My decades long dream of touring scenic Croatia was about to be fulfilled when I arrived in Zagreb for a Katarina Line Croatian Rhapsody tour. A driver was at the airport to greet me. After waiting a few minutes for the arrival of another flight with two more tour participants we drove to Hotel Dubrovnik in the Zagreb downtown pedestrian zone.
I learned much about the history of Croatia during the next eight days. The written history of Croatia dates back to 1094. In this post I am going to concentrate on the sights of Croatia and specifics of the tour. It would be impossible for me to even skim the depth of this country’s history in the space that I have here. You can read a brief outline by Andrija Hebrang online. If you plan to visit Croatia I would recommend reading a more complete history before your trip.
Scenic Croatia Day 1 Zagreb (Dinner included)
After checking in to the well located hotel we had free time until 8:30 that night. Other members of our tour group would be arriving throughout the day. I spent the next few hours exploring the neighborhood surrounding the hotel. The vendors in the market in Ban Jelačić Square were selling flowers, trinkets and local foods.
Our guide, Zoran, welcomed the group when we met in the hotel lobby later that evening. Zoran provided an overview of our tour schedule before we enjoyed an included welcome drink and dinner. Over our meal we spent some time getting acquainted.
Scenic Croatia Day 2 Zagreb – Opatija (Breakfast and Dinner included)
After breakfast we met a local guide who shared the history of Zagreb while showing us the major attractions. We explored the newer Lower Town of Zagreb including the Oktagon shopping complex with its luminous stained glass ceiling.
Next we rode the funicular to historical upper Zagreb where our guide pointed out such iconic sights as St. Mark’s church, the Tesla Museum, Strossmarte and the Zagreb Cathedral. Our walking tour ended near the green market. We then had over an hour to explore on our own before meeting at our coach (our home for much of the next seven days).
On the Road
Our tour group numbered 19 which meant we had room to spread out in our coach that had seats for 40 passengers. Throughout the tour this allowed us the opportunity to comfortably store our jackets, cameras and other daytime possessions. We could also stretch our legs, change seats and get to know our follow travelers. Our group came mainly from the United States and Australia. We enjoyed exchanging travel stories and personal histories during our time together.
On the drive to our next stop of Opatija our guide Zoran entertained us with Croatian history, information about local customs in the areas through which we were driving and pointed out not to be missed views from our windows. He let us know that each day we would make rest stops of at least 30 minutes every 1 ½ hours. Zoran somehow managed to keep us on track each day and we never missed a rest stop or arrived late anywhere! Kudos to my fellow travelers for being on time, flexible and relaxed traveling companions.
After driving through the Dalmatian Alps, an area of mixed forests and lakes, we descended to Opatija on Kvarner Bay. A spa resort going back centuries it is still a favorite holiday location for Europeans. Our home for the next two nights was the Remisens Hotel Admiral with views of the bay from our rooms.
We had some time to wander the town in a light rain before eating together at the hotel and turning in for the night.
Scenic Croatia Day 3 Istria Excursion (Breakfast and Snack included)
After breakfast at the hotel we boarded the coach for Pula where we were met by another local guide. Pula’s history illustrates the breadth of civilizations and cultures that have been a part of Croatia for centuries. In Pula and the surrounding area archeological discoveries have included; pottery dating back to before 6000 BC (Neolithic period), bone utensils from the Bronze Age and Greek pottery.
The most visible remnant of prior civilizations in Pula is the Roman arena built in the 1st century. During the rule of the Romans a city wall with ten gates was also constructed. Three of those gates are still visible today.
After a guided walking tour of the history of Pula we boarded the bus for the Istrian seaside town of Rovinj. From our coach we walked along the marina towards the old town and main plaza. Our guide pointed out his favorite restaurants and gave us a brief tour of the hilltop old town after which we had about one and a half hours on our own in Rovinj.
We bid goodbye to our local guide before our next stop at Natura Tartufi, purveyors of local black truffles. We were served a tasting tray of black truffle preparations canapés. The the pièce de résistance of our truffle tasting was scrambled eggs with black truffle. All of us agreed this was the perfect vehicle for appreciating the truffle.
We had an opportunity to purchase black truffle delicacies before heading back to Opatija where we were on our own for dinner and a walk around the town. Still full from lunch and truffle tasting I took a walk in the rain and then settled on the outdoor patio at our hotel with a pot of tea and an indulgent chocolate dessert before bed.
Scenic Croatia Day 4 Opatija – Plitvice Lakes (Breakfast and Dinner included)
Everyone on the tour had been anticipating our destination for today, Plitvice Lakes National Park, considered by many the most beautiful national park in Croatia. As we approached the park Zoran showed a video which talked about the flora and fauna of the park. Unfortunately, also as we approached, the temperature dropped and it started to rain. By the time we parked our coach Zoran had changed our plans for the day twice, designing a route for us that would allow us to see some of the magnificent lakes and waterfalls with the least amount of walking.
A Rainy Plitvice Lakes
We all quickly decided that our first order of business when we stepped off of the coach was to go into the hotel gift shop and purchase rain ponchos! Zoran double-checked that we were all up for our outing and gave people the choice of waiting in the hotel café/bar if they did not want to brave the rain.
Our undaunted group all set out together walking down the path towards the boat dock where a small boat would ferry us across to the first boardwalk leading through the park.
By the time we got to the dock it was hailing and windy and lightening was lighting up the dark sky. It was difficult to see through the hail mixed with driving rain and mist coming off of the lakes. In spite of the weather the sounds of the waterfalls, greenery of the shrubs and reflection of the trees in the clear lakes were breathtaking.
The experience was definitely daunted by the storm. After about 20 minutes of climbing up slippery wooden steps we came to a section of the trail that was covered in water. The only way forward was stepping sideways on the side of a small hill and snaking around the water.
Tea and Sympathy
Sadly, four people, including me, had to concede that we could not continue for a variety of reasons. It took us about 30 minutes in the rain to make our way back down the path, across on the boat, and back up to the hotel.
We ordered some tea and lamented that we were inside instead of seeing Plitvice Lakes. The rest of the group joined us about an hour later. They had been able to see some lakes and waterfalls but said that it was very difficult to see much with their poncho hoods, the rain and watching their footing on the slippery path. Zoran complimented our group for being good sports, not complaining and each doing the best that we could.
We drove just outside of the park to our home for the night the Hotel Degenija. I think that everyone agreed this was our favorite hotel of the trip. It is a family built and run hotel and restaurant in a lush setting. We were all literally soaked through to the skin. So we took warm showers, changed into dry clothes and placed our wet clothes, jackets, and shoes on the towel warmers in our rooms and relaxed for about an hour before dinner.
Of course, the weather started to clear about the time that we drove out of the park. Most of us took a short stroll around the grounds of the hotel or had a glass of wine in the hotel bar before dinner. Salad, fresh grilled trout with potatoes and kale and dessert along with talk about our adventures of the day, made for a perfect evening in our mountain setting.
Scenic Croatia Day 5 Plitvice Lakes – Šibenik – Split (Breakfast and Snack included)
We woke up to a sunny day and were all wishing we could have a do-over in the park. However, our schedule would not allow that. After our included breakfast, our accommodating leader, Zoran, called the park and arranged for us to get in with no admittance fee (the daily fee the day before was included in our tour).
Our first destination for the day was Šibenik. This was definitely one of my favorite towns on our tour. Šibenik was founded by the Croats at the end of the 9th or beginning of the 10th century. Its protected bay can be viewed from cafes and restaurants near the water. Our Katarina Line local guide provided the history of the area and gave us an overview of the layout of Šibenik.
As soon as you step away from the waterfront area you are in a charming old town of winding alleys, churches, shops, residences and cafes. Like most towns in Croatia there were signs for tourist rooms to rent on many of the side streets.
We had over an hour to explore on our own when our tour ended. I wandered through the alleyways before stopping for a gelato in a seafront café.
Tapas and Wine
Bibich Winery, on the way to Split, was the setting for our afternoon tapas and wine tasting. The tapas included a wide variety of gourmet treats. The owner of the winery guided us through which foods to sample with each of the four wines that we tasted.
Several of my fellow travelers purchased some wine before we headed for our final stop of the day, Split.
The Cornaro Hotel was our home for two nights in Split. Another four star hotel, it is well-situated for easy access to the town.
After giving us some time to settle in, Zoran took all who were interested for an hour’s orientation around Split. He pointed out his favorite places for food and gelato. He also showed us where we could visit the fish market, green market and do some shopping in our free time the next day. We were on our own for dinner that night. I had some iced tea at a café on the waterfront, still full from our tapas and wine tasting.
Scenic Croatia Day 6 Split & Trogir (Breakfast and Lunch included)
The hotel breakfast buffet included many choices, plus you could order a variety of hot dishes from the menu at no extra cost. Our morning guided tour took place mostly inside the ruins of Diocletian Palace built between the third and fourth centuries A.D.
Split has been built around that original site with additions such as 12th century churches, 15th century palaces, fortifications and city walls. The result is a flowing mix of architecture, alleyways, shops and gates that lead seamlessly into shopping areas from more modern times. The old town of Split is pedestrian only and weaves a spell as you soak up its history.
Touring Diocletian Palace
The Palace area is now a mix of small hotels, shops, cafés, and preserved architecture. If you are thinking that it sounds too commercial, remember that in Diocletian’s day one quarter of the Palace served as his personal quarters. Other areas inside the palace walls would have housed merchants, temples and the everyday business of running the Palace.
I found our tour of the Diocletian Palace cellars fascinating. The original foot print on that level is well preserved and is still the site of archeological digs. Game of Thrones fans will recognize this part of the palace as a site used in filming the series. There are many Game of Thrones sites throughout Croatia.
Immediately following our Palace tour we boarded the coach for a short ride to the small island of Trogir. After a walking tour of the island we walked to Konoba Tragos where we feasted on the very tasty and filling traditional dish of Pasticada for lunch.
Free Time in Split
We then returned to Split where we had the late afternoon and evening free to sightsee and spend time on the waterfront.
Scenic Croatia Day 7 Split – Ston – Dubrovnik (Breakfast and Lunch included)
The next day we headed for our final overnight destination, Dubrovnik. The coastal drive included sweeping vistas of the Dalmatian Coast and the many islands of Croatia.
Near the town of Ston we stopped at Vina Vukas winery for a wine tasting. The accompanying food was mentioned as a snack. However, it was a complete meal, and one of the best I had in Croatia. The family cultivates oysters and mussels plus has a small farm.
Accompanying our excellent wine were fresh oysters harvested 30 minutes before our arrival. We were also served a cold plate of local cheese, prosciutto, tomatoes and olives. Next came mussels, also harvested just before our arrival, served in a wine, butter, garlic sauce. These were the best mussels I have ever eaten.
The Magnificent Coastline or Croatia
Once in Dubrovnik we checked into the Valamar Argosy Hotel located on a cliff overlooking the water about ten minutes by car or bus from the old city walls of Dubrovnik. There is a local bus that runs frequently into town and stops about a block from the hotel. By the time we arrived the sprinkles had turned in to a steady rain, so most of us relaxed in the hotel, while some of our group took the bus into the old city.
Scenic Croatia Day 8 Dubrovnik (Breakfast and Dinner included)
The hotel served an extensive breakfast buffet. On this particular morning there were several large tour groups all trying to eat before checking out of the hotel, so it was a little hectic. However, there were seats available and the staff was diligent about refilling the buffet platters. The only line was at the egg and omelet station where there was a short wait to have eggs cooked to order.
Dubrovnik – Another Rainy Day
After breakfast Zoran dropped us off at one of the gates to the old city where we were met by our local tour guide. She was informative and interesting. Sadly, it rained harder and harder throughout our tour.
She cut the tour a short by about 15 minutes as by the end there was a strong cold wind accompanying the pouring rain. Zoran was due to pick us up on the coach about six hours later, giving us plenty of time to walk the old city walls, visit museums and ride the funicular just outside the city walls to a lookout point above the old town.
Over the next two hours we all made our way back to the hotel by bus. The weather was just too inclement to be outside. Our eight days in scenic Croatia were officially ending the next morning after breakfast. Many headed to the airport first thing the next morning. I felt badly for those who had only this rainy glimpse of Dubrovnik. They were the ones who lasted the longest in the rain seeing what they could.
That night we had a farewell dinner hosted at the hotel. It was a large buffet of mediocre food, our only disappointing meal of the trip. However, we all enjoyed spending this last evening together, exchanging contact information and recalling the many highlights of the tour and expressing our gratitude to our patient and knowledgeable tour guide, Zoran.
Scenic Croatia Day 9 Dubrovnik (Breakfast included)
Some of our group left before breakfast for early flights. By 11 am the last of us were saying our goodbyes. I was very fortunate to be staying for one more night in Dubrovnik. Katarina provided a transfer for me to my hotel for the night near the old town. The next afternoon I would be joining a Katarina Line boat cruise from Dubrovnik back to Split.
Reflections on Katarina Line Croatian Rhapsody Tour
This tour of scenic Croatia met all of my expectations and more. The use of local guides at every stop and our knowledgeable tour leader Zoran, were invaluable in understanding the complex and rich history of this country. Our itinerary covered mountains, coasts, small and mid-sized towns.
Pro and Cons (mostly pros!)
I only heard two cons from fellow travelers. Many mentioned, and I agree, that they would have appreciated a printed itinerary of the complete trip to be passed out on the day that we arrived. Katarina did email us a PDF of the itinerary ahead of time. However, it did not include times or specific hotels. That is understandable as it is meant as an overview of what is included, and hotels and times may vary with different seasons. That is why a printed itinerary specific to our excursion would have been helpful. Zoran was wonderful about explaining the next day’s plans to us and reminding us throughout the day what was up next.
There were times that many of us wished we had more time on our own at some of the towns we visited. However, when I think about that I do not know what I would have wanted to give up in exchange. We never had less than an hour on our own. I cannot think of any stop I would have wanted to eliminate to make more time at one of the other stops.
The history and the understanding of current Croatian culture that we benefitted from by spending time with local guides at every destination is not something I would have been willing to give up either. The guides were generous in answering personal questions about their families, their children’s education, job opportunities and current politics.
Additional positives included well thought out rest stops so that the time in the coach never seemed excessive. The spots always included views or points of interest and choices for food and drinks. The locations of all of the hotels allowed us a lot of flexibility to explore on foot in our free time. And a wide selection of nearby choices for dinner when not included in the tour. All hotels were comfortable and the staff at each hotel was welcoming.
Katarina Line Hospitality
Thank you to Katarina Line for providing a media discount for my tour. You can find the tour prices in various seasons on the Katarina Line website. I feel like their tours are very well priced for what is included and for the quality of the accommodations. I look forward to traveling with them again to scenic Croatia to enjoy more of this beautiful country and its people.