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TRIP REPORT: Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, and Italy -- September 2019

TRIP REPORT: Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, and Italy -- September 2019

Old Jan 27th, 2020, 12:10 AM
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Thank you for sharing, my wife and I were in Croatia/Bosnia/Montenegro last September so your TR brought back very fond memories.

We also enjoyed Kotor and Mostar and spending a night or two truly elevates the experience - both are magical after the crowds have dissipated.
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Old Jan 27th, 2020, 03:59 AM
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@anuj I'm definitely an advocate for overnight stays vs day trips, even if it means seeing fewer places overall. I'm so glad you are enjoying the report!
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Old Jan 27th, 2020, 11:21 AM
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Wonderful pictures! Makes me want to go there.
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Old Jan 27th, 2020, 02:15 PM
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I'm loving this report. The Balkans are on my list (along with dozens of other places), so one day I'll get there!

You're brave to leave your DSLR and lenses at home! You're pictures are beautiful though. I considered using only my iPhone on my recent trip to Austria and Czech Republic, but I didn't want to risk the regret of not having my big camera and lenses with me, so I brought the full kit...and I'm actually glad I did because my iPhone 8 does not take good night photos.
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Old Jan 27th, 2020, 02:33 PM
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@memejs I'm glad you are liking the report!

It was definitely a leap of faith to leave the DSLR at home! As we prepared for the trip, we just realized that we didn't want to have to dedicate to much space to gear. We travel carry-on only (one Away bag + backpack each) so space is a commodity! After a lot of research, we invested in a couple of Moments lenses (highly recommend) and hoped for the best. The quality of your phone definitely matters -- I have an iPhone X. The night photos aren't great, but I have heard that the new iPhone has a night mode on the camera that is fantastic. I also took several hours of iPhone photography classes online before leaving and I think that really helped to maximize the potential of the photos!

After the initial anxiety around the decision, I never looked back! I was SO LIBERATING to not lug around all the gear. I don't think I'll ever go back!
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Old Jan 27th, 2020, 03:44 PM
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Enjoying your TR and pictures very much! These same locations are on my radar for a trip later this year.
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Old Jan 27th, 2020, 03:50 PM
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@joannyc Thank you! I'm so excited that you are going to get to experience these places! There is so much good information on this forum, I never could have planned this trip without it!
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Old Jan 27th, 2020, 03:56 PM
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@tera - I will be a solo female traveling . I always rent a car but do have a fear of heights. Were there any routes that you would not recommend? Thanks very much!
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Old Jan 27th, 2020, 05:08 PM
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@joannyc well for sure avoid Sutjeska National Park. We reached some high elevations there. None of these drives were flat except perhaps some stretches along the Croatian coast. The drive from Jablanica to Mostar was also flat-ish (by Bosnian standards). Not sure that helps much! Sorry!
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Old Jan 27th, 2020, 05:41 PM
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@tera, thanks very much!

Last edited by joannyc; Jan 27th, 2020 at 05:43 PM.
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Old Jan 28th, 2020, 06:58 AM
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Love your trip report and I can't believe those are iPhone photos! I might have to look into Moment lenses!
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Old Jan 28th, 2020, 09:26 AM
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PegS The wide-angle Moments lense was our go-to and most of the photos I'm posting were taken either with that or just the iPhone X camera. We also have a small PIXI tripod that we use for timelapse videos, night shots, and a few other things. It was a great setup! I do edit the photos in lightroom once we are home, as well.
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Old Jan 31st, 2020, 03:33 PM
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As the sun set on day 9 of our journey, we cruised into beautiful Croatia. Our time here spanned 8 nights and included 3 nights in Dubrovnik, 3 nights in Hvar, and 2 nights in Split -- an itinerary that would make a beautiful stand-alone trip in its own right and that I would happily repeat.

Day 9, continued: Dubrovnik
After settling into our apartment and freshening up, we headed out for dinner. Our host recommended a seafood restaurant very near to our apartment and just outside the walls called Revelin Restaurant.

We had not booked in advance, and upon arriving found the outdoor area to be very busy; however, after just a few minutes, we were seated on the water with a beautiful view of old harbor and city walls. For dinner, we doubled down on seafood dishes including Croatia’s famous black seafood risotto, garlic shrimp, sea bass, and grilled tuna. Everything was wonderful with the exception of the tuna, which tasted off. After a quick conversation with the waiter, they took it off our bill without issue. The rest of the dishes were wonderful, fresh, and very enjoyable. Overall, we had a lovely dinner and very much enjoyed the setting.



View from Revelin Restaurant

After dinner, we re-entered the city walls and began exploring the old town. The streets were full of people strolling and dining. Many of the narrow streets were bursting with tables pouring out of restaurants, climbing steps, and hugging walls. The energy was and it was fun to just take in the city a bit.

Eventually, we stumbled upon Troubadour Jazz Cafe and grabbed a table outside and ordered ourselves a drink while we enjoyed the music. Soon, we became friends with some lovely Austrians at the next table and after talking for a bit realized that, amazingly, we had a mutual friend -- the only other Austrian that we know! What a very small world it is!

We and our new Austrian friends stayed out a bit too late enjoying each other’s company and the great music and it wasn’t until a couple of hours later that we made our way home. From Mostar, to waterfalls, to a long beautiful night in Dubrovnik -- it was an amazing day!

Day 10: Dubrovnik
The next morning we woke up a little bit later than intended and quickly headed out to walk the famous Dubrovnik city walls. I was skeptical about this “must do” activity but we really enjoyed it. It kind of reminded me of doing to Circle Boat Tour in NYC -- super touristy, but a spectacular way to see New York City for the first time. We spent about 2 hours total on the walls, but that included stopping for A LOT of photos and a 30-ish minute break at one of the little bars that pop up here and there along the way.



View from the Walls


View from the Walls


View from the Walls


View from the Walls


View from the Walls

Afterward, we were starving and headed to Mea Culpa Pizzeria & Trattoria for a big lunch! This spot was recommended to me by a Croatian friend as “the best pizza in Dubrovnik” and boy, it did not disappoint. We sat outside and shared a big pizza, some white wine, and lots of people watching. We actually enjoyed our lunch here so much that we came back the next day to try another pizza and one of their pastas. I wholeheartedly recommend this place!



Mea Culpa Pizzeria & Trattoria - Shared Pizza and Bolognese


After lunch, we headed back to our apartment for some shade and a break from the crowds. We reemerged a couple of hours later, fresh and ready for our second night in beautiful Dubrovnik. We spent the last of the afternoon just exploring with no real destination. We stumbled upon the aquarium and browsed there for a bit, popped into a few churches, hung out with some of the famous Dubrovnik cats, saw a few Game of Thrones sights (they are hard to avoid!), and eventually made our way to Buza Bar to watch a beautiful sunset.














We did not make many advance reservations for this trip but knew that we wanted to visit one of the fancy Dubrovnik restaurants with a view. There are a few to choose from, but we settle on NAUTIKA, which was recommended to us by a woman I met in Napa last summer who was from Dubrovnik. I’m so glad we did -- this was a gorgeous spot, and worth the splurge. We were there for the second seating, so the sun had already set. We had a nearly full moon lighting up the Adriatic and the fortresses of Lovrijenac and Bokar. Our meal was wonderful and the service was impeccable. I highly recommend this restaurant for a special occasion meal!



View at NAUTIKA

Day 11: Dubrovnik
Our original plan for our last day in Dubrovnik was to head to one of the local beaches or Lokrum Island; however, we woke up to a torrential thunderstorm! We took it as a sign to spend a couple of hours catching up on life (laundry, emails, bills) and rest.

Once the rain cleared, we returned to Mae Culpa for another great lunch, then decided to head over to the cable car that takes you up to the top of Mount Srd. The line was horribly long and we had an unfortunate incident with some line cutters, but an hour later, we were in the cable car taking the 3-minute ride up the mountain.

We ended up spending about an hour and a half up there enjoying the view and some great Croatian wine. Another rainstorm passed through, which was very cool to see from the panoramic windows of Panorama Restaurant & Bar. Afterward, we were even treated to a rainbow!



View from Mount Srd


Rainbow

Once back in the old town we decided on another sunset at Buza Bar. We got there much earlier this time and scored some really great seats. Once the sun was down, we stopped at a little grocery store and got provisions for an easy charcuterie board and headed home to pack and relax!





As you can tell, we had a very leisurely two days in beautiful Dubrovnik. The biggest sights were the town itself and I loved its busy energy. The crowds reminded me a bit of Venice in that one street can be absolutely miserable but if you turn down the right alley (or in this case...the opposite direction from any Game of Thrones sight), it feels like you have the whole town to yourself.

If you have a fast-paced travel style, 2 nights is probably “enough.” Our travel style is slower, we like lots of time to ponder over a nice bottle of wine and, as you can tell by my photos, linger over sunsets! We would love to return to Dubrovnik someday, and hopefully explore more outside of the walls!
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Old Jan 31st, 2020, 07:41 PM
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Loving your TR and gorgeous pictures!

i guess I can cross the Panorama Bar off my list! LOL!!! That view is beautiful but the height would completely freak me out! 😂
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Old Jan 31st, 2020, 09:35 PM
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Another great instalment!
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Old Feb 1st, 2020, 10:18 AM
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@joannyc haha, yes, you should avoid!

@adelaidean Thank you! Glad you are enjoying it!
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Old Feb 1st, 2020, 11:42 AM
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Love your photos of Dubrovnik! We loved Dubrovnik, too, so I am happy to hear you enjoyed Dubrovnik. Seems like I read too many negative comments about this beautiful city with its awesome location. It was crowded when we were there, but honestly, it wasn't unbearably crowded and did not detract from our enjoyment of the city. We took the cable car to the top of Mr. Srd and had drinks at the Panorama Restaurant and Bar, and that was one of the highlights of our trip. And we were fortunate that there wasn't a line for the cable car when we were there.
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Old Feb 1st, 2020, 03:43 PM
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@KarenWoo completely agree about the crowds! And you really lucked out with the cable car lines!
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Old Feb 1st, 2020, 03:59 PM
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Thank you for your trip report. I can't wait to read the rest.
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Old Feb 1st, 2020, 04:25 PM
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Next stop, Hvar! This post covers the second stop on the Croatia portion of our trip. We LOVED Hvar. I’ll be honest, Hvar’s “party town” reputation scared me! I don’t know if it was just because we were there during the shoulder season or if we just did a good job of avoiding the party scene, but our time here was so chill. Everything was beautiful. We met incredible people, who have since become real friends. We ate some of the best meals of our trip. We were so sad to leave and easily could have spent a week exploring this beautiful island. I am certain that we will visit Hvar again someday.

Day 12: Hvar
Our day started VERY early, as we had tickets on the 7 am ferry from Dubrovnik to Hvar. We got to the ferry port about 45 minutes early and there was already a huge line of people waiting to board. Some folks showed up expecting to just be able to buy tickets on-site, but the ferry was sold out for the day. I definitely recommend buying tickets in advance. The ride was an easy 3 hours and 45 minutes. There was a cafe counter where you could buy water, coffee, juice, and a few pastries (they did sell out though so get in line early if you are hungry), clean bathrooms, and the ship was very quiet as everyone was sleepy. We docked in Hvar right on time. The only part that was a complete zoo was the process of getting our bags and getting off the ship.

Upon arriving, we proceeded to the Hvar bus station where we were meeting our host. Again, this was a bit hectic and our host was late but you just have to roll with stuff like this on travel days! Eventually, we met up and he drove us to our apartment, which was located up above the Riva about 5-minutes by walking (all stairs!). We were several hours from our check-in time, but our host happily let us change into our swimsuits, stow our bags, and get the key so we could return later.

Once free of our bags, we headed back down to the town. Our plan for the day was to get some lunch and then relax at one of the “beach clubs.” On the recommendation of a local, we headed to Falko Beach Bar & Food first for lunch. To find Falko, head towards Hula Hula beach bar and keep walking all the way to the next point. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the Riva. We had a great lunch here, and just really liked the vibe of this place. We ended up returned here two other times during our stay. Because of its location and how far it juts out into the water, you get a great view of the sunset from here!

After lunch, we headed to Hula Hula Beach Club to post up for the afternoon. This place has a crazy reputation but I think that’s mostly for the evening party scene. During the day, it was super chill. We rented chairs and spent the next several hours relaxing, swimming, and napping! It was wonderful!



Drinks at Hula Hula Bar


Magic Hour at Hula Hula Bar


Sunset in Hvar


Pink skies at night, sailors delight!

That night, we headed out to Pizzeria Mizarola for dinner. This place has really good reviews online but we found it to be just ok. Maybe it was an off night, but I can’t say that I recommend it. Afterward, we wandered around a bit and, I’ll admit, I was starting to see why the island has a party reputation! We ended up finding a pretty chill spot called Central Park Club, which had a band playing, and enjoyed the music and drinks for a bit before turning in.

Day 13: Hvar
THIS WAS THE BEST DAY. It’s hard to put into words just how amazing this day was, but I’ll try. Please, if you are headed to Hvar you need to pause here and go book yourself for the Ilirio's Three Cave Tour!

We met up with our captain and fellow passengers outside of the Adriana Hotel at 9 am. After settling into the boat, we were off and running. One of the great things about this tour is that they switch up the order of the sites to help avoid the crowds. Our first stop was the tiny Stiniva Beach, which can only be accessed by boat (and then swimming in) or by hiking over from the other side of the island, Vis. We arrived just before 10 am and after some hesitation, jumped into the water and swam to shore. We spent about an hour on this gorgeous beach before swimming back to the boat.



Stiniva Beach

Next, the guys got a call that the line at the Blue Grotto (which can get out of control) was super short, so we made a beeline there for our second stop of the day. Here, you get out of the boat, purchase tickets, then board the small boats that enter the blue grotto. This cave was INCREDIBLE, just completely stunning. The photos really don’t do it justice, but I can say that the blue grotto we visited in Montenegro PALES in comparison.



Blue Grotto


Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto is located on Biševo Island, and we spent the next several hours checking out other locations located around this island. After the Grotto, we stopped at the first of several “secret” locations. This one was a natural “hot tub,” which was a rock formation that fills up when the tide is in. As the tide goes out, the water stays and quickly warms up under the Croatian sun. After relaxing in the hot tub for a few minutes, our captains showed us how to climb up this one rock and jump (still can’t believe I did this) into the deep water below and then swim back to the boat. We spent a while here jumping and swimming - it was a blast!



Gorgeous Adriatic Water!

We had worked up a big appetite by this point and headed next to a small restaurant on the island called Kod Jakše (if you are looking at the island on a map, it’s almost directly across from the blue grotto). Our whole group had lunch together (pretty much everyone ordered the greek salad, grilled tuna, and fries) and had a great time drinking beers and telling travel tales.



Beach Restaurant where we had lunch


View from lunch


After lunch, we loaded back up in the boat having no idea what else was in store for us for the day, but knowing it would be amazing. Our next stop was a “secret cave” that you actually had to go underwater and swim into. If that sounds terrifying, it’s because it was! I’m still amazed that I did this, but I did, and the cave itself was this really cool dome with crazy acoustics.

Our last stop on this incredible tour was the Sea Monk Cave, which as also located on Bisevo Island. This is a beautiful and very deep cave. We boated all the way into the and then jumped in and swam out. The guys had a bunch of snorkeling masks available (no snorkels though) and we spent a long time hanging out here and watching the huge schools of fish swimming right below us. We loaded back up in the boat and collectively decided to skip the Emerald Cave based on feedback from our captains and instead head back. We pulled back into Hvar around 5:30 pm.



Coming back into Hvar Town


A few notes about this tour:
  • We had people on the tour of all swim levels. The Adriatic is very forgiving because the salt content is so high. You literally float with very little effort.
  • There was ZERO pressure to participate in everything. People opted out of stuff that didn’t suit them but still had a great time cheering on others.
  • The total cost for two of us was about $80. Seriously, the best use of $80. We gave the guys nice tips at the end but there was no pressure to do so.
It was such an incredible day that we didn’t want it to end, and our group made plans to meet up at Falko Bar to hang out and watch another beautiful Croatian sunset.



Hvar Sunset


Sunset at Falko Bar


Sunset at Falko Bar


Later that night we headed to Dva Ribara for dinner, a recommendation from friends of ours. We had another great seafood dinner before turning in for the night! What a day!

Day 14: Hvar
Our last day in Hvar came upon us way too fast! Wiped out from our adventures the day before, we took it easy this morning and caught up on sleep before heading out to explore, with no real destination in mind.We had a long lunch at Black Pepper, which turned out to be our favorite meal in Hvar. We had the tuna tartar, the ravioli in the parmesan bowl, and the gnocchi. The service here was outstanding.



Wandering around Hvar


Black Pepper - Tuna Tartar


Black Pepper - Ravioli


Black Pepper - Gnocchi


After lunch, we decided to walk off our meal with a hike up to the fortress. It was a beautiful walk and you get to see amazing views of Hvar. We didn't actually go in the fortress, so I can't comment on that!



Walk up to the Fortress


Walk up to the Fortress


View of Hvar from the Fortress Path


We opted for a light dinner after our huge lunch and decided on The Top Bar at the Adrienne Hotel. We chose this place partly to check out its prime location, and also because it was the night of the Super Moon and it was a perfect spot to watch the moon rise! We had a great time, a few drinks, and called it an early night.



Charcuterie Board at Top Bar


Waiting for the Super Moon!


Super Moon rising over Hvar


Super Moon rising over HvarNext stop: Split!
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