Zadar was the last of the Croatian coastal towns we visited. We chose to stay a night and day in Zadar due to the location being a perfect place to stop on the somewhat lengthy drive between Vis and Slovenia. We also wanted to experience a town in Northern Dalmatia as we had read it was quite different than the southern parts of Croatia. To be honest, as much as we love the sea, by the time we got to Zadar we were both ready for the mountains and rivers of Slovenia. Though our brief time in Zadar didn’t offer the change of scenery we were craving, we left with quit a few reasons to stop there and spend some time.
While we spent the vast bulk of our trip in Croatia and Slovenia, it seemed wasteful not to bag a few other countries in our passports with many borders only miles away from our core route. This is nowhere more the case than in Dubrovnik, which despite being Croatia’s most famous international tourist destination, is actually separated from the rest of its country by other nations and the Adriatic. To head north to the rest of Croatia by land, you must pass through a narrow strip of Bosnia and Herzegovina, an artifact of a land sale by an independent Dubrovnik to shield itself from the Venetian republic. Head south from Dubrovnik, and you’ll soon be leaving Croatia in this direction as well. After passing through a curiously long no-mans land between the borders, you’ll enter Montenegro, one of the youngest countries on earth. In fact, your authors were already teenagers before this country existed.
Picking which cities to visit in Croatia was difficult. There are numerous quaint cities dotting the coast of Croatia and each one is proclaimed a “must-see” by at least someone on the internet. Split is the second-largest city in Croatia, and as such came up in many internet discussions. The opinions on the city varied – some say it is an unremarkable city and too industrialized compared to the rest of the small Croatian towns. Others say the history and architecture make it worth a visit. As the country’s largest port city, we had to leave from Split to catch a ferry to our island of choice. After some debate we decided to spend a full day checking out the city. Although Split is missing the small-town Mediterranean charm of other cities in Croatia, it was actually a refreshing break. The size and variety of the city enabled us to have some of the most fun of our entire trip.
When you think about mountain towns in the summer, your brain fills with images of outdoorsy people – gearing up for hiking, biking, rafting, etc. When you think of Europeans, a few other stereotypes that might overlap come to mind: they are slower paced and enjoy some of the simpler things in life just a little bit more than us Americans do. When these two thoughts cross, you are met with the Alpine paradise that is the lakefront town of Bled.
After a breakfast on our beautiful balcony on the outskirts of Dubrovnik, it was time to make the trek by bus to Old Town and traverse the city’s famous walls. Making a loop around the walls (some of which date bake to the 12th century) is a top item on most visitors’ lists. Unfortunately for us, it was already a roasting day by the time we scaled the first steps of many that are required to make the complete loop. Less than a quarter of the way around, we stopped for an iced coffee to cool down and wondered if we would make the rest of the journey.
Imagine a place with sixteen interconnected lakes. Each lake glows with an intense greenish-blue tint from afar, but the water is clear enough that the bottom is easily visible from close up. Waterfalls of vastly differing formations can be found everywhere you look – each more impressive than the last. You can walk right up to and even under the waterfalls, or you can explore caves that have been formed via erosion. Here Alpine and Mediterranean vegetation mix together for uniquely lush greenery surrounding the water. Plenty of animals live here too: wolves, deer, boar, otters, and even brown bears. You might never have expected it, but Croatia has the most beautiful national park I have ever seen. Plitvice Lakes really is magical.
Over the last half of a year, Kendall and I have been piecing together a trip to Croatia and Slovenia for next summer. Many hours have been spent whittling away at an impossibly large list of picturesque Mediterranean towns, weighing Venice versus a crack at the Alps in Slovenia, and generally fitting a mountain of adventure into a two week itinerary. Now, we’ve arrived at a milestone in the planning – the baseline itinerary has been selected and the plane tickets are purchased!