Croatia with Airbnb

TRIP OVERVIEW (15 nights)

  • Ljubljana (2 nights in Airbnb apartment ) | Town centre , Lake bled ,Lake Bohinj, Vintgar gorge
    • Ljubljana to Rovinj – Stopped at Predjama castle and Piran enroute
  • Rovinj (3 nights in Airbnb apartment) | Old town, St. Euphemia Church, Rent a boat to visit Lim fjord, red island and sail, Matosevic Vineyard. ,Motovun ,Kozlovic Winery , Umag  ATP tennis tournament
    • Rovinj to Plitvice – Stppped at Opatija
  • Plitvice (1 night in Airbnb apartment ) | Plitvice National park
  • Split (2 nights in Airbnb apartment ) | Old town , Diocletian palace, Bell tower of St. Duje’s cathedral, seaside promenade – Riva  ,Marjan hill , Day trip to Trogir
  • Hvar (2 nights in Airbnb apartment ) | Old town , Hvar fortress, Day boat trip covering Stiniva Bay on Island Vis , Green Cave ,Blue Cave  and Palmizana beach on Pakleni Island.
  • Korčula (2 nights in Airbnb apartment ) | Old town ,Sword dance – Moreska, Mossimo Fortress Bar
  • Dubrovnik (3 nights in Airbnb apartment in Cavtat ) | Stradun Street, Old town ,Game of throne tour,Lovrijenac Fortress , City walls , Mount Srd , Buza bar ,Cavtat beach
    • Day trip to Mostar – Bosnia

Transfers – We rented a car for 8 nights till Split, Catamaran from Split to Hvar , Ferry from Hvar to Korcula , Catamaran from Korcula to Dubrovnik.

How to reach – Mumbai – Zagreb, Lufthansa flight. Return via Dubrovnik – Mumbai, Lufthansa flight.

STAGE 1 – Mumbai to Ljubljana – 1 days

If you like unspoilt natural beauty, buzzing nightlife’, touring vineyards, dining in artsy cafes, swimming in clear sea water, trekking in national parks, exploring medieval towns, watching beautiful people, history behind city walls, climbing forts, sailing, then Croatia is the place for you. It was on our wishlist for long and we jumped on the chance, when our friends (usual partners in crime) told us about their Europe plan.

Croatia is an upcoming destination and no longer a low-key alternative to Spain, Greece or Italy. It caters to beach bums, outdoor suckers, history buffs, adrenaline junkies, foodies, and culture vultures alike. Quite literally, there’s something for everyone!

We excitedly boarded Lufthansa airlines from Mumbai to Zagreb, capital of Croatia as this was a trip of many firsts.. trying Airbnb, driving on the other side of the road and a tight budget (much to the dismay of my extravagant husband).

Day 1

We landed at Zagreb in the afternoon, collected our rental car from the airport and directly drove to Ljubljana. Highways were as good as they can get and signage was proper. As we approached our Bnb, we patted ourselves on the choice of “peaceful and tranquil locality”, as described on Airbnb. We found house to be very spacious, comfortable and equipped with all amenities. Soon our “peaceful and tranquil” locality seemed like a ghost town. It was far from the town centre  and quiet deserted. The haunted house, street graffiti all added to the ambiance.

Nevertheless as, we walked towards town centre, our admiration for the city grew exponentially.   No wonder, Ljubljana made to the second place on the list of best places in Europe, compiled by Lonely Planet editors. I quote ‘Ljubljana is one of Europe’s greenest and most livable cities, with a vibrant cultural, café and nightlife scene that gives it the feel of a perpetual street party’. The city is proud of its rich heritage, lively arts and cultural scene and has many festivals running throughout the year.

Ljubljana, is actually quite small, with a population consisting of a mere 265,000 people or so, and a city center that can be crossed by foot in less than 15 minutes. It is just the right size to be manageable within a day or two and serve as a base for exploring Lake Bled and other excursions in Slovenia. Though small, the city has its charm with snow-covered mountains, atmospheric streets, Baroque and classic style architecture and narrow lanes.  When in old town, you cannot miss the Ljubljanica river that runs through the old town and the medieval hilltop Castle, which offers a breathtaking panorama of the city.

After a delightful stroll around the town, we stopped at Fany and Mary to grab some food and drink. Food was Mexican pizza, chicken salad and pommes frites, which was tasty .I had my first Radler (50% beer 50% lemonade) here and immediately fell in love with it. It is so refreshing and light that it was my poison for the trip. I wonder why it is not available in my country (do I smell a business proposition here!). Not all places on the riverfront serve food and drink together, so we were happy to find this place with a good view of Butchers’ Bridge. Couples in love, attach love padlocks on the bridge and throw keys into the water to symbolize their commitment to each other. Too cheesy for us to do!

It’s an extremely friendly city, you’ll never be short of a decent view as you stroll the waterside streets and on every new corner. You’re sure to find something of that interests you. We loved the histrionics of a bunch of teenagers collecting money for their friend, marrying a classmate and another group of dancers showing off their moves.

As we walked back home, our last stop was the Dragon Bridge. It is adorned with famous dragon statues .Dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana and the most recognizable images of Ljubljana. If you haven’t been photographed here, your Ljubljana photo album is incomplete. According to a local legend, when a virgin crosses the bridge, the dragon wags its tail. I can tell you I never once saw the tail wag.

STAGE 2 – Ljubljana to Lake Bled – 1 days

Day 2

“Peaceful and tranquil” location in the morning was much appreciated. We had our own mini breakfast of eggs and coffee in the verandah, exclusively available for us. Our backyard had a park with apple trees and citrus plants. Nice setting to relax and make plans for the day ahead.

Our first stop today was Lake Bled and it takes less than an hour to reach there from the city. It’s recommended to start early from Ljubljana as Parking is a hassle in the crowded summer months so you might have to park a little away from the lake and walk.

Tip : Don’t forget that when driving on the motorways in Slovenia you need a vignette (sticker) for your car which can be purchased at petrol stations or at the border.

Lake Bled with the Church of the Assumption/St Mary with 99 steps, sitting pretty on an Island inside the lake, is an absolutely picture perfect sight. If that was not enough, it has a medieval Bled Castle perched atop a limestone cliff near the shore, a great contrasting feature of green forest covered mountain and sparkly deep blue lake. Add a sprinkling of swans on the glistening water and  you have a set straight out of Disney movie, except that it is for real.  It is one of the most photographed place in all of Europe and truly is amazing sight!

After walking around for some time round the lake , we wanted to go boating to the Bled island and visit the church. Pletna boats are popular her for a ride to The island (Pletna is a wooden boat resembling a Gondola) but we were feeling particularly more adventurous and took the row boat for four people.The guy at the boat rental told us that Europeans were at ease with the boat and any other water sports, he was not so sure if we would be able to row the boat. Initially we were also apprehensive, but were determined to show him that we could do it. It was a fun experience overall ! As we parked our boat at the island we saw few adventurous people jumping into the lake for a swim. As much as I wanted to jump, lack of swim suit didn’t allow me to indulge into the fantasy. We were happy with our feet dipping in the cold water of lake..May be next time 🙂

We finally walked up to the church . The church carries the legend of a widow who transported her wealth there, including a bell, only to have it sink in a storm. She was so devastated that she asked the Pope to donate another bell and now the legend is that the wishes of anyone who rings the bell will come true.amen to that ! The views from  the island are fantastic and the whole area is so peaceful and tranquil . We spent few minutes here, admiring the wide expanse of the beautiful lake only punctuated by the lone swimmer or few boat. All this while enjoying the sweet yoghurt flavoured gelato.

Lake Bled has many dining options from local food to more international cuisines. We spotted a big chilli sign, which got us salivating and we headed to this Mexican restaurant, which was also named Chilli’s.I wish we knew that this is the spiciest food, we are going to have over next two weeks. I would have horded more.

Next Stop was the Vintgar Gorge

It is a beautiful nature park with wooden walking paths and bridges, steep rock cliffs, and bright turquoise water. From Bled it’s a 3.5 km drive.  Route leads north towards the village of Podhom. All along the road there are clear signs for Vintgar. The trekking path leads along the wooden bridges over the rushing river Radovna, which measure 1600m and ends with 26-metre waterfall Šum. One can find its way back pass St. Catherine’s church and take a scenic walk across the meadows, which offer marvelous views on Karavanke mountain range, the Ljubljanska valley, Bled and its surroundings and Mt. Triglav.  Its an incredible trek but did take toll on my hubby’s shoes. The complete trek from the parking and back is about 3.5 km long.

The area close the the Sum waterfall is extremely cool and a wonderful place to cool off in the dry hot summer of Slovenia. It was like A/C fan is directly blowing on your face. What a respite ! There are marvelous views on the way and you feel very refreshed. This is part of the Triglav national park.

After some rest we proceeded to Lake Bohinj which is about 27 Km from Bled. Lake Bohinj has a wide vast of water body, going on infinitely in front of you as you stand at the edge of the shore. Lake Bohinj, sits pretty amidst Julian apls but, unlike Bled, does not have a town, or much activity, on its shores.  Lake Bohinj is less commercial and has natural untouched beauty. Its brooding and mystical feel are heightened by the steep mountain faces and the alpine beauty in its background.  At one end of the lake, across the stone bridge, sits the church of Saint John, the Baptist. It is quaint old medieval church. It is worth a visit inside to explore it’s basic, simplistic charms. The walls and ceilings are covered 15th-16th frescoes.

The water is so clear and inviting and the air is so clean and fresh that you don’t want to leave. I was really looking forward to swimming in the lake , but it was quite windy and cool in the evening. I am sure it must be heavenly to take a dip in the afternoon. I am so glad, we came here, you can truly ‘be in touch with nature’ here.

STAGE 3 – Lake Bled to Postojna – 0 days

Day 3

Today, we left for Rovinj , transiting through Postonja. It was a rainy day and the countryside was so beautiful and green. On our way to Postonja, we took a slight detour for Predjama castle, which is a must visit given its dramatic setting in the gaping mouth of a cavern halfway up a hillside. The sound of the river and small waterfalls in the valley added to the amazing ambiance of the place.

An observation post on the rocky cliff offers a wonderful view over the surrounding countryside. We could see the entrance to the legendary Erazem’s Tunnel. Predjama castle was a perfect hideout for the bold and rebellious ‘Slovenian Robin Hood’ Erazem . The castle is only accessible from one side, however the legend has it that the robber baron Erazem was getting his food and drinks supply through a secret passage leading from the old castle onto the surface. During this time, the emperor’s army was besieging his castle in vain and it took a trick played on Erazem by his opponents and a corrupt servant for Erazem to fall.

A view of the renovated castle rooms and their furnishings gives the visitor an idea of how people once lived and worked in the castle – and how well the castle has been preserved. Among the most interesting sights are the living quarters, the chapel and the dungeon. The fascinating objects on view include weapons, oil paintings and a Pietà dating from 1420.

After marvelling at this picturesque, mysterious and impregnable castle, we headed towards the town centre for early lunch.

What we enjoyed most in Postonja was the lunch at Protheus. We had some traditional Slovenian stuff like dumplings. The deserts were the best , so much so that we ended up fighting over the yummy Apple strudel. Also tried the Local Slovenian wine . Strong taste , but a must try.

We did not do the Postonja caves, as we has visited similar caves in South Africa . But Postojna Cave system is Slovenia’s most popular tourist attraction and the most visited cave in Europe. The Guided tour consists of a ride by electrical train and followed by a walk through beautiful passages and chambers with spectacular drop stones, pillars, limestone curtains, incredible geological formations, as well as a wealth of wildlife. You can tour the castle and the caves below it. €7/4.20 adult/child for either the castle or the caves, €12/7.20 to do both.

STAGE 4 – Postojna to Piran – 0 days

Day 3 ( contn…)

The drive to Piran from Postonja is along coastal road and amazingly scenic. Piran was built at the same time as much of Venice, which gives it an exotic richness that is breathtaking. Piran has been ruled by just about everyone at some point in time. The Romans, Slavs, Franks, Byzantine Empire, Venetians and the Austro-Hungarians all influenced the city in various ways. As little as 100 years ago Piran was 95% Italian and the city continues to have a strong Italian influence with Italian being one of the official languages of Slovenian Istria.

The car-free city makes it a wonderful place to explore the narrow lanes as well as to take time out at cafés and bars. Overall, a friendly and affordable area of the EU that has missed most of the tourist traffic. The city is most famous for church of St George, which has a dominant point in the north of the town. The church has a fabulous organ dating from the 1740s, and do climb the Bell Tower for some superb views of the Adriatic.

Tartini Square is the largest and main square in the town of Piran. It was considered by many people to be the most impressive squares in Slovenia and all debate was put to rest last year when it was transformed into a pedestrian only zone with outdoor cafés taking the place of parked cars.

Tip : you need to come early to get parking as the limited parking in the town fills up very fast. We were stranded in a parking lot as there was no place to park. You can enter the city but you have to pay at the gate and then pay for parking on top of that. The best option is to park at the huge car park just before you reach the city gate.

STAGE 5 – Piran to Rovinj – 3 days

Day 3 (Contn..)

After a long drive with several stops we finally made it to Rovinj, which is is the nicest town in Istria Peninsula, if not in the entire Croatia. The old town is situated by the sea, on a hilly peninsula, with the tower of St. Euphemia Church marking its highest point. We were staying again at an apartment rented via airbnb. It was very close to old town and the hosts were quite gracious and even served us some complimentary grappa (Local Istrian alcohol).

After some rest , we ventured into old town , the town is just too picturesque.  Postcard perfect shots from every corner of the town. We soon discovered a pattern here, old town, bell tower with a view, nice harbour, fancy yachts, rocky beaches and restaurants serving yummy seafood, pasta , pizza and risotto . Of course every city has its own nuances , but without these factors it’s not a Croatian city !  We are loving it.

Soaking in the atmosphere, we made ourselves comfortable at one of the sea facing joints for dinner. Place was buzzing with wine influenced loud  banters amongst patrons. We placed a light order, just to line our stomach for the drinking frenzy that was going to unfold that day. We had mussels and risotto, which were quite good here. I will talk about the role of truffle in Istria Peninsula later.

Dusk was beginning to take hold of the city and we got some of the best shots of our trip, where St. Euphemia clock tower, beautifully lit, was standing tall against the backdrop of pale blue and clear sky. Boats gliding over the glistening water accented the image. This is the last still image that we got for the day.

Quick Fact :-For around 500 years,  Rovinj was part of the Republic of Venice Italy, which is quite visible from its old world charm, small port, culture and history.

The town has lot of desert shops which also had menu full of exotic cocktails, a deadly combination of alcohol and sugar! We took a table, where bar was in full swing and floating round of cocktails permeated the waterfront seating area. And as we downed drinks with ice creams, night became more interesting. Our casual chatter turned into loud banter, lot of selfies/ groupies were taken, waiters were high-fived and casual innuendo with strangers were made and forgotten on the spot, as night progressed and repeat orders were placed. I will let the images speak for themselves, as we ourselves were not too aware of what was happening around us.

Day 4

We rented a boat today to visit Lim fjord, red island and sail in the beautiful Adriatic Sea. It is an absolute must do and the best way to enjoy ” blue istria”. The coast and islands of Croatia are a sailor’s paradise with beautiful scenery around every corner, boraque architecture in most cities on the island or the mainland. Known as the “Coast of a Thousand Islands’ the Dalmatian coast of Croatia is a pearl for the sailor.

We were in a group of five, so rented the full boat and boarded it at Rovinj marina, where we met the captain of ship, who didn’t speak English . He promised us with a thumbs up sign to stop at the most scenic coves and bays for swimming and snorkelling. We sailed by the Rovinj’s beautiful old town which gave us some nice shots from distance.

As the day was coming to an end we sailed back towards Rovinj and stopped for a glass of champagne as we watched the sunset. All in all it was an wonderful experience if you want to actively sail or just lay back and relax as we did. I definitively would recommend it to couples, families and a group of friends.

Rovinij is a pedestrian wonderland. You can cover all of the old town in couple of hours. All the cobblestone roads lead either straight to the main square and old harbor or steeply upward, taking you to the Church of St. Euphemia, an iconic symbol of Rovinj.We climbed up to St. Euphemia Church for the wonderful view.  The streets are full of character, you will find locals selling a variety of their handmade wares, fashionable clothing, quirky postcards, usual souvenirs and some expats displaying their exquisite work of art, which most likely is inspired by this lovely town.

As we approached the base of the church and walked towards the front entrance, a large open space gave way to picture perfect views of the Adriatic. It has a whimsical feel and I would recommend anyone to budget sufficient time wandering this famous path and soak in the views from the top of the town. Its a pretty interesting walk down hill as well.

Quick fact :- Venice is, just a three hour boat ride west. On a clear day, you can spot Venice, just at the end of the horizon. Of course, it needs to be seen from the highest point in town, which is St. Euphemia clock tower. After a few minutes of sailing we dropped anchor near one of the islands where we swam, snorkeled and had a lunch and a glass of Croatian wine on the boat. There is no dearth of isolated bays in this region, which is surprising as the town is exploding with tourists but with so many small islands in this archipelago, you can easily find your slice of heaven.

With all the walking we had built up an appetite and for good. We had a reservation for dinner at Aqua 2, one of the best restaurants in Rovinj.  Aqua 2 is a family run restaurant with family members running the entire place from th kitchen to the serving. They serve a complimentary appetiser and desert plate ( I think they are eyeing the no. 1 spot on tripadvisor). But who’s complaining , when you get such good food and service. We ordered the fish, mushroom soup , pasta and chicken breast . Al of it was great, would definitely go back there. My poor husband ordered Four Cheese pizza and they mixed all of them and made it as one. I guess, he didn’t fancy the bitter taste of blue cheese, which had an overpowering taste over all the other flavours. It was such a shame, that he didn’t go satisfied from this lovely place as he vowed never ever to order anything with blue cheese in it.

Day 5

Today, we ventured outside of Rovinj, plan was to sample the delicate and delicious wines of Istria. Today, it was all about exploring Green Istria ( the interiors). First stop was Matosevic Vineyard. Matošević is a newer Croatian winery. It focusses on white wine using the local grape variety, called Istarska Malvasia.

Matosevic is a small farmhouse setup –crushing to aging and bottling, everything is done here. We sampled 5 wines, from the light, fruity alba white, to the dark, chocolate-spice grimalda red. Poor Shobhit only got some tang as he was the designated driver.

Next stop was Motovun , which is the most popular of all the Istrian hilltop towns. Along the way we stopped various times , sometimes just to smell the Lavender flowers , which look as lovely as they smell. Located on a 280 m high hill above the Mirna River, this town and the surrounding area is famous for the black and white truffles you can find in the nearby forests. There are few bars, art galleries, souvenir shops, and restaurants in Motovun. We ate at the Hotel Kastel. Perched at the top of the picturesque Medieval hilltop town of Motovun, Hotel Kastel is ideally located for exploring the colourful cobbled back streets of Motovun. Drinking Radler on a hot summer day under the shade of age-old chestnut trees and watching locals pass by is a splendid way to spend an afternoon in the charming hilltop town.

Given that Motovun is best known for truffle, we had to try their truffle delicacies. We ordered the cream Truffle bruschetta and it felt so luxurious, almost sinful, how accessible truffles were.  They are on every menu at every restaurant, a staple of the Istrian kitchen and used in abundance. It was amazing and all of us loved it. For me the smell and taste of this revered mushroom is now forever associated with Istria and the Adriatic Sea.While going back we realised Restaurant Mondo has been featured in a New York Times, and it was on my restaurant wish list. But we were too full to eat again.

Kozlovic Winery was next . It is located close to Momjan, well off the beaten path, surrounded by olive groves, and beautiful landscapes. We tried the – Malvazija, Teran, Santa Lucia and Rose wines and it was difficult to pick ones to take back home. The cheese platter was also quite good. It was heavenly to just lay down (power nap) on the lush green grass after the wine sampling.

The lady at Matosevic had told us  about a food/wine festival and after party at Umag after their ATP tennis tournament. Croatia has produced many tennis greats and they take their tennis quite seriously. I was quiet awed by the grandeur and infrastructure of their tennis tournament. It was like a fair with music, street food, cafes, and what not. We sampled the gourmet stuff at their food fair. They had the best of Istria on display, truffles, cured ham and Istrian wines. Foodie paradise for sure.

STAGE 6 Rovinj to Plitvice – 1 days

Day 6

If you ever find yourself travelling to Plitvice from Rovinj or Slovenia, you owe it to yourself to take a lunch break at the coastal resort town of Opatija on the Istrian peninsula in Croatia. With only couple of hours and knowing the laid back service speed in Croatian restaurants, we did not not have much time to explore too many places. We managed to spot couple of asian dishes in a sea facing restaurant and voila`! We wiped out our lunch in no time.  Sadly, we don’t remember the name but it is in the heart of the main square, with white decor.

We reached Plitvice around 3 pm . The park is huge and we were sure that absorbing all of it in half a day would be a tall task. So we took the 2 day pass which is for 280 kuna ( per person) for the season that we were there. It made a lot of sense to us since the 1 day pass was for 180 kunas and Plitvice is one of the top things to do in Croatia. Also the visits were split over 2 days so we could cover upper lakes on one day and lower lakes on day 2 at a very relaxed pace. What is the point of going to a national park if there is no time to stand and stare !

It is arguably the most beautiful national park in the world. It’s comprised of 16 cascading lakes, separated by natural (travertine) dams and connected by a succession of waterfalls, giving it a beautiful terraced appearance. Surrounding it all to form a gentle pocket are mountains covered in dense woods. The lakes float crystal water, which changes colours from crystal clear to azure, to turquoise. This along with crisp clean air, truly is a feast for your senses. It  is crisscrossed by wooden boardwalks and can be covered only on foot, they do have boats and bus to ferry you from one point to another, when you want to jump the route. Clicking an awe inspiring shot is easy when the place brims with beauty.

On day 1 we took the electric boat ride and decided to cover the lower lakes. After being dropped off by the electric boat to beginning of your trek,  you feel like you are transported to another world. Pristine emerald green water , serene atmosphere and the chirping of birds accompanied us across a network of trails, mostly on wooden boardwalks, traversing the tumbling waters.

Words cannot do justice to the beauty of park, so do check our photo essay on Plitvice National Park.  We walked through the Lower Lakes canyon all the way to the “Great Waterfall”, along the top of the canyon’s east side.  Serpentine path criss-crossing the lakes, offer the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the Park’s entire lake area. The path ended at the Great waterfall – Veliki Slap that perhaps attracts the most attention in the Lower Lakes. The thundering water tumbles some 230 feet and has mist surrounding the entire area. The Lower Lakes also sit within a limestone canyon hollowed by caves that can be explored. The temperature inside the caves is quite low.

We finished four hour trek on our Day 1 in Plitvice and were too excited to come back next day. Misty environment, pristine lakes, cascading waterfalls, green galore , unarguably it was the best trek ever for me. 

We stayed a nice wooden row house, surrounded by mountains, outside the park entrance. Dejan -owner of the place ran a restaurant nearby -Villa Benevita and treated us real special. He even allowed us to open our wine bottles in his restaurant without any corkage. The food and the service in his restaurant was top notch. Our only regret was that we had only one night in Plitvice. Owner had a huge snow dog called Rusty , probably the biggest dog I have ever seen. It was one of the best meals, we had on our trip and it was  special because of the setting and the warm service by lovely people.

Day 7

Day 2 in Plitvice started with breakfast at Villa Benevita. The owner was out for shopping in the morning, so his father attended to us. It was amazing how hardworking these people were.  

We covered the Upper Lakes today. We took the panoramic train again and started at the highest lake Jezero Kozjak which is beautifully nestled in woods dense with beech and fir, giving it a forest feel.

We were happy to have come to back Plitvice park ,doing it the second time is much more fun. Simple reason is, now you know the obvious and you are able to appreciate the nuances like water is icy cold, park is inhabited by interesting birds and animal, there is option for canoeing in the park !

STAGE 7 Plitvice to Split – 2 days

Day 7 ( Contn…)

We finally arrived in Split around 3 pm. We stayed in a fully serviced penthouse apartment with a large swimming pool and a great view. Unlike most of the Croatian cities we visited so far, Split  is not a small tourist town, but extends over a large area well beyond Old town. With over 300,000 people in the wider bay area, its the economic hub of the eastern Adriatic.

The city was originally built around the Diocletian palace (a palace/fort built for the retired Roman emperor Diocletian) where the locals sought refuge centuries ago. Diocletian palace remains to be the most visited and photographed place of Split so we had to go there. As we walked around the old town of Split  , we learned that Split is the unofficial “capital” of Dalmatia. Wandering the historic centre of Split I could still clearly see the Roman walls, squares, and temples from the time of retired Roman emperor Diocletian.

It is hard to imagine Croatia without Emperor’s palace as it would be Rome without Roman Coliseum or Cairo without Great Pyramids of Giza. There are not many cities in the world that can be proud such as Split of almost two millennium history. The difference is that this history is not just a written record but fully present in nowadays Split. Wandering aimlessly around the palace is one of  Split’s essential experiences. There is no ticket office or protocol – you just stroll in. 

We climbed up the Bell tower of St. Duje’s cathedral. The Cathedral is also a very beautiful mixture of Roman temple and Catholic church. Although the belltower provides a great panoramic view of Split, nearby islands and Marjan hill, the ascent is quite steep and certainly not for those with vertigo.

Some parts of the Game of thrones is shot in Split, especially in the basement. The cellars of Diocletian’s Palace (basement halls) was the entrance way into the palace by sea via the Brass Gate .The basement was largely used for storage of foodstuff and wine. Actually, the remnant of a large press, which was used to turn the grapes into wine, is still visible today. 

Cafe culture is quite prominent in the squares. Idyllic cafes, bars , juice bars and pizzerias throng every corner of this palace. And while roaming the stone pavements you’ll bump into Roman warriors for a quick picture or pretty waitresses seducing you to eat at their restaurant.

Split’s seaside promenade – Riva is as lively and scenic as it gets. It has many cafes, restaurants and bars and is a great place to enjoy a snack and indulge in some people watching. As night approaches the activity in Riva increases and bathed in yellow street lights , the promenade takes a different personality. It’s the place where people go to enjoy coffee and be seen. The cafés and shops here are built onto the south side of the old palace walls.

After a lovely dinner, we headed back to our apartment and still high on our wine, we jumped into a pool. Water was too cold for us to warrant a swim under normal circumstances but that didn’t bother us, as this is the only place on our trip, where we had in-house pool. Awesome way to relax the body and end the day.

Day 8

From Split we were going island hopping to Hvar – Korcula – Dubrovnik, so we had to drop the car near Split Airport at the Sixt car rental. Trogir is a short 30 minute drive north of Split and closer to airport as well, so it made perfect sense for us to go to Trogir and then drop the car and take taxi back home.

Trogir was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Trogir was once the cultural centre of Dalmatia and its golden age is still visible everywhere.  It is a small islet connected by a bridge to the mainland. Once you cross the bridge, the narrow cobbled streets are never ending and always have something interesting at the other end. Trogir is the best-preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex not only in the Adriatic, but in all of Central Europe. Trogir’s medieval core, surrounded by walls, comprises a preserved castle and tower. Trogir’s grandest building is the church of St. Lawrence.

We walked to the town centre along the waterfront, stopping quite frequently under the shade for some respite from the heat and to take in the lovely views.Tired from walking around, we had a wonderful meal at Capo. It is a charming family runrestaurant in heart of the old core of the town. Something which makes “Capo” different from the other is the atmosphere of unique Dalmatia, framed with walls of the ancient ruined house. The furniture is old and simple and each chair is of different kind and style.

We dropped our car at the airport, family standard and smooth process. Rental guys agreed to drop us at our accomodation in Split in the same car, but this time we were paying 200 Kunas for it.

In the evening we head to Marjan hill for cycling . The hill is a no-car zone and great for jogging, swimming and cycling. We opted for the third one and rented a cycle for 2 hours. When we rented the cycle, we thought it would be less , but we were cycling downhill in the beginning. When it came to cycling uphill, my stamina did not last for more than 20 minutes. But the views from Marjan hill are to die for and the clean fresh air is just so refreshing.

Tip :-

If I had better stamina, I could do this for the entire day with few swimming breaks in between but we were short on time as well.  We recommend everyone to spend atleast half day in this hill and take your swimming costumes  and picnic hamper along.

Dinner at Pizzeria Fortune in the town centre was great. The place also had some great house wine which put us in a great mood to enjoy the Split nightlife. Honestly, there is nothing like great place to eat in Split. All the restaurants seem to be running full house and serving fresh sea food and menu largely influenced by Italy.

STAGE 8 Split to Hvar – 2 days

Day 9

We had a catamaran from Split to Hvar and we reached in less than 2 hours. Rains welcomes us into Hvar, an island known to be the sunniest in Europe. But it cleared out very quickly and we laid our eyes on one of the most beautiful island, we have every seen. It has everything you can ask for. Parties, multi cuisine restaurants, hill top fort, greenery and clear water to swim. Hvar is said to be most expensive, beautiful, sunniest island in Croatia.

Our host was gracious enough to pick up from the port and we were in for the best surprise of our trip. Our apartment had the loveliest views, you can possibly ever imagine. It had a huge terrace, bigger than combined size of our 2 bedrooms, overlooking the bay and sunset..Rooms, bathrooms and kitchen were spick and span.

We just loved every bit of our stay here and this was also the least we have paid for. Quickly plans were firmed, to spend most of our time sitting in the balcony but we had not seen what awaits us outside.

Hvar town

There is something special about Hvar and as they say beauty begets beauty, you will find the most fashionable people around, biggest of the yatchs parked at the port, best of the food and majestic fort at the highest point of the town. Hvar is also quite green with lush vegetation and is home to spectacularly beautiful landscapes, punctuated by pine forests, fields of lavender and scenic olive groves.

Scouting for a perfect place to have lunch, we stumbled upon an Asian restaurant, Spice. Couldn’t have asked for more, our first asian in ten days, quickly four curry based rice dishes were ordered by everyone. Post heavy and satisfying lunch, majority of us wanted to go back to the comfort of our apartment but Shobhit had his eyes set on the Fortress. He somehow managed to convince us to climb up the fort for a bird’s eye view of Hvar Island. I hate to admit but the climb was quite worth it, it was a clear day and we could see as far as Vis island.

Enjoying a radler after our mini accomplishment of scaling the fortress under a harsh sun, was like a manna dew from heaven ! Boys were having their own fun leching at the waitresses in the pretext of claiming how strong and independent they were as they arranged the furniture in a cafe at the fortress.

On our way back to apartment, we stopped at the beach for a swim. The clear blue cold water is just heavenly in the hot dry weather. Infact, July-August is the peak season for Croatia , because it is the best time to enjoy the clear blue waters and the rocky beaches. We were back to our apartment just in time for the sunset. How could we spend time elsewhere, when you have a terrace like this. We cooked at our home. Some ready to eat packs, soup, rice, salad, wine and we had a three course meal!

As the sun was turning the bay a rich amber, orange roof tops were looking even more beautiful. All of us felt blessed to have found this place on airbnb at fraction of cost and with so much freedom to cook our dinner, have our own wine and play music. This was the point, when my husband turned from sceptic into brand evangelist for airbnb. He proudly announced, from hereon for every holiday, he will consider options on airbnb first. I was delighted, it will let me travel more.

Day 10

On our 2nd Day in Hvar , we took the full day boat tour for 500 Kunas per Person. There was a 10% discount for the group ( more than 3 people) . It was a nice small boat with capacity of 12 people. We covered  1.) Stiniva Bay on Island Vis 2.) Green Cave 3.) Blue Cave 4.) Palmizana beach on Pakleni Island.

Swimsuit – check, towel ..check , snorkel equipment ..check , snacks and drinks from the supermarket…check.  With our ice boxes and safety briefing we were excited for packed day. Ritual is to grab your drinks and snacks for the day from supermarket, come in swimming costume, carry you own towel and you are all set for an exciting day on the sea. The boat ride was quite fun as the skippers raced against each other. Wind in my hair, company of friends and exciting new places to see, what more could I ask for. The first stop was inside a cave, the Green cave. The cave looks green and quite surreal because of the play of lighting from limited places in the cave. Most of the people took their first dip here and boy it was cold.

Next stop was on Stiniva Bay on Island Vis. This is supposed to be a small lesser known beach on Vis , but going by the number of boats here , I think it was quite popular . We didn’t stop here for long as our captain could not find a place to park and nobody wanted to swim till the beach. I was beginning to wonder if they put all the scared non-swimmers together !

Next up was Blue cave, the most awaited stop. Sometimes the tide is low and the boat can go into the cave. But the day we were there the tide was high and you had to swim in. Its not easy to go through that tiny hole into that cave as the tide goes up and down. You are always scared of hitting the rocks. I tried to push everyone to come with me to the cave , they said they would follow- me. But my doubts of all sissies was verified . It seems like I was the only one going inside the cave. It was quite a swim , but totally worth it. The entire cave is bathed in cobalt blue light and it looks out of this world. Ofcourse, I could only capture the beauty in my memory, no photos to showcase.

As I was alone I didn’t stay for long . As I swam back, some elderly aunty kept saying we are with you don’t worry. I think she sensed from my hurried swimming that I was alone and a little scared. Its reassuring to find someone has your back. Since I was the only one who made the plunge it was fun to narrate the experience back on the boat, as if I had scaled mount everest and lived to tell the tale.

The next stop was the old ship gates which are now sealed. There were some people cliff jumping here. But for most us it was just a loo break ! It was funny to see everyone looking for an isolated bush to attend the nature’s call. It was also a good spot to get some photos clicked.

They say this place is like a swiss cheese with so many internal tunnels built around it. We couldn’t appreciate it much though, except the view from the vantage point.

Our final stop was at Palmizana beach on Palikeni island. It has some stretches of sandy beaches and azure blue water. But first we had a leisurely lunch at Bachhus. The view and the food (veg risotto, chicken breast and hump steak) were just too good. It was around 3 pm now and perfect time to float in the water..sunbathe …drink a beer..float in the water..you get the drift !

All in all a fun day. We enjoyed the last sunset of Hvar from our apartment and then headed out to sample the much famed  nightlife of the island. Hvar gets very lively and crowded in the night. It is a long que before you can get a table at any of these restaurants but the theatrics of drunk tourists is nothing short of paid entertainment.

STAGE 9 Hvar to Korčula – 2 days

Day 11

We took a ferry from Hvar to Korcula and had a cabin to ourselves on the ferry. To be honest, we didn’t know the difference between ferry and catamaran and read it interchangeably, while we made the booking.  I learnt it the hard way, when it took us 4 hours to reach Korcula from Split in Croatia , when Catamaran takes less than an hour. Ferries are bigger and made to carry cars / more passengers and operates on long-haul routes with frequent stops. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the views from the top deck for three hours as the cabin was too claustrophobic after a while.

Korcula is a beautiful sleepy town. Most people do it as a day trip from Split or Dubrovnik. We decided to have a break here for two days. Absolutely nothing to do. It is ideal for carefree meandering, as you can cover old town in one hour on foot. Just relax, soak in the views, have meal by the sea side and stroll in the old town. You can feel the world has slowed down here, the pace at which people move around, quite an idyllic setting. I will take it any day. Our apartment booked on airbnb had fantastic views of old town. The pain of pulling our luggage to the apartment, which was supposed to be 50 metres from the port disappeared when we saw the view.

We napped for sometime before venturing out to eat in the evening. There were a lot of shops selling Marco Polo merchandise and a museum dedicated to Marco polo along the way as Korcula is the birthplace of Marco polo.

Sunset at Korcula can easily compete with the best in the world. Coupled with some housewine and piping hot food, it just makes the moment memorable.

We were luckily in Korcula on July 29, which is St Theodore’s Day (Korcula’s patron saint) also known as Korcula day, so there was a mass, procession and then sword dance, Moreska. Lucky us! The Moreska Sword Dance is Korcula’s proudest tradition and one of the Adriatic’s most unusual customs. At one time this “fighting dance” was prevalent in southern Europe. It probably began in Spain as a form of protest against the Moorish occupation and then migrated to Korcula in the 15th century. Essentially, it’s a danced version of a sword battle and tells the story of an abducted princess. The story begins with a speech by the princess who declares her love for the White King (dressed in red for the dance). Unfortunately for her, the Black King is in love with her and has stolen her away from the White King.

Traditionally Moreska was only performed on Korcula Day but now it is presented regularly. As the colourful spectacle progresses, the armies of the White King and the Black King draw swords and “fight” for the princess. The “fighting” dance is intricately staged to represent a real battle which terminates, of course, with the restoration of the princess to her one true love.

Day 12

We wanted to go to Miljet National park today, but the weather forecast as not favourable. The city looked surreal because of the fog. It was an overcast day. Most of the daytime was spent watching television, listening to music, chit chatting and cooking for lunch.

In the evening when the clouds cleared out we stepped out. First stop was for drinks at the Mossimo Fortress Bar. This bar is lodged in a turret and is literally built out of the crumbling city walls! I wonder, how they get permission to operate on heritage properties. But nevertheless one of the best rooftop bars I have EVER been to with magnificent views. To get to the rooftop, you have to climb a steep wooden ladder, wriggle through a trapdoor and voilá! You have the unhindered view of sunset. Your drinks are hauled up using a rope pulley. Drinks are not particularly exotic but the view of sunset and the sheer drop to the sea is thrilling nonetheless and enough to give you a high, literally.

But just as we were to leave, it began to pour again. We were still on the second level of the turret and started discussing philosophy until it stopped raining and we lost our appetite. So we just picked up some breads from a nearby  bakery and said goodbye to the old town. 

STAGE 10 Korčula to Dubrovnik – 2 days

Day 13

Dubrovnik, Pearl of the Adriatic was our last stop on this trip. We were staying in Cavtat , which we realised later is about an hour away from Dubrovnik . We arrived from Korcula in Dubrovnik city and decided to store our luggage at the bus station and enjoy the town before heading to Cavtat. From the luggage store to old town we met a very helpful taxi driver who offered to take us to Cavtat in the evening at a throwaway price with stops along the way! He called himself Taxi doctor and was a Taxi driver for 25+ years.  We immediately fell in love with the city.  Dubrovnik was different from all the Croatian towns we saw thus far. I can’t count how many times we just walked up and down the main drag, called the Stradun or the Placa, people watching and eating ice cream. The wide limestone walkway is smooth as ice and shimmers in the sunlight.

Dubrovnik is a lovely walled city oozing with history, culture, tourists and a laid-back way of life. It’s a photographers delight , every angle looks postcard perfect. As we entered the old town, we explored the cobblestone alleys and walked around the Main Street here, Placa Stradun. The street is full of souvenir shops, restaurants and gelato stores. We had built up an appetite for lunch by now and I was leading the way towards Nishta, the most popular vegetarian place here. We had the Indian thali , oriental noodles , Mexican enchiladas and some drinks.The food was average , and I think our expectations were quite high. Would not recommend this place .

All of us are Game of throne fans, some more than others, but fans nevertheless. So doing the Game of Thrones tour was a must. View of City walls and Old town from the Lovrijenac Fortress is now synonymous with Kings Landing in Game of Thrones. We did a full 2 hour game of thrones tour here, where tour guide took us to all places, where the series was shot. If you are a fan, read our separate blog on that.

The juxtaposition of the terracotta roofs and the blue Adriatic Sea is a sight not to be missed. The GOT tour was over 2 hours and is physically challenging with all the steps that you have to climb. But totally worth it.

After the tour ,our helpful driver met us at the scheduled point to drove us back to Cavtat. As promised, he stopped on the top of Mount Srd which has breathtaking views of the old city and the surrounding islands. The top of Mount Srđ is one of the places where you get that iconic postcard picture of the old town, as they say, the old town is laid in your hands. Driver saved us the money of taking cable car to the top.

Cavtat is a charming little suburb with a very laid back vibe. After some rest, we had dinner and called it a day.

Day 14

Next morning was at leisure . We had lunch at Cavtat. Highly recommended Asian restaurant. Much needed respite from Pizza and pasta. We were caught offguard, when we asked waiter to make it extra hot for us. We didn’t find Croaitan chillies, standing upto the might of India chillies but these guys had imported bird eye chilli from Asia and we had the hottest food, in a very very long time. But it was quite good and we made a point to come again on our last day in Cavtat.

I still don’t know the reason, why my husband booked an apartment in Cavtat but it was visibly cheaper and more laidback than dubrovnik. It was also closer to airport.

However, I would have preferred to stay closer to old town.

After spending couple of hours, exploring the harbour of Cavtat, we took ferry to Dubrovnik.

Ask anyone what you should do in Dubrovnik and ‘Go on the city walls’ be the first thing they say. It is touristy but for a reason. Admission is 90 kuna and it takes atleast an hour or two to make the most of this 1.2 mile loop. You get nice views of all the forts, beaches, harbour, cafes and what not. Viewing Dubrovnik from the walls gives you the chance to see the damage from the war up close. Dubrovnik was sieged from late 1991 through early 1992, and the city was in ruins. It was painstakingly rebuilt, but you wouldn’t know it unless you were looking for the two-toned roofs. You can either take a tour or do it yourself. In my opinion, you should start the Dubrovnik with City wall tour. It will give you fair bit of idea what you want to do next.. Go as soon as they open to avoid the crowds.

Another great way to explore the Adriatic coast is by sea kayak. You start from the foot of Lovrijenac Fortress (just outside the city walls, close to Pile Gate), skirting round Dubrovnik’s medieval walls then out to the tiny lush island of Lokrum, where you stop on Betina beach and have time for snorkeling and exploring the botanical garden. We didnt do it but it seemed like an interesting activity.

From the top of the wall, we spotted couple of small bars perched on the cliffs outside the city walls where you can have a drink and relax at the end of the day. They are literally hole-in-the-wall bars and you would easily miss the entrance if you weren’t looking for it. It literally says “cold dink” ( not very imaginative, I know !). Having drink at one of the Cliff bars at Buza was highlight of Shobht’s trip to Dubrovnik. Its a must stop, you dont get a sunset view but vibe is quite good and is an experience itself.  Service was top notch, but you have to fetch a place yourself. Need to have an eye like hawk and ability to spot, who are done with their drinks, before anyone could. I guess, this is what my hubby likes. He enjoy things more, when he can say, he has earned it.

STAGE 11 – Dubrovnik to Mostar – 1 days

Day 15

We had spent close to 12 days in Croatia and the sights and esp the food was getting a little repetitive . So we opted for a day trip to Mostar which is in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is about 130 km from Dubrovnik and a popular day trip. There are several agencies which operate day tours. Some quick research and calculation was enough to understand that renting a car was a much cheaper and a better option (you can do things at your own pace). To make it look like an excellent choice, boys took the cheapest car available, which was manual. Best of luck to them, as they will be driving it !!

The city has a very heavy Turkish influence, because of the Turkish invasion which happened sometime back .The aftermath of the war is evident in Mostar and the cemetery which contains the last remains of the victims is worth visiting to feel their pain.  The old town harks back to the Ottoman empire, with its Turkishesque bazaars, colourful narrow streets and impressive mosques. It’s postcard in reality.

The bridge is the main attraction in Mostar and it’s not surprising as Mostar is derived from Mostari ( keepers of the bridge ) The bridge was also destroyed and was reconstructed with funds from UN and other neighboring countries. It is now a UNESCO protected site . The bridge is now a place for professional divers to collect money from tourists. They dive off it, 21 meter below into freezing cold river, with lot of cheering and booing from the crowd. Today, the bridge is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, and is considered one of the most exemplary pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans.

We had lunch at Sadravan, turkish restaurant and seemed very popular .We ordered the Sadravan national plate which had dolmas ( rice and meat wrapped in vine leaf ) kabab , sour cream , bread , vegetables , potato and gravy , falafel and some drinks. The food was great and quite a lot even for 2 people . Would definitely recommend a stop here . The local beer served in the restaurant is worth trying as well .

After a heavy and satisfying lunch , all of us we’re contemplating renting a room to sleep . While walking around in old town we chanced upon Alibaba lounge, which is housed in a cave. It was cool and had king sized beds, just great for the siesta we all wanted. As customory for sitting in any restaurant, we ordered lime sodas and pretend to sip it for next hour or so.

On our way back ,we stopped at Blagaj. Blagaj is on the banks of River Buna and has a small waterfall, caves and canoeing for the more adventurous. The cold river creates a natural AC , which is awesome for the sunny weather. It cooled our hot watrbottle in flat 10 minutes. It is a nice place for lunch but we were full, so we just ordered a cherry pie with cream and cold drink at one of the cafes there. It was delicious.

STAGE 12 – Mostar to Cavtat – 1 days

Day 16

It was the end of our marathon trip  (longest till date) and time to say goodbye to Croatia. Our flight was around 4 PM and airport was 5 minutes away from the port of Cavtat. So the plan for the day was simple, swim, lounge around, have lunch at the Asian restaurant, buy souvenirs and then proceed to the airport.

The water was cool, clear and extremely refreshing, perfect for swimming on a hot day. My trip ended on a sweet note, when I found a star fish in the water.

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http://www.zagreb-taxi.eu

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