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Part 1 - Trip Report for Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia

We are a retired couple in our mid-60s. I did a lot of research and planning for this trip, and am always appreciative when others share experiences and wanted to return the favor. I think this was a pretty good itinerary, but for most people it would be too fast-paced and too many one-night stays. I opt for seeing more with a given amount of time, rather than taking a slower pace and staying longer in fewer places. It was pretty tiring, having to check into so many places and doing so much driving. But, it worked pretty well for us and while there are places I could have stayed longer there was nowhere that I felt like I really needed to. Adding a few days to this itinerary could make it more relaxed and give more down-time and opportunities to see more. We flew Turkish Airlines from Atlanta to Istanbul to Zagreb. It was a good airline and much cheaper than the U.S. carriers.

September 4-25, 2019
Day 1 - Arrived in Zagreb in the evening, stayed near the airport. Alamo rental car through Auto Europe.
Day 2 – Didn’t plan much because I knew we would be jet lagged. Drove to Ljubljana – long wait (over 2 hours) at the border.

Day 3 – Ljubljana sightseeing. Second night in Ljubljana.
Day 4 – Drove to Lake Bled and stayed in Radovljica.
Day 5 - Hike in Vintgar Gorge and drove through the Julian Alps to Kobarid.
Day 6 – Drove to Skocjan Caves and then on to Rovinj, stopping in Groznjan and Motovun.
Day 7 – Visited Pula and stayed a second night in Rovinj.
Day 8 – Drove to Labin and then on to Plitvice Lakes National Park (hiked Upper Lakes).
Day 9 – Hiked at Lower Lakes. Drove to Trogir, stopping in Sibenik.
Day 10 – Drove to Split, visited Diocletian’s Palace, and then visited Solana. Second night stay in Trogir.
Day 11 – Took the car ferry from Split to Vela Luka. Stayed close to Korcula old town for two nights.
Day 12 – Visited a winery in Lumbarda. Drove around Korcula island.
Day 13 – Took car ferry to Orebic and drove down the Peljesac peninsula. Then drove to Cavtat. Stayed in Cavtat for two nights.
Day 14 – Day trip to Kotor. Took the ferry back across from Lepetani and returned to Cavtat.
Day 15 – Drove to Dubrovnik first thing in the morning. Spent the day in Dubrovnik and stayed in the old city one night.
Day 16 – Drove to Mostar, stopping in Trebinje and Blagaj (Dervish Monastery). One night in Mostar.
Day 17 – Drove to Sarajevo and followed Rick Steve’s walking tours. One night there.
Day 18 – Drove to Jajce, stopping in Travnik. One night in Jajce.
Day 19 – Drove to Zagreb, dropped car off at airport and spent two nights in Zagreb.
Day 20 – sightseeing in Zagreb.
Day 21 – flight out of Zagreb first thing in morning.

We ended up purchasing Google Fi sims before we left home (we put our ATT sims back in our phones upon return). It took us a day or so to figure out how to get everything to work, but once we figured it out it worked well and gave us data in each country without switching out sim. We used under 4 GB total between two phones in three weeks ($40 plus cost of sims), using it a lot for Google mapping and texts about accommodations.

I will post this report in several sections since there is a maximum length for each post.

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Part 2 - Slovenia
The weather was not great when we were in Slovenia – cool and rainy for the first couple of days. We got going late from Zagreb the morning after our flight. We had to get cash (kuna to use when we went back into Croatia) and some late breakfast. We were going to stop in Samobor to walk up to the castle ruins, but it was raining so we skipped it. We first went to the wrong border crossing for EU only, then drove around to the main border crossing on the main highway. It took more than 2 hours to get across. Stopped to get euro from an ATM. We wanted to see something in Rozno so got off the highway and then our rental car navigation system took us on a wild goose chase on back roads all the way to Ljubljana (we hadn’t gotten the data on our Google Fi sims to work at that point and didn’t realize the nav system was set up to stay off highways). Took a long time to get to Ljubljana and we arrived early evening.

I really liked Ljubljana even though it was rainy and gray. Really charming city and I loved that there were no motor vehicles allowed in a large area in the old city. We had breakfast at the market and went up to the castle and walked around. Went back into the city for dinner and another wander around. This is one place I could have stayed another day to see more, but didn’t feel like I had to.

The day we went to Lake Bled was the worst weather day of our trip. Rainy, foggy, gray, cool – not pleasant. We drove via Skofja Loka and stopped and walked around. Beautiful medieval town and well worth the stop. The drive to Bled was beautiful. When we got to Bled we could barely see the island through the fog. We went to the castle and that was about all we did there. I found the drumming going on at the castle really obnoxious and hard to take. I didn’t feel like this was a must do - if the weather was nice I would have walked around the lake instead. I couldn’t tell how much my impression of Lake Bled was influenced by the weather (clearly to a great extent), but I got the feeling that I still wouldn’t have liked it that much even in nice weather – reminded me too much of someplace like Lake Placid – very touristy (in a different way than other busy places we went). I was very glad we decided to stay in Radovljica instead of Bled. I had time that afternoon to walk into the old city of Radovljica and go to the Bee museum (not a must do, but interesting). The old town was empty, but I enjoyed seeing it much more than I enjoyed Bled.

Still raining the next morning when we drove to Vintgar Gorge about 8:30am. No problem parking at that early time. The rain stopped right before we did our hike and we enjoyed it. We were glad to kill a bit more time before we headed into the Julian Alps so the weather would clear (and it did). We were so happy that the weather cooperated for our drive through the Alps. This is a must do – absolutely gorgeous. Stop at the Russian chapel. We spent the night in Kobarid and we went to the museum. I had time to walk out to some of the WWI bunkers before it got dark. I would have liked to have had more time here to do the whole Kobarid Historical Walk. I read “Farewell to Arms” before I came on this trip to get some feel for the WWI history.

The next morning we drove to the Skocjan Caves (right off the highway on the way to Istria) and got there for the first tour at 10:00am. Very impressive and we were glad we stopped. We did the shorter cave tour (a couple of hours) and the river roaring through the cave is amazing.

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Part 3 - Croatia
Weather was great in Croatia until the day we were in Dubrovnik. Sunny and very warm.

After visiting Skocjan Caves we drove on to Groznjan (no problem getting across the border). I really liked this town and we wandered around for a little while. Then we went to Motovun and I felt like this town is way overhyped. We couldn’t figure out what the huge attraction is. Mobbed by people, including busloads of teenage students and not much to see. I had read so much about parking in Motovun but we paid at the bottom and were able to drive all the way up to a parking lot close to the top. We didn’t walk on the wall because you had to pay. I liked Groznjan much better. Be sure to have kuna coins for parking in Grozjan. Then we drove to Rovinj. We had to park at a restaurant about a 15-minute walk out of the old city and walk in with our luggage (but it was free).

I loved Rovinj and was really glad we stayed in the old town for two nights. On our full day there we drove to Pula and spent over two hours there. The amphitheater is amazing and we did the Rick Steve’s walking tour of the old town. Be sure to have coins for parking. Parking was nuts – we got there late morning and ended up parking a long way out of town at a big dirt lot before the camper and bus parking lots. Would be good to get there early. You don’t need a lot of time to see Rovinj, but we enjoyed wandering around and having meals in the old town.

The morning we left Rovinj we stopped in Labin – drive up the road to the old city and there are signs for parking. The parking lot is not far from the old town. It was a neat place to wander around. Then we drove to Plitvice and got there before 3:00pm. We had pre-purchased admission tickets for Entrance 2 for 4:00pm. We stayed at Hotel Bellevue, which worked out really well for proximity to the park (Entrance 2). We hiked for two hours at the Upper Lakes – it was great at that time of day – not very many people on the trails – very peaceful (I have a more detailed post specifically about Plitvice).
I hiked the Lower Lakes in the morning and we left Plitvice about 10:30am and drove to Sibenik. Finding parking was tricky (I think you need coins) and we spent less than an hour there. Saw the church and wandered around. Then we drove to Trogir. I am really glad we stayed in the old town of Trogir instead of Split. I really liked the old town. We didn’t realize we could get a better price on parking through the apartment where we stayed (she didn’t offer up the information and I didn’t think to ask) and we spent a fortune on parking on the island. It is a bit cheaper to park before you go over the bridge and not much farther to walk. We stayed two nights and went up to the top of the fortress for sunset (really not anything to see in the fortress, just good for the view of the town and sunset). We had a great dinner at Konoba TRS. Go up the bell tower in Trogir for the view.

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Part 4 - Croatia
Originally I thought I was going to take the ferry from Trogir to Split and then I discovered Salona (the ruins of the Roman town near Split). So, we drove to Split. We went first thing in the morning (I think we left Trogir at 7:30) and didn’t have a problem getting a parking place in a lot about 10 minutes from Diocletian’s Palace (7kn/hour). All the parking looked full when we came back later. It was near a soccer field – look on Google maps to find parking lots and don’t try to get too close to palace or water. We enjoyed Diocletian’s Palace. We followed Rick Steve’s walking tour. Be sure to pay to go into the cellars – that is the main part to see. We spent over two hours at the palace, but didn’t go anywhere else in Split. It was really crowded. Then we drove to Solana. We felt like this was really worth visiting if you are a history buff. No problem parking, not very many people there (although we had to look at a satellite image on Google maps to figure out where the parking area is (Ul. Don Frane Bulica). It was very hot but we walked all the way to the ruins of the amphitheater – a 15-20 minute walk (you could drive there but we didn’t realize that). It was really hot, but worth it. I would have liked to also drive out to Klis Fortress, but we didn’t do it. It was too much for one day.

The next morning we drove to the Split ferry dock to take the car ferry to Vela Luka (on Korcula island). The ferry leaves at 10:15. We bought the ticket in advance (which I was glad I did – printed it out and showed it getting on the ferry), but it doesn’t guarantee you a spot on the boat. So we got to the ferry dock about 8:00, not knowing how far in advance we would need to be there to get a spot. To find the correct ferry dock you drive down the street by the docks and there are big lit up signs that tell destinations (follow the signs for V. Luka – the last one). There were about a dozen cars that got there before we did and many more came, but I don’t think anyone got turned away. This was a relaxing way to get to Korcula – Rick Steves suggested this instead of the tiring drive down the coast and up Peljesac peninsula. We did enough driving on this trip so I’m glad we took the ferry. It took about 3 hours to get to Vela Luka and about 45 minutes to drive to Korcula town from Vela Luka. We stayed in a nice apartment very close to the old town, which was a great location (although the free parking was up a long long walking street with lots of stairs with our luggage – parking is an issue in all of the old towns, but worth the hassle to stay in them). It doesn’t take long to see the old town of Korcula, but it has a really nice atmosphere. It also was less crowded than other places we went. Be sure to climb the bell tower for the views.

The full day we spent on Korcula (two nights there) we went for a drive around the island. We went to Lumbarda and did a wine tasting at Popic Winery – it was great – I would recommend. Great wine and very informative. Unfortunately they had sold all their wine for this season and only had enough for tasting. We followed Rick Steves’ suggestion to drive down to the south coast. We went to Smokvica to do another tasting but we couldn’t see where we could park and gave up. We drove to Brna – beautiful but there was absolutely no place to take in the view or even stop for a picture. The coast was beautiful to Prizba, but again nowhere to stop to take pictures. It was a disappointing drive except for our stop in Lumbarda. We did an amazing wine tasting at LoLe Wine & Tapas Bar for dinner – highly recommend. It was a really special experience – 5 wines, meat platter, cheese platter, fresh bread.

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Part 5 - Croatia and Montenegro
The next morning we took the 9:00am ferry to Orebic. We didn’t need to arrive much before the ferry left. We stopped in Potomje at the Boris Violic Winery. Really fun experience. I think everyone may have been gone because it was grape picking season. The older woman who did a tasting for us didn’t speak English but she was great and we had a lot of fun. Very small family place. No charge for the tasting, we bought a bottle of Plavac Mali. The drive down the Peljesac peninsula is beautiful. Lots of grapes – people out picking. Coastal scenery looking out to the islands is nice. We stopped in Ston to climb the wall. There is a big parking area close by. My husband did part of the wall with me and then he drove over to Mali Ston and I walked the wall to Mali Ston. Doesn’t take very long. It was a hot, steep climb, but enjoyable. We then drove to Cavtat. A beautiful drive down the coast. We stayed in Cavtat for two nights so we could take a day trip to Montenegro. That worked out well – made a lot more sense - was cheaper and closer - than staying in Dubrovnik. I wanted to go to dinner at one of the famous restaurants in Ljuta or Gruda, but we were too tired to do any more driving. I walked out to the point of the Cavtat peninsula and then we went back out by the swimming areas to the Rokotin restaurant for dinner, which was a nice peaceful setting. These were the best looking swimming areas I saw anywhere we went (although we weren’t looking to go swimming) – wish I had been prepared to take a dip. It was very warm.

We left Cavtat at 7:00am to drive to Kotor. There was no wait at the border. Quite dreary towns until you get to Perast. We had some breakfast in Perast and walked around a little (not much to see, and there was a bad sewage smell wafting through). We didn’t feel like we needed to take the boat ride out to the island. Roads were busy and narrow. Kotor was very crowded, but the setting is absolutely stunning. We walked up the wall as far as the church (about 20 minutes up). We followed Rick Steves’ walking tour around town. We then drove to Lepetani to take the ferry back to Kamenari to save on some driving going back around the bay. We got back to the border by 2:30. Short waits for both border checks. I would have liked to drive up the windy road to Mt Lovcen but it just seemed like it would be too tiring to do the drive and get too late in the day. Making it a day trip as Rick Steves suggests made sense to me. I was glad I wasn’t staying overnight in Montenegro.

We had great weather in Croatia until the day we spent in Dubrovnik. We drove to Dubrovnik from Cavatat about 8:00am. We met up with our host and were able to get into our apartment (for one night) early, which was very nice. We walked the wall before the rain started (about 9:00am). Already very busy. Took about an hour. Then it started raining. We went to the Rector’s Palace and wandered around, but it was very busy. Also Franciscan Monastery, Maritime Museum, Ethnographic Museum, and Fort of St Lawrence. It wasn’t the best day to see Dubrovnik, but I wouldn’t have wanted to spend more than one day there because it was so busy. It was nice to stay in the old city one night, but that was enough. I actually enjoyed the smaller medieval towns more (Rovinj, Trogir, Kortula).

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Part 6 - Bosnia and Herzegovina
The day after the rainy day in Dubrovnik it was sunny again. We got stuck at the border to Bosnia for at least 30 minutes – no one moving in either direction. We took the border to Trebinje so we never drove through the border crossings at Neum. We stopped at Trebinje to get convertible marks from an ATM and go to the beautiful orthodox church up on the hill, but didn’t stop to see the old town. Originally I wanted to go to Pocitelj, but I decided we really didn’t have time. We drove to Blagaj. For some reason Google maps sent us on a bit of a wild goose chase to get to the Tekija Dervish Monastery. You park in the lot and have to walk down the road to get there. There really isn’t much to do there. It was interesting to go into the building (there is a small charge – I have the 2018n edition of Rick’s book, but there were several places that he said were free that were charging – I don’t blame them). We didn’t spend much time. It was about 2:00 by the time we got to Mostar, later than I expected. We only had the one night in Mostar, but didn’t need more time. We did Rick Steves’ walking tour, which didn’t take long. People have complained about the souvenirs that line the streets near the bridge, but they didn’t bother me. It feels like an old Turkish bazaar. The bridge is really neat. Be sure to climb the minaret at the mosque near the bridge for the view. We ate at Restoran Lagero – great spot with a perfect view of the bridge on a cozy little terrace. It was noisy staying fairly close to the bridge – dogs barking all night. I liked hearing the call to prayer several times.

The next day we drove from Mostar to Sarajevo – left about 9:00am, got there about noon. Gorgeous drive. We stayed close to Pigeon Square. We followed Rick Steves’ walking tours (all of them, which took most of the afternoon with a stop for lunch; we didn’t have time to go to any museums). One full day instead of a half-day would have been nice, but we still felt we saw what we really needed to see. Sarajevo was very poignant and sobering in terms of WWI and the early 90s siege, much more so than Mostar for me.

We left Sarajevo about 9:00am. Drove to Travnik. The valleys were filled with smoke – we thought maybe because of industry, coal plants, and burning wood or coal in houses (?). Travnik was a nice place to walk around. There were a few parking spaces near the fortress, but they were full. We followed some parking signs and ended up parking in someone’s yard for 2 marks. We liked the fortress because there was a lot of information in the tower with the displays (a woman weaving cloth and many posters about the history). We walked around town a little (not much to see except the beautiful painted mosque) and back up the hill through the cemetery. Then we drove to Jajce. We walked up to the fortress and to the waterfall. We were underwhelmed with Jajce and liked Travnik better. I could have skipped Jajce, but we didn’t want to drive all the way to Zagreb that night. We liked our dinner at Kod Asima restaurant. $11 for 2 draft beers, a big plate of the best cevapi we had with a giant pita bread, and some really good goulash.

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Part 7 - Zagreb
The next morning we drove to Zagreb and dropped off our rental car at the airport about 1:00pm. Beautiful drive through canyons from Jajce to Banya Luka. Short waits at the border. Took an Uber into the city. We stayed right on the square where the Dolac market is for two nights – great location. Rainy when we got to Zagreb, but it got better the next day. We ate on Tkalciceva both nights – great place for a meal. We went to the Museum of Broken Relationships after dinner the first evening – fun museum and doesn’t take too long to see everything.

The next morning we did Rick Steves’ walking tour of Zagreb. It only took a couple of hours without going into any museums. Zagreb is a neat city but it just doesn’t seem like there is much to it. I liked Zagreb, but liked Ljubljana better. We spent a fair amount of time in the Archaeology Museum and liked it. They had free admission for pensioners that day. We then went to the Museum of Naïve Art – not very big, doesn’t take long to see it. I liked it, my husband didn’t. Even though the website says there is a reduced price for pensioners, the guy insisted we pay the full regular price for adults.

Flew out early the next morning.

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Hi Nancy,

Can you tell us what the top five highlights were for you (non-food related) and what your most memorable positive interchanges were with people along the way? What surprised you most?

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Wow, such detail. Really good report. I really love Zagreb, myself. Partly because when I go there, it's for a business reason, and so I know the town better than most. Plus since I love futbol (soccer to Americans), I know that any game with the Croatian national team will mean sitting downtown with crazy Croatians screaming at the TV. Good times.

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I agree that Ljubljana is more immediately engaging than Zagreb for most people; there's something about a small river flowing through an historic district. But Zagreb wins the museum sweepstakes by a mile. Actually by several miles. So I think a lot depends on whether you're more a wander-around sort of traveler or a go-inside-museums traveler. I happen to be both.

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Top 5: Julian Alps, Rovinj, Trogir/Split, Korcula, Ljubljana (in no particular order)

The most memorable interchanges were the three wine tastings we did. Almost everyone we met was friendly and everyone speaks English.

I had done a lot of research so I wasn't too surprised by much - perhaps by how beautiful all four countries are, how absolutely fascinating and atmospheric the medieval towns are, how charming Ljubljana is...

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Here is another Nancy's opinion of her top 5: 1. Korcula, 2. Mostar 3. Ljubiliana 4. Plitvice but we also stopped at Krka National Park (not a site that comes up often but we really enjoyed)

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A few days ago I I was in Jajce, Travnik, Ključ (3 nights) and Sarajevo (2 nights). I loved Travnik. I could live there. Jajce was worth the stop; but the area around Ključ and the Hotel Kraljevac were spectacular. https://hotelkraljevac.com/en/home-page/ You have to see this place to believe that such a hotel would exist in such a remote location. And only 30 euro a night. I will be back in the Spring.

Sarajevo? It's a love hate relationship. I haven't decided which yet, which made it a perfect stop.

The trip was made possible thanks to Wizzair (25 euro each way, 50 minutes), a company called Meet Bosnia http://www.meetbosnia.com/ and a fishing guide named Ado. Excellent trip.

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James, were you using a rental car? Train and taxis? How long did the trip from Sarajevo to the hotel take?

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I'm spoiled, and I can afford to be spoiled in Bosnia. I hired a transfer. Direct is 3.5 hours, but we went sight seeing and made a day of it each way.

That beautiful hotel, I think about 30 rooms, was every bit 4star and was mostly people coming to do fly fishing. Some of the best in Europe.

The 3 night fishing trip out of Sarajevo; hotel, fishing guide, transfers, food was about $600 and I probably over paid a bit for the transfer. Just that Meet Bosnia was so good, so professional, it was hard to say no. An equal quality trip out of Denver or Vancouver would have been no less than $1500. The difference almost paid for the international flight. I wish I could post photos here because its stunning landscape. Food was good too.