“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” These words from Mark Twain is what the four of us (me – Sydon, my brother – Savio, my wife – Caroline, my brother’s wife – Sanjana) strongly believe in. Post our Hellenic Odyssey, it was time for our second trip together, and we contemplated travelling to Greece again but decided to explore a new place – the Eastern European gem: Croatia!
Time To Visit:
The recommended time to visit is May to September, but if you are looking at reducing costs and having to deal with lesser crowds, the shoulder months of May-June or September are advised. Like Greece, we travelled in the second half of September.
The Brief Itinerary
The geography of Croatia is divided into 4 parts: Slavonia, Central Croatia, Istria, Dalmatia. Generally, tours cover either the North or South of Croatia, but we opted to do both Istria and Dalmatia and skip the city of Zagreb. We started our trip in Istria and ended in Dalmatia, the main reason being we needed to move south before the winter chills could set in.
The major factor allowing us to achieve visiting both Istria and Dalmatia was the mode of transport we chose. We booked our car online on ‘Nova Rent A Car’ – all you need to do is reserve your car online by just providing your credit card details, cancellation is free till a day prior to the pick up date and you don’t have to pay till you pick up the car. The reviews about “Sixt” and a similar sounding “Nova Car Hire” in Croatia are pretty bad. The roads in Croatia are amazing to drive on, we traveled 1400+ kms in 10 days! The difficult thing is figuring out the parking meters, they operate differently in different cities, some have manual parking meters, while some allow you to pay via an app (PayDo).
Though Croatia was inducted as a EU member in 2013, Euro isn’t accepted yet, so ensure you have your Croatian Kuna with you. We exchanged our currency and got our mobile SIM cards at Zagreb airport. 1 Croatian Kuna is approx 1o.48 Indian rupees, so the value of the rupee is higher!
After landing in Zagreb on a late evening, we scurried to the city centre (taking a bus from the airport – there is one available every 30 mins) to take the midnight bus to the city of Pula. We booked our tickets from Zagreb to Pula online here.
The Istrian hinterland, also known as the “Tuscany of Croatia” has some beautiful laid-back towns and stunning hilltop towns. We arrived in Pula before the crack of dawn and waited at the bus station till daybreak and then proceeded to explore the Amphitheatre. Post that we had some sumptuous breakfasts in the by-lanes of Pula, then proceeded to the Venetian fort that has a view of the harbour, amphitheater and the city.
After picking up our car, we headed North to our next destination – Rovinj. Rovinj is also a small town on the banks of the Adriatic Sea. The by-lanes of Rovinj did remind us a little about Mykonos! The bell tower of the Church of St. Euphemia’s Basilica, gives you a panoramic view of Rovinj. The steps are wooden and are slightly rickety, but the conquest to the top is made worthwhile by the view. Do try the Gelato at any of the shops facing the port.
Next stop – the last for day 1 – Poreč. Another seaside town, the eateries on the coast offer you some amazing wine and Pizza’s while you enjoy the sight of the setting sun. Post the dinner, we went to the accommodation that we had booked through an Indian booking site
It was time to explore the hilltop towns in Istria. We set out early enough to avoid any traffic in the city and proceeded to Novigrad for breakfast at a small place called Konoba Anni. Croatian dishes have a huge inspiration from the Italian cuisine – the breads, the wine, the olive oil, the pizza!
The breakfast at Konoba Anni, has to be one of the biggest and yummiest spreads I’ve ever had! We proceeded to explore the hill top town of Grožnjan – known as “town of artists”. The hilltop town gives you unending views of the hinterland. Roaming the snug little streets of the town, listening to tunes of serenades boxes, whilst trying the local Rum or just enjoy the view of of the vineyards and olive groves surrounding Grožnjan.
Now for the most important part of Croatia, swimming in the turquoise waters! Zelena Laguna was the first place we chose; Camping Zelena Laguna allows you to park near the beach and has more than decent changing and showering facilities.
The long drive from Istria to Dalmatia: 508 kms to be specific! There were two roads that could be taken; one would be the picturesque route along the coast – shorter in distance – but travelling through many towns. The other involving the majority of the drive on the majestic A1 motorway. Initially planned to set out at 5 AM to ensure we don’t run into traffic, considering we had a ferry to catch at 6:30 PM from Split to Vis, however, the plans were put on hold due to the sole driver (me) running a temperature. Finally setting out at 7, the drive seemed never-ending. There are several rest stations on the way where you can stop for food, refueling or just for a break from the long drive. Driving from Istria to Dalmatia on the A1 was no short of scenic views, cutting through mountains, fields and a dense green cover. The traffic rules are followed in most places, which is a relief. However, Split gave us a Mumbai-like feeling with vehicles cutting lanes on a regular basis.
We arrived at Split at 5 in the evening and having parked our vehicle in the queue for the ferry, we proceeded to explore the Split harbor promenade.
At 6:30 PM we boarded our ferry and proceeded straight to the deck to grab a seat to enjoy the sights on our journey to Vis. After disembarking the ferry post our 3-hour journey we proceeded to our accommodation, which was really close to the port.
Dalmatia, located in the Southern part of the country, is mostly a coastal region characterized by coves, secluded beaches, islands, and inlets. The only island we visited on our Croatian sojourn was the island of Vis.
Vis, the farthest inhabited island off the Croatian mainland was at one point the general headquarters of Marshal Josip Broz Tito, the leader of the Yugoslav Partisan resistance movement. Post that Vis spent much of its recent history serving as a Yugoslav military base, cut off from foreign visitors from the 1950s right up until 1989. This isolation preserved the island from development, however, the recent release of Mama Mia 2 filmed here has drawn many tourists to the island.
Day 4 began with first exploring the vicinity for options for food and we ran into “Pizzeria Karijola”, which is considered to be one of the best Pizza joints in Croatia. The fact that it’s on the banks of the Adriatic, is just an added bonus!
Post a sumptuous meal we proceeded for a “Military Tour” of the island. The tour which lasts for around four hours (can be combined with a wine tasting tour, which we didn’t opt for) starts from either Viz town or Komiza, depending on where you have booked it from, taking you in a Jeep to relive the history of this strategic island. We booked this tour on our arrival to Vis, and not priorly. Visiting places like Fort George, Parja, ex Airport, Mount Hum, the tour takes you through history as early as 1811, ensure you wear footwear that you can walk comfortably in, since this trip has quite a bit of walking and rocky areas. The evening was more about visiting the famous Monastery and then proceeding to relaxing on the beach and sipping some drinks at the Alavia Bar.
This was the day we were to spend primarily in the water, again a booking done on our arrival to Vis. We had a private motor powered dinghy with a captain, all to our disposal. Starting off at 8 in the morning, first stop “Blue Cave”. Blue Cave has been opened to the public since 1884. We arrived at island Biševo, stopping 200 meters from the Blue Cave. Arriving early insured that we didn’t have a huge queue to buy our tickets here. We waited in the queue for the small boat – carrying 12 passengers at a time – for about 10 minutes; the waiting time in the afternoons goes to about 1.5 hours. The entrance of the Blue cave is 1.5 meters high so you need to crouch whilst entering the cave. The time spent in the Blue Cave is something that you will certainly remember for a lifetime – unfortunately can’t find the words to describe this experience!
Next stop – Stiniva – a small and tight bay on the island of Vis. It’s one of the most attractive places in Croatia because of its unusual beach surrounded by high cliffs. You need to ditch the boat 50 m from the beach and go in a really small boat or swim to the shore. The water is absolutely beautiful for a swim, apart of the rocky sea bed (beach slippers do help) and the sea urchins in slightly deeper waters.
After drying off in the sun post the swim we proceeded to Budikovac Island’s Blue Lagoon which is famous because of the beautiful clear sea, beach, and a small bar makes this place a perfect place for relaxing, swimming and snorkeling. We did relax under some shade after putting out our beach mat and enjoyed some wine while the girls went for a swim. As the sun had started its descent our captain lead us home. We spent the rest of the evening by the harbour enjoying some delicious dinner before calling it a day and retiring to our apartment.
Well, I started it at the doctor’s clinic (still down with throat infection), and then to line up the car for the ferry to Split. The local pharmacy can prescribe and offer certain medicines only; for antibiotics, you need a doctor’s prescription. I slept in the car post that, and while the rest proceeded to Alavia bar and waited on the beach till 3 PM when it was time to board our ferry.
A four-hour journey and we were back to the mainland. We then proceeded to explore the Diocletian Palace – one of the places where the hit HBO TV Series “Game of Thrones” was shot. Post that we explored the crooked little alleyways and grabbed a bit whilst staring at the Adriatic and the absorbing the sights and sounds of Split! We then proceeded to Makarska, driving through the mighty Biokovo mountains to our apartment. The hostess was pretty excited to meet us; her first interaction with Indians! That was a good start as we like to visit places which are not too touristy. She even stocked up the fridge with juices, beer, et al.
By the time we set out it was almost lunch. Having read online that Konoba Kalalarga is considered one of the best restaurants in Makarska and usually frequented by locals for their brunch, we decided to try that out. Well, it didn’t disappoint for sure. Post that, the usual beach visit and roaming the local markets.
One of the major attractions in Croatia is its National Parks. The two famous ones are Plitvice National Park and Krka National Park. We chose to visit the latter on Day 8, since it was closer to Makarska.
Krka National Park located in the Šibenik-Knin County is named after the river Krka it encompasses. Skradinski Buk is one of the most attractive parts of the park. It is a massive, clear, natural pool with high waterfalls at one end and cascades at the other. There is a walking trail that guides you through most of the National Park which we took. Inside the park is the island of Visovac, home to the Roman Catholic Visovac Monastery founded by the Franciscans in 1445 near Miljevci village. We took a boat to reach the island from Skradinski Buk. Post a meal, we drove back to Makarska and right to the beach to witness yet another spectacle of the sun setting into the Adriatic.
Early the next morning, we set out for Dubrovnik, choosing the route to Mostar instead of taking the Neum corridor to cross through Bosnia & Herzegovina to Dubrovnik. Post crossing over to Bosnia, we stopped at a Petrol Pump to grab a snack, pick up a local SIM card and get some local currency (Marka). Next stop – Mostar. Parking a little away from the main city area, we headed to see the main attraction, the Stari Most (Old Bridge) which stood strong for 427 years, until it was destroyed on 9 November 1993 by Croat military forces during the Croat–Bosniak War. From there we headed to Vrelo Bune, the source of the river Buna. After spending a short while there, we made headway to Cavtat – the final leg of our journey. The drive from Vrelo Bune to Cavtat was a long and tiring one, driving through villages – which all appeared quite similar. With our fuel tank nearly drying up and the sun sinking behind the hills, we finally found a petrol pump and the much-needed turn into Croatia at Trebinje. Refueling the car and post downing some espresso shots, we drove to Cavtat. On reaching the place we called it a day.Day 10
Early the next morning, we proceeded to Dubrovnik – “the Pearl of the Adriatic” – as the walls get crowded the later you reach. Parking in Dubrovnik is pretty costly, and we were unable to get an Uber either, we took a local taxi to the entrance of the old city. The old city of Dubrovnik appears in the series “Game Of Thrones” representing the cities of King’s Landing and Qarth. This is increased the footfall to the old city and the walls of Dubrovnik. After paying an entrance fee, we proceeded walking the walls of Dubrovnik, which encompasses the old city and has some stunning views of the city, the Adriatic and the surrounding areas. We proceeded to the beach in Cavtat post that for a swim. There was a storm predicted, but what happened next wasn’t what we had imagined the storm to be! The famous winter storms “Bura winds” made landfall and we were forced indoors.
The winds being really strong, caused the airport to stall operations for the day – nervous times, considering we were flying back to India the next morning! Also, we were out of food and had to step out later in the evening to the nearby supermarket in the midst of the storm (ensuring we don’t sweep away by the ghastly winds). We drove to the airport at 5 AM, with the car barely managing to stay on the road due to the winds. Post returning our car at the Nova Car rental outlet at the airport terminal, we waited patiently for our flight, which was initially canceled and then finally rescheduled to fly 6 hours later. Thankfully we had an eight-hour layover in Istanbul, so we did make it for our connecting flight.
Verdict: Croatia – full of color, history, varied cultures, is definitely worth a visit, however, visiting it post visiting Greece, it did leave me wanting more!
But, as Augustine of Hippo has rightly said – “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
This article has been contributed to Curly Tales by Sydon Pereira. If you wish to contribute your travel story, please drop an email here