understand your reluctance given the time investment. It's a place well worth visiting otherwise. I visited at the other end of the season, in mid-October, and Korcula Town was by then almost done for the season - very dead at night. Not sure it would feel the same way or not in mid-May, but tourism has grown a lot in Croatia since I visited Korcula, so maybe not.

If you want to stop somewhere else in Croatia, I might recommend the lovely town of Sibenik north of Split or (not far away from Sibenik) Krka National Park. Most people who visit Krka I take it visit only the huge Skradinski Buk waterfall (like I did). You can park at the town of Skradin and just take a boat up to the falls. Won't take all day.

Posted by lisa
akron, ohio
429 posts

CIndy, I agree with others, 4 days in Rovinj would probably be too many as it is very tiny, so I think its good that you are taking away one day there and adding it elsewhere. Might I suggest staying in Porec as a base? It is a lovely, walkable town that is right on the water and has several good restaurants. Also, as others have mentioned, the ferry schedules at that time of year will be an issue so plan carefully for that. I've had the experience of booking and paying for ferry tickets from Venice to Porec, early in the season, getting to the ferry departure terminal only to find that the ferry had been cancelled and we were transported on a bus that took longer and was not as expensive. We were never reimbursed for the difference in price between the ferry and the bus.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10367 posts

Four nights in Rovinj is about three days. You have Rovinj, Porec, tiny Vrsar, Pula, and the two inland towns of Motovun and Groznjan. Plus all the places I don't know anything about. That looks like more than two days' worth of sights to me.

Posted by Cindy OP
Langley, Wa, Usa
24 posts

Well after a week of OCD trip planning, I have digested all the information kindly offered from you all and think I have an improved plan.

Day 1: Flying into Dubrovnik, arriving about 4:30pm. (This is booked). Airbnb for 4 nights including Easter Sunday.
Questions:
1. This is Easter weekend. Will there be Easter festivities?.
2. Is 3 days on the ground too many?

Day 5: Passenger ferry Monday morning headed toward Split. On the way stop at one island for 2 nights.
Question: Which island is better for a passenger only (no car).

Day 7: Continue onto Split by ferry for 3 night stay.

Day 10: Pick up rental car and head to Saravejo for 4 nights.
Question: Google Maps says about the same travel time to Saravejo and Mostar from Split as Dubrovnik. Does this ring true with real experience?

Day 14: Leave Saravejo for Mostar. Overnight in Mostar.

Day 15: Drive to Plitvice. Get there in time to walk part of the park. Overnight Plitvice.

Day 16: Back to park for continued walk. Drive to Rovinj.

Day 17: 4 nights in Rovinj with day trips and walks in the area.

Day 21: Drive to Ljubljana. Overnight for 3 nights.

Day 24: Overnight Bohinj or Bled with plan of making the loop through the Julian Alps.

Day 25: Drive to Zagreb for 3 nights, returning rental car.

Day 28: Fly to London for overnight before flying home to Seattle with a 5 night stopover in Iceland.

I have checked out ferry schedules and it seems the schedule will work for us. This plan postpones car rental (easier on the driver) and gives us a small taste of the islands. It also gives several stops to slow down with a longer stay.

Any glaring mistakes on my part? Thank you.