Discovering the Magic of Croatia (Part 1)
Mrs. Enchumbao here, your FI-friendly travel agent… If you’re considering exploring Europe, Croatia is a must on your list! We simply fell in love with this country and its natural and historic beauty. We were there for an amazing 18 days, on an early September getaway, which is my favorite time to visit Europe, as prices and tourist volumes drop, and the weather is just right, warm enough to swim and sunbathe, without catching fire.
As always, I wish we had more vacation days to spend more time there, which is why we are frantically trying to reach FI, and have all the time we want per destination. If you can take more time off to explore this beauty, take advantage of that. We visited five cities during our trip, and there is so much to show and tell, that I’ll be doing this blog post as a 3 part series. Here goes Part 1…
Take a look at the overview of our route itinerary below to get oriented. The nice thing about Croatia is that it has a very reliable and comfortable bus system. We ended up bus-hopping from city to city, except for the final leg of our trip to return to Zagreb. Overall, the infrastructure is really good, therefore, if you choose to rent a car to get around instead, you should be fine as well.
Day 1 – Zagreb
We arrived at the airport and caught a special airport shuttle bus that took us to the main bus station in Zagreb, as it was a better rate for the two of us than taking a cab. Knowing that we’d be arriving in the afternoon jet lagged, and that we wouldn’t have the energy to explore the city then, we purposely booked a hotel for the first night within walking distance from this station. (It was within a 10 minute walking distance.) We stayed at DoubleTree Hilton, and it was perfect for a comfy one-night stay to sleep off the jet lag. On the day of our arrival we only walked to a nearby restaurant to eat, and went back to sleep until morning. Our plan was to get on the bus in the morning to Zadar. We explored Zagreb at the end of our trip when we returned there, which I’ll share in Part 2.
Tip: if you arrive to the bus station like we did, take one of their schedule brochures, which will help you better plan your departure time to the next city on your list. Or, you can also check the timetables online here.
Days 2 to 4 – Zadar
Getting to Zadar
We checked out of DoubleTree in the morning and splurged on a taxi to the bus station, in order to relax and not drag our luggage around. At the bus station, we bought tickets for the next available bus to Zadar, our next stop on the bus-hopping tour. They had plenty of daily options, so we left within 30 minutes of arrival. Before we left, we got some yummy sandwiches and drinks from the bus station bakery, and I strongly recommend them! Something about baked goods there, they may have had cocaine, I warn you! Soooo addictive…
The punctual bus was clean and comfortable, and the ride took about three and a half hours. The scenic views through the country were a pleasant way to pass the time.
After we arrived at the Zadar bus station, we immediately went to the ticket booth to get the timetable for going to Trogir, our next stop, so we could plan our departure. I wasn’t sure how far the old city of Zadar was, so to avoid getting a cab that could shrink our pockets, I asked which local bus to catch to old city. We waited for a bit and then hopped on for a few bucks each. Turns out that the old city was only 5-7 minutes away from the bus station. We got dropped off outside the old city walls and had to walk to our hotel for about 10 minutes. We found it pretty easily though, as I had a printout of its location on Google Maps. Now, we are smarter with travel technology, and use Google Maps app to screenshot and save key addresses.
Lodging in Zadar
We stayed at Hotel Venera, a great location in the southern part of the old city peninsula. It’s true that there are noisy bars right around the corner per reviews online, but it was fine when we closed the windows and turned on the the AC. The staff was ok and provided nothing extra than key and map, not very welcoming. The main reason I would not recommend this place are the beds. We asked for one big bed and what we got was two double beds stacked side by side, but not padded, so you could not lay together in the middle. On top of that, the mattresses were so old and springs cut into my ribs when I laid down. I had to take off the sheets and put two blankets under sheets, just to bear through the night. Room was tiny, just enough for beds and one nightstand, and tiny desk. Unless they change their beds, I advise you to stay away. That being said, it would be ideal if you can find lodging inside the old city that meets your needs, as the whole old city is walkable. For that matter, most streets prohibit vehicles. This is why I love old-charm Europe!
Exploring in Zadar
We mostly walked around old city each of the days, took pictures by some pretty buildings that I am sure have a lot of history, and people watched. The three main highlights of our stay were:
- Beach – They have a decent beach about five minutes walking southeast outside of the Land Gate, all pebbles though, like the rest of the Adriatic Sea, so pack those water shoes to be comfortable. We spend one lovely afternoon there.
- Lounges – At night, our favorite lounge spot was right outside the city walls. If you go to the Perivoj Kraljice Jelene Madijevke Park, outside of Land Gate, you could hang out in a bar/lounge up at the top. There is also another great lounge at the bottom between the wall and the park (pictured below). You can’t miss it, as they have a lot of open seating and a bar right by the ancient wall.
- The Sun Salutation installation – a great artistic addition to the old city peninsula, found on the northwestern tip and designed by a Croatian arquitect. Be sure to visit it at night, as the solar panels there light up in different colors, and create a surreal and magical experience.
Savoring in Zadar
We mostly stumbled upon the places we ended up eating at. We just walked around until we found something cozy. Nothing stood out enough to rave about, but overall, good experiences on average. Check out TripAdvisor for some reviews on restaurants in Zadar.
Departing from Zadar
Now that we knew how close we were to the bus terminal, we splurged on a cab and got there in less than 10 minutes for a reasonable cost. Since we had the timetable in advance, we timed our arrival to give us a chance to buy the tickets to Trogir, our next stop on this bus-hopping tour, and buy some snacks for the road.
Days 4 to 6 – Trogir
Getting to Trogir
The bus ride took about two and a half hours, and we made a few stops along the way, most in scenic coastal locations, so the views were breathtaking. Trogir is a small city, and the reason we included it was that a friend of a friend, who is Croatian, said it’s one of her favorite charming small cities to visit. When a local raves about something, I say, let’s check it out. And, am I glad we did!
Trogir ended up being our favorite city out of all the coastal ones we visited, only to be topped by Hvar, the island we stayed at later.
We arrived at the bus station in Trogir and walked for a few minutes to the Trogir bridge that connects the broader city of Trogir to the old city. Once inside the old city walls, we walked through the charming, pedestrian-friendly, cobblestone streets of Trogir to the opposite end of the gate. To check in we needed to find the travel office provided in the confirmation, which wasn’t that hard. The island old Trogir is on is super small, so even if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up by the water soon enough. On the way through the cozy labyrinths streets, I knew I had no chance resisting falling in love with this city. And, that was by day. At night, as you’ll see shortly, it’s simply magical!
Lodging in Trogir
We stayed the two nights at a lovely studio apartment, Villa Ivanka, right in the middle of old Trogir. You have to go to travel office to check in, as I mentioned earlier, but it turned out to be only a two minute walk to the apartment from there. Staff was very pleasant and accomodating. Tony checked us in and even helped carry my bag over to our room – super friendly. We only had two issues: on day one, the shower did not drain and water overflowed to the floor. Thankfully, there was a drain in the center of the bathroom too. Someone came in next morning to put Drano liquid in and it improved. Next day, the water pipe burst in the toilet sink, and good thing we were in the room to turn it off. We reported that as well. The staff was very apologetic and surprised since this was a newly renovated appt. The room was very spacious and cozy overall. Although we had these issues, we would still return and recommend it, and that’s saying a lot. It’s right in the center of Trogir.
You could essentially walk all the streets of the old city of Trogir in about an hour. Since it’s on the waterfront, you can get great picturesque views of the mainland across the water. You may also see some fancy boats and yachts parked by the promenade. Our main activities included:
- Checking out local beaches – while old Trogir doesn’t have beaches, there are water taxis that take you for 10-15 min boat trips to nearby nice beaches. Be sure to take a water taxi to Okrug Beach. Well worth it, and only a few euros per person each way!
- Walking around – the city is so charming, especially at night, with all the cozy lights illuminating the historic town. Take the time to explore it all.
- People watching – oh, this is one of my favorite activities, and Mr. Enchumbao is finally embracing it. My favorite people-watching spot was in the main plaza over a nice cappuccino.
As you can tell, we didn’t do too many of the typical touristic activities, such as visiting the old fortress. I must admit, Croatia ended up being all about beaches, food, and nightlife for us, and I looked into its history later online. What can I say, the Enchumbao household knows how to chill on vacation. 🙂
Savoring in Trogir
OK, this is important: Trogir had the best food we had in all of Croatia! I didn’t know that at the time, as we had four more cities to explore, but if I could go back, I’d stay in Trogir for much longer and eat over and over at the gems we discovered. Drum roll, please… Konoba Teuta has the direct path to my heart for all eternity. Finding this little gem was simply meant to be. We were just roaming around Trogir on our first night, and noticed this super cozy seating area inside four walls, with vines growing on the walls, and we were lucky enough to snap up the last free table. We had a few items, and the most notable one was the Seafood Spaghetti. It was the single best spaghetti we’ve had in our lives. The prices were reasonable as well, and did I mention it’s al fresco dining. We had local Croatian wine, which you’ll discover is another hidden gem, and the night was simply splendid. You simply must try this place if in town and let us know if you agree with our raving review!
The next night, we made the mistake of thinking all Seafood Spaghetti would be great in Trogir and tried it at another restaurant – Konoba Toma. Big mistake – it didn’t even come close and we were so upset at ourselves. Now we know, if you love a place or dish, go back to the source of yumminess!
Departing from Trogir
First of all, we didn’t want to leave, so the departure was tear-drop worthy. We made our way back to the bus station by foot, and bought tickets to Split, our next stop. There is a supermarket just outside of the Trogir bridge, so we stopped over to get drinks and food for the road. These market visits and cooking are our FI-friendly ways to save money over eating out all the time while away.
Days 6 to 9 – Split
Getting to Split
The bus ride to Split took about three hours. The last stop, we somehow ended up on, was not the main bus station, which is by the ferries. We found ourselves uphill from the old city, which is where we were staying, so thankfully, we just rolled our luggage mostly downhill for about 10 minutes, straight down the main street. A note here on luggage: since all of these cities tend to have cobblestone streets, I strongly recommend investing in a backpack. We could have been much more mobile if we didn’t have to roll our regular luggage bags around.
Lodging in Split
We spent the three nights in Split at Apartments Malena, a great location in the heart of old town and only a five minute walk to the ferry and main bus terminal. We had a small cozy room with a fridge, and access to a small common kitchen. It’s essentially Malena’s apartment but you get your own key to your room. The rooms are located on the third floor, so be prepared to drag the luggage up, as there isn’t an elevator. Malena was very nice and welcoming. Only inconvenience was that you could hear people in the common kitchen and in the hallway of the apartment, since it’s not soundproof. By default, there wasn’t enough privacy to sleep in or for sexy time, without hearing those on the other side of the wall. It’s essentially, like a regular apartment you may live in, only here you have other travelers as your room neighbors.
The old city is beautiful and very romantic at night with all the warm street lighting. There is a nice promenade along the water, and overall, an easy city to walk through and through. Our main activities included:
- Beaches nearby – we were disappointed overall. The main local beach, Bačvice, east of ferry dock, was super crowded and the water was actually dirty with floating trash. Since it’s a big port city, you can tell the effects of the busy water traffic on the water quality. Locals seemed to like it, and it was only a ten minute walk from our apartment, but sand was so dirty, with tons of cigarette butts. Croatians smoke more than anyone I have seen! Water has decent transparency, but some trash floating around. My advice is go west of the ferries. If you walk along the promenade and then along the water for 10-15 min, you will see the first entrance to western side beaches. Get on the beach walk along the water, and keep going, until you see a spot you like. About 20 minutes in, we found a lovely pebble beach, which was much cleaner and had fewer people, plus you get a nice sunset view from one of the bars on the water pier.
- The Green Market – located right outside of the old city gates, on the southeastern corner, it’s a great option to get yummy fruits and veggies for your daily enjoyment. We got figs, currants, apples, tomatoes and so much more on a budget. Food simply tastes better outside of the US, and it reminded me of when I lived in Lithuania, where every fruit and veggie was mouth-wateringly amazing!
- Park Marjan – our host Malena recommended visiting this place, only she grossly underestimated how long it’d take to get there. The walk is uphill, so prepare to hike and bring plenty of water. There are two amazing Viewpoints of Split. The easy one is within 15-20 minutes of walking up Senjska Street. There is a restaurant at the top of the street, where you can stop for a much needed break and take in the amazing views. If you keep going up, you’ll see a few old small churches, and eventually reach the final staircase that leads the highest point of the peninsula. It’s quite a hike, so don’t feel bad if you stop at the first Viewpoint. After reaching the highest point, we descended and made our way to the opposite side of the park to Bene beach through dirt and gravel paths we found. It took at least an hour and a half to do this, and since it was a hot day, we agreed that we should have just caught the choo-choo train from the taxi stand back at the beginning of Senjska Street. Feel free to learn from our pain. 🙂 Bene Beach has a rocky coast with metal staircases to help you descend into the water. The water on this side of the park was much clearer, but it’s not for the poor swimmers, as it’s deep right away.
- Cathedral of Saint Duje – we didn’t actually go inside, but we came here twice: once during the day when they had a historic soldier demonstration/mini play, with people dressed in costumes, and the other time at night, when we heard great music being played outside of one of the restaurant located in the square. We ended up listening and dancing along with locals and tourists alike, who gathered there for the free entertainment.
- People watching – lots of cappuccinos, ice creams and restaurant visits later, we got more people watching under our belts.
- Walking tour – well, we really meant to go on one of those, and I even got a brochure for it. But they started at 9 a.m. and I just couldn’t bring myself to get up in time. So, back to Wiki for history lessons.
Savoring in Split
Nothing stood out as a must-return-to kind of place, but we did enjoy morning cappuccinos and croissants in the Narodni Trg Plaza cafes, and had a nice dinner at one of the local restaurants Malena recommended, just up the street from the apartment, called Tratoria Bahamont. We also had yummy pizza at Aspalathos Restaurant on another night.
Departing from Split
We checked out in the morning and made our way to the ferry ticket booth to get tickets to the popular island, Hvar. Unfortunately, the line was very long and by the time we made it to the ticket booth, the early afternoon ferry sold out. Tip: buy the ticket the day before or at least earlier in the morning, because prime time for everyone is post check out around noon. We ended up having to wait several hours, so we just lounged in cafes and on benches along the promenade.
Overall, I wish we had stayed there for one night. It was nice to see Split, but Trogir and then Hvar had much better beaches, plus the same beautiful old cities, so if I could go back, I’d just do one night in Split.
Well, this is Part 1 of our trip in Croatia. Look out for Part 2 and 3 in the next travel blog posts that will include exciting adventures in Hvar, Dubrovnik, and Zagreb.
We’d love to hear about your favorite cities and places to visit. What are they? Let us know in the comment section below.