I’m about to embark on another grand travel adventure & I’m excited to share details with you. I will be visiting Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Slovenia on an Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) tour entitled “Crossroads of the Adriatic.”
I have been itching to get back to this southeastern part of Europe, in particular Croatia, because almost 30 years have passed since I last visited the area in 1990. On that trip to Yugoslavia, I toured Dubrovnik & the Dalmatian coast, as well as Mostar & Sarajevo.
United as Yugoslavia after World War I, these diverse countries at the crossroads of Eastern and Western cultures coexisted peacefully – yet have been at the center of intermittent hostilities from the Middle Ages to the late 20th century. In the early 1990s, major conflicts caused the final breakup of Yugoslavia into the 6 individual countries we know today.
On this 18-day OAT tour (with 16 days “in country”), I will be traveling with 12 friends. We’ll be getting a fascinating look at the sights and cultures of these 4 countries that were once part of Yugoslavia. Plus, we’ll have lots of opportunities to meet the local people – a hallmark of OAT tours. (see above map for our tour itinerary).
OAT’s “Crossroads of the Adriatic” brochure says this: We’ll journey from the elegant walled city of Dubrovnik (Croatia) and historic streets of Sarajevo (Bosnia) to the turquoise splendor of Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes and the towering peaks of Slovenia’s Julian Alps. Along the way, we’ll discover a region that is rapidly re-establishing its rightful position among the world’s great travel destinations.
In this blog post, I want to give you a flavor of this wonderful tour. I have included a summary of each of the cities and areas we’ll be visiting. Many of them are already quite popular with travelers so hopefully, you will get some ideas to add to your own Travel Wish List. So, let’s begin…
Dubrovnik – Croatia
We start our tour in Dubrovnik, Croatia’s crown jewel on its beautiful Dalmatian coast. Regarded as one of the world’s loveliest walled cities, Dubrovnik’s character reflects its celebrated past as an independent city-state that rivaled Venice.
Sadly, the city suffered heavy damage during the Balkan conflict in the early 1990s. But, happily, it has been impeccably restored (under UNESCO supervision) and returned to its former glory. As a result, tourists have definitely returned en masse!
Especially during the busy summer months, Dubrovnik’s Old Town overflows with visitors, many coming from the several cruise ships who visit each day. Luckily, with our group spending 3 days in Dubrovnik, we should be able to avoid peak crowd times for touring the old city.
I’m particularly excited about taking a walk atop the city’s ancient ramparts – a little over a mile in length! – where you can get bird’s eye views of the red rooftops of Old Town and the shimmering blue Adriatic Sea.
Kotor Bay – Montenegro
During one of our days in Dubrovnik, we’ll take a full-day excursion south to Montenegro (about a 2.5-hour drive). This small country is known for its natural beauty – from towering alpine mountains to its rugged coastline dotted with historic cities like Kotor & Budva.
We’ll be visiting the stunningly beautiful Bay of Kotor, southern Europe’s deepest natural bay. I’ve been “lusting” after this destination for a while, after seeing photos like the one above. And just like Dubrovnik, Kotor is a popular cruise ship destination.
Upon arriving at the Bay of Kotor, we’ll first visit the ancient village of Perast. There, we’ll embark upon an hour-long boat cruise of the bay. This will allow us to get a closeup view of “Our Lady of the Rocks,” one of two nearby islets which is home to a picturesque church (seen in photo above).
We’ll spend the rest of our time in the UNESCO-designated town of Kotor, a well-preserved medieval walled town situated at the head of the bay. Kotor’s Stari Grad, or Old Town, is filled with ancient churches and former aristocratic mansions that line its narrow, cobbled streets. Sounds perfect for walking and exploring, doesn’t it?
Mostar – Bosnia & Herzegovina
After saying goodbye to Dubrovnik & Croatia (for now!), we’ll enter our 3rd country of the trip – Bosnia & Herzegovina – as we make our way to Sarajevo. En route, we’ll stop for a short visit of the ancient town of Mostar.
Established by the Ottoman Turks in the late 15th century, Mostar became a place where the cultures of the Middle East and Europe mingled. Mostar is named for the former watchtower keepers (mostari in Bosnian) of its 16th-century bridge.
Mostar’s famed bridge spans the Neretva River, whose waters divided the town into Muslim and Croat sections. Tragically, the bridge was destroyed in 1993 during the breakup of Yugoslavia. However, the bridge and Mostar’s historic city center were restored in 2004.
I am excited to return to Mostar, since I very well remember the magnificent stone bridge from my 1990 visit. Just 3 short years later, I was saddened to learn that the bridge had been bombed. While in Mostar, we’ll enjoy a walking tour of the old town, plus visit a local Muslim market. And, of course, visit the bridge for a little déjà vu!
Sarajevo – Bosnia & Herzegovina
Founded by the Ottomans in the 15th century, Sarajevo flourished as a multicultural haven for Muslims, Serbs, Croats, Turks, Jews, and others for hundreds of years. In fact, it has been called “the Jerusalem of Europe.” Plus, as you might remember, Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984.
Once a shining example of ethnic diversity, Sarajevo descended into chaos during the Yugoslav wars. The city & its people endured a brutal 44-month siege in the early 1990s – the longest in the history of modern warfare.
However, in less than two decades, Sarajevo has been almost completely restored as the gleaming capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina. We’ll be spending 3 nights here to learn about the city’s past and experience its promising present and future.
We’ll tour Sarajevo’s Old Town (Bascarsija), including an ancient Ottoman Market that has been long considered the heart of Sarajevo. We’ll also visit the Latin Bridge (photo above), site of the infamous 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that sparked World War I.
From what I’ve heard, a real highlight will be our visit to the Sarajevo Tunnel (also called the Tunnel of Hope). This vast underground passage was dug in 1993 to ferry people out and bring supplies into the beleaguered city during the nearly four-year-long siege.
While in Sarajevo, we’ll enjoy a home-hosted dinner with local families to experience genuine Bosnian hospitality. In addition, our hosts will give us their personal insights into what life was like during that challenging time in their history.
Karanac Farm Stay – Croatia
From Saravejo, we head north through Bosnia to re-enter Croatia and visit its northeast corner. This Baranja region, with its fertile agricultural lands & robust wine industry, is an important part of Croatia’s “breadbasket.”
Our final destination is Karanac, a charming rural village located 1.5 hours from Baranja’s largest city, Osijek. We’ll spend one night in Karanac at a simple farmstead, where we’ll be welcomed by the local family who owns and operates the farm.
There, we’ll have the opportunity to learn about daily life in rural Croatia from our hosts and others in the village. That evening, we’ll break into smaller groups for dinner at the homes of neighboring families.
The next morning, early risers can help around the farm – for me, it all depends on how early is early! After breakfast, we’ll meet a local pottery master and then take a walk around Karanac for an additional glimpse into life in a small village. After lunch at the farmstead, it will be time to head for the big city. Yes, this OAT tour is chocked full of contrasts!
Zagreb – Croatia
Next stop is Zagreb, Croatia’s modern capital, where we’ll spend 3 nights. Our first day there, we’ll enjoy a walking tour of Zagreb with a local guide. Zagreb’s modern Donji Grad, or Lower Town, has a well-designed street grid that was laid out in the 19th century.
Then we head by funicular (the shortest in Europe!) to view medieval monuments in the city’s Gornji Grad, or Upper Town. While there, we’ll visit Dolac Market, a bustling collection of open-air stalls.
From my reading, I’ve learned that some people compare Zagreb to the ever-popular Prague. Apparently, the city has numerous sights, a full events calendar, great restaurants, active nightlife and decent shopping. Plus, there are galleries and museums and plenty of cafes in which to sip a coffee or beer while taking a sightseeing break.
One of the museums that has definitely caught my eye is the city’s beloved Museum of Broken Relationships. It contains an eclectic collection of items sent in by heartbroken people from around the world, along with heartfelt stories of their breakups. Sounds like a kick!
Plitvice Lakes – Croatia
Croatia’s famous Plitvice Lakes is a 114-square-mile national park that has, at its heart, 16 turquoise lakes linked by a series of waterfalls and cascades. This natural wonder has been a UNESCO designee since 1979.
And, yes, this is another destination that’s been high on my list because of the amazing photos I’ve seen posted, as well as raves from friends who’ve already been lucky enough to visit Plitvice Lakes.
The park has a network of wooden footbridges that allow visitors to enjoy the lakes and waterfalls. Apparently, the park also has wonderful wildlife viewing. Our OAT Tour Leader will be taking us on a walking tour of the park, which should be a really unique and wonderful experience.
Opatija – Croatia
Opatija, an Adriatic seaside resort town, is where we’ll be spending two nights. Its location makes it a good base for exploring the nearby Istrian Peninsula, which we’ll do on our second day.
Opatija’s history as a Mediterranean resort destination for wealthy European aristocrats, dignitaries, and artists stretches back to 1844. The town features landscaped parks, manicured gardens, and grand & colorful Habsburg-era villas.
Hopefully, we’ll have some late-afternoon free time in which to take a stroll along a section of the town’s famous Lungomare, a 7.5-mile-long waterfront promenade linking Opatija with Lovran, another small resort town. Last, but not least, Opatija is renowned for fresh seafood.
Hill Towns of Istria – Croatia
We have a full-day excursion planned to the Istrian Peninsula to visit two of the region’s many medieval hill towns. Our first stop will be Motovun, where we’ll explore the town and end up at a family-owned truffle shop. There, we’ll learn about these local delicacies (ie, edible fungi!) and get a taste!
Then we head to a local truffle forest, where we’ll get to take part in a 30-minute truffle-hunting demonstration with a local guide and their well-trained dog. Hmm, this should be interesting! We end this special Istrian day tour in the town of Buzet, where we visit a family-run rakija distillery (a fruit brandy).
Here’s an article about truffles – and not the chocolate kind – in case you’re interested in learning more.
Welcome to Slovenia / Lake Bled
From Opatija in Croatia, we head to Slovenia, our 4th country of the trip! Slovenia is a forest-clad country of meadows, alpine villages, and soaring mountain peaks of the Julian Alps. Sounds wonderful – plus it will be quite a “scenic” contrast to the rest of our trip.
The Slavic nation of Slovenia was the first to claim independence and break away from the Yugoslav federation. And it largely escaped involvement in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
We’ll be making a full-day excursion to beautiful Lake Bled from Ljubljana. Lake Bled is Slovenia’s leading mountain resort – thanks, in large part, to its magnificent alpine views, a fairy-tale island, and a cliff-hanging medieval castle.
Lake Bled’s 17th-century Church of the Assumption is perched on an islet in the middle of the lake. To visit the picturesque island and church, we’ll be taking a pletna boat – the local version of a gondola. Seems like a perfect way to enjoy the lake!
Ljubljana – Slovenia
Slovenia’s charming capital, Ljubljana, is getting plenty of rave reviews these days! Small and quaint with a fairy-tale charm, this city of about 300,000 people radiates from the tranquil, tree-lined banks of the Ljubljanica River.
We’ll be spending 3 nights in Ljubljana at the end of our tour, in what I’m sure will be a perfect “icing on the tour cake”! And yes, the city’s name is hard to pronounce and spell, but I hope to master it by trip’s end.
Ljubljana is a thriving university town. I’m told that famed Slovenian architect Joze Plecnik’s influence can be seen throughout the city. In fact, the buildings and bridges he designed are considered as much a work of art as a successful effort in urban planning.
Our time in Ljubljana will be spent walking the narrow streets of its café-lined Old Town and soaking up the city’s laid-back ambiance. Plus, we’ll enjoy a private 45-minute cruise along the Ljubljanica River for a waterside perspective of the city and its many interesting bridges.
At our final evening’s Farewell Dinner, we’ll toast our hard-working OAT Tour Leader Martina (from Croatia) and our fellow travelers for sharing what I already know will be a wonderful 2+ weeks together exploring these four fascinating countries at the “Crossroads of the Adriatic!”
This will be my 3rd trip with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). My first OAT tour was to Turkey in 2015 and my second was last year to Morocco. Both were great experiences and I know this one to Croatia & more will be the same!
OAT is a U.S. based tour operator that specializes in small group (less than 16!) adventure travel for Americans age 50+. They are culturally & educationally-focused, and their tours offer authentic cultural interactions with the local people. Plus, OAT is reasonably priced, yet still provides good quality – just my kind of travel!
OAT’s philosophy is that to really understand the spirit of a country, you need to meet the people who live there. So, they create “people to people” opportunities on each tour, including OAT’s signature “A Day in the Life” experience with visits, conversations, and home-hosted meals with the locals.
Note: A special thanks to OAT & the Crossroads of the Adriatic tour brochures for much of the information & photos contained in this blog post.
COMMENTS: Have you visited this region of the world? Which countries? What do you recommend?