Our Spain road trip was supposed to be the once in a lifetime Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara trip, but that turned out to be a big dud. Croatia was our last road trip for my exchange term as IIM Ahmedabad graduate student. But we weren’t too upbeat after the bad weather in Croatia and an underwhelming Spain road trip. But as luck would have it, all these fears were allayed as soon as we hit the road.
It is advised that you should visit Croatia between May and September with sunny days and places bustling with people. By design or by choice, we took the complete opposite view and visited the country in mid-November and we weren’t disappointed with anything. Even though all the places have a deserted feel, pristine beaches devoid of any humans give it a different feel and the temperatures stay in the upper double digits in most of the places. You have everything in Croatia from a sunny day in Krka national park to ghostly feel of Plitvice national park covered with snow.
Accommodation and travel:
There are multiple ways to reach Croatia- flight, train, bus and ferry Connections are available from all part of Europe. We took the overnight train from Munich to Zagreb. It is possible to take buses around the country, but rail connections are minimal. It is advisable to rent a car from Zagreb, we picked up a car as soon as we reached Zagreb from Nova Car rentals. There are multiple companies providing car rental services at a very low rate. If you are taking a car, taking toll roads is advised as you will save time on travelling but be careful of speed cameras. For accommodation we primarily used Airbnb and Booking.com, most of the properties were at a reasonable rate.
Coming to actual trip…
Zagreb was just a meeting point and start of the trip. We made last minute changes to plan and kept the day to chill. We left for Zadar directly, where another friend would join later. The journey should have been a routine 3 hours journey turned out to be an exciting and at times scary 5.5 hours trip.
We left Zagreb and entered mountainous area before Zadar, we were greeted with a sight of white all around. There had been a snow storm a day before and it was all white, with fresh snow still falling while we drove through the region.
That was the start of exciting part of the journey, the route Google suggested was closed due to winds reaching 90 km per hour and this was something we didn’t know. We reached a place where all routes were closed and had to take the alternate as directed by the cops. But we made a small mistake, we took a wrong turn and ended on the windy road again. There was a stop sign on half part of the road! who closes half the road! and the common consensus was chalo! dekha jaayega! The 20-odd km drive was scary, the car was drifting heavily due to wind and once when we tried to get out, the car door wouldn’t open due to sheer force of wind. Braving all this we reached the end of the road and when bad luck strikes, it strikes hard! The road was completely closed on the other side and we had to come back on the same windy road again. We took the correct route this time and were at our accommodation. The best part of visiting in lean season, you get amazing accommodation at really low rates.
As expected the top things to see in Zadar included a Cathedral which we skipped. But there was something unique about the place, there were sea organs installed along the coast line which produced musical notes when waves came in. The organs were placed with a solar powered dance floor was installed for people to enjoy. The sounds seemed scary though at night without anyone on the beach.
Our next day’s plan was to visit one of the islands from Split’s coast. Due to winter the daylight is limited, and one must optimize every bit to get the maximum out of a city. We left for Split early in the morning and were on there on time to take an early ferry to one of the islands. There are multiple islands accessible from Split but Hvar and Brac are one of the most popular ones. Hvar was a little away from split and blue caves were closed due to the weather, we settled for Brac Beach. You can also rent a private boat for a tour around the islands. You can take tickets for ferry online or on the counter itself near the jetty.
The ferry ride was a peaceful one with cold winds making it tough to stay outside. Brac Island was a beautiful place and we ended up at Bol beach, one of the best beaches in Brac. Little did we expect that we would be the only ones there, perk of coming in off season was that we had a private beach for ourselves. After exhausting all the poses to take pictures on the beach we headed back to Split and our Airbnb to retire for the day. It gets tiring clicking so many photos!
Dubrovnik – must for Game of Thrones fans
Next up on the itinerary was Dubrovnik, and we were super excited because all of us were Game of Thrones fans. You have to cross through Bosnia to reach Dubrovnik and passports are checked while entering and exiting Bosnia.
After crossing through Bosnia, we entered Dubrovnik region and the first glimpse of the city makes you realize why this place is called the Pearl of the Adriatic. A world heritage site, this place has become immensely popular due to its association Game of Thrones. But even if you keep away the association the city charms you with its first look.
You feel like you are on a movie set when you enter the Old Town of Dubrovnik. Multiple scenes of Game of thrones were filmed in Old Town, major ones being the wall and harbor scenes of King’s Landing. Fort Lovrijenac and Minceta Tower are some important locations for GOT fans to visit while in Dubrovnik. You can take one of the tours which are priced around 20-25 euros, will guide you through all the locations of filming or you can Google it yourself like we did. The place still has the charm and has not let history drift away from the city. We wandered along the walls and in the castle, taking pictures GOT style and when we had our fill we rested near the sea face. The place is so serene that it calms you down.
If you are visiting Croatia, it is a must to visit to Dubrovnik. This place has a lot of hidden corners and places which will leave you speechless!
Natural beauty of Croatia
After Dubrovnik, our plan was to visit Krka national park where another friend would join us for remaining part of the trip. We were delayed a bit due to someone messing up on navigation and we ended up taking the non-toll road!
We covered up on lost time and reached in time to enjoy a sunny afternoon stroll around the park. It was a sunny day and perfect for a visit to Krka National Park. The park runs along the River Krka, from mountains to Adriatic Sea. There are 5 entrances to the park and all have good road connectivity. You have road connectivity from Zagreb, Zadar and Split to the park and one can travel in buses if one does not have a car.
The Walk around the trails of the park is a great, calm experience. You walk around waterfalls, water flowing beneath you at some point or just marshy land with animals around you. It’s a nice little stroll with the option on swimming in the lakes. That night we stayed in Zadar and the house deserves a special mention, it was the best accommodation we had lived in throughout our stay in Europe!
Last day was reserved for Plitvice National Park, we hoped to end on a high and it did live up to our expectations. As soon as we entered the area surrounding the park, it was white all around with fog. It looked like someone had put a white screen in front of us with temperatures touching sub-zero degrees. The icing on the cake literally was white, ghostly feel.
The park is a maze of waterfalls and lakes, and no matter what season you come in, it will leave you spellbound. There are multiple trails along the lakes and you can take one as per your time and fitness constraints! We had visited the place at a time when there was snow all around, the trails were full of fresh snow and when there is snow, there has to be a snow fight. There are a few spots which are not mentioned on the map but suggested by the park patrol and the best view is from these spots, so be sure to explore the place.
Croatia has been a revelation, one of the best places we have visited in Europe!