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Slovenia/Croatia/Sarajevo/Kotor Itinerary Review Please.

I am looking for some suggestions on itinerary for trip encompassing Slovenia, Croatia, a bit of Bosnia and a dash of Montenegro. Flights are booked so arrival and departure is set in stone. Travel May 8-25. Only crossing one time zone, so no jet lag issues. We are not "have coffee at a cafe and people watch" types. I like to keep moving - out of the hotel having already eaten breakfast by 9 a.m. into the hotel by 11 p.m. type.

Questions
1) Should we rent a car to get to Zagreb, so that we can see more on the way there and back and not have the early morning train issue? We have Zagreb scheduled for a Sunday so that we can see the changing of the guard and the flea markets.
2) Then keep the car to go to Lake Bled and Julian Alps (because it is easier to rent one car then rent and return twice.)?
3) Korcula is throwing a bit of a wrench because many hotels are already sold out. Is it worth it to visit Korcula and Hvar. We are traveling in the shoulder season, so only one ferry company is running, which means that there is only one ferry per day. It was difficult to find another potential island, and I don't know that we want to stay on Hvar for two nights. We aren't really beach people, especially during shoulder season when the water might not be very warm.
4) Anything not worth it on the itienary? We don't love the one night stays in hotels, but since we have a car for most of those, it isn't horrible.
5) Any suggestions of where to return the car in Slovenia? We want it to be convenient, so that we can jump on a frequent but to get to Rovinj.
6) Are the Karst caves worth it or should we get to Rovinj earlier, pick up the rental car on Day 6 and visit places in Istria right away?

Friday Day 1 - Arrive in Lublijana about 4 p.m. Sleep in Ljubljana.
Saturday Day 2 - Ljubljana sites. Sleep in Ljubljana.
Sunday Day 3 - Train or car to Zagreb (630AM train) Train to Ljubljana (920pm) Sleep in Ljubljana
Monday Day 4 - Train to Lake Bled Sleep in Lake Bled
Tuesday Day 5 - Rental Car pickup, drive through the Julian Alps Sleep near the Karst caves
Wednesday Day 6 - See caves & castle, return car to Portoroz or Koper, Bus to Rovinj, Croatia. Sleep in Rovinj
Thursday Day 7 - Pick up rental car, visit Pula, tour Istrian peninsula Sleep in Rovinj
Friday Day 8- Drive to Plitvice Hiking, driving at National Park Sleep in Plitvice area
Saturday Day 9 - Drive along coast, visiting Pag and Zadar Sleep near Split area
Sunday Day 10 - Drive to Mostar and tour Mostar, Drive late to Sarajevo and sleep in Sarajevo
Monday Day 11 - Tour Sarajevo and sleep in Sarajevo
Tuesday Day 12 - Drive to Kotor and sleep in Kotor, Montenegro
Wednesday Day 13 - Tour Kotor in the morning then drive to Dubrovnik, drop off car, Sleep in Dubrovnik
Thursday Day 14 - Sleep in Dubrovnik
Friday Day 15 - Tour Dubrovnik, then catch the 16:30 ferry to Korcula. Sleep in Korcula
Saturday Day 16 - Visit Korcula, then catch the 13:00 ferry to Hvar. Sleep in Hvar
Sunday Day 17 - Visit Hvar in the morning, then catch the 14:30 ferry to Split. Sleep in Split
Monday Day 18 - Tour Split, leave for airport 19:30

Posted by
16581 posts

Golly, Kathryn, that looks like a total blur to me. So many places seem like they'll be visited for just a few hours.

Just one example: Istria is a lovely place. In addition to the places you've mentioned, I'd recommend Porec, Vrsar, Motovun and Groznjan. On a trip with a lot of coastal and island time, I think you'll appreciate spending some time in the hilly Istrian interior.

I'd check into buses between Ljubljana and Zagreb. I don't think there's much difference in travel time between buses and trains, and I suspect the buses are more frequent, so you may find one at a more congenial time of the morning. The one disadvantage is that the bus station in Zagreb is a bit farther from the historic center than the train station; I'd guess it is at least an extra 10 minutes on foot. Of course, there's lots of public transportation available from the bus station as well as a taxi rank. The bus station in Zagreb is much, much more heavily used than the train station. As of 2015 there was a branch of the tourist office upstairs in part of the bus-station complex.

You didn't mention the historic area of Zagreb, which is very nice. There are some unusual and interesting museums, including a fine, small museum of naïve art and the Museum of Broken Relationships.

I think the caves are worthwhile. You have a choice of the more natural Skocjan and the more touristy (with colored lights) Postojna. I've never been to the castle.

I can't help with your car issues, being a public-transportation person.

You are not going to Serbia, but rather to Bosnia-Hercegovina. It probably wouldn't be good to get confused about that when you're on the ground in B-H.

I'm going to steal a thought from James E, who didn't much like Kotor. I did like it, but I didn't go to Kotor on the same trip as Dubrovnik. I can see that (as he said) if you visit them essentially back-to-back, Kotor would seem a lesser destination. Now, the wall climbing steeply up the hill is special, but really I think the best thing about that part of Montenegro is the drive around the Bay of Kotor--but not so much if you're the driver. I'd consider doing that by public bus, tour bus, hired driver, basically any way that doesn't require one of you to have his/her hands on the wheel and eyes glued to the road, thereby missing the fabulous scenery. I think by treating the Bay of Kotor as a day-trip from Dubrovnik (probably not a full day, either), you could probably cut a night off the Dubrovnik stay and use it elsewhere.

The experience in Kotor is massively altered for the worse if there's a large cruise ship in port. Usually you can find information on port calls online. I'm not sure what is the best website to use, but here's one: http://crew-center.com/kotor-montenegro-cruise-ship-schedule-2020

Posted by
1285 posts

I traveled in those countries in May a few years ago. Here are my suggestions.

1) Should we rent a car to get to Zagreb, so that we can see more on the way there and back and not have the early morning train issue? We have Zagreb scheduled for a Sunday so that we can see the changing of the guard and the flea markets.

2) Then keep the car to go to Lake Bled and Julian Alps (because it is easier to rent one car then rent and return twice.)?

5) Any suggestions of where to return the car in Slovenia? We want it to be convenient, so that we can jump on a frequent but to get to Rovinj.

Have you looked into renting a car in Zagreb? Take the train to Zagreb and pick up a car while you're there? Then you won't have to worry about returning it and renting another one. You can keep it until you arrive in Dubrovnik.

You should also check ahead of time to make sure Vršič Pass will be open by May 13th (if your route goes that way). It is closed during the winter, and opening date varies from year to year depending on the amount of snow they have.

3) Korcula is throwing a bit of a wrench because many hotels are already sold out. Is it worth it to visit Korcula and Hvar. We are traveling in the shoulder season, so only one ferry company is running, which means that there is only one ferry per day. It was difficult to find another potential island, and I don't know that we want to stay on Hvar for two nights. We aren't really beach people, especially during shoulder season when the water might not be very warm.

I did both islands for two nights each. I enjoyed them both, and I'm also not a beach person. But if you can't find lodging, skipping Korcula isn't a terrible idea. Hvar has some great restaurants, good walking along the waterfront and up the hill, and if you like to ride scooters, you can rent them and ride to Stari Grad.

4) Anything not worth it on the itinerary? We don't love the one night stays in hotels, but since we have a car for most of those, it isn't horrible.

I did the same thing as your Day 8, but that was a few years back. Plitvice can be very crowded in the afternoon, and the usual advice is to tour it first thing in the morning. With your planned itinerary, you don't really have any option though.

I loved Sarajevo, but I was there 4 nights and it was just about enough. And your Day 9 seems awful, with quick stops and no real time to see anything.

6) Are the Karst caves worth it or should we get to Rovinj earlier, pick up the rental car on Day 6 and visit places in Istria right away?

I didn't visit the Karst caves, so I can't comment.

Here's my suggestion on how to improve your itinerary somewhat.

Day 1-8 as is

Day 9, drive from Plitvice to Sarajevo. Stay there 3 nights.

Day 12, drive to Mostar, stay there overnight

Day 13, drive to Dubrovnik, drop off your rental car, spend 2 nights there

The rest as is.

I think you are still very rushed at the beginning. You aren't allowing nearly enough time for Rovinj and Istria. Trying to do all that in one day is a big stretch. If I were you, I'd cut Istria out altogether to allow time for the Soca River valley. Istria is really nice, but you just don't have time to include it, and it is a long drive in both directions.

If you're open to cutting Istria, then I'd spend the first five nights in Ljubljana, doing day trips to Bled and the Karst region and the Soca valley. Then take the train to Zagreb and spend two nights there. Then pick up a car, head to Plitvice, and continue from there.

Good luck!

Posted by
467 posts

Some very good suggestions by the previous posters. I would just add that if you do end up dropping Istria altogether, you can visit Piran for the afternoon on your day trip to the caves to get a taste of the Istrian peninsula. It’s small enough that you can easily spend just a few hours there and it’s less than an hour away from the caves.

Posted by
10673 posts

It all depends on what makes a good trip for you. I like to explore, see some of the common and see the tourist stuff; but balanced.

To that end I would (and did) start in Sarajevo for two nights, then since you are there and its a once in a lifetime opportunity, spend the money on a private guide/driver to see a bit of the country. I went on to Travnik and Jajce. Very interesting small towns. I stayed here, which is one of the most memorable (in a good way) hotels I have ever stayed in (30 euro a night): https://hotelkraljevac.com/en/home-page/ from there you can go on Mostar. I'll send you some pictures.

I would visit Kotor on the way to Perast, where I would spend the night. Beautiful setting on the bay. More pictures coming

Durbrovnik, you have to stay inside the walls.

Posted by
10673 posts

Dubrovnik is beautiful, but an interesting observation about Dubrovnik and Kotor is the obvious standardized reconstruction. Take time to note in both towns the first floor windows and entries. Most, obviously new, most identical in design and construction. In other words, at street level many, many of the shops and restaurants in Kotor look identical to the shops and restaurants in Dubrovnik. Same stone arched windows and doors. You would never notice unless you went to both towns. See the arched window/doors https://comps.canstockphoto.com/famous-stradun-street-in-dubrovnik-night-stock-image_csp62738661.jpg Not a criticism, I know why and that alone is a lesson I hope the people of the republika srpska remember before it starts all over again. Good time to go to BiH as I am worried the time will come when it will not be such a good idea.

Posted by
226 posts

Hi Kathryn,
It’s not usual for the first draft to contain too much. As RSs would would say, assume you’ll return. Remember, when it gets dark outside, sightseeing ends. Do you want to drive foreign roads at night? Not only that, you’re seeing four countries in 18 days which could get old quick.
Places you might want to cut out are the Karst Caves, Pag and Zadar. If you need to eliminate a country make it Montenegro.
Do see Lake Bled and drive the Vrsic Pass to the Soca River Valley lookout. I would also make sure I saw Plitvice and Dubrovnik in Croatia and Mostar and Sarajevo in Bosnia & Herzogovinia.

Posted by
10673 posts

As for the pace, a bit more than I would do, but I have an associate that traveled across Europe for 3 weeks and never spent more than 2 nights in any given place. Now I can tell him what he missed by doing that; but he will only reply that it was the trip of a lifetime and he was glad he did it. It just worked for him and thats what its all about. I used to get frustrated with people who spent just 2 nights in Budapest. Its a 4 night town at a minimum. But I figured out it worked for them so I just started helping them make it the best 2 nights of their trip.

So consider everything you hear and read, but dont think anything you choose to do will be "wrong". Just enjoy the heck out of the trip.

It’s not usual for the first draft to contain too much. As RSs would
would say, assume you’ll return. Remember, when it gets dark outside,
sightseeing ends. Do you want to drive foreign roads at night? Not
only that, you’re seeing four countries in 18 days which could get old
quick.

When it gets dark outside, sightseeing does not end. Dubrovnik for instance is stunning in the evening; better for my taste actually. And I never assume I will return which is why I try and group my visits tightly so I can see a lot without a lot of travel time. Often this will be the one and only visit. You never know. I guess an advantage of a fast trip is you can sample a lot and return to what you enjoyed the most. Never get there, you will never know. As for RS advice. Ever look at one of his tours. They are fast paced. Five countries in Eastern Europe in 15 days, 4 countries on the Adriatic in 10 days: Really?

If you need to eliminate a country make it Montenegro.

MaryPat, your not liking you visit to Montenegro much is sort of the evidence of each to their own. I loved Montenegro, but I try and balance the tourist traps like Dubrovnik and Plitvice with something smaller, more rural, interesting and "real" for lack of a better word. Its why I said stay in Perast instead of Kotor. Kotor is heavy with tourism while Perast is a lot more laid back and they are only 30 minutes apart so you can get in a good day in Kotor and enjoy the evening, after dark, dining on the edge of the bay. Stunning. But if your perfect trip is Paris, London, Rome; Montenegro may not be for you.

I would also make sure I saw Plitvice and Dubrovnik in Croatia and
Mostar and Sarajevo in Bosnia & Herzogovinia.

MaryPat, I wasn't as impressed with Sarajevo as you apparently were on your trip. I stayed 3 nights only because I had to, 2 nights would have been plenty; again the evenings in the old town were wonderful. Two nights was good enough in Dubrovnik too ... especially the nights.

Posted by
226 posts

Hi James, must admit I have not been to all the places I said to focus on, RSs gave them three stars so that’s why I listed them.
I do believe a place becomes more magical during the evening hours and this is why I don’t mind one night minimum stays, but overall, I think you should see a place during the day light hours to get a true glimpse of what it’s like.

Posted by
10673 posts

One of the advantages of the forum is you can deal with real people, draw them out a bit and compare them to your own values, enjoyments, etc. Published rankings are fun, I always love it when Budapest makes the top 10, but here, its the more personal approach that is most valuable about the forum. As such I don't ever comment on a place I haven't been to unless its to pass along factual data I may have dug up when thinking about a trip.

Me, I love the Opera and the theater. I've actually carried a tux to Europe for a very special opera event and I almost always carry nice shoes, sports coat and a tie. But I also carry a 7 piece fly rod and and try to spend a few days each trip up to my waist in a river fishing. Sometimes I just want to find some unspoiled place where I can be unnoticed and not do "sight seeing" ; wander the beach or sit in a cafe and talk to the waiter about life in what ever place I am. So, I love Budapest and Paris and I love the towns and villages streams and rivers of Montenegro and BiH just as much. Its all about balance for me and I can make the best of just about anyplace. My bucket list is huge.

Posted by
226 posts

James, no wonder you love to travel because you know how to. I have always dreamed of going to Vienna and learning how to Waltz so I can attend a ball and spend an evening floating around one of Vienna’s spectacular ball rooms.
My hobby is researching travel and my bucket list is up to 205 countries. Sounds like a bit much, but planning travel is part of the addiction.

Posted by
226 posts

Hi James,
Are you standing on the second tier next to the orchestra?