New stars of the road trips: Croatia and Montenegro

For years and years many people have been going to their summer vacations to the Mediterranean countries but always the preferred ones have been Spain, France, Italy and Greece. Just during the latest years there are new and trendy hotspots – Croatia and Montenegro instead. And there is no wonder – they have the same natural beauty, crystal waters, lovely islands and cheaper prices! Well, to be totally honest the prices have increased in the latest years when tourists have become more interested in the area. Croatia became well known when its city Dubrovnik was the location of one of the Game of Thrones scenes. 

 Your roadtrip can start either from Rovinj, Croatia or Tivat, Montenegro. Whichever way you find better flight options. Usually best options can be for Split or Dubrovnik, so you can check these airports on Skyscanner and Kayak as well. The closest airports to Rovinj is Pula Airport (about 40 minutes drive) and Trieste in Italy (about 2 hours drive). 

NB! Rovinj is very close to Venice, Italy so you can also check Venice Marco Polo airport, if you want to visit Venice during this trip as well. The ferries from 2 different companies sail between Venice and Rovinj 7 days a week and the duration of the journey is about 3-4 hours, depending on the ferry. Or if you start your trip from Montenegro and finish in Rovinj then this would be a great option to travel to Venice from there – a little extra for your trip! Find more ferry information HERE.

 The duration of this road trip is 13 hours and with this time you’ll drive 908km / 564mi distance. I suggest a length for this trip about 4-5 days until a week. By this time you’ll really get to enjoy the beauty of all the places you have coming on this trip. Best time for the trip would be the high season  – from May until the end of September. If you love cabriolet cars then here would be a good place to rent one, so you could enjoy the magnificent views. If there is more of you travelling, then a normal car or a minibus would also be great. You can find different car options at Rentalmoose, just type your criteria and you’ll get the perfect car for this trip: LINK HERE

NB! For your peace of mind don’t forget to use the Rentalmoose app to take photos of the condition of the car when receiving it and before starting your journey and to qualify 50% of rebate from excess coverage. 

1. Rovinj, Croatia

My road trip starts from a fishing port Rovinj, in Croatia, on the Western coast of Istria peninsula. Interesting fact is that originally the peninsula on which the city lies was an island, separated from the mainland by a channel. The latter was filled in 1763. 

 Being so close to Italy makes this city bilingual, people speak both Croatian and Italian here. It also has the Italian feel to it, many people say it’s more like Italy rather than Croatia.

 The main economic activity in Rovinj is tourism and during peak season (May–September), its bars, restaurants and art galleries work long hours, while operating limited hours off-season. 

 The busiest place is the centre – fully pedestrian Carrera Street, with many independent shops and art galleries. There is also a farmer’s market located at the edge of the historic part of town, near Valdibora Square – best place to fuel yourself with a healthy and cheap snacks! In addition to the old town you should definitely have a stroll along the harbour. 

For a delicious meal book yourself a spot in a Monte restaurant. People say it’s not one of the best in Rovinj but one of the best in whole Croatia – so it’s not to be missed! But as the word moves fast then the place is already very popular and you have to make a reservation in advance. 

 To sleep off your travel exhaustion opt for spending a night at the ultra modern Lone Hotel, just about a 15 minute stroll away from the centre. Hotel is set within the Golden Cape Natural Park, there is a sushi bar, a nightclub and several restaurants within the building. 

Another excellent 5* hotel is Hotel Monte Mulini. This place is also a small walk away from the old town but you can feel like in a resort here and leave the city noise behind. Let the relaxation begin! 

Next: Rovinj – Plitvice (about 3,5 hours)

2. Plitvice Lakes National Park

Croatia is well known for its amazing nature and waterfalls. One of the most famous of these areas is Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia, which will be another destination on my journey route. 

 The place is listed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage sites. It is a popular visiting destination all year round, and must-see for every visitor to Croatia. So yes – it’s about 3,5 hours drive but I am sure you won’t regret going there. 
 The park has sixteen lovely emerald green lakes which are interconnected by cascades and waterfalls. Not only do humans love this natural wonder – animals also! So this place is a home for bears, wolves, otters, wild boars, skunks, squirrels, rabbits, foxes and numerous bird species. You probably won’t want to miss this exceptional natural beauty! Check their website for seasonal information and ticket prices: HERE

Next: Plitvice – Zadar (about 1,5 hours)

3. Zadar, Croatia

“Sea Organ” at Zadar

Zadar is a city of exceptional history and rich cultural heritage. The area of present-day Zadar traces its earliest evidence of human life from the late Stone Age, while numerous settlements date as early as the Neolithic. 

 Zadar has a good traffic infrastructure – the main road along the Adriatic passes through the city. And the natural beauty of the landscape will not leave you untouched. I am sure you will enjoy this road trip to the max! 

  Zadar – home to a historic old town of Roman ruins – is the urban center of northern Dalmatia as administrative, economic, cultural and political center of the region with 75,000 inhabitants. Zadar is an intriguing city where old and new live together – medieval museums next to cosmopolitan cafes. 

 A must see in Zadar is its “Sea Organ” – the first of its kind in the World. It is an architectural sound art object, an experimental musical instrument – a set of large marble steps, underneath it there are pipes located. At the end of each pipe is a whistle, tuned to play seven chords of five different tones, creating sighs when the sea waves pushes air in them. This really needs to be seen and heard by yourself. 

 Next to the “Sea Organ”, at the end of the Zadar peninsula, there is another masterpiece created from the same architect – Nikola Bašić. “The Greeting to the Sun” communicates with light, just like the “Sea Organ” does with sound. “The Greeting to the Sun” consists of three hundred multi-layered glass plates placed on the same level with the stone-paved waterfront in the shape of a 22-meter diameter circle. Under the glass conduction plates there are photo-voltage solar modules through which symbolic communication with nature is made. 

 Both are really cool experiences! By the way, the film legend Hitchcock himself said that the prettiest sunsets in the world are in Zadar! Another must to see those with your own eyes!

 After walking through the Plitvice and discovering Zadar you are probably really tired and need a good night’s rest. For this I’ve found you a great 4* Bastion Heritage Hotel in the Old Town. This is great for a car traveller as the hotel is very close to the only area you can reach with the car. So you wouldn’t need to carry your suitcases too long.

 The location is good also because there is a very famous fine dining restaurant “Kaštel” in the hotel. Restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine in elegant interiors and on a spacious terrace overlooking the garden. 

After your good night of sleep you can start your journey in the morning, rested and ready for a new great day ahead!

Next: Zadar – Krka (about 1 hour drive)

4. Krka National Park

Loved hiking yesterday at the Plitvice National Park? Well this is not it – you can enjoy another day in a beautiful nature again as there is another gorgeous park on the way. Make a stop at the Krka National Park. This one has a gorgeous swimming area, roped off at a bend in the river below the crescent of waterfalls. Before stripping off, take the shaded one-mile walk past a chain of tumbling pools to spot fish and sapphire dragonflies. And yes – now go freshen yourself up with a swim under the waterfalls. Need I even say more? 

 By the way inside the National Park there is a small island called Visovac. There is a Roman Catholic Visovac Monastery founded by the Franciscans in 1445. The monastery was founded during the reign of Louis I of Hungary. The island can be visited by a boat tour from Skradinski buk.

NB! A boat trip through the park is included in the entrance ticket and it is a great way of seeing much of the Park!

Next: Krka – Split (about 1 hour drive)

5. Split, Croatia

Restaurant next to the walls of Diocletian’s Palace

Welcome to Split! The largest city on the Dalmatian coast and the second largest in the whole Croatia. Split is an important transport center for Dalmatia and the wider region. In addition to the Zagreb-Split freeway (A1), all the road traffic along the Adriatic coast on the route Rijeka–Dubrovnik (Adriatic Highway) flows through the city. Split is always buzzing, the old city walls are filled with many trendy hotspots. 

 Go see a Diocletian’s Palace – a Unesco World Heritage site that is one of the world’s most impressive Roman monuments which was built in 305 AD. It was built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian for his retirement residence – hmm not a bad place to retire right? Btw – the palace is another location for the Game of Thrones series. If you are a fan, go and try to find the place (as the palace is quite big!). 

 Within the huge Diocletian Palace there are many sites to see, for example the St Domnius Cathedral and its Bell Tower. This is said to be the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the world that still works in its original structure. When climbing to the Bell Tower you can see breathtakingly beautiful view of the city of Split with its red rooftops. Diocletian Palace is actually forming half of the old town, so if you go there, you’re already wondering around in the Split’s oldest parts of the city. There are also many restaurants and bars where you could have some snack and a cold drink – for example Zinfandel Food & Wine Bar.

 Another thing you should see in Split is its harbour where hundreds of sailing boats take off to the gorgeous islands of Croatia. If you have more time in hand then I definitely suggest to visit an island or few as well (bigger and most famous being Hvar). Next to the harbour there is a promenade called The Riva, which makes a lovely place for an evening walk after dinner. 

 A great restaurant recommendation would be Dvor. The location of this restaurant is so beautiful and food great, so it’s totally worth to have the 20-minute walk from the old town! 

 When you call it a day then go and have a good rest in Hotel Park Split. You will feel very special once entering the hotel as there is a live piano music and they offer you a glass of champagne when checking in. Another great option is Villa Split Heritage Hotel in the old town – an authentic Roman house from the 3rd century AC. The house used to be a home for the most prominent Croatian writer Marko Marulić. For this reason the place is still sometimes called “Marulić house”. It’s also located in the Diocletian Palace. 

Next: Split – Ston (about 2,5 hours drive)

6. Ston, Croatia

The wall of Ston

 Rise and shine! This morning let’s start the journey towards another great Croatian city – Dubrovnik. But with a little stopover at the small town called Ston which will be on the way. The reason of visiting this place is food! Yes – Croatian best oysters come from the Bay of Mali Ston! 

 It is possible to visit oyster beds by boat from Mali Ston. Shellfish cultivation in Mali Ston Bay is currently based on only two species: The European Flat Oyster (Ostrea edulis) and the mussels called Mytilus galloprovinicialis. Oysters are fullest and most delicious in March, when St Joseph’s Day is celebrated. Gastro expert’s claim that oysters are best served freshly opened with some lemon juice. You will have the opportunity to taste the freshly opened oysters smelling of the sea around St Joseph’s Day (19 March) at the restaurants in Ston and Mali Ston. 

 Of course it’s possible to eat oysters there on another times as well. Visit famous Kapetanova kuća or Konoba Bakus restaurants. Order oysters and definitely try their mussels and black seafood risotto as well! Delicious! There is also a dessert called “Ston cake” which should be tried, it will give some mixed feelings as its a dessert with macaroni. But it actually tastes surprisingly good. 

 Always dreamed of visiting the Wall of China but haven’t made it there? Don’t worry, in Ston there is a Croatian version of it – one of the longest defence walls in Europe. The Great Wall is 1200 m long, and was built to ensure protection from neighbours. The chronicles state that the construction of the wall lasted for 18 months.

Next: Ston – Dubrovnik (about 1 hour drive)

7. Dubrovnik, Croatia

The red rooftops of Dubrovnik

 Bernard Shaw once said: “Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik.” So yes – you have reached to another amazing walled city on the Adriatic! And probably the most beautiful one! This will be your last stop in Croatia during this road trip. Dubrovnik is really a magnificent historical city, no wonder it has also been used as a filming location in Game of Thrones series as King’s Landing. 

 I must warn you that the Old Town in Dubrovnik is pedestrian only – no cars allowed. And the parking houses around the city are very expensive. I am talking “costing more than in Monaco” expensive. I really suggest to find yourself a hotel which has parking or park your car a bit further from the centre and take a little walk, or to use the public transport instead. But definitely don’t skip going to the Old Town – its aristocratic Baroque palazzos and medieval churches stand together with lively wine bars, classy seafood restaurants and elegant hotels. 

 A must thing to do here is taking a walk on the Dubrovnik Walls – the medieval walls surround the whole Old Town so you basically get to see it all at your walk. It’s recommended to keep a hat on and taking a water bottle with you – not that the walk would need extra climbing or hiking skills, just to protect you from the sun and heat (specially in July and August when the temperatures reach their peak). The views from the walls are amazing, so don’t forget to take your camera with you! 

 After you’ve seen the Old Town from above, it’s time to see it from the ground as well. Get lost on these tiny cobbled streets – there are many small roads that lead to great bars with amazing sea views. So don’t make a plan and go with the flow! Dubrovnik is full of such small gems! Also visit what’s said to be the oldest pharmacy in Europe! Set inside the 14th century Franciscan Monastery, the pharmacy is called Ljekarna Male Braće (meaning Little Brother’s Pharmacy). Buy their legendary rose face cream – krema od ruža – which is made of a secret medieval recipe!

 Another thing to do is the cable car ride – also with great views on Dubrovnik and the small islet Lokrum just close-by. I suggest to go there during the sunset. It’s extra lovely at that time but can also be extra crowded though… For a bit more private visit book a table at the Panorama restaurant from above. Then you have your private table to enjoy the view and don’t have to hassle in the crowds. 

 During the high season the beaches can also be crowded. But if you travel off season, then go check the Banje beach just nearby. You can pay for a sunbed or go with your own towel to lay on. 

After the explorations full your starving belly at Barba, a place that serves you fresh seafood street food. For example try the octopus burger. I bet you’ll never had anything like that before! Another great experience would be fusion restaurant Azur – Croatian fresh ingredients done with Thai spices and herbs. 

After fulfilling meal go to have a good-night rest at the Hilton Imperial Hotel – just next to the Old Town. The hotel also offers a paid parking garage. Another great option would be Hotel Excelsior which offers free private parking!

Next: Dubrovnik – Kotor (about 2 hours drive)

8. Kotor, Montenegro

 This morning you are heading to the border of Croatia and Montenegro. Let’s hope that there won’t be much traffic at the border as it sometimes may happen. First stop in Montenegro is the spectacular Bay of Kotor. The old Mediterranean port of Kotor is surrounded by fortifications built during the Venetian period. Bay of Kotor is a ria (a submerged river canyon) though people often call it the most Southern fjord in Europe. Together with the nearly overhanging limestone cliffs of Orjen and Lovćen, Kotor and its surrounding area form an impressive landscape. 

 Kotor also has a beautiful old town which is said to be the best preserved medieval old town in the Adriatic area. The old town is a medieval maze where you can wander around and find different museums, churches, Venetian palaces and lovely cafes. Although Kotor now is a tourist attraction, it still hasn’t lost its authentic charm. By the way: in 2016 Lonely Planet named it the number one city to visit in the world. So let’s discover!

 For a spectacular view you are again challenged for a little climb (nothing too much though!). Go climb the Fortress of San Giovanni from where you’ll be able to see the stunning Kotor from different perspectives. The view of the Old Town and the Boca Bay will take your breath away (if climbing the 1355 steps already hasn’t haha). The stunning views are worth every step!

 If you want to see more magical places, then head to Perast. Perast is a tiny village in the edge of the Kotor Bay. The village is said to be one of the most beautiful places in Montenegro! It is situated just a few kilometres northwest of Kotor. 

 Another must see place would be Our Lady Of The Rocks aka Gospa od Skrpjela. It is one of the two gorgeous islands in the bay of Boka Kotorska, which are situated in the sea across Perast. It is actually an artificial island, which was created by bulwark of rocks and by sinking old and seized ships loaded with rocks. 

After a day spent in Kotor it’s time to continue to journey to your final destination on this route. 

Next: Kotor – Tivat (about 20 minutes drive)

9. Tivat, Montenegro

 Tivat is not far from Kotor, it’s also located in the Bay of Kotor. It’s one of the smallest municipality in Montenegro with its population being just around 14 000. Tivat is probably the most glamorous city on this road trip – it has a fancy marina with expensive super yachts, classy restaurants and glitzy boutiques. So how did a modest and ordinary town end up like that? 

 Canadian businessman Peter Munk bought a naval shipyard in Tivat, intending to transform it into a luxury vacation resort and a marina for luxury yachts called Porto Montenegro. Tivat went through a major multimillion dollar remodelling of its marina and the surroundings and today it is a place where the world’s jet-set resides and rests during their summer holidays. As most of the road trip is in historic cities then it’s nice to see something different that Tivat offers. Although there are traces of history in this place as well. For example Renaissance Summer House Buca in the centre of the city.

 A great meal is found at restaurant One which probably can also boast with the best view of the yacht marina (a million dollar view indeed!). Another option would be to buy yourself some green and healthy organic food from the Bonella – a “supermarket” where you can only find the good stuff. Jet setters approved! 

 I suggest to book a hotel Regent Porto Montenegro, which happens to be, yeah you guessed it – in Porto Montenegro. This way you’ll be inside the new and fancy area, or maybe even see the fabulous promenade and marina from your room window. The hotel is located in the UNESCO-listed Boka Bay within a luxury Porto Montenegro Village in the town of Tivat. The luxury hotel is built in Renaissance Venetian style. Another great 5* hotel is The Chedi Luštica Bay. Set on the waterfront and boasting a private beach area and an outdoor pool, The Chedi Luštica Bay Hotel is located in Trašte Bay, 14 km from Tivat centre. 

Drop off

Good news is that Tivat airport is just 3km away from the centre. By the way this small town airport happens to be the biggest airport in whole Montenegro! So although it’s so close, leave yourself some time at the airport to drop off your rental car and find your flight gate. 

Conclusion

This is an excellent road trip that takes you to picturesque places through Croatia and Montenegro. You’ll be able to see the magnificent wonders of nature and also the creations of humans during different time eras (from the pretty old towns to the sparkly and glitzy modern harbours). This trip has it all! Add delicious food in nice restaurants – what else would you want from a road trip? Now ready, set and gooooo! 

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