Split

This is the 3rd destination of three in the Croatia itinerary. The details related to planning for this destination and the others on the Croatia circuit are described in The Croatia Travel Planning post.

Founded by the Greeks in the 3rd century BC, and made famous by the Roman emperor Diocletian, the city of Split is the second largest in Croatia. It has a long history, having passed through the hands of Romans, Venetians, and Byzantines over the centuries. At its core are the remains of the massive palace and grounds erected by Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th century. The palace was comprised of 200 buildings within its white stone walls, with a cathedral at its center, now housing cafes, restaurants, shops, and people’s homes. It is the historic as well as current center of the city, with both locals and visitors alike gravitating to it.

 

Arrival

It was a pleasant three hour drive along the Adriatic from Dubrovnik to Split on a day that started overcast, with a drizzle in the air, but which turned out to be perfect for a leisurely drive. The serpentine two lane road clung to the Adriatic coast as picturesque scenery drifted by, passing the few little towns which peppered the coast. The drive was among the most pleasurable I’ve had in Europe, with wispy clouds hanging on a blue sky as a backdrop, and the Adriatic in the foreground. The road was sparsely traveled on that Sunday morning, all of which made it so pleasurable – the joys of driving a German car on a twisty two lane road along the water with so few fellow motorists.

 

Settling in

The apartment was centrally located, and only a five minute walk to the palace complex, and the heart of the old city. Convenient, secure parking was available close to the apartment, so I didn’t have to worry about the Audi while not in use. Our lovely Croatian hostess Marina met us at the apartment, and showed us to our home for four nights in Split. The two-level, 2 bedroom apartment had all of the comforts and necessities a couple would need, including a washer – a real bonus for those traveling light, with only carry-on luggage.

We wasted little time lingering at the apartment, as we were both eager to stretch our legs, and do some initial exploration of the old town. A nice meal was on my short list of immediate things to do, and armed with recommendations from Marina, we set off for the center of the old town.

The photo gallery below shows the views from the apartment, as well as the unusual light treatment for the stairs leading to the second floor.

 

Discovery Trek

The real heart of Split lies within what remains of Diocletian’s palace. Originally built as a rectangular fortress, it has an impressive gate at each of its four walls – named after metals: Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron. The area around the palace is a labyrinth of passages and alleyways, that open up into courtyards and broader roads. Some 3,000 people call the palace complex home. Visitors are charmed by the great variety of restaurants and cafes within the palace complex. The heart of Split is very compact, and easily walkable end to end, and criss-crossing all of it in a single leisurely afternoon. We took a guided tour of the palace grounds from a seasoned tour guide, which I would highly recommend. There’s just too much history to absorb without the help of a knowledgeable person.

For Game of Thrones fans, Split is a filming location for the famous HBO Series. You might recognize some of your favorite series locations in the photos below.

 

Ferry to Hvar

It was just over a two hour ferry ride from Split harbor to the long island of Hvar. Croatia is all about islands – with more than 2,000 islands dotting its coast. It’s hard to resist visiting one of the more beautiful.

On a single day trip, I decided I wanted to see the main city on the island, also called Hvar. More cosmopolitan, and even a bit upper-crusty, Hvar had elegant restaurants and shops to accommodate its higher end, yacht owner visitors. We had a wonderful lunch overlooking Hvar’s harbor at one of those elegant restaurants.

The more laid back city is Stari Grad on the island’s north coast, and draws a different kind of tourist and visitor. Personally, I enjoyed Hvar, but Stari Grad was more of my kind of place, with more character and charm.

We could have spent a couple of days, or more exploring the rest of the island and its older, out of the way little towns, vineyards, lavender fields, and rolling hillsides – all bathed in the bright sunshine of the Adriatic.

 

Zadar Road Trip

Driving in Croatia had grown on me. What a joy it was to drive the sparsely trafficked two lane roads and highways. Zadar is known for its Roman and Venetian ruins, medieval churches, with a lovely walled old town set on a peninsula on the Adriatic. But my main reason for visiting was to see and hear the Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation.

The Sea Organ, a series of stairs along the water with embedded piping that captures the wind and air forced into them from the waves. It makes eerie, not exactly melodic sounds that are difficult to describe. It was interesting – if for no other reason that someone had the imagination to conjure up such a thing.

Physically near the Sea Organ lies the other interesting creation of architect Nikola Baši?. The Sun Salutation is a huge circle of blue glass with embedded photovoltaic cells, converting enough solar energy to light the harbor area surrounding it. The whole thing is a sort of homage to the solar system, with representations of the planets as more plates embedded into the pavement at various distances from the enormous blue glass photo cell. An interesting imagination.

 

 

Food Scene

Nostromo

This place was recommended by our hostess for great seafood, and looked to be on the small side upon entering the restaurant. We were ushered upstairs where we had much more room. English wasn’t spoken as fluently here as other places, but the service was very good. We split a grilled seabass, which the waiter prepared for us tableside. The sides included chicken soup served family style, along with salad and grilled vegetables. Very local, and a great meal.

 

Konoba Korta

This meal is an example of the meat dishes typical to Croatia. We split a meat sampler plate for two, with grilled veggies, frites, and a red bell pepper puree – which was a little unusual. Rounded out with a cucumber and tomato salad. The meat selection included bacon wrapped chicken, grilled beefsteak and a variety of sausage.

 

Villa Spiza

This place was tiny, seating less than 20 people, but very popular, with a line at the door. The entire staff was the cook, a kitchen hand, and one waiter. The seating was tight and cozy, and the entire kitchen operation was in full view of the customers. We ordered grilled amberjack steak, and mussels from a hand written menu. The food was very fresh, and the atmosphere uniquely local.

 

Park – Hvar

This was an upscale restaurant with a large outdoor patio seating area overlooking the marina in the city of Hvar. We ordered anchovies in olive oil as an appetizer, Gilthead fillet over potato Dalmation style, and grilled squids over Swiss chard and potatoes.

 

Bistro Spalotin

We found this bistro walking along the harbor area in Stari Grad, Hvar. We originally sat down for a drink, and eventually ordered the mountain of food they called the meat sampler plate for two. This was a common offering in Croatia, and was pretty good if in the mood for hearty fare. The plate included grilled beefsteak, sausages and chicken, along with grilled veggies, frites, with a tomato/cucumber salad, and a huge dollop of brown mustard. Lumberjack food – and it went well with beer.

 

Konoba Bonaca – Zadar

We found this lovely restaurant with outdoor seating walking around the town of Zadar. We were early to lunch, and so the owner waited on us personally, recommending the fresh catches of the day, along with a proper wine pairing. We had mussels as an appetizer, grilled Orada and seabass with Swiss chard and potatoes. This was a great meal with attentive, personal service.

 

Tinel Tratoria

We looked this restaurant up on TripAdvisor because our first choice was booked up for dinner, and it turned out to be an excellent place for seafood. As our last meal in Split, we ordered a seafood platter for two, which included grilled sea bream, tuna steak, squids and shrimp. Rounded out with spinach Dalmation style, which means the spinach had pieces of potato throughout.

 

Epilogue

Reflections on Split. Pleasantly different than Dubrovnik, both in pace and the density of tourism. Deeply steeped in history, and a treasure to be discovered. The region is rich in immersive travel experiences as possible. We only day tripped to Hvar and Zadar, but there were weeks of exploration possible near and around Split. The fresh seafood was wonderful, and relatively inexpensive – another significant departure from Dubrovnik. I had a wonderful time in Split, and would highly recommended this destination for an immersive travel experience.

 

Related Topics

 

Dubrovnik

This is the 2nd destination of three in the Croatia itinerary. The details related to planning for this destination and the others on the Croatia circuit are described in The Croatia Travel Planning post.

If Croatia is the gem of the Balkans, then surely Dubrovnik is the gem of the Adriatic. Deeply steeped in history, Dubrovnik was once a city state – from the 14th through the early 19th centuries, vying with the likes of Venice for control of commerce in the Adriatic. The city is surrounded by medieval walls built over hundreds of years, which have never been successfully breached, although many sieges have been attempted over time. The recent city’s history witnessed the siege of the Serb and Montenegrin armies after the declaration of Croatian independence in 1991. A small number of buildings within the ancient city walls were destroyed, but many more were damaged. Restoration has since been completed, but they did leave one building with war damage to bear witness to the deeds of that era.

 

Arrival

It is under one hour flying time from Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city, to Dubrovnik – a scenic flight as well with a window seat, with views of the blue Adriatic, and its island dotted coast for most of the trip. Transiting through Dubrovnik’s regional airport on an early Tuesday afternoon could not have been easier, especially with only carry-on luggage in tow. A picturesque 30 minute taxi ride following the Adriatic coast, and we arrived at the outskirts of Dubrovnik, above the city by several hundred feet where most of the residential parts of this area were found. It was early June, the skies were a deep, cloudless blue. The view of the old town and the Adriatic were beautiful from street level. The excitement was building just stepping out of the taxi.

 

Settling in

It took the taxi driver a turn or two to find the location with the address I had given him. We were on a street north of the walled city, and significantly uphill from the walled city. The farther north, the further uphill went the terrain. So what we had were homes and apartments accessed by stairwells at street level, which stretched to hundreds of steps going up to various homes in the hills. Navigating which stairwells lead to which address was difficult even for the taxi driver, a native of the area.

Ascending the 100+ stairs to get to the apartment from street level with luggage in tow was an appetite building, aerobic workout. And I kept in mind that we’d have to do this every time we returned to the apartment, which we had for 5 nights. The good news was that I had to haul the luggage up the stairs just once.

The lovely apartment was booked through Homeaway. It was spacious, with all of the amenities needed for an extended stay – including a washing machine, and good working Wifi. But the true highlight of the apartment was the spectacular views of the city and the Adriatic from its balcony. It made climbing up all those stairs so worthwhile.

 

Discovery Trek

The ancient city inside the walls was just stunning, with architecture dating back to the 17th century with the Dubrovnik Cathedral, and further back to the 16th century with the Saint Savior Church. Wandering around inside the walls was like meandering through history. The streets were clean, and lined by medieval architecture under a turquoise blue Adriatic sky – with a steady tourist throng ebbing into and out of the city.

Dubrovnik is a very popular tourist stop, and moreover a port of call for some of the largest cruise operators in the Mediterranean. It takes a little strategy to get an immersive travel experience within its ancient city walls. The best thing to do is simply avoid visiting during cruise ships’ ports of call. There are searchable published schedules with details on dates, times, and even the typical passenger manifest. Otherwise visiting either early in the morning, or later in the evening also tends to avoid the cruising throng.

Medieval Walls

A morning walk on the medieval city walls was the first truly immersive travel experience for me in Dubrovnik. Under perfect weather, with blue Adriatic skies, and the kind of sunshine that requires good polarized sunglasses, we slowly meandered the wall circuit. It was a beautifully memorable experience.

 

Game of Thrones Tour

My wife and I are big fans of the HBO series Game of Thrones, and we knew that Dubrovnik was a filming site for the series. Dubrovnik is King’s Landing in the series. Some of the most interesting scenes filmed in Dubrovnik include the “Walk of Shame” at the Jesuit Staircase, St. Dominic Street was where many market scenes were filmed, The Museum Rupe as the exterior of Little Finger’s brothel, The Plo?e Gate was used as the entrance to the Red Keep, and The Rector’s Palace used in a Qarth episode. So with all of that personal interest, we took a multi-hour Game of Thrones tour with a local guide. I both enjoyed and would highly recommend such a tour for any fan of the series.

 

Lokrum Island

This island was visible from the balcony on at our apartment. It was an easy day trip from Dubrovnik with ferries departing frequently. It was difficult to resist an afternoon island excursion with the wonderful weather we were enjoying during the trip.

 

Mostar Side Trip

I had a rental car, actually a well appointed Audi A3, and wanted to add Bosnia Herzegovina to my countries visited list. I had read some good reviews in a travel guide I had previously used about Mostar, and decided to visit. It was a 2.5 hour drive each way, most of it through hilly, stark, scrub country with hardly any civilization between the Bosnian border and Mostar. Mostar itself was very compact, with a little shopping district surrounding its “old bridge.” The rest of the town was unremarkable and hardly worth the 5 hours round trip from Dubrovnik.

 

Kotor Side Trip

Further whittling away at countries not visited, we took a day trip to Kotor, Montenegro. This was big contrast to the relatively disappointing side trip to Mostar, as both the drive to get there was scenic along the Adriatic and Kotor Bay, and Kotor itself was a stunning location with great views over the water, and a wonderful little town to explore.

 

Island Hopping

Because of the enjoyable short ferry ride to, and explorations of Lokrum Island earlier in the week, I decided I needed to get more water and island time. There are thousands of islands dotting the Adriatic coast, and there were plenty within an easy day cruise from Dubrovnik. So naturally we indulged, with the weather as cooperative as can be. We hit three islands, Kolocep, Sipan, and Lopud, spending a wonderful day on the water with lunch on board.

 

 

Food Scene

Above 5

This appropriately named restaurant is atop a five story building in the center of Dubrovnik. We had a drink at a local cafe where our waitress highly recommended this restaurant for dinner. The views were grand, the menu upscale, and on the pricey side for Dubrovnik. The food was very good. We had the seabass carpaccio, and octopus confit for appetizers, pan seared mackerel and braised beef cheeks for our main course, followed by mango and raspberry coulis shared for dessert. It was an excellent dining experience and a perfect entree to the old city of Dubrovnik.

 

Kopun

This restaurant is in the center of old Dubrovnik, inside the city walls, on a lovely square at the top of the Jesuit Steps, overlooked by a grand church. We stopped here after a long day of exploration with hearty appetites. I started with a dozen of the local oysters, then we followed with grilled squid over Swiss chard and potatoes, pan fried fillet of seabass with crispy veggies, and we shared a green salad. Good seafood, very nice atmosphere overlooking the square. The service was good as well.

 

Panorama Cafe

This appropriately named cafe is what we found at the top of the Dubrovnik cablecar, which whisked us up to beautiful views of the Adriatic and the surrounding islands. We both had grilled squid with fresh veggies, and shared a green salad and grilled potatoes. The views were lovely, and the food was good. Service was a bit slow because of the volume of customers around sunset.

 

Restoran Teatar – Mostar

This was our meal in the center of Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina, overlooking its famous old bridge. We had a large lunch of grilled trout with potatoes and Swiss Chard, a hearty, fit for a lumberjack mixed grill with french fries, mustard on the side, and shared an interesting local mixed salad. This was nice stop after a long drive. The food was basic, but good.

 

Dubravka Cafe

This restaurant is not inside the walls of old Dubrovnik, rather it overlooks the Adriatic where the Game of Thrones Blackwater Bay episode was filmed. It was a like having a meal inside a picture postcard. We shared Dalmatian style mussels in tomato sauce, followed by grilled squid with veggies, and a mixed grilled seafood plate with veggies. The food was good, but we really paid for the views with dinner.

 

Konoba Roma – Kotor

This was our lunch stop in the beautiful city of Kotor, Montenegro during our daytrip visit. We started with a charcuterie and cheese plate, and grilled octopus with french fries and grilled veggies, and grilled squid with french fries and grilled veggies. And just to be sure we had our daily allotment of veggies, we had grilled plate of veggies to share. This was our fortification stop before climbing to the top of the walls of the ancient city fort, some 1360 steps above the city.

 

Konoba Jezuite

This restaurant was inside the walls of the old city of Dubrovnik, at the base of Saint Ignatius Church. This was our dinner stop after the long day on the road visiting Kotor, and climbing 1360 steps to its old fort walls. We split an order of mussels in red/white wine sauce, shared a cucumber, tomato, feta, and olive salad, then grilled trout with Swiss chard and potatoes, and grilled chicken breast a la Dubrovnik with potato croquettes. I never got tired of the local seafood. Basic, and very tasty.

 

Epilogue

Reflections on Dubrovnik. What an epic, memorable destination. The weather was perfect, the crowds on the thin side with cruise ship throng avoidance planning, the side trip to Kotor was spectacular, island hopping was enjoyable, the food was very good, and the people were friendly and spoke English well. I would go back to Dubrovnik to visit again, but would not recommend this destination as a cruise ship port of call – as you’re only way to visit. It would simply not have the same impact as spending several days taking in all of the sights.

 

Related Topics

 

Zagreb

This is the First destination of three in the Croatia itinerary. The details related to planning for this destination and the others on the Croatia circuit are described in The Croatia Travel Planning post.

Zagreb is the capital city of Croatia, and airport of entry for long haul international flights. It’s an interesting combination of leftover, communist era gray block apartments, the modern city of Zagreb with buildings and architecture that look similar to any late twentieth century design, and classic 19th century Austro-Hungarian architecture that fooled my eye into thinking I was strolling through sections of Vienna or Budapest. Compact, and a joy to walk all of its streets at a leisurely pace, immersively discovering it’s wonderful cafes, restaurants, historic sites, and museums – some a little quirky, like the Museum of Broken Relationships.

Arrival

After a short layover in Paris, the two hour flight to Zagreb was uneventful – the very best kind of flight. Transiting through the Franjo Tu?man international airport in Zagreb, named after the Croatian historian, and first president of the republic post the dissolution of Yugoslavia. With only carry-on luggage in tow, gliding through passport control, then exiting to the ground transportation area required a mere 15 minutes – the hallmark of a smaller airport, something the size of Columbus, Ohio, or Saint Louis Missouri in the US. I had pre-arranged for a private car to pick us up with our apartment host. The price was so reasonable, it gave me no incentive to research the availability of Uber, or the local price of airport taxi service. The ride into central Zagreb was 20 minutes, complete with a drive through soviet-era, gloomy gray apartment blocks – the bane of the poorer countries from that era. That gloom was a sharp contrast as we entered central Zagreb, with its lovely 19th century architecture making up the old part of the city.

 

Settling in

Our apartment for three days in Zagreb was on Ribnjak Ulica, right across the street from Ribnjak Park. The pictures below show the view through the front bay window to the park and the Zagreb Cathedral in the background. The apartment was bright and spacious, with a grand sitting room that included a piano.

This apartment was selected through Airbnb, which is not my first choice for apartment rental because they do not disclose the location of the property until booking has been completed, and I have committed to the rental. This particular apartment is a case study as to why I am averse to using Airbnb.

The photos of the apartment on Airbnb were lovely, the views from the front window were alluring, but what was not known to me because the property location was not disclosed, therefore a Google Street View was not possible, is that the apartment was above a nightclub on a street with regular tram traffic. This might have been a bad experience, save for the fact that the night club was no longer in operation. The tram working hours ended in the early evening, so the street noise was not an issue at night, and sleep time was relatively quiet. Dodged one, but it could have been much worse. Caveat emptor with Airbnb.

The Airbnb drama aside, the apartment was in a residential part of central Zagreb, within easy walking distance to the old town. There were many restaurants and cafes within a 10 minute walk, and it did feel like being a local for a few days. That’s how immersive travel happens for me.

 

Discovery Trek

We did a discovery trek around the old town part of Zagreb. Most of the old town revolves around its main square, Ban Jelacic, and is comprised of 19th century Austro-Hungarian architecture. The old town is compact, relatively flat, and a pleasure to discover by walking. My wife and I easily walk 10 miles per day for exploration and discovery, and we work up healthy appetites as a result. We eat well while traveling, and the Food Scene section covers all of our indulgences.

The weather was lovely in the first part of June, 2016 – with warm days, blue skies, and cool evenings. But no matter how blue-sky the day started, there was a significant chance of showers in the late afternoon, or early evening. Showers may be an understatement. I don’t know if my experience was unusual, but when it rained it was a deluge – as an example, see the Food Scene entry for Kaptolska Klet, a fine dining establishment that flooded while we had dinner there one evening. A strong umbrella is necessary equipment for visiting this lovely part of the Balkans in early June, by my experience.

 

Medvedgrad and Maksimir Park

Medvedgrad is a fortified medieval village on the south slope of Medvenica Mountain, a 10 minute taxi ride from Central Zagreb. It is little touristed, and it’s not on anyone’s list of sites to visit in Zagreb. Below the main tower of the castle ruins is Oltar Domovine (Altar of the Homeland) , dedicated to the fallen Croatian soldiers in the war for independence. The views from Medvedgrad were grand, and on our clear day visiting there we could see for miles – all the way to central Zagreb and beyond.

Maksimir Park has been open to the public since the end of the eighteenth century. It was the first public park open to the public in southeastern Europe. It’s architected like an an English garden, with grand green spaces, walkways, and lakes. It was a delightful, uncrowded tour on a sunny day, enjoying a long walk in the great outdoors of metropolitan Zagreb.

 

Plitvice Lakes National Park

I rented a car for the day, and enjoyed a lovely two hour drive from central Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park. This is a heavily visited site, with tour buses pulling in by the dozens. There was some bureaucracy to be endured in working through the entry process due to the fact that this facility is government operated, and the crowds were thick. The park is grand, and required bus service from the its entry to its interesting parts.

It was possible to separate from the pack and find some space to explore the park. We bused to the highest part of the park, and worked our way back. As we walked our way through it for a few hours, the park unfolded before us in a series of plateaus. It should have been a four hour walk through some of the most beautiful scenery I have experienced. As it turned out, we were hit by a deluge-like rainstorm at the three hour mark. My wife and I both had sturdy umbrellas with us, having learned our lesson from the afternoon storms in central Zagreb. But the umbrellas did not stand up to the torrent, and became super saturated – eventually rain fell straight through the soaked umbrellas. I hadn’t previously experienced anything like this.

It was a painstaking march to leave the park under a heavy rainfall with leaking umbrellas. But once out, we drove to Rastoke en route back to Zagreb. The rains had cleared, and  blue skies were restored by the time we had arrived. We had a wonderful, multi course meal at Jelovnik Konoba (see the Food Scene section) , and explored the mini-Plitvice on their grounds. The little private park was lovely, and relatively uncrowded. It was like having our own little Plitvice with little tourist traffic.

 

 

Food Scene

Restoran Ivek I Marek

Located on Tkal?i?eva Ulica (kind of a restaurant row in Zagreb), this little restaurant with nice outdoor seating, had a daily menu presented on a chalkboard. The day we were there, they had fish, steak, and seafood items on their hand written menu. We chose a charcuterie appetizer plate, squid over greens and potatoes, and grilled trout with handmade noodle dumplings. The food was good, and the vantage point was nice for people watching.

 

Capuciner Grill & Steak

This was a large restaurant with an equally large and varied menu, focusing on meats. In fact the menu was so varied, we ate there twice. Our first time, we ordered a grilled meat sampler for two, with grilled mixed vegetables. Cevapi is a Croatian grill staple, ground beef and pork, with spices. Also on the plate were two types of chicken, one grilled, the other stuffed with cheese and spices. This was genuine local fare. It went  well with beer.

 

Kaptolska Klet

This was a fancy restaurant with an upscale menu. We wanted to sit outside, however it started to drizzle and we were relocated indoors. We ordered a whole smoked, roasted duck with grilled vegetables, and cabbage with carrots on the side. The food was nice, but the real show was the weather. With the restaurant packed with customers, including a large wedding party, the skies opened up, and we were deluged with rain. It rained so hard that it came right through the roof, and flooded the restaurant with water several inches deep. It was interesting trying to eat while the staff were squeegeeing the floor dry.

 

Sestinski Lagvic

We walked to this restaurant on our way back from our tour of Medvedgrad, grabbed lunch and took a taxi back to central Zagreb from there. The pictures are a shade of pink because we were under a red umbrella outdoors. We ordered a mixed salad, a cheese plate, and a mixed grill – pork and beef, with grilled vegetables. The mixed grill was a staple on many menus in Zagreb.

 

Capuciner Encore

This restaurant had a large, and varied menu, including a good variety of seafood, which is why we came back to it. This time we had a charcuterie and cheese board, a green salad, grilled vegetables, grilled chicken skewers, and grilled octopus over potatoes and peppers. The octopus was very good, but one needs to be a fan of that sort of thing.

 

Jelovnik Konoba

This restaurant was en route back to Zagreb from Plitvice Lakes National Park. The restaurant was part of a resort that resembled a mini Plitvice Park. It was nice because it was as scenic as Plitvice, but much less crowded. We had cream of mushroom soup, chicken soup, a trout spread with whole wheat bread, grilled veggies with emphasis on mushrooms, grilled trout, fried trout over bread, grilled zucchini and tomatoes with a light white sauce. The food was very good, and the portions generous. It was very pleasant outdoor seating with a view of the surrounding park.

 

Cafe Ceker

This cafe overlooks the lively Dolac Market on Ban Jelacic Square. It is a great place for people watching. We had meat filled and cheese filled Burek. This is a baked phyllo dough pastry filled with your choice of meat and cheese. It is common in the Balkans, having tried this delicacy previously in Slovenia and Serbia. It’s Balkan fast food.

 

Epilogue

Reflections on Zagreb. A little rough around the edges, but Central Zagreb, with its 19th century Austro-Hungarian old town was a lovely and interesting entry into Croatia. The capital city, the center of Croatian history and culture, what a great contrast Zagreb was to the rest of the Dalmatian coast. I would highly recommend spending a few nights in Zagreb as part of any tour of Croatia. The people were friendly, English was common, and spoken well. The cost of everything we did, including fine dining, was very reasonable by European standards. I had an immersive traveling experience in Zagreb, would visit again, and would recommend it as part of a greater Croatian experience.

 

Related Topics

 

 

Croatia Travel Planning

Croatia Travel Planning

Motivation – Croatia Travel Planning

The Balkans are a part of the continent that must be explored by anyone wanting to see a good representation of European history, geography, and culture. There is so much more to Europe than France and Italy, with all due respect to the charm and allure of this magical duo. Let’s face it, we won’t see the rest of Europe, not to mention the world, if we don’t stop visiting these two wonderful countries. It took me years to move on from the France/Italy habit, and I still go back occasionally – just not exclusively.

Croatia has so many wonderful things going for it, starting with its mild, sunny Adriatic climate. The Croatians are a friendly, even-keeled lot – easy going, English speaking, and customer focused since so much of their GDP comes from tourism.

Modern day Croatia has a history going back to Roman times, then through periods of Hungarian, Venetian, Ottoman, Napoleonic, and Austrian rule – all before World War II. It is steeped in history. Croatian food has a focus on the bounty of the sea, the Adriatic to be specific. Lovers of seafood will have a heyday, and others will enjoy the great variety of meats, sausages, and cheeses that have made Croatia famous. They have traditional restaurants called Konobas that specialize in a variety of meat dishes. Vegetarians be warned.

Croatia has thousands of islands comprising its sunny Dalmatian coast. The geography is perfect for lovers of the beach, sunshine, and island hopping. And the very best part – it is amazingly affordable. Compared to the dynamic duo of France and Italy, it is even dirt cheap.

Plan a trip, and pack your bags.

 

Itinerary – Croatia Travel Planning

The calendar allowed for 12 nights on this trip, starting at the beginning of June 2016. I wanted to establish reasonable lengths of stay at each destination to explore them at my leisure, and to have the best chance for an immersive travel experience. Three nights in Zagreb is necessary, not only to get over the jet lag, but explore the city thoroughly, and to do a day trip to Plitvice Lakes National Park. I apportioned  five nights for Dubrovnik because I wanted to do day trips to Mostar, Bosnia-Herzigovina, Kotor, Montenegro, and do some island hopping in the area. And lastly, I set aside four nights for Split because I expected to do at least one day trip there as well to Hvar and Zadar.

Zagreb – 3 Nights

 

Dubrovnik – 5 nights

 

Split – 4 nights

 

Logistics – Croatia Travel Planning

There are no regularly scheduled direct flights to Croatia from the US at the time of this writing. So the best we can plan for is a one-stop of reasonable duration in London, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, or Munich airports. Other airports – most notably Istanbul, take us out of our way with lengthier flight times. From my Atlanta home base, I can book flights on Delta and their SkyTeam partners conveniently to Amsterdam and Paris using frequent flyer miles. This greatly reduces transportation costs for the longest and most expensive leg of the flight. I selected Paris Charles DeGaul as the layover because it had the most convenient connecting flights to Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city. The Air France connecting flight to Zagreb was very reasonably priced due to the intense competition in Europe from all of its startup carriers, like EasyJet and RyanAir. So my airfare requirements to get to Zagreb were complete –  frequent flier miles sponsored round-trip to Paris, and round-trip Paris to Zagreb on Air France – a major carrier without the silly bag restrictions that some of the smaller carriers impose.

There were other destinations in Croatia to be visited beyond Zagreb. I briefly considered driving to them, but such an itinerary would have only made sense with more days than I had because the driving times were so long.  Flying was more pragmatic, convenient, and relatively cheap as well.

I planned to fly to Dubrovnik, the Southernmost point in Croatia for this trip. Dubrovnik would be a perfect hub to use for exploration by car. The car would be used to work my way North on the Dalmatian coast to Split, our last destination on this trip. And finally, Split had many scheduled flights to Zagreb to conveniently connect back to Paris.  Air Croatia had a near monopoly on these flights, but didn’t gouge its customers because of it.  I found the service to be very good, and the prices competitive, much to my surprise. I think the Croatians understand the gold mine that tourism is to their economy, contributing nearly 20% to GDP.  I think Air Croatia is a key factor to that gold mine.

Take a look at Croatia on Google Maps. It begs to have some exploration by car. Driving on this trip is a must – definitely for aesthetic reasons, aside the pragmatic need to get between points A and B. I booked a car for a day trip from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park – a single day booking, which I had not done previously. I also booked a car for a week, to be picked up in Dubrovnik and dropped off in Split. This would provide ample opportunity to day trip from both locations, as well as the basic transportation to get between them. Sixt is my go-to car rental company in Europe, having booked many times previously with them, and always having had a good experience – even the one time I damaged the car during the rental.  The customer service is very good, and the execution is German-efficient.

I have a strong preference for apartments over hotels for several reasons. In general, apartments are a better value as compared to hotel rooms because they have much more space, can come with a washing machine so that both excess luggage and laundry services can be avoided, and are typically less expensive than hotel rooms – sometimes much less expensive for a much better experience. And the most important reason for apartments over hotel rooms is that it leads to a much more immersive travel experience for me.

I can find apartments in the center of the old part of town in most of the destinations of interest, which leads to more exploration time because I’m already located where I usually need to be for my style of travel, and I avoid transit time to the center of town. An apartment feels more like being a resident as compared to a hotel room. I found excellent apartments for each of the three destinations on this trip using a combination of Homeaway.com, and Airbnb.com.

 

Resources – Croatia Travel Planning

Indispensable for planning purposes: Google flights. It works well with mainstream carriers, as well as the puddle jumpers.  I use it to analyze costs related to date ranges, as well as stopover options for those destinations unreachable directly from my home airport – like Zagreb.  Once I have my flight schedule selected, I add my flights to the alert list for price changes, and patiently wait for a good price to come my way.

I rely on several sites for apartment rentals.  In the order of preference:  HomeAway, booking.com, and last and definitely least, Airbnb.  Some may be shocked that I prefer to avoid Airbnb, but I have good reasons to avoid them.  On this particular trip, I did end up using Airbnb for Zagreb as they had some good apartment selections, and I was  able to circumvent the Airbnb location ambiguity (mostly) before booking it.  The other two apartments were booked through HomeAway, as they had quality listings in both Dubrovnik, and Split. Ironically, I booked nothing through Booking.com.

Google maps is a staple, and I use it on every trip for a variety of purposes.  On this trip, it served as my GPS while navigating through Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. It’s also very useful for navigating to restaurants and points of interest while on a discovery trek.

TripAdvisor is awesome for advanced trip planning, as well as finding a decent restaurant on the spot.  When I use it for this purpose, I select “near me now/restaurants” and filter on “open now”.  Then I sort by distance – not highest rated.  When I’m hungry enough to find an unplanned restaurant, I want closest, then best.  To be fair, Google maps is also good for this purpose, although the restaurant ratings are less sophisticated.

With Google translate on my phone at the ready, I fear no language barrier. But every place I went to in Croatia was English friendly, and I only had some minor issues with language in Mostar, Bosnia.

 

Epilogue – Croatia Travel Planning

Reflections on Croatia. The trip was a wonderful extended vacation, with immersive travel experiences in Zagreb, and Split. Dubrovnik was very touristy, and as a cruise ship port of call, it received tourists in great volumes on certain days. Still, it was an exceptional travel experience, which I would both recommend, and personally return to in the future. The trip was relatively inexpensive – I rarely comment on this because my focus is on immersion, but it is noteworthy. The people were lovely, accommodating to travelers, and were sharply focused on providing a good experience for visitors. English was spoken well everywhere I visited in Croatia. The food was excellent, and a great value – although vegans might have a tough time finding accommodating fare. I find myself at a loss in recalling any negative reflections on this trip.

 

 

Related Destinations – Croatia Travel Planning