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Balkan Trip Report, June-July 2018

Rick Steve's Croatia and Slovenia was my bible for a 23 day Balkan trip in Summer 2018. I appreciated the advice to see BBC's documentary "The Fall of Yugoslavia" -- it enhanced my trip, as did reading "A Short History of the Balkans." FYI, I'm 55+, female, and travel solo (see the world!) using public transportation. Overall, I had a great trip. Fascinating and beautiful. A few highlights and downsides: Bled was great, don't miss a day trip into the Julian Alps. I booked a tour with a group in advance. I also rented an e-bike and went up to Radovljica and around the lake -- it was so much fun -- spectacular scenery -- and I bought an e-bike when I came home! Ljubljana is lovely. The puppet museum up at the castle was a surprising pleasure. As in much of Europe, the "free tours" are usually good and here I wasn't disappointed. The bus from Ljubliana to Zagreb was fine, except hours late. Zagreb was very interesting. I spent only one full day there, but it was enough. Good "free tour." Then I took the bus the Split. Wow! Loved Split. Quite crowded (early July) but worth every minute. Stayed a few days. Enjoyed the food, a trip to Trogir (ferry both ways is best choice -- traffic in Split is bad), the Mestrovich museum (WOW!) and lots of music, food, window shopping and gelato. Then, instead of just a day trip to Mostar, I took a morning bus from Split to Mostar and stayed the night. This was a VERY GOOD idea, at least for summer. Mostar is hot, hot, hot. I can't imagine going on a day trip that drops you there for a few hours around noon. I arrived around 3pm from Split. It was broiling. I checked into a hotel, enjoyed a beer, and then went out for a free walking tour at 6pm, going out for dinner afterwards -- best Cevapi of the trip. The next morning, I was on the street by 8:30am -- spending more time at the sights I saw on the walking tour -- don't miss the war and genocide museum, very moving -- and then, by the time it was broiling again and busloads of people starting arriving, I was on a bus outta there to Dubrovnik. Ah! Dubrovnik -- what a nightmare. I spent more money than any other place on a hotel (in the old city) and it was by far the most substandard lodgins of my trip. The crowds are out of control. The shops are fill with tacky junk. I was shocked. This is a sad example of over-tourism. I've been to 40 countries and lived in Europe. I've been thinking a lot these days about the perils of "over-tourism" (Rick, if you're reading this, I think you need to talk about it). Amsterdam, Lisbon, Venice... they are simply becoming un-visitable. Anyway, I got some relief from the Dubrovnik mosh pit by going on a couple of day trips, one to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro with Amico Tours -- they offer small luxury vehicles, it was just five of us with a driver and tour guide, so much better than the big bus thing. Then, for some peace and quiet, I spent a day in the little town of Cavtat. (Went by ferry from the old port and return in the evening by bus) Very lovely. I hiked around after buying a picnic lunch, rented a spot for swimming, napped in the sun and then by early evening girded my courage to return to Dubrovnik to slog around with the crowds. Sorry, I just really hated Dubrovnik. I ended my trip visiting with friends six days in Belgrade. I was really surprised by Belgrade -- far nicer than I expected. In retrospect, I might have been happier if I had stayed outside the old town in Dubrovnik. If I ever get back to the region, top on my list is to see Sarajevo, and more of Montenegro and Serbia, perhaps Albania.

Posted by
5576 posts

Nice report, thank you. I agree about the rapidly growing problems of "over tourism." - Uzbekistan, here I come!

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you Mabelle for this very informative post.

I too am 55+ female and will be traveling solo in November to many of these places. I've been struggling to figure out how much time to spend in Split, Mostar, and Dubrovnik. Your experience is just what I needed to hear!

I do have a couple of questions:
1. How did you travel between Split and Dubrovnik?
2. Do the buses have "mod cons" on them? Were they usable?
3. Did you like your hotel in Mostar and if yes, which one was it?

Thanks in advance for any additional info!

Posted by
681 posts

I enjoyed reading about your trip. I went to Dubrovnik a couple of years ago and felt the same way... too crowded. We stayed outside the city in a wonderful neighborhood with stunning views, a pool and wonderful tiny restaurants. It was great. It was an airbnb and the owner would take us into town and we took the bus home. Perfect way to get out of the cruise ship rat race.

Posted by
3354 posts

Mabelle, thank you for your candid trip report. We are recently back from the RS Adriatic Tour. Overall, we felt we had a great experience. Our favorite new city was the charming Ljubljana. Our second favorite stop was Korcula! Split was not only beautiful but the highlight was the Mestrovic Museum! It rivaled Rodin for us. We spent one night in lovely Mostar at the Almira Hotel. We were fortunate to have an amazing view of the city. It was magical. Have to agree about your take on Dubrovnik. That said, we stayed outside of Old Town at the Aquarius Hotel. Our walking tour was scheduled for early am to avoid the crowds. It was an easy bus ride. By noon it was time to leave Old Town! We ended up heading back towards our hotel and got off close to the beach and had a quiet, leisurely lunch. As far as "over-tourism" we've been to Lisbon and Venice. We were able to avoid the crowds by taking the "off the beaten path routes" and that worked for us. Guess what! Amsterdam is next on our list! Thanks again for your thoughts.

Posted by
5 posts

I think my experience in Dubrovnik would have been better if I hadn't stayed in the Old Town. It was very convenient, but a huge premium in terms of cost. i also wonder if it's the old problem of the "single" room. In Dubrovnik, the room was the smallest thing I've ever seen (and that's saying a lot), but it's not the first time that I've found a single room -- one bed, often just a twin -- is just substandard, as if the solo traveler should be happy with a broom closet. Okay, in answer to libbyw -- (1) I took a bus from Split to Mostar. I probably booked it through getbybus.com but I can't remember. (2) as for bus "modern conveniences" -- there were none on any of the buses I took. Some did make stops -- usually at the border crossings -- and there were port-o-potties around. I recall one restaurant stop on the trip from Ljubjiana to Zagreb, but not any others. (3) In Mostar I stayed at the Hotel Mepas. It was a weird choice but it was a good deal on booking.com. About 10-15 minute walk north of "Spanish Square." but not to far from the bus station. It's a new and very lux place that would be $300 a night in any other city. Worked out well for me because about that time into my trip I was really needing a luxury experience (huge bathtub, robes, minibar etc) and the hotel is attached to a pretty spiffy new shopping mall (try to make sense of all this while thinking about what was happening in Mostar just over 20 years ago). ~