Croatia/Plitvice question

Old Mar 20th, 2014, 07:32 AM
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Croatia/Plitvice question

I will be traveling with my mother to Croatia and Italy in early May. We are flying in midday to Zagreb (from US). Our main goal on this leg or the trip is visiting Plitvice Lakes. Originally I had booked a night in Zagreb and intended to rent a car the next morning to drive to the national park. We will overnight in/near Plitvice, then continue to Rovinj, overnight there and take the early AM ferry to Venice (I have checked the ferry schedule, it's why we have so little total time in Croatia).

My question is, given our short time in the country and wanting primarily to see the park, would it be a better idea to rent a car upon arrival to drive straight to the park area (spending two nights instead of one)? Will driving in Croatia be difficult to navigate? I have driven in Italy and Belgium before. Are the crowds so bad that it will be worth driving while jet lagged to be able to get a jump on them in the AM? Of course, this means we wouldn't get to see Zagreb at all but we would have more than a full day at the park.

Also would it be better to plan to take our time driving from Plitvice to Rovinj to see the countryside or try to get to Rovinj earlier and see the town more? What is the best driving route for scenery? I wish we had an extra day to spend but our schedule just doesn't allow it.

Thanks!
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Old Mar 20th, 2014, 08:13 AM
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I drove from Zagreb to Plitvice (about 2 hours) and found it very easy. Some of it is on a modern freeway. I didn't drive to Istria at all, but I imagine it is not difficult.

Your question is as much about travel style as about logistics. Are you the type of person who is able to go rent a car and drive a few hours in a foreign country on your arrival day after a long flight? I try to make my arrival day as uncomplicated as possible (stay up til local bedtime), but you may be different. Exploring Zagreb that first day (even though it wasn't my favorite city) and driving to Plitvice first thing the next morning, as you've already planned, would be my preference. And Zagreb has lots of stores and restaurant choices, etc. The Plitvice area has a tiny town or two nearby with restaurants (or you can eat at one of the bland park hotels), but Zagreb is going to have a lot more easy options for tired, jet-lagged travelers.

Yes, it would be better to start early in the morning at Plitvice and beat the crowds, but how early will you be getting up after that first night in Europe anyway? By 11am, maybe earlier, the tour groups will already be there. How many hours before that will you be out there?

I explored Plitvice over two days: a Sunday afternoon and a Monday morning. Yes, in the morning the park was almost completely empty. I'm a photographer and getting clean shots without groups of tourists around the waterfalls etc. was a challenge on Sunday, so the morning was much more pleasant. On the other hand, it's a huge park, and I still would have enjoyed it a lot even if I'd only had Sunday. And you'll have long days in May - I don't recall how late the park infrastructure (buses, boats) runs but the tour groups may not stay that late.
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Old Mar 20th, 2014, 08:53 AM
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Thanks so much for your insights Andrew!
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Old Mar 20th, 2014, 04:19 PM
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The problem with trying to drive while jet lagged is that one doesn't necessarily realize how dysfunctional one is, and it just takes a micro-sleep to lose control, so I think you would be much wiser to spend the night in Zagreb. Too, I actually got terribly lost within a few miles of where I was staying in the Plitvice Lakes area -- it took me well over an hour in the dark to find the right place, and even then I was only able to manage it because a kind person agreed to lead me to it. (I wasn't coming from Zagreb and didn't have GPS, so you might have no trouble whatsoever -- its just an example of another reason to wait.)

And, as Andrew noted, Zagreb has some great restaurants and cafes, so I don't think you will regret spending an evening there. I really enjoyed Zagreb, which has some good museums, a lovely botanical garden, etc.; you might even have time to visit one or two things the afternoon of your arrival.

I suspect that how important it is to get to the (magnificent!) Plitvice Lakes early depends on the season. My experience -- I was there in early June -- was that most people were battling to get there earlier than everyone else. So I waited until about 10:00 a.m., and I faced very few crowds. Sometime during my first hour in the park, the last of several tour groups caught up and then passed me, and after that, I encountered relatively few people. Sometimes there were a few others, but there were many parts where I was alone or among just a few others. Lovely! YMMV.

"would it be better to plan to take our time driving from Plitvice to Rovinj to see the countryside or try to get to Rovinj earlier and see the town more?" -- Others might disagree, but I think taking the time for a leisurely drive through Istria makes sense, because there really isn't that much to see in Rovinj. Rovinj has great charm and its a great place to walk around or to sit with your chosen beverage and either some lovely views or people watching. And as long as you have a few hours there to walk around before sunset (which you might want to watch from the cathedral), you really won't be missing much. Some of the hill towns of Istria are quite lovely and IMO well worth visiting.

Hope that helps!
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Old Mar 21st, 2014, 01:33 PM
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The direct Rovinj - Venice bus (Brioni) is daily and not only 3times weekly (in May) like the Venezialines catamaran.
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Old Mar 21st, 2014, 02:21 PM
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-The direct Rovinj - Venice bus (Brioni) is daily and not only 3times weekly (in May) like the Venezialines catamaran.-

Daily except Sunday. On the plus side it is waaaay cheaper than the ferry. But it leaves even at more gawdawful an hour (5:40 am.)
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Old Mar 22nd, 2014, 08:37 AM
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If you want to leave Rovinj later in the day, you have to change from bus to train at Trieste:
Rovinj dp 7.40 - Trieste 10.00/12.15 - Venice ar 14.24, except Sunday
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Old Mar 22nd, 2014, 08:52 AM
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jet lag can suck.
your flight will be at least 8.5 hours, plus all the time spent at the airport waiting.
stay the first night in zagreb, then go to plitvice the next day.

there is no quick way to get to rovinj from plitvice. if you go back to the motorway, you'll have to drive to Bosiljevo (near karlovac), then head west towards rijeka...that may take as long as leaving plitvice on hwy 52 towards otocac, then to senj, then on the "magistrala" (highway 8) towards rijeka.
the highway leaves rijeka towards Opatija (hwy 66)...take it to pula, then to rovinj. the second way is better, imo, for seeing the countryside.
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Old Mar 29th, 2014, 09:50 AM
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Just wanted to say thank you for all the helpful advice. I think we will stick with the overnight in Zagreb and take the more meandering drive to Rovinj that apscoridales outlined.
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Old Mar 29th, 2014, 10:15 AM
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My recollection of the stretch of road around Rijeka / Opatija was that it was a nightmare around rush hour. Time your travel accordingly!
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