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Ljubljana – Trieste – Croatia – Itinerary and Car Rental Questions

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We’re putting together an itinerary for a trip in May 2016. Right now it looks like this. Any comments and suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

RT from US to Zagreb
Zagreb 2 days
Zagreb to Ljubljana by train
Ljubljana another day (We are unsure about Lake Bled)
Rent an auto in Ljubljana (or Lake Bled) to Trieste
Trieste
Rovinj (3-4 days with day trips to Pula Motovan etc.)
Rovinj to Opatija
Opatija to Split (perhaps staying in Trogir) for a day and a half or 2 ½ with Havr
Split to Dubrovnik (drop car) – day and a half in Dubrovnik
Fly from Dubrovnik to Zagreb (another half day in Zagreb)
Fly to US

Hotels in Rovinj: When I’ve entered some tentative dates for hotels in Rovinj, I’m seeing no availability in several. Is this a quirk of looking too far in advance, or do hotels in Rovinj and Porec fill this early?

Are there problems with renting an auto in Slovenia (Ljubljana), driving to Italy (Trieste) and then on to Croatia? I’ve picked up random comments about “windshield stickers” for roads in either/or Slovenia or Croatia, “visas” to cross through Bosnia/Herg. Between Split and Dubronik and renting in one country (Slovenia) and dropping in another (Croatia).

Thanks in advance to my Fodor friends.

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    It is very expensive to pick up a car in one country and drop it in another. I would drive from Zagreb to Ljubljana. Then you would be picking up and dropping off in the same country.

    You need to tell the rental agency which countries you will be driving in. We rented a car in Italy to take into Croatia and Slovenia. We used Autoeurope. At first , there were no agencies that would allow us to take the car to those countries. They told us to keep calling back. (I initially called 8 + months before our trip.). Eventually, there were cars available that allowed us to use the car in Eastern Europe. We reserved a car, but kept calling back to get a car with zero deductible insurance, which was finally available at an even lower price.

    Before you enter Slovenia, you need to stop and buy a vignette for your car. In Croatia, you pay tolls. We were able to use our credit card for those. Our card has a chip, but no pin, and it worked fine.

    In terms of hotels, we booked our hotels in Rovinj and Lake Bled about 8 months ahead for a July trip. The hotel we wanted in Bled was already booked. However, you are going in May-- much less busy. I imagine they simply don't have May in the computer yet.

    Have a great trip! I loved Slovenia and can't wait to get back and see even more of Croatia.

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    Thanks, Digbydog. That's another - "Why didn't I think of that?" It addresses the rent in one and drop in another country, although the car will sit for a few days in Ljubljana. If I did as you suggest, where do I stop and get a vignette? (Just heard from an acquaintance who was virtually hauled off irons because he didn't have one.)

    We've done many trips in Europe, but this one has me doing back-flips with RT in and out of Zagreb vs. Into Zagreb and out Ljubljana or vice versa. I'm sure I'll figure it out with a lot of help from my friends.

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    I was worried about where to find the vignette, but you can just pick one up at a gas station in Croatia.

    We also had a car in Ljubljana that we didn't need while we were there. There was an inexpensive lot near French Revolution Square.

    In Ljubljana, we stayed at Apartment Emmi, which we LOVED. We had thought about B&B Slamic, which has free parking.

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    I visited Rovinj at the end of this lat April. I booked my B&B about 24 hours ahead, though I had booked/changed it previously so was already familiar with where I wanted to stay. In early May (except around May 1 which is a holiday) don't expect Rovinj to be that busy - not empty, it wasn't when I was there, but I wouldn't worry about booking so far in advance. I booked almost nothing more than a day in advance on my whole trip through the first two weeks in May (in Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, and a night in Ljubljana). Except in Zadar, I never had trouble finding places and great prices, also.

    Put it on your calendar for say January to look at booking places, if you really feel the need to book even far in advance. With a car (and some internet device?), you have a lot of flexibility, something I took great advantage of on my recent trip. If you don't like a place that much, you don't need to be stuck there an extra day longer than you'd planned...

    I've been to Ljubljana three times (love it!). I stayed at the B&B Slamic before - decent place, was going to stay again in April but at the last minute (a week out - it was my first night of the trip) I checked prices again and the Grand Hotel Union lowered their price to about 85 Euros/night - only about 8 more than the Slamic, but in the PERFECT spot in the center of Ljubljana. Plus, I think every room has views of the castle and the town (mine sure did) - a huge bonus for me. I hadn't rented my car yet, however, so I didn't have to deal with parking one at the Union, and you would if you rent a car in Zagreb.

    The Slamic is OK, not a bad location but nothing at all like the Union's perfect spot and great views. If you can get a great price on it like I did, it might be worth paying just a little extra (park the car in a lot somewhere?) to stay there.

    Had you considered visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia? It was one of the highlights of all of my trips to the region - almost a must-see if you are nearby, and you are (it's about a two hour drive from Zagreb). I'd take a night from somewhere else and try to squeeze it in, if I were you.

    Lake Bled is really cool, unique and memorable, but the town itself is nothing special in my opinion. I think it makes a great day trip from Ljubljana. FYI, it's easy to drive from Ljubljana to Bled by the expressway, but the scenic detour via the town of Skofja Loka is worth a few hours (including a brief stop in Skofja Loka itself). Amazing scenery driving up through the hills!!!

    Two nights in Zagreb? Some people do seem to love the town, but I wasn't one of them. After a half day of sight-seeing, I was pretty much done there. I know it's your first day in the town, so you probably don't want to be driving right away, but you'll also have half a day there at the end, right? If you weren't renting a car in Zagreb you could go directly to Ljubljana to start and end in Zagreb with however many days you wish.

    You'll have very little time in Dubrovnik - not that you need much, but you will be flying out of there, right? That takes some of your time away. Let me put a good word in for a day trip to Bay of Kotor in Montenegro as well - amazing scenery there. I spent a night in Kotor on my May visit, actually, but I had a little more time in my schedule, and it wasn't my first trip to the region.

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    It’s a bit hard to comment, since you don’t give your total number of days or number of nights, but I must admit that this trip sounds rushed to me. I recommend that you get some good guidebooks (always a worthy investment, IMO, or spend some time with a few in your local library), identify the things you most want to see in each location, and mark them on a calendar. Then pencil in your transportation, add some time on either side (for getting to/from your lodging, checking in/out, packing/unpacking, getting oriented, etc.). Then see how things fit together. You might end up deciding to cut a destination or two....

    It’s also hard to comment because we would, I think, need to know something of your interests if we are to be responsive. Croatia is incredibly diverse and has a lot to offer people with very different interests. So all I can do is offer some generic comments based on my personal experiences.

    “We are unsure about Lake Bled”

    Why?

    “Opatija”

    I did not like Opatija, but other Fodorites have had more positive experiences. I was there for a couple of hours just before/during sunset on a Saturday evening in early June of 2009. The bars and restaurants near the shore were competing with one another to see which could play their disco / party music the loudest and with the heaviest base. Street side shops were filled with junk, overpriced kitsch, and overly zealous sales staff. Sidewalks were filled with people who were already so drunk that trying to walk by or through them was a decidedly unpleasant experience. I did enjoy the Villa Angiolina, though -- that was worth seeing. And the Lungomare is a treat. (I stayed at Lovran, at its other end, which may be a bit too faded for some travelers’ tastes.)

    “another half day in Zagreb”

    Have you already booked your flights? If not, try to fly open jaw. It might cost a bit more to fly out of (or into) Dubrovnik, but keep in mind the time and money you would spend on backtracking.

    “Are there problems with renting an auto in Slovenia (Ljubljana), driving to Italy (Trieste) and then on to Croatia”

    Digbydog has given you the answer to this question.

    "Had you considered visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park"

    I second Andrew’s recommendation to consider visiting the magnificent Plitvice Lakes National Park while in Croatia. This park is, IMO, the single most un-missable of Croatia's many splendors. Not only are the lakes connected by travertine waterfall formations, each lake has unique microbiota, and as a result, the lakes are different colors. The best way to see that is to make a single, long loop through the park -- something on the order of 6 hours or more (including time for the boat that connects the lower and upper lakes).

    “Zagreb? Some people do seem to love the town”

    I’m one of them! I wish I’d had more than the 2.5 days I gave it, and I was well past jet lag by the time I got there.


    Croatia and Slovenia are wonderful destinations – hope this helps!

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    As always, thanks for the great comments and advice. We are flexible and may include both Lake Bled and Plitvice Lakes in the itinerary. Right now we're there at least 17 and could be up to 20 days.

    I'd like to lock in our flights before too long, and that will have a big effect on the in-country itinerary.

    I did a quick check with AutoEurope about picking up in Ljubljana and dropping in Dubrovnik and they want to add a $500 drop off fee to the rental. A quick look at Kemwell indicates no huge drop-off fee. Any advice on car rental agencies will also be greatly appreciated.

    You've all given us a lot to work with. We do have Steves and Bradt guides. (We've used Steves all over Europe, but he seems unusually cranky about Croatia.)

    Thanks again.

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    I found the RS guide to the area woefully inadequate -- it didn't even mention any number of things that I considered highlights. I found the Rough Guides the best of the half dozen or so I used when planning my time there.

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    I've found the Rick Steves Croatia and Slovenia book indispensably on my three trips to the region. I highly recommend it. It's not that I agree with him on everything, but I like that he is subjective and also gives practical advice. I have consulted other books as well to fill in gaps for places Rick Steves doesn't cover (because he doesn't attempt to cover everything), but I don't expect one single guidebook to suffice for a trip.

    I used EconomyCarRentals (a competitor to Kemwel) to rent a car in Croatia in May. I got a car through Oryx. Note that to take the car out of the European Union, you have to pay a fee for a cross-border card. Technically, if you drive from Split to Dubrovnik you are driving through a small slice of Bosnia - the "Neum Corridor" - so you technically are leaving the EU. I think the crossing fee for Oryx was about 40 Euros after VAT. All the car companies charge varies fees; if you book through EconomyCarRentals, you can book the reservation first (give your credit card), see who the company is, see their policies, then cancel the reservation at no cost if you want to change or don't like the extra fees. You can contact the rental car companies directly and ask about their Neum corridor policies, too - some may not charge an extra fee for that.

    My rental was a one-way rental Rijeka to Zagreb. Oryx charged no one-way drop fee for that.

    FYI, prices varied over time with EconomyCarRentals. If you check the rates again every now and then, even closer to arrival, you may find prices significantly lower. You can cancel and rebook with all of these agencies up to 48 hours before picking up the car, I believe. I doubt I would book a car this far in advance for next May.

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    Thanks, Andrew. I wouldn't book this early, but I wanted to see if I'd run into problems with age (I'll be 74 by next May) and drop-off fees so large as to affect the itinerary. I went to Kayak and they linked to CarRentals to Thrifty. A reasonable price, no apparent age restrictions, and no fee for pick-up in Zagreb and drop in Dubrovnik. I'll check back much closer to May.

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