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Seeking Croatia/Slovenia planning assistance

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Nov 20th, 2015, 04:11 PM
  #1
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Seeking Croatia/Slovenia planning assistance

My family is traveling to Croatia and Slovenia mid-April 2016 for 24 days and were hoping for some helpful advice from fellow Fodorites.

Here is a bit about our travel style in case it helps you help us.
Balance is important to us:
1. sleeping nights (some one nighters, two nighters, longer),
2. pace (we vary it along the trip)
3. sights (UNESCO, well known and lesser known sights),
4. towns (a mix of tiny, midsize, and larger),
5. accommodations (B&B’s, local accommodations, self-catering),
We prefer to drive than use public transport unless public transport saves time. We prefer studying history, architecture (the name doesn’t lie - 1,200 castles to date), culture, things that make a place unique, being on our own or on a private tour, art, and good home-style food and don’t care for beaches (except exceptional can’t-miss types – beaches are available where I live), shopping, groups, clubbing, nightlife, or gourmet food.

Value is important, but we will splurge to experience a phenomenal sight or experience or stay in a historic place. Our budget is dependent on the cost of a particular place (Florence vs. Lucca, for example) – we’ll spend more where it is required to have a clean, well-located (for walking the town after dinner) place, with comfortable beds, parking close-by or onsite and good wifi included (working during travel makes more of it possible for me.) We don’t seek luxury.

After ten years of crossing the pond to explore, we are still in the “excitedly seeing as much as possible during our limited first visit to a country overseas” phase. We think we’ll slow down eventually when revisiting places; but, for now, please keep in mind that our pace is faster than some here prefer, and we enjoy it. I also plan ahead. A great deal (part of the joy of anticipating the trip.) In the future I might experience spontaneity, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Here is our planned itinerary:
We arrive in Dubrovnik on 4/19
Dubrovnik – 4 nights – planning a daytrip to Perast and Bay of Kotor
Mostar – one night (spending 2/3 of two days there)
Korkula – 2 nights (having trouble figuring out logistics of bringing our car onto Korkula and off again headed to Split efficiently)
Split – 2 nights – must be in Split at this time to take daughter to airport in Split
Trogir – 1 night
Zadar – 1 night
Plitvice – 1 night
Rovinj – 4 nights
Lake Bled – 2 nights
Ljubljana – 2 nights
Ptuj – 1 night
Zagreb – 2 nights

Here is what I am seeking:
I am using DK, RS, Lonely Planet and NG Traveler guidebooks along with every Croatia/Slovenia trip report (Thank you!!!) on Fodor’s site, and have a long list of things I’d like to see, but, keeping in mind my interests and willingness to go out of my way to see a castle, if there is a less publicized and extraordinary place you have discovered and loved, would you please share it?

Would you also please share great places you have stayed (in keeping with our criteria), any adjustments you might make to my plans based on your similar trip (some route worked better than another, etc.), whether some border crossings in/out of Slovenia will be more crowded or difficult than others considering current events, and how the ferry works to/from Korkula. I had wanted to fit Hvar in, but can’t see how that is possible and still make it to Split in time for my daughter’s flight. If you have an idea, I’d really appreciate it.

Thank you for your willingness to read this long post and provide your ever helpful advice.
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Nov 20th, 2015, 06:54 PM
  #2
kja
 
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OK, 1st and foremost, you should have a great trip!

A few comments:

Given your love of castles, have you looked at Tvrdalj in Stari Grad on Hvar? Its considered a castle, although I'd have described it as more of small Renaissance "mansion" than a castle, but it is charming and IMO, well worth seeing! When I was there (2009), hours were at the discretion of the owner, so I don't know how easily accessible it might be, especially since you'll be there off season....

Northern and northeastern Croatia have some "real" castles -- Veliki Tabor, Stari Grad in Varazdin, the castle in Cakovec.... All well worth seeing, IMO. If it helps, I visited Veliki Tabor en route and (unfortunately) at a time when it was closed for renovations -- but I was glad to see its exterior and the views from its hilltop perch. I spent just 1 night in Varazdin -- I got there just before dinner one night, visited parts of it the next morning, visited Cakovec during the early afternoon, returned to Varazdin to finish my explorations there, and then moved late in the day. A 2nd night in Varazdin, or a separate night in Cakovec, might make more sense, depending on what you want to see and experience.

Also, there's a ruined fortress in Sibenik that offers stunning views over the surrounding area, but not much to visit in and of itself -- I'm not sure it would be of interest. But the cathedral there is a Unesco WHS. You might be able to see a few sites there en route from Trogir to Zadar, but that might leave you with too little time in either of those locations.... Your call!

FWIW, I used a half-dozen guidebooks for my time in the area, which included all of these locations except Ptuj, and of them, the one I found most helpful BY FAR was the Rough Guide.

As for your itinerary:

Dubrovnik -- you might consider cutting one night. Even with a day trip to Kotor and some time to adjust to jet lag, 3 nights is probably enough.

Wait to rent a car until you need one! You really don't need a car until you head to the Plitvice Lakes and through your time in Rovinj. And you might consider flying out of Ljubljana so you can return your car in Zagreb, take the train to Ljubljana, and then -- when ready to leave that city -- pick up a different rental car for your time in Slovenia, returning it to the airport that is halfway between Bled and Ljubljana. Although that might sound complicated, it might actually be easier than negotiating cross-border transfers, ensuring that you have the "vignette" that is needed to drive in Slovenia, etc. It might even make traveling more convenient: Busses were, IME, comfortable, convenient, and frequent. Ferries that take cars were less frequent than ferries that didn't. Parking in some of these places is not necessarily easy. Frankly, having a car could be much more of an impediment than a convenience for many of these places. And the freedom to fully absorb the stunning scenery can be a real bonus!

Given the timing considerations involving your daughter, you might consider cutting a night from Dubrovnik, going from Dubrovnik to Korkula for just one night (there really isn't that much to do there), and spending some time in Split and Trogir (only 1/2 hour by bus from Split) before your daughter's departure. You can then go to Mostar and back from Split before heading north. Or, if Mostar is a priority for your daughter, fit a Split-to-Mostar-to-Split trip in before you explore Split and Trogir. Again, just an option!

I was glad to spend nights in both Trogir and Split; many people would hate adding an unnecessary move to an already move-heavy trip .. but it sounds like you are OK with that? If so, you might want to look at options for the Palacio Stafileo in Trogir -- not a castle, but an actual palace with a lovely courtyard and great service. It offers apartments, but aside from the absence of a breakfast room, it's much like any other accommodation and still seems to get some great reviews.

If my suggestions about additional places to see make sense to you, then you might need to pare something elsewhere, and if so, you might consider paring your time in Rovinj. Istria is lovely, but isn't known for its castles (the one in Pazin may be the exception, and I didn't have a chance to see it). Again, just a thought....

One last, and very important comment: April is off season for Croatia, and isn't even shoulder season for many areas. Do confirm that you can see / do what you want when you will actually be there!

Hope that helps!
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Nov 20th, 2015, 08:04 PM
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I agree with dropping at least one night from Dubrovnik. I would also drop the night in Mostar and see it on the way to spend two nights in Sarajevo. Sarajevo is much more interesting than Mostar, which is all about the bridge.

I loved Plitvice and was happy to give it two nights.
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Nov 20th, 2015, 08:15 PM
  #4
kja
 
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I rarely disagree with thursdaysd, but I'm going to do so on this occasion.

I found much more to Mostar than the bridge when I visited in 2009, and I thought it much more powerfully engaging and enchanting after daytrippers left.

I loved Sarajevo, but thought it worth more time than the OP can give it (at least 2, if not 3 days). And even if the OP finds the time for it, I'm not sure I would agree that "Sarajevo is much more interesting than Mostar" -- I think that depends too much on what one's interests are!

JMO.
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Nov 20th, 2015, 08:26 PM
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It would be worrying if we always agreed! Checking my blog it looks like I spent three nights in Mostar and I definitely ran out of things to do. The bridge was photogenic, the associated museum was interesting, the contrasts between he bombed out buildings and the renovated ones notable, and there was a very touristy shopping street. I think there may have been a house museum, and there were plenty of graves.

Of course it would be better to have more time for Sarajevo, but better to spend the time the OP has there than in Mostar, they seem to be fast travelers.
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Nov 20th, 2015, 09:38 PM
  #6
kja
 
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@ thursdaysd -- I agree -- occasional divergences between our views are inevitable!

Three nights in Mostar would have been 1 or 2 too many for me -- I thought 1 day (whether that means 2 nights with a day in between, or one night, with time before and after) about right. In addition to the things you mention, there are a couple of mosques that I enjoyed and there are, I believe, at least 3 house museums (although one might still be open only at the owner's discretion).
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Nov 20th, 2015, 11:11 PM
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There are a number of castles in Slovenia, though I can't claim to have been inside many of them. The little castle on the hill in Ljubljana is cute from afar from nothing amazing inside.

On the drive between Ljubljana and Bled, instead of taking the fast expressway, try to detour through the mountains via Kropa and Drazgose through the beautiful little town of Skofja Loka - the drive between Bled and Skofja Loka offers gorgeous scenic views. However, the roads are narrow, and I drove them in September. I am not certain the roads will be completely clear of snow by April but I'd guess probably.

(There's a castle at Skofja Loka but I did not go inside.)

I think your plan to fly out of Zagreb and keep the car most of that time is a solid plan. Otherwise, you're either going to have to backtrack to Ptuj or take a complicated series of trains between Zagreb, Ptuj, and Ljubljana. Flying out of Ljubljana can be harder than flying out of Zagreb, anyway.

Just remember to buy a vignette sticker immediately upon crossing the border into Slovenia (at a gas station) or maybe even before the border - you need this sticker to drive on the major Slovenian highways and not having a sticker could result in a huge fine if you are stopped.

If you drive to Korcula, you can drive up the Peljesac peninsula from Dubrovnik and cross the short distance to Korcula using the local ferry from Orebic. This ferry runs often as I recall but check online for a schedule. (I didn't actually drive here - but the bus I was on did, along with cars.) To drive back to the mainland, you can take the same ferry back to Orebic and then instead of driving back down the peninsula, you can drive across to Trpanj and then ferry again over to Ploce on the mainland then drive up to Split. This should help:

http://www.korculainfo.com/ferries-korcula.htm

Check the Ploce to Trpanj schedule - I seem to recall it is less frequent than the Orebic ferry. Just plan some extra time to make that connection and get to the ferry dock early to get in line. I'm guessing in April it won't be that busy.

I've used the Rick Steves Croatia / Slovenia book on three trips to the area and have found the book indispensable. I think it covers all of our listed destinations except Zadar.

Mostar is small and doesn't require much time but really is better at night when it's less touristy.
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Nov 21st, 2015, 12:10 AM
  #8
kja
 
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Andrew wrote: "Flying out of Ljubljana can be harder than flying out of Zagreb, anyway."

Really? It must depend on the destination. Or maybe things have changed since I was there. For me, flying out of Ljubljana was easier, by far, than any of my other options, and meant avoiding a time-consuming back-track and so saved quite a bit of time.....
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Nov 22nd, 2015, 01:51 AM
  #9
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Wow! You have given me much good information and great ideas. Thank you.

We booked our tickets with frequent flyer miles months ago, so we are definitely flying into Dubrovnik and out of Zagreb. I planned this to avoid a drop charge for returning the rental car to a different country.

I may have missed it in my skim of the information, but has anybody driven into Slovenia and back from Croatia in the last week or so, and been impacted in any way by the border closings/restrictions about which I am reading? I am wondering if we need to rethink entering Slovenia - much more because it seems there is more than we can see in 24 days in Croatia than because of border concerns.

Thank you again for your kind and generous help. I will pour over your advice and let you know what I come up with.
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Nov 22nd, 2015, 09:06 AM
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I wouldn't cancel your Slovenia plans yet, because April is a few months away, and you may not have much difficultly if any crossing the border then (you might not even now). But it wouldn't hurt to make a plan B now just in case. April means you should have no trouble finding lodging almost anywhere and be able to cancel hotels and find others, if you have an internet device with you. In May I booked most of my places 24 hours in advance or even less, sometimes driving up to hotels when I arrived in town to book (I had researched hotels in advance so I wasn't exactly flying blind).

Just make sure anything you book now can be canceled closer to arrival if need be.

You could certainly see more in Montenegro and Bosnia.
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Nov 22nd, 2015, 01:45 PM
  #11
kja
 
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You might want to take a glance at Frommer's guidebook -- I just remembered that the (old) one I have has a page on the best castles in Croatia.

If you are willing to wait to decide about Slovenia, that could certainly make sense. Or there is so much in Croatia itself -- not to mention Montenegro or Bosnia & Herzegovina -- that you could defer Slovenia for another trip.
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Nov 27th, 2015, 07:58 AM
  #12
 
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FWIW, I have recently crossed the border between Slovenia and Croatia with no problems at all. I live in Slovenia and follow the situation regarding the crisis regularly and until now there has been no real impact on tourism apart from suspended trains between Ljubljana and Zagreb for a few days at a time. However, as a bus replacement service is provided, it might as well be engineering works, the disruption is about the same.

Going forward, it also seems unlikely there will be a major impact on travellers. The crisis has been localised to just a handful of smaller border crossings and the adjacent villages or towns, none of which are of interest to tourists. The border will certainly remain open, there have been no real restrictions placed on crossing the border legally - the government is trying to prevent illegal crossings.
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Nov 29th, 2015, 12:16 PM
  #13
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rtt0921, thank you for the helpful information.
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Dec 2nd, 2015, 04:48 PM
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We did a similar trip in 2009. Had booked 4 nights in Dubrovnik. Missed our plane connection in London .(also flew on FF miles and need to change from Heathrow to Gatwik) due to lost luggage in Heathrow we missed the connecting flight to Dub.
We ended up with only 3 nights in Dub which was fine. (still did a day trip to Kotor).
Renting a cart was perfect! I was over 70 at the time...had to do my own
navigating (husbands eyes were not good) and I managed fine! Also flew home from Zagreb where we turned in the car. Worked REALLY well.
I had the large Slovenia/Croatia Atlas.

We loved Slovenia! Also spent 2 nights in Bled..so am glad you are doing the same. Stayed at the Hotel Berc in Bled..very nice. In Bled we did a great hike to Vintgar Gorge and also a trip to Bohinj Lake. You hotel in Bled can give you the info.
We began our trip on April 20 and had good weather. 1 night at Plitzvice is adequate just begin the hike EARLY to get ahead of the tour groups. It was beautiful.
Spent 3 nights in Rovinj. Loved it. You will have a great time.
Flying home from Zagreb was very easy. Had a nice airport hotel the night before the flight. Hotel Stella.
Have a great trip. I love your plan.
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Dec 2nd, 2015, 06:00 PM
  #15
kja
 
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nannibray wrote: "1 night at Plitzvice is adequate just begin the hike EARLY to get ahead of the tour groups."

While that is one strategy recommended by many, I waited until about 10 a.m. to enter the park. I reached the gate before that, and watched group after group after group enter the park. When I did enter, I was very happy to be BEHIND the masses of tour groups for the entire rest of the day, and even had some stretches that I shared with only a few others.
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Dec 3rd, 2015, 09:35 AM
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kja.. I also like your tactic for Plitzvice a lot. However, We needed to be in Rovinj for the night and it is a LONG drive. I was concerned about reaching my destination in daylight which was no problem. That drive was the only drive that gave me trouble. I had some problems with the routing...exited the freeway at the wrong spot etc. I was glad to have the 2 extra hours granted by the earlier start and I needed them.
In retrospect it would have been good to have had a navigation system on the car but other than that drive I was fine for the entire trip.

With the early start we were able to take lots of pictures with no one else obstructing us.

Getting to Rovinj, finding the car park, transferring to our apartment, and still having time to "scope" out the town before dark was very helpful.
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Dec 3rd, 2015, 05:23 PM
  #17
kja
 
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@ nannibray -- I wasn't trying to say there is a right or wrong way to time one's visit to the Plitvice Lakes. I just wanted to point out that going early is not the ONLY workable option! My apologies if that's how it came across.
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Dec 4th, 2015, 04:41 PM
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No need to apology. Your strategy makes a LOT of sense, especially if spending 2 nights at the park. The OP will have a fantastic trip!
This destination is the best kept secret for independent travelers.
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Dec 4th, 2015, 05:12 PM
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"This destination is the best kept secret for independent travelers."

You're kidding, right? Have you seen the cruise ship crowds in Dubrovnik?
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Dec 4th, 2015, 06:35 PM
  #20
kja
 
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@ nannibray -- as with so many things, timing a visit to anything depends on context! I was traveling from Istria through the Plitvice Lakes (not the direction you took), and so had plenty of time for a 7-hour visit to the park and still plenty of time to reach my next destination well before dark. I agree that trying to reach one's destination before nightfall makes a LOT of sense -- I always aim for that! -- but of course managing that also depends on time of year.... All grist for the travel-planner's mill!
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