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Seeking thoughts on a trip to Croatia

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My wife and I are planning a trip to Croatia, Slovenia and maybe Bosnia/Herzegovina leaving Minneapolis on Sept 30, 2013, coming home on Oct 16 (maybe flying into Zagreb). We are just at the beginning our research and we are hoping to get a little advice about areas to concentrate on. We are not at all into resorts, we are moderately budget conscious (want to enjoy ourselves but we’re not rich), pretty adventurous, love reasonably rugged hiking in beautiful areas, exploring small villages and to a lesser extent seeing the sights of larger cities. We like to be spontaneous, so we are open to renting a car for all or part of the trip. We are comfortable with not having a rigid itinerary, and prefer to have some flexibility to decide where we want to go, exploring to find nice places to eat and sleep. That said, we like to have the basics of a plan to be sure we are not just floundering around and wasting valuable time. Also, we like to go about things at a relaxed pace. We don’t want to be rushed. Can anyone make any recommendations from the general (such as regions to concentrate on) to the specific (such as best car rental companies, great hotels, neat small towns, etc)? Thanks so much in advance.

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    Do spend time on the islands and look out for the Roman/Venetian port cities, so Dubrovnik, Trogir, Split and the palace are musts. I like Bol, but others like Hvar or Korcula

    Further north lake Bled is a wonderful place to visit, so pretty with good hiking around.

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    You can read my trip reports from 2011 (Slovenia) and 2009 (mostly Croatia) which also includes links to lots of pictures.

    Also, I encourage you to read all the recent past posts about Slovenia and Croatia in this forum; select for these countries using "View by country" at the top of the page and you'll see only posts for those countries. There have been a number of recent questions similar to yours about Croatia and Slovenia.

    If you want to see Dubrovnik and Slovenia, too, I might suggest starting in Dubrovnik, renting a car, driving north up to Slovenia and back over the Zagreb and drop the car there. You don't have to have a car in Slovenia and Croatia, but a car would help a lot. There isn't much of a train system in Croatia but there is a good bus system in both countries.

    Croatia Air has reasonable one-way fares between Zagreb and Dubrovnik if you want to round trip to/from there and you can't cheaply fly into Dubrovnik easily from Minneapolis. You'll want to pick up and drop the car in the same country, probably Croatia, to avoid a steep drop-off charge.

    I also suggest starting on the Dalmatian Coast (Dubrovnik etc.) as early as possible because the vacation season kind of ends in early to mid October (give or a take a few weeks depending on how the weather is). Early October - when I was there - isn't an awful time to be there, but there are fewer warm-weather options for tours and seasonal ferries. By mid-October when I made it to Korcula, the weather had cooled and Korcula Town seemed like it was ready to close for the year.

    Here's a rough itinerary suggestion:

    Dubrovnik (2 nights) (no car needed)
    Rent a car, drive:
    Mostar (1 night)
    Korcula or Hvar (2 nights) (islands/by ferry)
    Split/Trogir (1 night)
    Rovinj/Istria (2 nights)
    Lake Bled/Lake Bohinj (3 nights)
    (including Triglav National Park (possible day drive over Vrsic Pass/Julian Alps)
    Ljubljana (2 nights)
    Plitvice Lakes National Park (1 night)
    Zagreb (1 night)

    You might have another night there - you could add a night to Split (not my preference) day trip down to Montenegro from Dubrovnik (so add a night in Dubrovnik maybe), head up to Sarajevo instead of just Mostar, add another island, add a night in Piran, Slovenia (nice coastal town), add a night in eastern Slovenia in Ptuj or Maribor, or add a night in Zagreb or nearby (Sambor?) at the end. You could probably move Plitvice Lakes to be before Rovinj as well, not sure if that's more or less efficient. I didn't visit Rovinj and saw most of the rest of these places in two different trips.

    I highly recommend the Rick Steves Slovenia/Croatia book for planning.

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