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Croatia Road Trip (Aug 2017) DUBROVNIK - SPLIT - PLITIVICE PARK - ROVINJ

My wife and I (in our 50s) stayed in 4 towns in Croatia, arriving Aug 24 (Thu) and departing Sep 1 (Fri). We wouldn't change anything. Among our travels, this was our "most" Rick Steves-y trip. The advice and recommendations were spot-on.
We chose to start in the south (Dubrovnik) and end in the north (Istria). It worked well for us as the atmosphere became more relaxed as we moved.

This report will be posted in 3 parts, with two as replies to this message (to keep them all together.)

Part 1: DUBROVNIK

Aug 24 - 26 (two nights, Thu-Sat): DUBROVNIK. 2 nights was the right length. City was crowded. One local in the tourist industry told us that the number of tourists was up 40% year-on-year (2016 to 2017), and was forecast to jump another 25% in 2018. Most of the service industry folks we saw working in restaurants and at the car rental appeared quite exhausted and suffering from insufficient sleep - but nonetheless provided good service.
- LODGING: RESERVE EARLY! Stayed at the smaller apartment of Jadranka Benussi, a Rick Steves recommendation. Perfect. Kitchen, 5 minute walk to PILE gate entrance of old city.
- DINNERs: Pleasant surprise as our expectations for food were low. First evening we ate at Kopun. Beautiful location in a courtyard facing an old church. The server provided great advice and we decided on fresh fish and chose THE fish we ate.
On our second night we made our own dinner, using fresh produce bought at the morning produce market in the city and items from the small Kozum grocery store near the apt.
- ACTIVITIES:
- City wall walk. Definite must-do. One must start when it opens at 8am to minimize crowds and heat. At 8am there was already a short line of people.
- Produce market. Morning produce market located in square next to Rector's Palace is a worthy visit if you want fresh vegetables, fruits, etc.
- Fort of St Lawrence. We did not go inside the fort, but spent time in Orhan restaurant on the beach next to it. This area was peaceful after the crowds inside the Old City. Relaxing under the canopy with cold beer and fresh salads. From Fort Lawrence we followed a trail above the coast a few hundred meters northward. Deserted and shaded, with nice view of beaches below.
- Cable car. We went at 11am, and waited 45 min in line. Rode to top, and stayed 20 min before returning (almost no line). The view of the city made it worthwhile.
- CAR RENTAL. On Aug 27 we picked up a car at the Hertz rental near the Old City. We went there on the 26th to confirm our months-old reservation. Glad we did, because Hertz had mis-calculated and there were not quite enough cars for all the reservations.
- TIP on NAVIGATION: I brought my Android phone from US, but did not connect to any local cellular network. Before leaving US, I downloaded country map of Croatia using the HERE application. That allowed me to navigate throughout Croatia in our car, and even on foot with almost no problem.

Aug 26 (Sat): Drive to Split. We wanted to see the Peljesac Peninula, so did not drive through Bosnia. Visited 2 wineries. One was a big US-style new winery that we learned catered to busloads of (mainly) American tourists in the afternoon. It was nice but not so different from an experience one can get in the US. The drive to the other winery, and the winery itself, were great:
- We drove the narrow road along the steep vineyards of the southern coast of the peninsula from Trstenaki to Potomeje. Beautiful views with almost no traffic. Then one takes (not on all maps) the small one-lane tunnel to Potomeje, takes an immediate right and arrives at the wonderful small VIOLIC WINERY (with Rick Steves sign out front). We mentioned to Boris, the owner, that we learned of him through Rick Steves; Boris took great care of us.
We then took the car ferry from Trpanj to Ploce; from there we drove the coastal road to Split.
TIP: You can purchase your ferry ticket in advance on-liine

Posted by
4877 posts

Sounds like a good trip (so far!), Jeff. I also stayed just outside the Pile Gate on my first visit to Dubrovnik some years ago and found that a great location.

I just can't imagine visiting in August though! Just don't like crowds. How crowded were the highways?

Posted by
188 posts

Hi Andrew. The roads were no problem; mostly not much traffic. The main streets of Split were a bit crowded with regular local traffic, but since we only drove in and out (and otherwise just walked), it wasn't a problem. In Dubrovnik we didn't drive at all - we picked up the car on the morning we drove out. As for crowds in August - other than Dubrovnik it wasn't bad.

Posted by
188 posts

(CONTINUATION OF REPORT)

Part 2a SPLIT

Aug 26 - 28 (2 nights), Sat-Mon: SPLIT. Perfect length. We drove up from Dubrovnik, and stayed at Villa Ana - which was in the Rick Steves guidebook. Excellent location - just a 5 min walk to Diocletian's Palace. (If you stay at Villa Ana, it is good idea to research the location because it is difficult to spy from the main road.)
- DINNER. We had one excellent dinner while in Split: KONOBA MATEJUSKA, which is in the guidebook. TIP: Make reservations! We didn't, but got lucky as we got a small cramped table next to the kitchen.
- LUNCH. Had a nice lunch with cold beer at BEPA, which is in the guidebook.
- ACTIVITIES;
- Riva walk. Nice stroll, especially at night.
- Luxor Bar at night. YES - the first night we sat outside on a red cushion and had a drink. Comfortably warm, a solo guitarist, and various types of people (including some children) dancing. Magic. The second night there was a fashion show outside, with actors dressed as a Roman emperor and empress overseeing it, and with legionnaires standing at guard.
- Cathedrale of St Dominus and Jupiter's Temple / St. John's Baptistery. Simple and worthwhile.
- Viewpoint at beginning of trail in Marjan Peninsula: a good view. We didn't do the Hike in Rick Steve's guide; we only went as far as that viewpoint.
- Fish market. Worth a stop if one likes to see freshly-caught sea creatures.

Aug 28 (Mon): Drive from SPLIT to PLITVICE PARK. Pretty drive. We drove along coast, stopping at Rest Stop Krka for the view. From there it was a long drive through a desert with few habitations. Then, one passes through a long tunnel and emerges in green farmlands in interior Croatia.

Part 2b: Plitvice Park.

Aug 28 - 29 (1 night), Mon-Tue: PLITVICE PARK. One night was sufficient. We checked into Hotel Plitvice at 2:30pm, and were on the shuttle to the trails by 3:15. We walked most of the lakes, and caught the last shuttle (7:30pm) from the Upper Lakes back to the hotel. TIP: Climb to the Lookout (Valiki Slap) -- shown in the Rick's guidebook -- using the obscure stairs near the base of the Big Waterfall. BE CAREFUL - the stairs are rough-hewn and were not well-maintained when we were there.

The hotel and its restaurant met expectations; that is, they were acceptable.
On the 29th we drove to Rovinj.

Posted by
188 posts

(CONTINUATION OF REPORT - END)

PART 3: ISTRIA
Aug 29 (Tue): Drive from Plitvice Park to Rovinj. Nice Drive.

  • Based on Rick's guide, we drove by way of Otacac, stopping there briefly to see the (outside) of the rebuilt Catholic church - including the cross constructed from artillery shells. Two middle-aged gentlemen walked by the cross when we were there; both crossed themselves and one genuflected. Plenty of damage from 1990s war still visible during the drive and in Otacac.
  • UNEXPECTED AWESOME VIEW. As we drove toward the coast, we saw a sign at the side of the road that read "Uprava Suma Senj. Loviste Ricicko Bilo." A short dirt path led up to what appeared to be an old pillbox. One car was parked with a family at the top of the trail; we decided to join them. We walked up the trail, and we both gasped audibly at the sight that opened up before us: a panoramic view of the Adriatic coast. The place we were at marked the end of a high plateau, and from here the road wound down a steep drop to the coast.
  • The road down to the coast led to the city of Senj. Mistakenly thinking that the ancient fortress walls along the street enclosed a museum, we decided to stop on a whim. It was not a museum: on the other side of the wall was an old city of narrow (mainly) pedestrian streets. We had a wonderful lunch at "Kod Veska".
  • After lunch we drove on, making a very brief stop at OPATIJA. Disappointing - like Waikiki. We tried to park, but there was nowhere to get change for the machines. We arrived at Rovinj at about 6pm.

Aug 29 - Sep 1 (3 nights): Rovinj. Perfect length for us. Most of the tourists seemed to be families that had driven down from Germany. We flew out of the Pula Airport when we left. Very small - the rental car dropoff is right next to the terminal building.

We stayed at Baron Gautsch, from the Rick Steves guidebook. Very nice. Our room was air-conditioned, located next to the upper-floor large balcony - which we usually had all to ourselves. The balcony overlooks the old city of Rovinj, and the sunrise views are glorious. Breakfast was excellent; if one is leaving before breakfast, the staff prepares a bagged breakfast for you. Never had a problem finding parking.

During our stay we walked the old town of Rovinj (beautiful at sunset), drove to the Hill Towns, and visited Pula.
- Hill Towns. MOTOVUN, ZAVRSJE, and GROZNJAN. TIP: visit MOTOVUN early, before the crowds. We arrived shortly before 11am, and were able to park close enough to walk into the town (rather than take a shuttle). The views are stunning. We had an incredible lunch and local wines on the terrace of Pod Napun (mentioned in the guidebook). TIP: arrive before the crowds to get a good seat along the terrace. We then drove to ZAVRSJE, largely deserted. The road we took passed by the site of the former train station; the track route is now a hiking/biking trail. We spent about 30 minutes walking through the abandoned village. Next; GROZNJAN. Good last stop. Mildly interesting. We did a quick walk through the town, browsing at a couple of the artist shops.
- PULA. One day we drove to Pula to see the Roman artifacts. The amphitheater, along with the small museum underneath the arena, was worthwhile. We then walked to the Temple of Augustus (as described in Rick's book, do view the back of the adjacent bldg), the Roman Floor Mosaic - difficult to find, and the Arch of Serguis. We drove along coast to return to Rovinj, stopping at Farzana for lunch.

On Sep 1, we flew out of Croatia from Pula.

Posted by
681 posts

Your trip sounds heavenly. It brought back great memories of our trip there a couple of years ago.

Posted by
2969 posts

Great report. Thanks for sharing. Hope to make it there someday!

Posted by
796 posts

Jeff, where did you park your car in Split? Does your hotel have parking?
Thanks!

Posted by
188 posts

Kmkwoo: The hotel has parking. It is tight parking, but we had no problem. (We left the car in the parking lot during our two-night stay. Didn't need it other than to get to Split, and then to leave Split.)

Posted by
796 posts

Jeff, thank you for your quick reply. This is very helpful to me. I am in the midst of planning a trip to Croatia and Slovenia for last week of April and first week of May 2019. We prefer to travel by rental car because we enjoy the independence it gives us, but we also want to stay within the walls or just outside of the walls of the cities. I know having a car limits us to where we can stay, and we don't want to be far away from the city centers and the sites. We want to enjoy the old towns in the evenings after the day trippers have left.

Why was the Villa Ana difficult to see from the main road? Wouldn't the gps help find it? What do you mean by research the location? Did you look it up on google maps? Was their a landmark that helped you find the hotel?

Did you think it was worth it to spend some time on the Peljesac Peninsula? I am considering doing that. How long was the car ferry from Trpanj to Ploce? The "American" style winery doesn't interest me but the Violic Winery sounds like fun. Did you use a paper map?

Thank you!

Posted by
188 posts

kmkwoo: To get between cities in Croatia, and to explore Istria, we found a rental car to be ideal.

Villa Ana is set back from the main road about 20 meters. GPS did help but wasn't helpful for that last 20 meters. GPS apps (Google Maps and HERE) pointed us down some very narrow primarily pedestrian streets that we wouldn't have been able to navigate. Fortunately, I had “researched’ TripAdvisor reviews and found this issue identified by several people who had stayed there. I followed the advice of one person who suggested looking for the "wall with the graffiti", and turning right just before it (and hence 20 meters to Villa Ana). I used that wall as a landmark, but it could be painted over anytime!

Regarding Peljesac Peninsula: yes, it was worth it for us because we really enjoyed Violic Winery, driving the narrow southern road to the tunnel, and then having lunch in Trpanj while waiting for the car ferry. (We didn’t stop at Ston, but could see people walking under the hot sun atop the bright white wall.) At Trpanj, we walked down the waterfront about 50 meters away from the crowded restaurants located next to the ferry parking lot and found a good uncrowded place that served excellent pizza and beer. The ferry ride took about 30 minutes. I researched the route on Google maps, and during our drive used the mobile application HERE (as I had downloaded the map of Croatia before arriving in the country). Neither Google Maps nor HERE showed a route through the tunnel, but it is easy to find. Drive from TRSTENIK to POTOMJE along the small road on the southern coast. When you reach the tunnel (which will be obvious), just turn right to go through it to POTOMJE.

Hope this helps.

Posted by
796 posts

Jeff, thank you very much for your detailed explanation!