Every trip forever changes me, as only fellow travelers can appreciate. Every sense is engaged. Dreams come true. More dreams are created. Bonds are made stronger. New bonds are formed. Memories are imprinted in our hearts and minds that we will treasure for eternity, no matter how much we had already seen before. I do not take one single bit of these adventures with my family for granted, and I share my photos and experiences as a way to bring you along with me as much as possible on my journey. I love to share my passion for these discoveries and it brings me immense joy to know that I may even inspire some of my friends and family to visit the places I have fallen in love with, as I then can relive my passion through them.
I cannot believe it has taken me over a year to write the 2nd part of my post regarding our European adventures from last summer, but with after watching Croatia play in the World Cup, I am finally setting aside time to share our photos and experiences Croatia.
Our first visit to Croatia was the previous summer of 2016, after spending 2 weeks in Italy.
You can read about that experience, here: https://www.hmcmagazine.com/top-places-to-visit-in-croatia-with-your-family-the-benitez-family-adventures/. From the moment that we landed in Dubrovnik that summer, I knew 1 week wasn’t going to be enough, and had already made up my mind that we would come back to Croatia in 2017; that is just what we did….
After a week in Italy (https://ggbenitezpr.com/blog/2017/07/10/the-benitez-euro-adventures-2017-part-1-italy-rome-assisi-tivoli/), we flew the short non-stop flight from Rome to Dubrovnik, staying at the same hotel we had in 2016 (https://www.hotelroyalprincess.com). My family had loved being away from the crowds of the Old Town during the prime daytime hours, and this hotel was right on the Adriatic Sea, with delicious restaurants and secluded beaches that we could enjoy in between taking the 15 minute free shuttle into the Old Town each day. This time, we even discovered that a short 20 minute walk on the shoreline took us to a beach club with water activities, where we enjoyed tubing for our very 1st time.
The “Pearl of the Adriatic” is probably one of the top most gorgeous sights we have ever seen in our lives! We were completely in love with Dubrovnik; the food; the scenery; the cleanliness; the history; the proud and kind people who will share so much with you as soon as you engage with them; the amazing service; the stunning water…..I could go on and on!
Did you know that Dubrovnik has been an UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979?
After our 1st night in Dubrovnik, we took a day trip to Montenegro, as I had kept seeing photos all over social media that intrigued me. It’s really less than an hour away, but crossing the border was very inefficient. It took over an hour just to get through several cars, and motorcyclists kept cutting in front of us, until I ended up losing my patience, jumping out of the passenger seat of our car before my husband could grab my arm to stay seated, and screaming at the inconsiderate motorcyclists, who told me that was the “rule.” I walked up to the border patrol agent to complain, and he told me to get back into my car. It took an hour or so after that for my adrenaline to come back down, so that may be part of why I didn’t really enjoy Montenegro. It is visually stunning, and we explored Kotor, but I didn’t find the same warm and safe feeling that we felt in Croatia, so after a couple of hours of walking around in the sweltering heat, we decided to head back to our beloved Croatia, and went right into the Old Town.
The Old Town of Dubrovnik is probably one of the cleanest towns I have ever seen. Even though it’s in its medieval style, with cobblestone streets and old churches and buildings, the city is so well maintained (rebuilt after the war). The gelato in Dubrovnik (and, in Hvar) rivals Italy! The way the Old Town walls are lit up make it surreal, both from the outside looking in, and when walking around the tight little alleyways, discovering stores and delicious seafood restaurants. There are so many people in the outdoor cafes and restaurants, enjoying themselves while clearly being impressed with the beauty of this town, as per the pleased expressions on their faces. Walking around the city walls is best done early in the day or later in the afternoon, as it can be too hot during the middle of the day. There are various entry points, and there is a cool cafe hidden in a cave to stop by and enjoy refreshments. Going up to Mt. Srd is easy via cable car just from outside the entry into the Old Town, and one must enjoy the views from here both during light and dark.
After a couple of enjoyable days in Dubrovnik, we drove up to Split, stopping at the very small town of Ston, where we had heard they had the best oysters in the world. We drove right up, parked, and ate at the 1st restaurant we say overlooking boats that were taking people out to dive for oysters, where they would enjoy the oysters on fancy tables in the center of the boat. Clearly, we knew we came to the right place to enjoy seafood, and we had the BEST lobster of our lives right there! After eating, we walked into the city center and enjoyed the city walls, known to be the 2nd largest in the world, after The Great Wall of China. No, we didn’t walk them. HA! It was way too hot, but it was still cool to see!
The drive to Split was gorgeous, with water views the entire way up. We had decided to skip our previously planned visit to Mostar, due to timing, and drove right to our hotel: http://www.lemeridienlavsplit.com. When we first arrived, I wasn’t loving the vibe of the area around the hotel, until we walked into the lobby and saw the views of the water, the private beach, and the pool area…AMAZING! The previous year, we had stayed in the Old Town of Split, which was walking distance to the main attractions. But, this time, I had used my Starwood Points for Le Meridien, which was located just outside of the Old Town, and was a perfect location for easy boat access to the islands.
Our next day exploring the Dalmatian Island of Brac in Croatia left us with memories for a lifetime. Our hotel in Split, The Le Meridien, is partnered with a boat tour company called Queen Company, and they are just downstairs from the hotel lobby at the Marina. I worked for several weeks with manager Ana to figure out the best itinerary for our one day private tour, strategized based on towns and islands we had visited last year in Croatia. Ana came up with what turned out to be the PERFECT itinerary for exploring Brac! We arrived in Bol, then headed off to visit the famous Zlatni Rat Beach, then were driven up to Vidova Gora, the highest peak of all of the Croatian Islands, for the INSANE views (as pictured) of the Paklewani Islands, Zlatni Rat Beach and more; then off to lunch at delicious ZiZa for fresh seafood, olive oil, lamb and more. We then got to walk through Supetar for the kids to enjoy some water sports, and then had our boat ride home. The crew were the warmest, kindest, and funniest local Croatians whose brains we got to pick about life in Croatia. My husband Daniel and I enjoyed making new friends, all while seeing some of the most spectacular sights in Croatia, if not in the world!
The following day, we made a day trip to the adorable historic town of Trogir, another Croatian World Heritage Site, where I would love to go back and spend more time. It’s very small, and pretty, and I wish I could have seen it at night. Trogir is even MORE charming than I had imagined it to be!
The following day, we day-tripped to Krka Waterfalls, as we had already visited the famous Plitvice Lakes the previous summer. This park wasn’t as dramatic as Plitvice, but we were actually allowed to go into the water, whereas you couldn’t do that in Plitvice. The entire transportation system was chaotic, and it was a very hot day, but it is well worth the visit.
Wow! Split’s Old Town seemed quite a bit more crowded this year than last, which makes sense based on the tourist records being broken in Croatia. At first, I was bummed about not having found a hotel in The Old Town, as I had really enjoyed staying in the middle of this small town last summer. But, I am now glad we did end up staying just outside of the crowded town at Le Meridien Lav, as we had the best of both worlds: the fun, action-packed historical center AND the quiet, relaxing, resort style accommodations. Split is Croatia’s 2nd largest city, featuring the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Diocletian’s Palace. It’s a perfect base for exploring the Adriatic Islands, too.
After leaving Split, we drove north towards our next destination, stopping by Sibenik for a little time. We were tired, so we didn’t see much, but I think it’s worth more time on our next adventure.
We needed a stopping point in between Split and my next bucket list town of Rovinj, so Zadar was just meant for practical purposes. A friend of mine in The States is from Zadar, and said we would love it. That was an understatement. I had NO idea how much we would fall in love with Zadar, and I will absolute be going back there again.
As soon as we settled in our adorable hotel Bastion (http://www.hotel-bastion.hr), we changed and headed out into the main town. Zadar is very small (you can walk it all in about 15 min), super clean, gorgeous, with a fun, vibrant atmosphere, and has 2 attractions that I had read about for almost a year before visiting : the Sea Organ, which plays music sounding like an organ as the waves hit the steps, and the Monument to the Sun. One could easily spend an entire summer in this town! I wish we had dedicated more time to just chillin’ here. I felt so safe, and the kids could explore without us worrying. The food was just as fabulous as all of Croatia, and this sunset, with the spectacular light show coming from the Monument to the Sun, while listening to the sounds of the sea organ, was something we will treasure forever.
On our way to Rovinj, we stopped by Opatija for lunch. It was a rainy day, so it was quite empty and we weren’t able to walk around and discover much, but it was a pretty drive in and out, reminding us of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla and of Tuscany, and the views from our restaurant were so pretty.
As we were driving into Rovinj, I started to see the town from a distance, and the closer we got, the more emotional I felt, until tears started streaming down my face. Rovinj is one fo the most gorgeous and romantic places I have ever seen in my life. It’s Croatia’s Venice!
Rovinj is a fishing port right on the Istrian Peninsula, where the steeple of St. Euphemia stands out from a distance. The cobble stone streets lead you into the old town, where you even hear Italian, as the town is bilingual. We stayed at the posh Hotel Adriatic, with views of the water from our room. At nighttime, the lights create a romantic, beautiful feel, and we got lost in the narrow streets, much like one does in Venice.
We went for a bike ride the following day, stopping to take in the views of the main town from afar. We then ended our day with a fun boat trip out into the water, from where we enjoyed the sunset before finding some Italian pizza for our last evening in Croatia.
I wasn’t ready to leave Croatia, and I can’t wait to go back again…I am completely in love with this country, its history, its people, its food, its sites….