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Trip Report: Best of the Adriatic in 14 days tour Aug-Sept 2023

I finally went on the Best of the Adriatic tour that was originally scheduled for the fall of 2020.
These postings are from my daily updates sent to my family and as such I can ramble on too long, so beware.

Frankfurt/Ljubljana Pre-Tour:
Spent first 2 nights in Frankfurt and had a nice walking tour with a guide from the "Frankfurt on Foot" tour company. Met Ms. Jo for lunch after the tour, and then we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Frankfurt, thank you Jo!. The next day I left Frankfurt headed to the airport so I got on the S9 train on the lower platform at the Hauptwache station but the train stopped at the next stop and everyone got off. A nice German man with his bicycle said "follow me if you are going to the airport". We left the S9 train, quickly went up 2 escalators, then ran toward the S8 train on the upper platform and got on just before it left. 4 stops later I arrive at the airport. The non stop Lufthansa flight was only 1 hour so I arrived in Ljubljana around 2:30pm.

Ljubljana is a little toasty today at 95 F so I hired a private shuttle with A/C which delivered me to my hotel about an hour later. I am spending 2 nights at Hotel Mrak before my RS tour begins. My room is nice and has great air conditioning, after freshening up, I walk next door to the le petit cafe for a beer and a Caesar salad. Chatted up 3 people walking by and found out they were part of my Rick Steves tour group. They joined me and ordered a bottle of wine, some pasta with shrimp and a salad. We had a great time for several hours along with more wine and beer telling funny stories about our lives before we headed back to the hotel to crash for the night.
Tomorrow is another day, cheers.

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Pre-tour: Ljubljana Slovenia
Had a nice breakfast at the hotel Mrak. Ventured out around 9am, walked down across a bridge by the river. Many nice restaurants serving breakfast. Went down a mile along the river to the area with 3 bridges and found the Tourist office (TI). Got instructions on how to get to the funicular that takes you to the castle on the hill. Around 9:15 rode the funicular up to the castle and got some great exercise wandering around and climbing the stairs up to the castle tower for some great views of Ljubljana.
After coming back down from the castle I toured the local produce market which had some great produce and fruits.
Down on the river they had a submerged platform where teams were playing in a volleyball tournament over the weekend, interesting... Went back to my hotel for a break, then found a local grocery store for some snacks and water.

Met my new Rick Steves friends for dinner down by the river at an Indian restaurant. Had some great Indian entrées and some Chicken Tika Masala for my main dish at dinner. We went back to our hotel for some late night drinks.
Tomorrow afternoon we meet with the rest of our tour group.

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Tour Day 1: Ljubljana
Explored more of the city this morning, walked to the dragon bridge which is across from the open produce market area. The women's volley ball tournament was in it's 2nd day. Lots of good people watching by the many restaurants along the river.
There was a nice band from Ljubljana playing with some young ladies twirling batons and umbrellas to entertain the crowd.
Later I found a place to sit outside with a little breeze to keep cool. My new friends Jim, Barbara and Diane joined me for some beer and wine. My other Rick Steves friends Steve and Carol arrived from Amsterdam just in time for our tour orientation meeting. Our group consists of 13 couples, one single women and myself. Our tour members are from Colorado, Oregon, Canada, Illinois, Florida, Idaho, California, and Texas. After our guide gave us a brief walk around the city, then we all had dinner together. A nice first day, more time in Ljubljana tomorrow.

Day 2: Ljubljana
Had a nice breakfast at our hotel Mrak, met our tour guide at 9am. She introduced a local guide who took our group around the city for 2 hours explaining the history of Ljubljana and details of the buildings along the way.
After the tour was over our group went our separate ways. Some went up to the castle, later I met Jim down at the wine bar by the river for a beer. A little later 6 of us had great pizza together at Pop's Pizza Sport just a short distance away. It started to rain lightly on our way there.

After our late lunch I went back to my room for a much needed nap. Went downstairs later and noticed a thunderstorm was passing through with very heavy rain. Walked a short distance down the street but after getting soaked, I changed directions and went back to our favorite cafe next to the hotel and met Jim for food, Barbara and Diane joined us a little later. Tomorrow morning we leave on the bus headed to Lake Bled.

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Day 3 Lake Bled, Bovec
We get on our bus and leave Ljubljana on a very rainy morning headed to Lake Bled. After arrival at Lake Bled the weather gods are still angry with us and soaks us to the bone as we walk around this picturesque town and tour the castle museum. After our orientation walk near the lake, I dive into a restaurant for some lunch and brief relief from the rain. Later I walked over to see the shopping mall and Casino but alas the Casino isn't open yet so my money is safe. I find a nice pizza restaurant to have a beer and watch the Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic at the US open tennis tournament. The rain stops for an hour which allows a nice brisk walk half way around lake bled for some great views.

We depart Lake Bled and head to Bovec but have a nice rest stop at a renowned ski jumping and cross country ski training facility. Before we leave, we have a toast to our health with schnapps before getting back on the bus heading to Bovec for one night at the Hotel Mangart. The winding mountain pass roads offer some great views along the way. A group dinner in Bovec with soft sheep cheese, boiled potato wedge, then Bovec frika (au gratin potatoes), a green salad and local grilled trout with capers along with spinach potatoes make us very happy. The desert was a stuffed dumpling that was very tasty.

Tomorrow we will tour a local WWI museum before heading to Croatia.

Day 4 Kobarid and Motovun
With leave Bovic and our bus stops in Kobarid to tour the World War 1 (WW1) museum. A very knowledgeable guide takes our group through each room and explains the harrowing details on the regional battles in the mountains above the Soca valley which is part of Slovenia. We learned a lot of interesting WW1 history before leaving Kobarid. Our bus driver skillfully drives us through the hills before arriving in the village of Dutovlje, Slovenia to stop for lunch and wine tasting at a family run winery Klet Lisjak.

The winery owner Boris Lisjak gives us the details on the history of his families winery with our guide providing the translation. We head downstairs to see the large and small barrels in one of their 3 wine cellars.
Back upstairs we gather at large tables with an amazing spread with local cheese, bread, prosciutto, salami, olives and pickled asparagus along with samples of the white and red wines produced by the family winery. After 2+ hours we manage to get on the bus and head to the beautiful hilltop town of Motovun in Croatia.

Our bus driver has a special permit to take us almost all the way up the steep hills leaving us only a 900 foot climb on cobblestone streets to the top where are hotel Kastel is located. During our climb up the hill our guide points out the restaurant Mondo where Anthony Bourdain visited during his travel show on CNN.

Along the way our guide helps our group make dinner reservations at several restaurants along the way who specializes in dishes made with local truffles. After freshening up at the hotel, I meet 3 other couples from our tour at the Pod Voltom restaurant nearby where we share our life stories along with some great local dishes.
We will stay here 2 nights.

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Day 5 Pula Rovinj
We left Motovun for the day and arrived in Pula, a nice seaside city on the Adriatic. The sun is out and it is a cool 75 degrees. Hallelujah! We head out on foot for a nice informative walking tour thru an impressive roman amphitheater (coliseum) and thru the beautiful town. The coliseum is considered the most well preserved with the upper walls having only a few small sections missing. They still have many concerts and sporting events here. There are other Roman gates and structures spreadout through out the city. After a couple of hours touring the city a few of us our need a break so we stop at a nice outdoor Cafe in a quaint square and have a great Caprese salad with ripe cherry tomatoes and wedges of tasty mozzarella with olive oil drizzled on the plate. Back on the bus to Rovinj another Adriatic seaside town in Croatia.

Our group heads out for a short city orientation tour but I decide to take a break in a cafe near the outdoor market by the water with my new friends Jim, Barbara and Diane. The market has several vendors selling local produce, olive oil, honey and other interesting items in jars. We enjoy some cool drinks along with olives, and bread with olive oil.
Several large impressive yachts are moored in the bay like the one named "Man of Steel" that was reportedly once owned by Stephen Spielberg.

After a couple of hours, we are back on the bus and head back toward Motovun but first we make a final stop for an impressive group dinner at the restaurant Astarea. I sit down at a table with my other tour friends Steve and Carol along with Dave and Stephanie. Scallops were our appetizer which was followed by pasta with mushroom sauce, then veal with roasted potatoes and a tomato based rice side dish. We are stuffed to the gills. Finally some apple strudel finishes us off for the night along with a beautiful sunset view. We leave the restaurant and ride the bus thru the night with green mood lighting onboard and 25 minutes later we are back in Motovun for our 900 foot walk uphill to our hotel. It is a beautiful night so several people have a final drink outdoors our hotel enjoying the cool evening air. A very nice day.

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Day 6. Opatija Senj Plitvaice Lakes. We leave Motovun on the bus and head for Plitvice Lakes National Park but first we make a stop in Opatija on the Adriatic coast for a long lunch break. This is a beautiful resort city that deserves more time during another trip. We have less than 3 hours to do a quick tour along the water, see the city and have lunch. After admiring the beautiful city we find a cafe behind the main street which offers a quiet refuse and a cool breeze. We depart and head to the coastal town of Senj for a 30 minute toilet/coffee break before leaving for Plitvice Lakes National Park. We arrive at the park hotel Jezera around 5:30pm and our quide gives us information on our epic hike tomorrow morning. After a quick buffet dinner in the hotel with our tour group and a nightcap, we scatter back to our rooms to prepare for tomorrow.
Day 7. Plitvice Lakes. We have a long hike ahead of us today so our group gathers just before 7am to make an assault on the hotel breakfast buffet before the swarms of other tourists catch on to our plan. They have some interesting breakfast items, spaghetti, rice with scrambled eggs and grilled vegetables.

After breakfast we ride the shuttle bus up to the top of the upper lakes section then begin our hike around the many lakes and waterfalls. Our RS guides strategy to start at the upper lakes pays off with very few people on the trail walkways with planks made from chestnut trees. At the end of the upper lake area a boat takes us to the lower lakes area which is beginning to fill up with hordes of other tourists.

I head for Entrance 1 along the narrow paths fighting my way against the tide of eager tourists coming from the other direction trying to get to the big waterfall. Swimming up stream aptly describes the situation. Fortunately I decide not to continue along the path directly to the big waterfall that is crowded so I turn to the right and walk up the steep switchback trail to enjoy less people and nice views of the same waterfall. Arriving at entrance one I cross a bridge a to a nice restaurant for lunch. An hour later I meet our group to begin our journey to the coastal town of Split. A quick rest stop along the way quenches our thirst and offers a nice view of the bridge and marina down in the canyon.

We arrive in Split around 5pm and then after a drink a small group of us ventures out to find the waterfront promenade Riva. The rest of our group goes on the orientation tour provided by our guide and to find the local laundromat. We find the Adriatic along with a nice outdoor restaurant. Drinks are served and later my roasted Squid with seabass fillet adorned with swiss chard, potatoes, cuttlefish and truffle hollandaise sauce arrives. Small portions but it was a very delicious meal.

We wander around the old town and encounter many tourists on the warm Saturday evening. Some ice cream helps cool us down as we encounter a strange group marching thru the streets dressed as Roman soldiers. After listening to some live music in a nearby square we arrive back to the sports bar next to our hotel for a nightcap.

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Day 8 Split Croatia
Our tour members start the day early with a walking tour with a local guide who gives us a tour around Split along with a visit to the cellars in Diocletian's Palace. Apparently they filmed some parts of the episodes of Game of Thrones in the palace cellar.

The city and palace tour was interesting for about 2 hours but it is a warm day in Split so I decide to ditch the group and find a bench in the shade near the water to rest my tired feet. I head back to the hotel for a break and because my room happens to have a bathtub, which is very rare, I take a hot bath to fix my sore feet. I walk back down toward the waterfront but stop to have a late lunch at a pizza place with a brick fire oven. The Margherita pizza was very good and later I run into my tour friend Jim who twists my arm to have a drink in one of the restaurants by the water.

After returning to the hotel to freshen up yet again, I go back out for dinner at 6pm with Jim, Barbara and Diane. We find a restaurant and are joined by Phil and Laurie from our tour. My dinner was gnocchi with creme sauce, which was good. We finish dinner and then we have some ice cream before calling it a night. We have an early start tomorrow morning as we leave Split and head to Mostar Bosnia.

Day 9 Stolac Mostar Bosnia
We have a nice breakfast at our hotel Global in Split before getting on the bus to leave Croatia and cross the border into Bosnia. Our passports are checked and stamped and after a rest stop we head to the historic town of Stolac to visit a cemetery in the outskirts of town. The large limestone tombstones date back to the 15th and 16th century.

We then head into Stolac for a 45 min walking tour with a local guide who was only 8 years old during the conflict in Bosnia. He provides a somber view of his experiences during the war. A huge spread of local delicacies is waiting for us at the restaurant Behar. An amazing amount of local ethnic food and baklava for desert has been prepared for our group. We enjoy the bounty along with great views from the terrace over the river.

We arrive in Mostar 45 minutes later and after checking into our hotel Almira we venture out on our own through the narrow paths dotted with vendors selling many souvenirs. The narrow pathways full of vendors reminds of the what you would find at the grand bezaar in Istanbul Turkey. After some drinks outside with tour mates we meet our guide who has arranged a nice dinner where we experience some traditional Bosnian food. Tomorrow we will tour Mostar with another local guide then leave Bosnia and head to the island of Korcula.

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Day 10 Mostar Bosnia to Korcula Croatia
After a hearty breakfast we spend 2 hours with a local guide walking the streets of Mostar learning about the 1990's war in Bosnia. Our guide was only 16 years old when he was marched out of town and briefly held in a detention camp. He was fortunate as a family friend in a nearby town helped him escape the area and immigrate to Norway. We tour a small park that was turned into a cemetery, many of the headstones reflect the young ages of the many victims of this tragic conflict. We stop at a historic home in the city and learn about local customs while enjoying some Turkish coffee in the beautiful courtyard. After walking thru the pathways full of vendors hawking souvenirs we visit a local mosque and arrive at an area by the river to view the historic bridge that was destroyed during the war but was later rebuilt.

During the walking tour we see many buildings that still have many bullet holes on the exterior walls and see a warehouse that was destroyed and has not been rebuilt. We say good bye to Mostar and make a brief stop at an orthodox monastery and hear about how the nuns fled before the monastery was destroyed during the Bosnian war. It was later rebuilt and has a beautiful painted ceiling. The support pillars cement restoration work shows where the new construction began after the building was leveled.

We cross the border back into Croatia. After arriving at the coast ferry dock we have a nice lunch with salad and pizza provided by our tour guide. We board a ferry for a 1 hour journey, then a short bus ride where we find some ice cream during another 1 hour break. We wait for another ferry that will take us on a short 15 min ride to the island of Korcula. After getting off the ferry our bus driver delivers us to our hotel Marco Polo in less than 10 minutes.

After we freshen up in the hotel our guide takes us out on an orientation walk around this beautiful city until our 4 person group decides to find a nice restaurant for dinner. Our lovely waitress Natasa at the restaurant Alterina delivers our drinks and then my choice of homemade pasta with tomato sauce fills me up. We head back to our extravagant hotel for a nightcap with other members of our tour.

Day 11 Korcula
Today is our vacation from our vacation, with only a boat ride scheduled for the end of the day. After a late breakfast I explore the rest of the quaint town and visit an ATM to fund the rest of the tour. I meet my friend Jim out at the hotel pool to relax and take in the views. We head out later for a late lunch of salad and pizza in town before coming back to the pool area.

I decide to venture down to the beach for a short swim in the Adriatic where the water was cool and refreshing. Back to the room to prepare for an hour boat ride with our tour members. All of us brought drinks and snacks to enjoy the ride. After our boat trip I go into town with Jim, Barbara and Diane. We find a nice outdoor cafe called Academia near the water. A small band with singer arrives later to make this a special night. Back to the hotel for some needed rest.
Tomorrow we leave this beautiful place and head to Dubrovnik

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Day 12 Dubrovnik
We leave our luxurious hotel Marco Polo in Korcula and after a short bus ride we board the ferry that will take us back to the Peljesac peninsula. On our way to Dubrovnik we stop at a local farm and winery Konobo Antunovic for some lunch and wine tasting. In addition to growing their own food and making their own wine they also raise donkeys. Before lunch we spend some time getting to know the donkeys up close while the farm owner tells us the history of this place with our guide providing the translation. They have prepared a feast for us using ingredients grown in their farm along with wine from their vineyard. Prosciutto along with other meats curing hang from the ceiling in the dining room. Red and white wine along with grapa and cherry brandy are available for tasting.

After lunch we head to Dubrovnik and check into hotel Lero which is another great hotel in the Lapad district. Our guide helps us ride the local bus a few stops until we arrive at the Pile gate where she begins a short orientation before we find a nice restaurant by the water. I have a very flavorful pasta dish with my friends Jim, Barbara and Diane who have a shrimp salad. A 3 piece band at the restaurant plays for us while we eat. After some ice cream we hop on the bus back to our hotel for a nightcap. My other tour friends Steve and Carol joins us outside to listen to a local singer and have a drink. Off to bed I go.

Day 13 Dubrovnik
After a great breakfast at our hotel, our group rides the local bus #4 back to the old town to meet a local guide Roberto who also rents out his apartments. He tells us the history of Dubrovnik for about 2 hours while walking through the Old Town surrounded by the high walls. Beautiful architecture along the many narrow lanes amongst the many outdoor cafes and shops. I come across some local cats lounging in the sun, life looks good for these tired felines.

After our guided tour is over the 4 of us find lunch at the outdoor cafe Ginger. I have a Caesar salad, Barbara and Diane share a Margherita pizza while Jim has a nice homemade pasta dish with black pasta. After we finish our lunch Jim, Barbara and Diane go shopping while I seek out the apartment that I will move to Saturday afternoon after my RS tour is over. The apartment is inside the walled Old Town high above the main street Stradun (Placa) near the north Buza gate entrance. I use Google maps with GPS to find the narrow alley way and begin to climb the many steps. 135 steps later I locate the Villa Four winds apartments near the top. A quick call to the apartment manager confirms my check-in tomorrow at 2pm.

It is getting warm in Dubrovnik so I decide not to walk back down to the west Pile gate bus stop but instead get picked up at the north Buza gate by Uber to ride back to the Hotel Lero in air-conditioned comfort. A couple of hours later I head down to the pool to meet Jim for a drink and later I go for a cool swim and to relax before our farewell dinner at 7pm.

Our group meets in the lobby and walks a short distance down the street to the Croatian restaurant Marangun. We have wine and beer along with some cheese and prosciutto with bread for an appetizer. Our main dish choice is either lamb shoulder or grilled sea bass. My sea bass was very tasty. After dinner we say our goodbyes to everyone in our tour group and thank our guide Mariam for a wonderful trip. Back to the hotel for some needed rest.

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Day 14 Dubrovnik, end of tour
Start the day with a great breakfast then I ride the local bus down to the Old Town at 8:30 AM. Time to beat some of the crowds and walk the upper walls of this ancient town. Beautiful sights in every direction with some dizzy views looking down below the walls. Not too many people on the walls so it only takes 90 minutes to go all the way around. Back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool and a shower before I check out at 11:30AM.

My check-in to the Villa Four Winds apartment is at 2PM so I have a tasty burrito with fries for lunch in the hotel Lero piano bar. Later out by the pool I join 5 of my tour friends who have later flights today so we are relaxing and enjoying our last time together.
We say our final goodbyes and my Uber driver takes me to the north Buza gate. A short walk thru the gate and inside the walls I meet Ivana who gets me settled into my apartment with a southern view over looking the Old Town. Thankfully the air conditioned room cools down quickly. I venture out later down the many steps to the main level of the old town and head towards the south walls. I am searching for the Buza bar outside the south wall hanging on the cliffs above the Adriatic below. I go through a hole in the wall and down some steep steps before seeing many people enjoying a drink with great views on the terrace. Fortunately there is a spot where I can enjoy a beer while people watching and enjoying the view. Some brave young people are cliff diving below with many onlookers cheering them on. I leave the Buza bar and have another great meal at the Poklisar restaurant by the water before climbing back up to my apartment to call it a day.

Post tour day 1 Dubrovnik
I go out at 9am and walk up the alleyway inside the north wall for a breakfast omelet at the Lady Pi Pi restaurant.
Walk out the north Buza gate and up a few blocks to ride the cable car up to Mount Srd for some amazing views of Dubrovnik. Walk around the west ridge then head back over to the Terrace restaurant for a beer and amazing views to cool off. After taking many photos, I ride the cable car back down just after 11am to take a break at my apartment.

Venture out around 1pm in search for lunch and find myself at the Ginger cafe for a chicken burger with potato wedges that fill me up. After lunch I go back to the Buza bar on the cliffs to get a better view of the people swimming and jumping off the rocks.
I go back up inside the walls to wander and explore until I find another cliffside bar but it has little shade so back inside for some ice cream at Gianni's. I walk around the high wall by the port and find another popular swimming spot.

It is another warm day so I head back to my apartment to cool off and relax. My new RS tour friends Phil and Laurie are staying in a nearby apartment so they invite me to meet them for dinner at the Lady Pi Pi restaurant. Phil has grilled chicken while Laurie and I have the grilled tuna steak that is huge and really good. We say our final goodbyes and call it an early night.

Post tour day 2, 3 Dubrovnik to Zagreb to Frankfurt to PDX
Spent my last morning in Dubrovnik having a nice breakfast at the Dubrovka 1836 restaurant by the Pile gate then back up to the apartment to check out at 10am. Spent the rest of the morning wandering around the Old Town until I covered every alleyway then walked back up to the Buza gate and outside the walls I found the Pizzeria Tabasco cafe just below the mount Srd cable car for a seasonal salad and a lemon beer.

Got my luggage stored at the apartment then my Uber driver got me to the airport in 30min for only $25 euro. Flight to Zagreb, then flight to Frankfurt. Got to the FRA airport hotel around 9pm, then went out for a club sandwich and a beer.
Got to the Frankfurt airport the next morning for my flight home, thankfully I was able to upgrade to Premium economy on Condor for a nicer flight.
Cheers

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7468 posts

Thanks for sharing your trip report, Scott! I was on this same tour in June and also had Mariam for a guide. Thanks for bringing back many great memories from your details! I loved so many of the locations!

By the way, your hotel in Dubrovnik was much newer & nicer than the one we had. When you mentioned this location had a special hotel, I was surprised & had to look it up! : )

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2744 posts

I’ve never been to this area, but I hope to get there some day. Your detailed trip report was very helpful. Thanks!

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2507 posts

Great report. I enjoyed reading it. We took this tour quite a few years ago and it has changed a bit since then but still looks good. We really enjoyed the food and wine on this trip.

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594 posts

Hope to take this tour before too long. Thanks for all the details and hotel/restaurant names. Much appreciated and bookmarking!

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9046 posts

It was wonderful to meet you in Frankfurt. So sorry about the trains being messed up, but happy that someone was kind and helped you.
Great, detailed trip report.

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10403 posts

I enjoyed your trip report and it has given me some good ideas for next year, when I may be doing a similar trip with my daughter. Thanks for sharing!

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4004 posts

So happy you had a fun time. And really happy you stayed within the walls after the tour ended. It makes resting up during the afternoon possible and is so much more convenient then taking the bus back to your hotel.
Just a note for anyone planning to go on their own - make your reservations early as the better places book up very quickly. The guide Scott mentioned - Roberto - rents out only 3 rooms in his home - Dubrovnik Gardens. Most places are very small and do not have an abundance of rooms. If you need a guide he is wonderful.

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2252 posts

My family and I were on this tour the end of May. We didn’t stay in Motovun (but I have stayed in the castle previously) but in a small town in the same general area. The only other deviation was (you’ll appreciate this!) when we hiked Plitvice, there happened to be a marathon going on so the shuttle buses weren’t running. We hiked first from the Hotel UP to the top and then all the way back down. It was glorious and so beautiful. This was my second time taking this tour (2013) and we had a slightly different itinerary but still covering and enjoying the highlights of these beautiful countries. I was most struck by the truly amazing and wonderful changes in Mostar. Thank you for posting your experiences and it sounds as if you enjoyed your tour.