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All the planning initially revolved around visiting Croatia, though not long after we wanted to include Slovenia as well, which came highly recommended by several friends. As highlighted earlier, Dubrovnik and Plitvice Lakes were the initial focus of Croatia, whereas Lake Bled quickly the centerpoint of Slovenia. We booked this trip (flights, car, and accommodation) slightly last minute, just two months in advance. In hindsight, we were very lucky to have found the great rentals we did find. Rick Steves Croatia & Ljubljana guidebook was a great help with general planning, can’t-miss sites, and restaurant recommendations. All rentals were booked through AirBnB.
We chose to travel in early September during the shoulder season to avoid the larger crowds. We believe this approach was successful, although some areas remained rather crowded regardless (Venice, Plitvice Lakes, and Dubrovnik).
We had a few very hot days (low 30s Celsius) in Venice, Verona and Kotor. Otherwise, the weather was very pleasant (low-to-mid 20s). Although days were overcast, particularly during our time in Dubrovnik, it did not rain other than during our visit to Ljubljana.
How to get there
For us, the cheapest and more direct way to get to Slovenia & Croatia was to fly into Venice, and then make our way from there via ground transport. This is probably true for most North American travelers, as there are no major transportation hubs in either country.
Using GoOpti ride sharing service
Our primary reason for using GoOpti was that there were no direct trains or buses between Venice and Bled (our 2nd destination). GoOpti turned out to be a very practical and inexpensive (especially when booking long in advance) means of transit between places that are not major transportation hubs (e.g. Bled). We used it for 3 different transits: Venice-Bled, Bled-Zagreb, Rovinj-Venice. A few things to know:
- The earlier you book, the cheaper the ride;
- You specify your locations (generally train/bus stations or airports) and the time you want to have arrived at your destination by;
- They let you know a few days in advance at what time you have to be at the pick up point (within a predetermined range specified during the reservation).
Slovenia uses Euro, Croatia uses its own currency, the kuna. But nowadays, you can pretty much exclusively use your credit card and not worry too much about having to exchange currency. Aside from in Venice and Dubrovnik, we found the food and restaurants to be not all that expensive.
Driving in Croatia
Aside from a few narrow streets in Dubrovnik, driving in Croatia was both a breeze of a lot of fun. Most of the highway system was recently revamped so the roads are in excellent condition.
We rented our vehicle from Enterprise via AutoEurope. We rented it from Enterprise’s city center office (near Dubrovnik port) as we didn’t need it for our first few days in Dubrovnik. We rented it for one day before we were to set-off for Zadar for our day trip into Montenegro.
Innercity and between-city transits
- Venice airport → Venice: We used the bus service (20 minutes, 8 euros in 2016) that connects to two. From the Venice bus station, we walked for 10 minutes to our AirBnB rental;
- Venice → Verona: We booked the train between Venice and Verona, just one day in advance because it was a regional train, via ItaliaRail. The train ride was approximately 90 minutes way. If you are staying in Venice proper, you are likely no further than a 20-minute walk from the station;
- Venice → Bled: This was our first transit with GoOpti. We travelled with 2-3 other travellers along the way and made 2-3 stops. All in all, the trip didn’t take much longer than it would have to drive directly between both towns (approximate ride duration: 4 hours);
- Bled → Ljubljana: We travelled by bus between Bled and Ljubljana (no reservation needed; approximately 7 euros; approximately 1h15 trip). The bus stops at the Ljubljana train station, a 5-minute walk from the town center;
* Note that the bus station in Bled looks more like large bus stop than an actual bus station.
- Bled → Zagreb: This was our second transit with GoOpti. The experience was very similar to our first transit with them (approximate ride duration: 3 hours);
- Zagreb → Dubrovnik: We flew between Zagreb and Dubrovnik with Croatia Airlines. From Dubrovnik, a local bus takes you to the Pile Gate entrance of the old Town (approximately 15-minute wait; 30-minute travel; 40 Kuna);
- Dubrovnik → Mljet: From Dubrovnik’s old port, we took the Nona Ana passenger ferry between Dubrovnik and Polace (entrance to the national park of Mljet and the western part of the island), which leaves in the morning and returns in the afternoon. The ferry ride takes approximately 90 minutes (departure time changes as a function of the season; full schedule);
- Dubrovnik → Kotor: This day trip was our first use of the rental car. It’s approximately a 2-hour drive each way. It’s a fairly straightforward drive that gets progressively more scenic, particularly once you reach the Bay of Kotor. There’s a quick border check when you enter into Montenegro, approximately 40 km after leaving Dubrovnik;
- Dubrovnik → Zadar: This was probably the longest drive of the trip, requiring just under 4 hours of driving time. But it was a very pleasant drive with what seemed like and endless alternation between bridges and tunnels on a brand new motorway through the mountains. Interestingly, for about a stretch of 5 km, you are in Bosnia and Herzegovina (and you have to cross a quick border control);
- Zadar → Plitvice Lakes (and return): This drive takes about 90 minutes each way. This also was a very scenic drive through the mountains;
- Zadar → Rovinj: This is another long drive, taking approximately 4 hours to complete. We made a 2-hour stop in Opatija for lunch and a quick stroll;
- Rovinj → Touring Istria → Rovinj: This was a very pleasant drive that took us through the rolling hills of Istria to visit Grozjean, Zavrsje and Motovun. The full loop without stops takes about 2h30-3 hours;
- Rovinj → Pula: This was a short 40-minute hop (each way). Best place to park is right across the spectacular Roman Amphitheater;
- Rovinj → Venice: After dropping off the car on our final full day in Rovinj, we used GoOpti for the final time to get to Venice (approximate ride duration: 4h-4h30).
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