Dream Trip: Croatia

Although my husband and I travel a lot, most of our destinations are fairly mainstream (Paris, London, Munich, etc.). One trip that was outside of that description (at least for most Americans), was a trip we took to Croatia in 2015 to celebrate Dave’s birthday. Of all our trips, this is the one I’m asked about most frequently because it’s not a common destination for US travelers and there are a lot of unknowns and misconceptions about the country. Most Americans recall the war and assume Croatia is unsafe or in ruins; I assure we experienced neither.

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Hvar, Croatia

Croatia is not “undiscovered” by any stretch of the imagination. Europeans are definitely in the know and Croatia is a popular holiday destination. But most Americans I’ve spoken to who have traveled to Croatia have done so via cruise ship, allowing them to spend a day or two in Split or Dubrovnik. For those of you who want to see a little more, this post is for you. And we certainly only scratched the surface – we hope to spend two months in Croatia in 2019 to really get to know this beautiful country.

Dave and I have been traveling with a group of friends for the last six years. The size of our group is typically eight people (sometimes 10), so our travel planning is a bit more complex than if you’re planning as a couple. In my experience, when planning travel for a large group, offer lots of suggestions then stand back and let the group decide what they want to do. I enjoy travel planning because I like doing the research – if you’re in it for control you probably won’t be invited on many trips.

One of the things I love about our group (and there’s lots to love) is that we don’t feel like we have to be joined at the hip the entire trip, and everyone has a very relaxed attitude about what we do. We often arrive and leave on different days which gives everyone the flexibility to travel on the dates that work best for them. Dave and I love our group, but also look forward to opportunities to be alone for a few days on the front and back end of each trip.

As mentioned in a previous post, Croatia is not the easiest country to get to; I’ve yet to find a direct flight, and the connecting flights can be long and expensive. Instead, I explored flights from my home airport to major destinations in Europe and found a really affordable direct business class flight to Rome. From Rome, there were numerous flights to Croatia for under $30 per person, so we decided to spend three nights in Rome before meeting up with friends in Split. Be aware that, while this option can save you money, not having all your flights on one reservation can be problematic if one of your flight schedules change. This happened to us and it affected our return to Rome, which created a bit of creative rescheduling.

After a few romantic days in Rome, Dave and I headed to the airport where we met up with our friends Kristen and Liz for our quick flight to Split. When we arrived, we grabbed a taxi and headed for our hotel in the historic part of town, right outside of the Diocletian’s Palace. My initial impression of Split was that the town was commercial and lacking in charm. As we arrived in the historic center and the port, I was happily proven wrong! We spent a lovely evening roaming around town and exploring the Palace. We had delicious dinner of fresh seafood and wines in a beautiful outdoor space. The next day we had a few hours before catching the ferry to Hvar, so we were able to enjoy lunch in the main square and soak up the abundant Croatian sunshine.

The ferry to Hvar was about 90 minutes, and the vessel was pretty comfortable and clean. Arriving in Hvar was a little hectic with multiple ferries unloading passengers. Our foursome was staying in a vacation rental so we began the trek to find the rental office, which is always an adventure. Dragging roller bags across ancient cobblestone was a workout and tried my patience more than a few times. Fortunately it wasn’t a long walk and soon enough we were loaded in to a car with our luggage and heading to our rental apartment. The apartment was beautiful and had the most amazing wrap around patio with to-die-for views. The walk to town was 5-10 min. depending on how lost we got (considerably longer after a few glasses of wine), and within a few hours we were meeting up with our friends, Tony and Julie, for dinner.

With all the commotion upon arrival, I didn’t notice Hvar’s glamour. The yacht scene is truly spectacular, and it’s clear that Hvar is a place to see and be seen. We found a dinner spot and had another amazing meal, then headed to the clubs. There is no shortage of dancing and nightlife in Hvar, and everyone was friendly and wanted to have a good time. Despite being over 40, our group fit in and we all had a fabulous night.

The next day we headed to Tony & Julie’s resort (the Amfora) to spend a day at the cabanas they rented. What an amazing day!! We had a full afternoon of eating, drinking, swimming and jumping off the dock – we laughed so much my stomach was sore the next day. When the sun started to go down, we headed in to town and did a little bar crawl and dancing, and ended the night in our apartment, trying not to be too loud as we re-capped the highlights of a hilarious day.

I was awakened the next morning by Kristen who was having a fairly severe allergic reaction to what we think was probably a bug bite of some kind. Our apartment landlord lived below us and was very responsive to our need for assistance. She called a taxi for Kristen and she and Liz headed to the hospital. After a few hours and numerous injections, she was on the mend and ready to rejoin the party. What a trooper! She didn’t miss a beat. We took it easy that night and the next day, and on day four, we were ready for our trip to Dubrovnik.

There are a couple options to get to Dubrovnik from Hvar: fly, drive, or boat. Flying is certainly the quickest, but we wanted to see some of the country so we opted for hiring a van with a driver. This solves a few problems: 1) no one in the group was stuck driving, 2) we didn’t need to worry about navigation or getting lost, 3) we didn’t need to worry about having the proper documentation to drive through Bosnia and Herzegovina, which occupies a 12-mile stretch of coastline right in the middle of Croatia.

Our driver picked up our friends at the Amfora then collected us at our apartment and we were on our way. We drove the length of Hvar which took about 1.5 hours, then were unloaded from the van and put on a ferry to the mainland, which also took about an hour. Once on the mainland, another van picked us up and delivered us to Dubrovnik, where we met our friends, Dawn and Laura. The whole trip took about 4 hours.

Some tips about staying in Dubrovnik:

  • August and part of September are peak season so expect crowds, higher prices and loud nightclubs. We were there in mid-September… the crowds from the cruise ships arrived during the day and were mostly cleared out in the evening. However, the clubs were going strong so there’s still plenty of nightlife.
  • There are LOTS of steps in Dubrovnik. LOTS. We dragged our bags down all the steps getting to our apartment, only to learn later that there was a much easier, step-free route if we had come through the Pile gate.
  • All the action is inside the walled city. If you stay anywhere else you will need to taxi to town.

Dubrovnik is drop-dead gorgeous. We were there a week and never ran out of things to do and see. Our group wanted to stay together and we found a beautiful apartment inside the walled city. Finding accommodations for a large group limits your options, and the apartment we had was large and centrally located. Our only issue was we were not warned there was a nightclub below so we were subjected to very loud music every night until 2:00 AM as well as bottles rolling down the stone steps until the wee hours. We were told (after the fact) that many restaurants convert to clubs in the evening during peak season, so be sure to ask if you decide to rent in the city.

Some of the things we did during our week in Dubrovnik that I would recommend:

  • Chartering a boat for the day to explore the Elaphiti Islands. Our skipper took us to Kolocep and Lopud for lunch and swimming, and it was a full day of great memories for about $600 (split amongst the group, and did not include tip or fuel which was extra). This was such a special day and an excellent way to see some of the lovely islands and swim in the clearest waters I’ve ever seen.
  • Daytrip to Kotor and Budva, Montenegro. There are lots of tour guides in the city offering day trips and excursions. Go with your instincts and if they seem shady, find a different group. This was a long day in a van, but we enjoyed both destinations. We definitely spent more time in the van than either town, but we had enough time for some sightseeing, shopping and lunch/drinks at both places. I would definitely go again. We also considered a trip to Mostar but weren’t able to fit it in (next time!)
  • Cable car to Mount Srdj. This is a quick 5 minute ride and the views are spectacular. There is a café up top for lunch, dinner or cocktails, and you can rent ATVs to explore the landscape.
  • Lokrum Island. Dave and I liked this so much we did it twice. The ferry to this uninhabited island is about 10 minutes from the walled city and there is a lot to see once you’re there. There are places for sunbathing (some clothing optional), a couple of cafes nestled amongst the trees, an old monastery and botanical gardens and hordes of wild peacocks and bunnies. We spent a great afternoon swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic and the “Dead Sea” lagoon, feeding the peacocks, and spying the giant bunnies in the botanical garden.
  • Game of Thrones walking tour. Dave and I are not “tour people”. We avoid organized tours whenever possible, however, being huge fans of GoT, we couldn’t miss the chance to see some of the filming locations of our favorite show. We enjoyed our tour, and at just over an hour, was not too demanding. Plus, we can say we stood on the site of the Purple Wedding 🙂

After a truly magical 10 days in Croatia, it was time for us to fly back to Rome for one last night before making our way back to the US. We spent that last night in Rome wandering Trastevere, hunting down a great pizza, reminiscing about the trip and discussing where our next adventure would take us.

For more on Croatia, click here!

6 comments

  1. So much great detail in here! It seems like Croatia has become such a popular destination the past couple of years–I have several friends who have been now. It is definitely on my list. My hubs has a close friend who lives here but is from Montenegro and is always talking about hosting us there. Sounds like Croatia would be an excellent add-on to that! Really enjoyed this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great blog about my new home country! Shame you only had a short time in Split. There is loads to do around here and so many hidden gems as well. You mentioned you might come back this year. Let me know and I can give you some insider tipps! It’s a truly amazing country 😍

    Liked by 1 person

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