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Croatia + Slovenia in 2 weeks

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May 6th, 2014, 12:01 PM
  #1
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Croatia + Slovenia in 2 weeks

We are a couple with an 18 month old baby off for 2 weeks in July.
Was thinking we could fly into Split (from reading it appeals to me more than Dubrovnik), spend 2 nights there, then go to an island for 4-5 nights, make our way to Zagreb (either drive or bus), 1-2 nights in Zagreb, train to Ljubljana, spend the rest of the time there and make some trips outside the city.

-Need a recommendation for an island. We are not looking to party, and not looking for isolation either. Just somewhere that has a decent mix of families, young couples, good restaurants, great beaches and not overly crowded. Was thinking Brac, Hvar or Vis.
-I'm worried about drive from Split to Zagreb, I drive only automatic, mostly worried about crazy drivers, bad roads, bad signs. Also is doable to leave the island, take ferry, drive from Split to Zagreb in the same day? Is it worth stopping anywhere along the way to spend a night?
-How is the bus from Split to Zagreb? Is it comfortable, safe, toilets? I wouldn't even think about it if I was single, but the baby changes things.
In Ljubljana, assuming a good trip is Lake Bled. Is this better as a day trip or for a few days? Better to drive or take a bus/train?
-Would rather not move around too much, 4 places max as packing/unpacking with a toddler can be tough
-Would like time on the beach
Nice to have some nature (lakes, mountains, etc.), light walks/hiking in addition to city
-Been many places but never to Eastern Europe

Just looking for rough ideas/itineraries right now - thoughts?
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May 6th, 2014, 12:32 PM
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I would avoid Hvar town in July, but Stari Grad is an option. Vis is my favorite island, but you would want to rent a car at least one day (you can do this on the island to avoid having to take one on the ferry). I have heard great things about Milna on Brac (note there is a Milna on Hvar as well), but I am unfamiliar with its beaches, so you might look into that. I would also avoid Bol (Brac) in July. Out of left field, but there is another small island off Split, Solta. If I was looking for ease and traveling with a small child, I might consider there. (see http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/...y-2016739.html)
A highly recommended stop between Split and Zagreand mid-point to boot) is Plitvice national park. I am devoted to public transport, but I just can't say with a child. On the longer bus trips (about 4 hours), they stop for a bathroom break. The drive from Split to Plitvice and then Zagreb are both pretty simple, but I don't know about automatic availability.
As things become clearer as to your preferences, feel free to ask more.
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May 6th, 2014, 12:59 PM
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Another vote for Plitvice Lakes. Try to stay overnight, so you can get a day to visit the park.

We drove in both Slovenia and Croatia, and we only drive automatic. Roads were good and well marked, drivers polite, we had no issues. You need a vignette in Slovenia, but it gives you a lot of flexibility.
Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge are both very nice if you have time. People are wonderful in both countries, you will love it.
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May 6th, 2014, 01:01 PM
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I was a little disappointed in Split, after reading raves about how it was some sort of cosmopolitan, untouristed gem in contrast to the ultra-touristy Dubrovnik. I saw both. Split just wasn't that interesting to me - not awful but not someplace I would want to return to. I didn't necessarily care for Dubrovnik that much either but I am very glad I went - as a photographer the place was outstanding and unique. I would have regretted not visiting Dubrovnik. Split I would not have regretted missing or not that much.

Be aware that the beaches in Croatia are not necessarily fine sand - they are generally pretty rocky.

I concur about Plitvice Lakes National Park: definitely one of the most unique and beautiful places I have been in Europe. I did have a car, though, which made getting there easier.

There is a train between Split and Zagreb, if you choose to skip Plitvice. If you stop in Plitvice by bus, you can't take the train, though; Plitvice isn't on the train line.

I'm not sure where you have gotten the impression that the roads are so awful in Croatia. I found driving there very easy and fun. True, the default rental car is a manual shift, but you can try to reserve an automatic - see how much it costs. I didn't have a GPS, just a big map that I never really used. Roads are well marked, and the road between Zagreb and Split is a big modern freeway, probably nicer than most interstate highways in the US. The roads to/from Plitvice are not big freeways but are still modern and easy to drive. Of course, if you are not stopping at Plitvice then there's no point in getting a car vs. taking the train between Split and Zagreb.

I loved Ljubljana - really pretty town, especially at night. Beautiful architecture. Lake Bled is really beautiful, too, but (having spent the night both there and in Ljubljana), I didn't care much for the town of Bled itself. I'd much prefer Ljubljana at night. Bled does make a convenient base for exploring the area, however, but if you're only going to see the lake, just do it as a day trip from Ljubljana.

You can read my trip reports about Slovenia (2011) and Croatia (2009) by clicking on my name (lots of pictures linked too).
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May 7th, 2014, 11:10 AM
  #5
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So it sounds like we should certainly drive from Split/Dubrovnik via Plitvice lake, staying a night there, train to Slovenia and spend 3-4 days there in Ljubljana, Lake Bled, etc.
Split and Dubrovnik both sound nice enough to visit, so my choice would come down to which island to visit. I didn't realize that beaches in Croatia are not soft sand but pebbles - given I have a baby with me - which island might be best? We would prefer to rent an apartment or small village on/near the beach but would be open to hotels also. Again, not looking to be in a party atmosphere, but not isolated either. Just low key, relaxed, good food. Cheers.
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May 7th, 2014, 12:00 PM
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There used to be a fabulous website called croatia-beaches, but for some reason it is down lately, which is a real bummer.
Anyway, there are rock beaches and pebble beaches. Rock (aka shelf) beaches not so family-friendly, being solid rock, but pebble beaches are great. They are smooth pebbles. The main ones are pretty much cleared of sea urchins, so no need for water shoes (these are sold everywhere) unless you have super tender feet. On a remote beach, I use water shoes.
I can't answer where because it is nearly anywhere--I would just google until a place grabs you. On each town/island's tourist office website, they usually profile the beaches, so that may be another good resource.
The famous Zlatni rat beach in Bol, Brac, is super child friendly, but it will be so packed in July I cannot really recommend it.
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May 7th, 2014, 12:22 PM
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Pretty much any appealing, easy-to-access island in Croatia is likely to be busy in July.

The only island I visited was Korcula, but that was in mid-October at the very end of the season when the place was pretty dead. Korcula was nice - I imagine it would be fun in the summer. But Korcula might not make sense for you unless you are also going to Dubrovnik.

If you mean drive to Plitvice, then drive to Zagreb and drop the car, then yes you could train from there to Ljubljana (several direct trains a day).

You probably don't need 3-4 nights in Ljubljana without a car. It's a nice town, a favorite of mine, but it's not that big and there's not a whole lot to see there. With a car you can easily do day trips e.g. to Lake Bled, and I found the scenic drive between the town of Škofja Loka and Bled very rewarding (plus Škofja Loka is an interesting little town to explore). You can still get to Bled without a car, but getting to lots of other places may be tiresome taking the bus everywhere, especially with a baby. You might rent another car in Ljubljana if you want to see more of say Triglav National Park, Lake Bohinj, etc. Or just limit your time in Ljubljana to seeing the city and doing a day trip up to Lake Bled, without a car, and spending most of your time in Croatia.
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May 7th, 2014, 12:54 PM
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I'd rather be at or near a good sandy beach with swimmable water, even if it means sharing it with many others. I can't imagine it being that crowded, specially compared to other parts of Southern Europe. With a baby, a nice beach would be great even if a little crowded. So which island could work for us? Korcula? Hvar? Brac? Vis? Or somewhere else? At this point I am leaning towards Dubrovnik instead of Split.
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May 7th, 2014, 01:05 PM
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Sandy means not near Split or Dubrovnik is the problem. If you google "sandy beach Croatia" you'll get numerous top ten lists. The area north of Zadar has sandy beaches.
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May 7th, 2014, 01:55 PM
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Also near Bled…Vintgar Gorge.

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May 8th, 2014, 09:12 PM
  #11
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So far what I've come up with:

1 night in Split, ferry next morning
3-4 nights in Hvar or Brac (Bol)
1 night in Split, bus to Dubrovnik
2 nights in Dubrovnik, pick up car
1 night in Plitvice
1 night in Zagreb, drop of car, take train to Ljubljana
4 nights in Ljubljana, Lake Bled (base), Vintgar Gorge, Triglav Park with car

I need to figure out if the detour to Dubrovnik is worth it, and also which island to visit. Any recommendations for which island has better sand beaches that are fun/safe for toddlers (would like to stay on the beach), good food and relaxed restaurants?
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May 8th, 2014, 09:29 PM
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With the limited time you have, I question whether it makes sense to backtrack from Split to Dubrovnik back to Split as well. I wouldn't split Split into two nights. (Sorry.) That seems like a wasted night.

Isn't it possible to get from Hvar directly to Dubrovnik? (No ferry service in July?) Or fly into Dubrovnik to start? (Already booked the flight to Split?)

As an alternative to Dubrovnik, you could add Rovinj, I guess, which I've not yet visited but I hear great things about. So fly into Split, do your island, then back to Split, rent the car same day and drive off toward Rovinj and Plitvice, drop car in Zagreb, etc.
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May 9th, 2014, 04:49 AM
  #13
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Yes I can fly into Dubrovnik. But that still leaves the issue of getting to Hvar and then Split, which is all do-able but involves too much traveling, specially with a toddler. So I think its best to skip Dubrovnik, and take it easy. Is Dubrovnik a once in lifetime place? Honestly it seems like a picturesque town, but there are numerous such places littered all over Europe and the world that I've been to and while I enjoy them, I'd rather take it easy on this trip. Another issue is that car would be ideal for getting from Split to Dubrovnik and then continue up North, but seems like cars are not favourable in Dubrovnik so we'd have to travel by bus (inconvenient with baby) and then rent a car there. I think we'd rather rent a car in Split and make some stops along the way in Plitvice, anything interesting in Bosnia Herzegovina?
Check out the youtube commercial for Rovinj!! Does not make me want to go. We might visit Piran in Slovenia, another coastal town.
I'm still deciding on the island between Brac and Hvar - any suggestions for beaches?
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May 9th, 2014, 01:23 PM
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I'm still not sure I understand the problem with extra travel: fly into Dubrovnik, ferry to an island, ferry to Split, pick up a car. If you chose Korcula as your island, you could fly into Dubrovnik, rent a car as you are leaving the city, then drive to Korcula (via car ferry across Orebic) and then back to the mainland afterward.

Mostar is the most common tourist stop in Bosnia and Herzegovina, because Mostar is not much of a detour between Split and Dubrovnik, an easy drive. Mostar is an interesting town (nice in parts, was still rebuilding when I visited in 2009), not very big, easy to see in a long afternoon. Many find an evening there more rewarding than just a day trip because then the tourist groups are gone. And Mostar is a nice contrast to the rest of your destinations in Croatia and Slovenia.

I don't think almost anything on your agenda is really a "must see" except perhaps Plitvice Lakes, which is truly unique. Whether you would really love Dubrovnik is a personal preference thing. Some people think it is amazing; others find it a pleasant but forgettable tourist trap. If you don't want to go, don't push yourself to go - just enjoy your vacation whatever you choose to do.

I haven't been to Rovinj so I can't make any statement about how nice it is, but I have heard numerous people rave about it (and the Istria countryside). Have you read any of the Croatia trip reports here? If not, you should (not just to get an opinion about Rovinj).

I HAVE been to Piran, and it is a beautiful town, a real gem, but it's very small.
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May 9th, 2014, 03:06 PM
  #15
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If I want to visit Bol on Brac, I thought I could not take a ferry from Dubrovnik, I had to take it from Split. Like I said, I'm really trying to minimize the amount of traveling time since we will have a baby and we just want to relax. So I'm just trying to pick a few notable spots to create a varied but relaxing trip - some time on the beach, some time in nature/mountains/hiking/lakes and some time in cities/cafes/restaurants/architecture.
So this is how my trip is shaping up:
14 nights total - 9 in Croatia and 5 in Slovenia. We can go for more/less nights as flights not booked!
1 night in Split as we arrive in the afternoon/evening after 12 hour flight, ferry next morning
4 nights in Hvar or Brac (Bol) - thinking Zlani Rat is the beach we go to
1 night in Split, pick up car, visit somewhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina just out of curiosity
1-2 nights in Plitvice depending on how much we can see during the day?
1 night in Zagreb, drop of car, take train to Ljubljana
5 nights in Slovenia - Ljubljana, Lake Bled (base), Vintgar Gorge, Triglav Park, Piran with car - probably base ourselves out of Ljubljana or Bled
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