Dalmatian Coast Trip Report May 2018

Aug 24th, 2018, 02:32 PM
  #1  
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Dalmatian Coast Trip Report May 2018

As always with my trip reports I try to answer the questions that I (and most other people) have about a destination rather than give a day by day recital of what we did and what we ate.
Here's PART ONE: SPLIT. I will try to finish this TR soon, including time relaxing on Brac Island, the drive to Dubrovnik through Mostar and Ston, and our final days in Dubrovnik.

About us: Well-traveled, senior couple with no mobility issues. We are neither budget nor luxury travelers, although this trip we did stay at the semi-luxurious Hotel Lemongarden in Sutivan on the Island of Brac. We also chose to have private drivers rather than renting a car for this particular trip. While it was more expensive, it did work out well. While we had a great time in Croatia I would still recommend it for those who have been to many other places in Europe. And it’s definitely not “off the beaten path” anymore. Tourists – in droves – are there from all over the world, with Game of Thrones having apparently increased its popularity. The Balkans War (called Homeland War in Croatia) provides an interesting overlay to any trip to this region. Having private drivers also gave us the opportunity to learn about varying experiences about the war and get opinions across the political spectrum.

When to go: Croatia had perfect weather end of May/early June. I’m sure fall would be lovely, too. I wouldn’t want to be there in mid-summer unless plans are for more swimming, water sports and island hopping only and less sightseeing.

Air and Ferries: This is an important step in the pre-planning process for Croatia. Open jaw tickets are highly recommended. Those exploring the entire coast can fly into Zagreb and out of Dubrovnik or vv. For the Dalamatian Coast I suggest flying into Split and out of Dubrovnik or vv. Coming from the US there are limited options. We used United award miles from Los Angeles on Austrian Air connecting in Vienna for Split outbound and with Dubrovnik having very limited options we had a long layover in Frankfurt on the way home. Definitely check ferry/catamaran schedules before planning your trip, which is sometimes complicated by seasonal schedules not being available during the planning phase. “Shoulder” seasons have fewer ferries/catamarans than summer. Check Jadrolinija, the state-run ferry site, as well as any other companies that have the route in which you are interested. Our island decisions were based on these schedules and it’s even more important if you have a car since those only go on ferries, not catamarans. OTOH, it seems that walk-on passengers are limited on catamarans, but unlimited on ferries. Ask the experts on TA if you are unclear – as many travelers to Croatia are. Also check to be sure that the ferry or catamaran goes to the particular town on the island. For example, from Split we wanted to visit Hvar Town, which is served by catamaran. If we wanted to take a car I think we would have had to go to Stari Grad. And we used the land option from Split to Dubrovnik because the ferry times from Split via the islands to Dubrovnik were very early in the morning and from the opposite end of the island where we were staying! That said, the ferries and catamarans we used were on-time, clean and even I didn’t get seasick.

Itinerary: We chose to concentrate on the Dalmatian Coast, with a priority being as few hotel stops as possible. We accomplished this by spending 5 nights in Split (and doing day trips from there) 4 nights on the island of Brac for R&R, and 4 nights in Dubrovnik with some excursions planned. I would have loved to include Istria and Plitvice National Park but we didn’t want to add more hotel stays.

Pre-planning: While others don’t like him, we like Rick Steves and his Croatia guidebook did have some good parts. However, it is not very exhaustive and didn’t include Kotor where we thought we would end up for a day trip from Dubrovnik. I copied the relevant passages from the library. The Rough Guide was the most comprehensive, but I didn’t use it so much. Reading TR’s on Fodors and TA and asking questions on both forums elicited the best input. My husband read up on the region’s history with particular emphasis on the Balkans War of the 1990’s and I read “Girl at War,” a novel about this tumultuous time.

Split hotel: Pre-booked Hotel Marul directly. It’s a solid 3-star choice with an excellent location about 5 minutes’ walk from Diocletian’s Palace. We had a superior room with 2 balconies (room 7) that was quiet and fit our needs very well. Breakfasts were lovely with a view of the outdoor garden. Communication was excellent prior to arrival and they would have set up anything we needed including day trips with the hotel driver, Simon. We only used Simon for our complimentary ride to the ferry at the end of our stay and he was wonderful, so I would absolutely recommend the hotel and his services. Note: There’s a drop off laundry less than a 5-minute walk from the hotel, the opposite direction of the tourist area. We had 4 days’ worth of laundry done for 10 euro.

Split day trips and touring: We chose to use Split Day Tours/Croatia Shuttle for drivers for our airport pick up and two day trips. Ivan, the owner, responds to email quickly and efficiently and can answer all questions and make arrangements for you. Both companies are owned by him and get excellent TA reviews. For our transfer to Dubrovnik via Mostar we used a wonderful driver/guide: Andrej Sartori, [email protected]. Andrej can be booked directly and is extremely knowledgeable and great company.

What we did in Split: Diocletian’s Palace is amazing as is the entire historic district of Split. The Palace and Split seem to me to be under-rated. We had a particular interest in the Jewish history so we took an excellent walking tour with Lea Altarac www.jewishtoursplit.com that included the general historical sights as well as the former Jewish ghetto and synagogue, which just happens to be the second oldest continuously operated synagogue – either in Europe or the world – with about 100 members. Meeting her dad at the synagogue, board member Albert, was a highlight along with learning about this community that dates back to Roman times. Most of the community perished in the Holocaust (there’s a memorial with all 116 names). Lea would be a great tour guide for anyone. We also visited the Old Jewish Cemetery on Marjan Hill, which happens to be adjacent to a beautiful lookout point and restaurant. We then walked to see the Galerija Mestrovic (Croatia’s famous sculptor) and, while others really appreciated it, we found it a very long walk without a lot of return. We uber’d back to the Palace area.

While we took a private tour, I do suggest even a group tour of the Palace for full explanation. Otherwise it’s hard to know what you’re seeing and very easy to get lost. It’s not a “palace” as you think of with an admission ticket – it’s part of the historic district and includes shops, galleries, restaurants and hotels and you can’t always tell when you’re in it or not! The palace basement – which does require admission – is very interesting and the commentary provided by our guide helped us understand it. But the entire district – which is geographically very small -- is just lovely to walk around.

Eating in Split: No lack of restaurants along the sea or around the palace and many are very busy. We had a memorable dinner at Villa Spiza on one of the little lanes (no reservations). Top restaurants require reservations in season.

Day trips from Split: Consistent with our desire not to change hotels, we took two day trips with private driver: one to Trogir, Krka National Park and wine tasting at Winery Rak and one to Zadar with a brief stop at Sibenic and at the coastal town of Primosten. We were on a very leisurely schedule and for others I might recommend making a full day of visiting Krka National Park and then up to Zadar. We are in the minority and did not find Trogir charming. We must have missed something! We found it one big tourist area without particular charm, although in a beautiful seaside setting. Sibenic seemed a bit more interesting, but most people just go there for the famous church which we viewed from the outside. We LOVED our visit to Winery Rak, a family-owned winery that serves great food and is very generous with their wine-tasting. Check out reviews on TA; it’s not well known. Krka National Park is absolutely beautiful (as everyone says) and we enjoyed spending about 2 hours walking along the boardwalk in the main part of the park. (Note: Every public bathroom in Croatia was immaculate, even at the national park!) There are other areas of the park which could take a full day.

Zadar is yet another walled medieval city, but has the special charms of the sea organ and the sunsets. We timed it to be there for the 6 p.m. Zadar Walking Tour, followed by pre-booked dinner on the patio of Bruschetta (excellent food) so we could walk a few steps to see the famous Zadar sunset, followed by enjoying a few minutes of the sea organ. It was a late evening returning to Split after 11 p.m. Others may enjoy an overnight in Zadar where there are several museums we didn’t get a chance to see.

All of these day trips can easily be done from Split by rental car and all the roads are good. Also, if going up or down the coast some of them could be stops along the way. And Trogir is often done as a half-day trip by bus or boat from Split.

Our final day was spent with an afternoon catamaran journey to Hvar Town on the island of Hvar. The 2 p.m. catamaran worked for us going, with a 7:15 p.m. return on two different companies’ boats. This gave us just enough time to wander Hvar Town a bit, take the strenuous but oh-so-worth-it walk up to the fortress and enjoy one of the most beautiful views in the world of Hvar Town harbor, and have an early dinner.

Just about every night in Split ended with truly excellent ice cream at Luka’s, around the corner from our hotel.
Still to come: Hotel Lemongarden in Sutivan, Brac Island and Dubrovnik.
alison is offline  
Aug 24th, 2018, 04:05 PM
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Hi Alison,
Thank you so much for writing your trip report. I appreciate all the details, impressions, and logistical information. I am in the process of planning our trip to Croatia and Slovenia for next spring. Our trip will be the last week of April and first week of May. I hope it is not too early in the spring to have nice weather like you had. We will be coming from southern France, where we are visiting our daughter and her family for two weeks in April, and those dates are not flexible due to family commitments. My current plan is to stay in Zadar, Plitvice Lakes NP, Split, Dubrovnik and Ljubljana. (We have not made any reservations yet.) I am happy to hear you like Zadar and Split, and I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say about Brac and Dubrovnik. We do plan on renting a car. My husband doesn't mind driving. A private driver would be nice, but I think it's out of our budget. The only drawback to renting a car is finding hotels that have parking.

I have posted my itinerary to get people's opinions. If you have the time, I would appreciate it very much if you could read my post and let me know your thoughts. Thanks!
KarenWoo is offline  
Aug 24th, 2018, 10:20 PM
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@karenwoo of course happy to make comments on your itinerary thread. Just as soon as I’m on a computer instead of my phone! With quick look your itinerary looks good. And starting in Zadar from a cheap flight from France should work out well. More soon.
alison is offline  
Aug 24th, 2018, 11:37 PM
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That's so cool you got to meet Andrej. I love that guy. You are right he is great company. A faster driver you will never meet.
rialtogrl is offline  
Aug 26th, 2018, 02:45 AM
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Alison—we have time for a short stop in either Sibenik or Primosten. Which did you prefer?
Digbydog is offline  
Aug 26th, 2018, 07:38 AM
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@digbydog completely different stops! Primosten tiny village with a lovely walk up to the church with a view. We spent about an hour there having a picnic lunch and enjoying the view. Sibenik was an even briefer stop. We didn’t go inside the church or climb the fortress, but much more to do there. Obviously not an expert on either stop, but we would have liked a bit more time to explore Sibenik.
alison is offline  
Aug 27th, 2018, 01:57 AM
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Thanks Alison! We have decided to wait until that day to decide which we feel like visiting. I am a planner, so not my usual M.O. ��
Digbydog is offline  
Aug 27th, 2018, 08:44 AM
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Alison, just curious, how long was your layover in Frankfurt? I've noticed, too, during my research that flights from Croatia back to the U.S. are not convenient, and being flexible with dates (which we are to a limited degree) is helpful.

Do you mind if I ask what the costs of the private drivers are? I might have asked you this question on a different thread, but I neglected to write down your answer, and now I have no idea which thread it was. Depending on cost, I might consider hiring a private driver for 1 or 2 scenic drives. Thank you!
KarenWoo is offline  
Aug 28th, 2018, 05:37 AM
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@karenwoo Our layover in Frankfurt, as I recall, was 4.5 hours. There were not a lot of options from Dubrovnik to LAX.
Depending on distance, the day trips with private driver were from about 160 to 200 euros. The transfer from Split to Dubrovnik via Mostar was 250 euros. Plus tips.
alison is offline  
Aug 29th, 2018, 07:33 PM
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Originally Posted by alison View Post
@karenwoo Our layover in Frankfurt, as I recall, was 4.5 hours. There were not a lot of options from Dubrovnik to LAX.
Depending on distance, the day trips with private driver were from about 160 to 200 euros. The transfer from Split to Dubrovnik via Mostar was 250 euros. Plus tips.
Thank you!
KarenWoo is offline  
Oct 29th, 2018, 02:18 PM
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You should also check flights to Pula and explore beautifull Rovinj.
istrian is offline  
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