Have you ever thought about visiting Croatia? If not, after reading about my most recent travel experience I am certain you will be enticed to visit this stunning destination and even some of its surrounding countries.
After landing in Zagreb, we headed straight to our hotel for a much-needed shower and a quick rest before setting off to explore this fascinating city. Zagreb is home to a mix of 18th- and 19th-century buildings with many charming parks, squares and city markets. We found a lovely local restaurant in the city centre for a few quiet drinks and an evening meal.
The following morning we set off on our adventures following the tailored self-drive itinerary that Croatia Times Travel had prepared for us. We opted for our rental car to be delivered to our hotel and after setting the GPS we were off! Leaving the city behind, we headed towards the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Along the way we stopped at Rastoke, an easy one hour and 30-minute drive along the motorway (110 kilometres). This small, 300-year-old watermill village is located at a natural phenomenon where the Slunjčica River splits into several branches, flowing via a series of cascades into the Korana River. The village has grown around the river and its many small waterfalls and is well worth the stop en route.
Zagreb is home to a mix of 18th- and 19th-century buildings with many charming parks, squares and city markets.
After sightseeing and a coffee we made our way to our accommodation at the UNESCO World Heritage-protected Plitvice Lakes National Park. This 295sq-km forest reserve in central Croatia is known for its chain of 16 terraced lakes connected by 92 cascading waterfalls that extend into a breathtaking limestone canyon. Walkways and hiking trails wind around and across the water and an electric boat links the 12 upper and four lower lakes. The natural wonders of Plitvice exceeded all expectations!
Above: Plitvice Lakes National Park
Spending the night in Plitvice gave us more time to explore both the upper and lower lakes. You don’t have to be super fit, but with all the amazing scenery you do want to explore the natural phenomena at leisure and take plenty of photos. I recommend that you take a pair of sensible walking shoes.
Day trips in Istria are the perfect way to visit various wineries, enjoy the local charm and partake in a wine or two!
Next stop was the ancient town of Poreč on the western coast of the Istrian Peninsula. Driving into central Istria was a sight to behold with its many Italian influences. We took time to explore the back roads around the medieval town of Motovun in central Istria and sample many truffle-infused meals, including ice-cream! Having decided to spend a couple of nights in Poreč as our base, day trips were the perfect way to visit various wineries, enjoy the local charm and partake in a wine or two! Istria is a wonderful place for people looking for a mixture of history, culture and gourmet experiences.
A further highlight of our trip was our Coastal Heritage Luxury Cruise on MS Stella Maris from Poreč to Dubrovnik. This small-ship voyage is a new route for the 2018 season and the itinerary is more "off the beaten track" and comprehensive than the traditional cruises from Split to Dubrovnik. Stella Maris cruises the entire Croatian Coastline over a period of seven nights.
Some highlights included stopping in Pula, Rovinj, Brijuni, Zadar and Dubrovnik, just to name a few. The cruise also included visits to three national parks and three UNESCO World Heritage sites. Mljet National Park on the island of same name is very alluring and a definite favourite. The deep vegetation, crisp pine forests and dreamy turquoise and clear green saltwater lakes are exceptionally scenic. A new destination greeted us each day and we took walking tours with local guides who enchanted us with their knowledge of the region.
Meals on board Stella Maris were exceptional, with four-course lunches and dinners, so don’t expect to come home lighter! We ate some of the best and freshest seafood we’ve ever had. There was a vibrant mix of Australians, Canadians, Americans and New Zealanders on board the ship and the weather for early May was lovely.
The Coastal Heritage Luxury Cruise on MS Stella Maris from Poreč to Dubrovnik is a new route for the 2018 season and more "off the beaten track" than traditional cruises from Split to Dubrovnik.
After our cruise we stayed an extra night in Dubrovnik so we could enjoy a full-day visit to Mostar. We took a private tour with a driver and the scenery was stunning as we entered Bosnia and Herzegovina. We also made time to stop at the Kravice Waterfalls, one of Europe’s most spectacular natural sights. These 25m cascades are described as a “mini-Niagara” and feature a natural pool at the base where we enjoyed a very refreshing quick dip. Finally, we headed to Mostar where we discovered a crossroads of Eastern and Western culture as there are many Turkish influences to be experienced. A highlight was visiting Stari Most, the famous bridge and national symbol – this was one of many perfect photo opportunities.
There were numerous special memories enjoyed on our trip and I feel privileged to have had such an authentic cultural experience in this beautiful part of the world. I look forward to visiting again.